Kids are often tough to please, but they’ll be grinning from ear to ear when they’re in The Mile High City, thanks to Denver’s wide array of kid-friendly activities. Interactive museums, incredible zoos and aquariums, wide-open parks — they’re all perfect ways to entertain your little travelers!
Nearby, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park offers exhilarating adventures on more than 50 rides, including the new 17-story Star Flyer swing. There's also an area for young kiddos, plenty of family rides and a 10-acre swimming area with slippery slides, crashing waves and lazy rivers.
Just a short walk away is the Downtown Aquarium, a seaworthy spectacle of kaleidoscopic fish coupled with reptile, bird and tiger habitats. Here, amid astounding marine life, kids can feed the stingrays, swim with the sharks, pan for gold, see a mermaid show, become a marine biologist for a day or even spend the night in the aquarium. Kids will also enjoy taking a ride on the Aquarium Express electric train or the Aquatic Carousel.
While you're in the area, hop aboard the Denver Trolley, an open-air streetcar that resembles the trolley on the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood TV show. The narrated tours provide a fascinating historical account of Denver from its Gold Rush days to the present.
ATTRACTIONS NEAR DOWNTOWN DENVER
Located in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe, the Center for Visual Art is the off-campus art gallery of Metropolitan State University of Denver. In addition to showing significant contemporary art, the award-winning CVA serves as an interactive art laboratory for MSU Denver students and the community.
Located in historic Denver Fire Station No. 1, families will love the Denver Firefighters Museum. The building was erected in 1909 and served as a working fire station until 1974. The kids will enjoy the hands-on activities as well as the exhibits that provide information on fire safety and prevention. Be sure to have the camera ready as they try on equipment, slide down the pole, ride on a fire truck designed specifically for kids and pretend to put out fires. The museum also has a gift shop with toys, apparel, books and more.
The History Colorado Center brings history to life with amazing interactive presentations. Traverse a 60-foot map of the state using a "time machine." Virtually zoom across the plains in a Model T Ford. And soar off of a re-creation of one of the world's first ski jumps in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
At the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, more than 50 planes and riveting space-oriented displays occupy the sprawling space, an aviation wonderland that allows families to get up close and personal with giant bombers, fighter jets, antique planes and a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter. The museum always has seasonal exhibits, and on the second Saturday of each month, both kids and adults can experience the electrifying buzz of climbing into the planes' cockpits.
ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE OF DENVER
The Colorado Railroad Museum has the state's largest collection of locomotives, cars, photos and historic railroad mementos. At one point, more than 2,000 miles of narrow-gauge track probed the mountains of Colorado, and this exciting era comes to life at the museum. Located in Golden, the museum is circled by a half-mile track, which allows them to do monthly "steam ups" with operating locomotives. On alternate weekends, the museum also runs the Galloping Goose, a rare bus mounted on train wheels that used to take passengers over Lizard Head Pass near Telluride.
At Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison (near Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre), an outdoor museum and visitor center, you can touch the bones of Allosaurus and Stegosaurus at the site where important dinosaur discoveries were made in the late 1800s. See how Iguanadons walked by viewing real dinosaur footprints preserved in the sandstone. There's a free, self-guided tour, so you and your little ones can explore at your own pace.
Get a glimpse of early dinosaur discoveries from Colorado, including fossils from the first Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus ever found. Located 25 minutes west of Downtown Denver, the 3,000-square-foot Morrison Natural History Museum offers a relaxed environment that's perfect for kids of all ages to explore rocks and fossils. The exhibits and guides connect visitors with the ancient story of the Front Range. Local excavations yielded famous baby dinosaur footprints that were featured in Smithsonian magazine and worldwide press.
Located in Westminster, just a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver, the Butterfly Pavilion is the perfect indoor refuge in which to interact with live invertebrates fluttering around a lush rainforest or to hold Rosie, a Chilean Rose Hair tarantula, in the palm of your hand — if you dare. The tropical conservatory is filled with lush greenery, trickling streams and more than 1,600 flitting butterflies, moths and skippers shipped from farms as far away as Kenya and Ecuador. Also, stop by the Water's Edge exhibit to be immersed in an underwater world full of sea creatures.
Learn about climate change, the 21st century's hottest topic, at the fascinating National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. See a hailstone the size of a softball, watch as a miniature tornado is whipped up in front of your eyes, and get an up-close look at how lightning is created. Free public tours are available.
Aside from being a geological wonder 70 million years in the making, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is one of the world's most famous concert venues and a must-see site for any music enthusiast, young or old. Kids love exploring the trails surrounding the amphitheatre, and a spectacular view of the plains makes it a perfect place for a kid-friendly hike.
Anyone with even the smallest sweet tooth will love this free tour, which gets you behind the scenes at Hammond's Candies, a company that has been making candy in Denver since 1920. You'll come away with a newfound respect for the candy industry, plenty of free samples — and maybe a cavity or two.
The Tattered Cover Book Store, arguably the top independent bookseller in the country, hosts hundreds of free children's events throughout the year, including lectures, book release parties and author appearances. The 16th Street Mall location is one of its three locations in the metro area, plus one at the Denver International Airport.
The 155-acre park is one of Denver's largest and is consistently voted by locals as their favorite. Wash Park's expansive lawns, manicured gardens and Smith Lake offer plentiful recreation opportunities, including paddle boating, and there are several trails, including one that goes around the perimeter of the park. This is an ideal setting for a family picnic, tossing the Frisbee around or just hanging out in the sunshine.
Denver is an undisputed sports paradise, and while tickets to the major sporting events don't come cheap, in-the-know baseball fanatics purchase Colorado Rockies baseball Rockpile seats at deeply discounted rates.
ART PROGRAMS FOR KIDS
The world-class Denver Art Museum — free for those 18 and younger every day and free for all the first Saturday of each month — is a great place to introduce kids to the wide and wonderful world of art. Every gallery on every floor of this expansive museum has something fun for families.
First, stop by the family space on level three of the Hamilton Building for activities. Then pick up Gallery Games —small activity boards that help kids learn about artwork through games similar to I spy, bingo and memory matching — which you'll find in various galleries and exhibits throughout the museum.
Smudge, squiggle and splatter at Create Playdates on the second Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (extended to 2 p.m. June–August). Drop in with your little ones (the program is geared toward ages 3–5, but older and younger kids are also welcome) to meet up with other tots for artmaking, storytime throughout the museum and instructor-guided "close looking" to explore artwork. Create Playdates explore a new theme every other month and are available in English and Spanish. Got some little detectives? They'll love Foxy and Shmoxy: Art Detectives, held the second Sunday of each month from September to May.
DAM also offers a wide array of art-centric classes and camps for kids every spring break, fall break, Thanksgiving break, winter break and throughout the summer.
Contemporary art can be for kids, too! The Bubble Garden at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is a dedicated, artist-designed space for kids and families that engages families in creative and imaginative ways. This space provides opportunities for families to be together and play, and is a destination inside the museum.
MCA Denver is free for all kids and teens 18 and younger.