Colorado’s capital is a prime vacation destination with or without the kids, but if you’re looking for a family-friendly trip, Denver is definitely where the magic happens. Nestled among the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Mile High City is a gateway to skiing and hiking in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. The city itself is its own hot spot, with an array of activities for everyone to enjoy, both indoors and out. Start packing, because this is one dreamy family vacation you won’t soon forget.
Attractions for the Entire Family
Take the kids and explore some of Denver’s hottest spots for both locals and visitors throughout the year.
You could spend an entire day exploring 80 acres of exhibits at the Denver Zoo. A world leader when it comes to animal care, the impressive attraction is home to more than 4,300 animals from all over the globe. Watch elephants, tigers, primates, and penguins explore their habitats at your own pace as you travel across the grounds on foot, or opt to participate in one of the zoo’s many daily Up-Close Animal Encounters — a special treat for animal lovers.
If you’ve got any maritime enthusiasts in your group, you won’t want to miss dedicating a day to Denver’s Downtown Aquarium. With more than 500 species from sea and land, you have access to more than a million gallons of themed underwater exhibits, including a coral lagoon, a shipwreck, and a sunken temple. For added entertainment, watch the aquarium’s impressive Mystic Mermaids perform one of their daily shows.
There are also plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning. Add-on experiences cover a range of age and ability requirements and include snorkeling and scuba adventures, an interactive stingray feeding, a chance to be a marine biologist for a day, and even an underwater shark cage — if you dare.
The Butterfly Pavilion
Traveling with an insect lover in your crew? If so, you’ll love Denver’s Butterfly Pavilion, located 15 minutes north of downtown. In the tropical conservatory of this invertebrate zoo, you’re greeted by an awe-inspiring 1,600 free-flying butterflies. If you’re feeling brave, take a turn holding the pavilion’s famous tarantula, Rosie, and explore other fascinating invertebrates like beetles, spiders, and sea stars.
Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park
If you’re looking for a day packed with action, make your way to Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, smack in the heart of downtown Denver. With 53 rides, there’s something for everyone, from the exhilarating 17-story Star Flyer swing and looping thrill coasters to a dozen rides made exclusively for the park’s youngest visitors. Sit with the entire squad on family rides like the Big Wheel, carousel, or tea cups.
Don’t forget to pack your swimsuits, because the 10-acre Island Kingdom water park offers wet thrill rides, family rides, a wave pool, and an action river, complete with geysers and waterfalls.
A trip to Denver would hardly be complete without taking in an MLB game and cheering on the Rockies at Coors Field. The stadium offers a variety of snacks and treats — including a just-for-kids concession stand called Buckaroos — a full-service restaurant, and an interactive kids’ area behind the bullpen. If you have younger children who might have trouble sitting through an entire game, take them to the playground behind the left field corner.
Budget-Friendly Family Fun
Are you planning a family-friendly trip to Denver, Colorado on a budget? Rest assured that there are plenty of fun (and free!) things to do throughout the city that kids and adults of every age are sure to love.
Denver U.S. Mint
Ever wondered how all those coins in your pocket are made? Head downtown to the Denver Mint for a free 45-minute tour. Watch and learn how the mint manufactures billions of coins every year while learning about its money-making history.
Tours (for kids 7 and older only) run daily until 3:30 p.m. Tickets are available the same day, and in the spring and summer months they’re in high demand. Get to the Mint early to reserve your memorable experience.
You won’t get away with this one being totally free — mostly because the candy at Hammond’s is too hard to resist — but this Denver candy shop does offer free daily tours, complete with a few free samples. It’s worth stopping by as a fun out-of-town experience.
Tours run every half hour and use large video screens to give curious guests an up close and personal look behind the scenes to see how lollipops, candy canes, and other delicious treats are made. If you’re traveling with tots, strollers are welcome, so bring the entire family to learn the open secrets of one of Denver’s favorite candy shops.
Denver Skate Park
Denver is home to one of the biggest and most well-known skate parks in America, boasting 60,000 feet of concrete terrain. If you’ve got any skaters, bladers, or bikers in your bunch, you may want to spend an afternoon at Denver Skate Park. Admission is free, but before you make your way over, there are a few rules to keep in mind: Take your own gear (no rentals), bikes with pegs aren’t allowed, and helmets are required.
