Colorado: Denver, Family Vacation Ideas – Dinosaurs, Cockpits, and Komodo Dragons.
Located on the eastern baseline of awesome Rocky Mountains, Denver is trendy, spunky and definitely family friendly. Sunshine makes the difference more than 300 days of the year making the city attractive to anyone who enjoys being outside. The city maintains the nation's largest city park system and provides more than 650 miles of paved bike pathways. It is a city for first class family field trips. On the best list:
The Denver Zoo, The Downtown Aquarium, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Botanic Gardens, Butterfly Pavilion & Insect Center, and the Wildlife Experience. Options include one-of-a-kind places and plenty of chance to create awesome memories. This is the fun stuff.
Explore science in person.
With world-renowned dioramas, extensive gem and mineral display, a pair of Egyptian mummies and much more, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a great place to spend a day (or several). The museum focuses of six specific scientific areas: geology, paleontology, zoology, anthropology, space science and health science. The permanent “Space Odyssey” exhibition combines a traditional exhibit with live programming, digital multimedia, and interactive modules which engage visitors of all ages in the contemporary science of space exploration. Other popular museum attractions include the Gates Planetarium, the “Hall of Life” which focuses on the science of the human body, and the IMAX theatre. (Denver Museum of Nature & Science, outside metro Denver, 2001 Colorado Blvd. Toll-free 1-800-925-2250 or www.dmns.org
) Fly high with your child.
When Lowry Air Force Base closed in 1993, its cavernous Hanger No. 1 became the 6 Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum featuring more than 40 planes and spacecraft. Visitors to the museum will see everything from antique biplanes, to an F-14 Tomcat and a massive B-1A bomber – even most of the F-100 fighter series. Alongside the planes are displays featuring a World War II uniform collection, a U3A Blue Canoe and the Freedom space module, and several seasonable exhibits. Bonus points:
On the second Saturday of each month the museum hosts “Demo Cockpit Day,” when visitors have the opportunity to climb into the planes’ cockpits. Science fiction fans won’t want to miss the chance to check out the full-size X-wing prop plane used in the filming of Star Wars. (Lowry Air Force Base, 7711 E. Academy Pkwy., Hangar No. 1. 1(303) 360-5360 or www.wingsmuseum.org
) Take time to smell the roses.
The Denver Botanic Gardens features twenty-three acres of outdoor and indoor gardens with plants native to four separate regions: desert, plains, mountain foothills and alpine zones, as well as a traditional Japanese garden, an herb garden, a fragrance garden, a water garden, and even a garden inspired by the art of Claude Monet. The Mordecai Children's Garden is a lovely area which encourage kids to play, explore and discover, with everything from storytime to pinecone boat races. Even during the winter the Denver Botanical Gardens are worth a visit as the dome-shaped Tropical Conservatory is home to thousands of beautiful tropical and sub-tropical plant life. Bonus points:
Throughout the year the Denver Botanical Gardens host special events, ranging from garden concerts to ecological talks – see the website for more detail. (Denver Botanical Gardens, 1005 York Street. 1(720) 865-3500 or www.botanicgardens.org
) Go wild in Denver.
The Denver Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals, representing 750 different species, like the rare okapi, endangered cheetahs, Komodo dragons and even majestic lowland gorillas. A favorite habitat at the Denver Zoo is the Predator Ridge, an African savannah themed habitat with lions, hyenas and other African predators. Along with numerous realistic natural habitats the Denver Zoo is also home to the nation’s very first natural-gas powered train which visitors can ride for $1, and also features a kid-friendly attraction, the Conversation Carousel with wood-carved renditions of endangered species. Bonus points:
Throughout the year, the Denver Zoo offers Free Days, when admittance
to the zoo is free of charge - check out their website for the dates. Feeding times are posted near the zoo entrance allowing visitors to time their visits to the various exhibits when the animals will be at their most active. (The Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele Street. 1(303) 376-4800 or www.denverzoo.org
) Swim with the fishes.
Denver’s Downtown Aquarium is the largest aquarium between Chicago and Monterrey, California and features recreations of two dynamic ecosystems on opposite sides of the world: the Colorado River in North America, and the Kampar River in Indonesia.
The Colorado River area features many of the innumerable aquatic residents of the Colorado River basin, such as the greenback cutthroat trout (the Colorado State fish), and river otters. At the end of the Colorado River area are a flash-flood simulation and the beautiful 187,000 gallon Sea of Cortex display complete with exotic fish and moray eels. The Kampar River area features the many aspects of the river basin’s unique ecosystem and also is home to endangered Sumatran tigers. (Downtown Aquarium, 700 Water Street) 1(303) 561-4450 or www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver
Touch a tarantula or a cockroach.
The Butterfly Pavilion & Insect Center allows visitors to enter a world of delicate grace and beauty and appreciate the colorful diversity of butterflies. Inside the conservatory a constant mist creates the ideal habitat for the lush green plants that provide food and shelter for the conservatory’s butterfly inhabitants. Several displays throughout the conservatory outline the difference between butterflies, moths and skippers as well as elaborate color charts to help identify the different butterfly species. The insect room exhibits introduce visitors to the diverse residents of the insect world, and feature arthropods that are Colorado native. Bonus points:
A “touch cart” allows a visitor to get up close to a cockroach or tarantula – ideal for the budding arthropod enthusiast! (The Butterfly Pavilion & Insect Center 6252 Westminster Blvd., Westminster). 1(303) 469-5441 or www.butterflies.org
) Get back to nature from the inside out.
The Wildlife Experience, located near the Denver Technological Center, is an impressive $40 million museum focused on natural history, nature films and wildlife art. The museum is home to nine galleries of nature-inspired art, sculpture and photography. The National Geographic Channel screening room and the interactive Children’s Gallery add to the overall experience and succeed in meeting the museum’s goal – to educate visitors about the importance of conservation and preserving the delicate balance between people and the environment we all share. Bonus points:
Also located at the Wildlife Experience is the 315-seat I-werks Extreme Screen Theater. (The Wildlife Experience, located one mile east of I-25 via Lincoln Avenue, exit 193 at 10035 Peoria Street) 1(720) 488-3300 or www.thewildlifeexperience.org
) Text researched by FTF staff. Images provided by Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau; Natural History Museum photo by Sheri O’Hara; Denver Zoo photo by Stan Obert. Copyright 2012.