Tatu at Denver Zoo

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Wild Denver

From native Colorado species to exotic creatures from the other side of the globe, from delicate butterflies to lumbering elephants, The Mile High City is filled with amazing animals in state-of-the-art habitats. Learn about nature by having personal animal experiences and encounters all over the Denver metro area.

Downtown Aquarium

Colorado may be landlocked, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have plenty of marine life for you and your family to gawk at. The Downtown Aquarium features fascinating sea creatures, sharks and more. All in all there are more than 15,000 fish, mammals and plants, including an exhibit of Sumatran tigers who love to swim.

And if you're left with the urge to get a little wet yourself, you're in luck: snorkelers can Swim with the Fish in the Under the Sea tank and mingle with rays, eels, and other denizens of the deep. Certified divers can explore the tank with A-1 Scuba of Littleton.

“The rays probably come up the closest,” says Alanna Erickson, the aquarium’s assistant dive safety officer. “All the animals are pretty used to people being in the water with them, so they come up pretty close.”

The Shark Cage Experience drops you into the Shipwreck tank for a look at five shark species, green sea turtles, and green sawfish with the help of a diving guide and compressed air. Certified divers can also jump in this tank with A-1 Scuba, and possibly walk away with a shark’s tooth.

The sharks “are very curious when you’re in the shark cage,” says Erickson. “You can see their eyes moving. You can see the identical patterns on their skin when they come up close. You can see how hydrodynamic they are with the little pivots of their fins. It’s really cool to see them up close.”

Included with aquarium admission, the aquarium’s meet-and-greets give visitors a chance to interact with a sloth, octopus, shark, and crested porcupine, depending on the day. Check the calendar; advance reservations are recommended.

FAMILY TIP: This family-friendly attraction has a restaurant where you can dine next to sharks and schools of colorful tropical fish. Also stroll the grounds around the aquarium for kid-focused activities, like petting zoos and educational programs.


Denver Botanic Gardens

Just south of the expansive City Park, you and your family will find the spectacular 24 acres that make up Denver Botanic Gardens. Trust us; you won't just be stopping to smell the roses. As you follow the winding paths through the grounds, you'll discover no less than 32,000 diverse and delightful plants from such faraway places as Australia, Africa and the Himalayas. There are dozens of gardens to enjoy, including the internationally recognized Japanese Garden.

FAMILY TIP: Explore the whimsical Mordecai Children's Garden, where kids can interact with plants and the natural world.


Butterfly Pavilion

The world’s first accredited zoo for invertebrates, the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster is home to 5,000 butterflies, bugs, and other critters.

“We work to foster an appreciation of invertebrates,” says Jennifer Quermann, senior director of marketing and communications. “They represent 97 percent of all animal species.”

The twice-daily butterfly releases offer another unique experience. Butterflies from all over the world emerge from their chrysalises in a special chamber, then are transferred into the Wings of the Tropics exhibit.

The Colorado Backyard exhibit gives kids an opportunity to get their hands dirty. “In the Dugout, they’re able to, with the assistance of our staff and volunteers, actually dig into the dirt and handle live mealworms,” says Quermann.

FAMILY TIP: Visitors can actually hold Rosie the Tarantula, a Chilean rose hair tarantula. “Millions of people have held Rosie,” says Quermann. “We call Rosie the golden lab of tarantulas.”

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