Ranked the No. 3 best thing to do in Denver by U.S. News & World Report, Denver Zoo hosts 3,500 different animals from more than 650 species, which blend with several interpretive exhibits. Sprawling naturalistic displays place animals in environments approximating their native habitats, giving a glimpse of exotic locales and diverse behavioral patterns. The Tropical Discovery exhibit boasts a 2,250-gallon pool teeming with piscine life and exotic turtles in a waterfall-lined indoor rainforest. Two prides of lions sprawl along rocky outcroppings in the lion kopje in Predator Ridge while African wild dogs, guineafowl, and spotted hyenas play a heated game of Yahtzee. Commune with ancient cousins in the seven-acre Primate Panorama, where chattering monkeys swing from trees while powerful gorillas amble freely about their one-acre exhibit.
Combining science education with interactive entertainment, the Butterfly Pavilion houses five exhibits, 1,600 free-flying tropical butterflies, and a multitude of creepy, crawly creatures. Begin your day with a Tropical Odyssey, a bilingual adventure complete with larger-than-life caterpillars and butterflies and a zip line that allows children to sprout wings and soar like a penguin. Crab-walk to the Crawl-A-See-Em exhibit where brave souls can hold Rosie, a Chilean tarantula, and discover leaf insects, scorpions, beetles, and giant millipedes, and head to the Water's Edge to touch sea stars and more. Furthermore, levitate to the Wings of the Tropics exhibit to admire butterflies from around the world as they rest on your eyelashes. End your safari with a hike on the Butterfly Pavilion's half-mile natural trail teeming with prairie dogs, rabbits, ogres, herons, hawks, and eagles.
Staff Size: 2–10 people
Average Duration of Services: 30–60 minutes
Pro Tip: Wear pants and a comfortable pair of shoes or boots. No flip flops or shorts.
Parking: Free street parking
Most Popular Attraction/Offering: FairyTails Ponies & The Fairylands
Recommended Age Group: All ages
Garden of the Gods Trading Post was built in the 1920s by trader Charles Strausenback and continues to sell goods today, with an array of updated offerings such as keepsakes, Native American art, and café sandwiches. The Manitou Outpost feathers necks with gold leaf pendants ($12.99+), sheaths feet in soft suede and moosehide Minnetonka moccasins ($38+), and enlivens shelves with keepsakes such as miniature painted ponies ($32.99+), whose neighing registers as soprano squeaks. After walking among the Pueblo pottery ($465+) and Navajo weavings ($310+), guests at the Balanced Rock Grill can indulge in a buffalo burger ($7.50) or unwrap a dried tomato tortilla gorged with spicy chicken and cheddar cheese ($7.95). Patrons can also people-watch at outside tables while sipping from a tap beer ($4.50) and discussing the complications of fashioning mukluks from Yeti hide.
Denver Botanic Gardens houses vibrant flowers, lush vegetation, and educational activities for visitors of all ages. Native and adapted plants flourish in the York Street campus, which also houses Mordecai Children’s Garden—a 3-acre lot with alpine gardens, mountain ranges, and cool bugs. The two-story waterfall at Marnie's Pavilion bursts with blooming orchids year-round, and a Japanese garden features Ponderosa pines sculpted to look like bonsai. Visitors stroll through water gardens inspired by Monet's estate at Giverny.
The Plains Conservation Center is an offshoot of the West Arapahoe Conservation District, an organization appointed in 1949 to teach farming and ranching techniques that could help prevent another devastating Dust Bowl. While the PCC's mission has since expanded, the nonprofit organization's main goal remains the same: preserving the health of Colorado's plains. Between its two sites—a main 1,100-acre location in Aurora and more than 10,000 acres spread along West Bijou Creek—the organization maintains several attractions devoted to the history and environmental character of the region. These include more than five miles of hiking trails, a Cheyenne camp from 1837 with four standing tepees, and Wells Crossing, a replica 1887 farm consisting of sod houses, and heirloom gardens. For more modern sites, the Aurora location's visitor center features interactive displays and seasonal events such as Hops for Habitat, an annual fundraiser with beer tastings from local craft brewers.