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.
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 annual Denver Country Fair brings to life an idea conceived in the 19th century: the people of Denver purchased a plot of land to host a county fair that would bring together merchants and revelers alike. Before their campaign could be fully realized, the nation was split in two as citizens began fighting in the Civil War. As a result, plans for a county fair were all but abandoned until new organizers took up the reins in 2011 to give the county a celebration all its own.
The three-day event invites fairgoers to explore 14 interlocking indoor pavilions, each with a different theme and activity. Inside the animal pavilion, audiences can watch dogs compete in a variety of games and agility courses. The kitchen pavilion entices revelers to get their fill of sweets and snacks, and while investigating the Denver History pavilion, visitors can learn local facts from the city's past, from its first railroads to how the town served as the world's last dinosaur sanctuary. Visitors can also try to win their own blue ribbon with more than 100 competitions.
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.
It's often easy to forget that humans aren't the only beings on earth in need of sanctuary; sometimes, animals need it, too. Set across 900 rolling, scenic acres, The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary is dedicated to rescuing, training, and providing sanctuary for wild horses and burros, specifically American and Spanish Mustangs. At the facility, these magnificent animals roam just as they would in the wild, sharing land and closet space with other herds and feeding off the greenery that surrounds them. But just because these horses are in protection doesn't mean they're off limits to the public. As part of its mission to educate the public on the issues surrounding wild horses, The Great Escape provides visitors with the chance to photograph the mustangs, interact directly with them, and learn about their stories as well as the historical significance of certain breeds.