City Park Jazz
Every summer, City Park Jazz puts together a lively series of jazz concerts hosted at City Park pavilion. These free, family-friendly concerts feature a variety of impressive regional musicians. Pack a picnic or enjoy food and treats available onsite from one of the many local food trucks.
Shows take place every Sunday, from June through early August from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Take your own blankets or folding chairs, and you may want to pack an umbrella — concerts are held rain or shine.
The Top 5 Playground Tour
Denver gets 300 days of sunshine each year, and while Colorado’s capital is surrounded by beautiful mountains, there are also plenty of green spaces to enjoy right in the city. While you’re visiting, stop at one of the area’s great playgrounds and soak up the natural beauty that highlights Denver as one of the best place to live in America in 2016.
City Park is home to more than just Sunday jazz concerts in the summer. It’s also a treasured spot for tennis, picnics, and paddling on the lake. Spanning 330 acres across downtown, it’s Denver’s largest recreational park.
It’s home to the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, two lakes, and plenty of green space for sports, exercise, picnics, dogs, and play time. It’s also home to two super-sized playgrounds for plenty of swinging, sliding, climbing, and exploring.
Downtown Children’s Playground
This urban playground is located right in the middle of the city at Speer Boulevard and Wewatta. To get to the playground, park along the street, then cross the Cherry Creek Trail on foot by way of one of the old iron bridges.
Two play structures offer a place for kids of all ages to play. Set against the backdrop of Denver’s city skyline, this downtown park has slides, ropes, bars, a space net for climbing, sand, and water features designed to impress. Rubberized ground adds an additional level of safety for tumbles or spills, and the area is almost entirely fenced to keep little ones away from city traffic.
The highlight of Central Park, located in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, is the Dr. Seuss-inspired playground. From exhilarating swings overlooking a giant hill to climbing boulders, a 10-foot climbing wall, and colorful equipment that takes on interesting, eye-catching shapes, this large playground easily keeps kids entertained for hours. In the summer, there’s a fountain to play in and even giant water misters in the shape of daisies to help keep everyone cool.
If you happen to visit Central Park in the winter, the large hill by the swings is a well-known spot for local sledding. If you’re in the city when it snows, bundle up the kids for a few winter wonderland thrills.
Lovingly referred to as “Wash Park” by locals, a visit quickly shows you why Washington Park was named one of America’s Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association in 2012. The park offers two playgrounds with plenty of options for climbing and sliding, plus jogging trails, tennis courts, and two lakes for fishing and non-motorized boating.
What this park is most famous for, however, is its expansive formal flower gardens. It’s home to Denver’s largest flower garden, which is on the west side near Downing Avenue. Built in 1917, this Victorian-style perennial garden is modeled after the garden at Mount Vernon and includes 15,000 flower varieties displayed in symmetrical flowerbeds surrounding an elliptical lawn.
If you’re up for a short drive, travel 30 minutes from downtown Denver to Englewood, where you find Belleview Park. Located near Pirates Cove Family Aquatic Center, this area features an entire afternoon of fun attractions, especially if you’re traveling with little ones in tow.
Young visitors enjoy the miniature train that runs through the park; a children’s petting zoo with goats, chickens, pigs, and sheep; a creek; and two playgrounds — one designed specifically with young tots in mind. The train and farm are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but you’re still in luck if you visit in December. Belleview runs a special Holiday Express train through the park on select dates.
The Denver area is home to dozens of museums, ranging from contemporary art to miniatures on display. What’s better, the city’s popular museums were created with kids and families in mind. They’re packed with interactive exhibits and include family-friendly features such as cafes, umbrella stroller rentals, and comfort areas for nursing mothers. Whether you’re traveling with toddlers or teens, they’ll be begging to stay until closing time.
Children’s Museum of Denver
“Kid-powered learning” is behind every exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Denver, an absolute haven of learning and fun for kids of all ages. In this downtown museum, you find tactile, interactive stations dedicated to altitude, bubbles, reading, energy, kinetics, art, cooking, water play, and more.
Little ones three and under love the Center for the Young Child, an enclosed area made just for tiny tykes to climb, play, and explore within a safe, calm, and engaging environment. Outside, kids can create their own adventure in Joy Park, where they find caves for spelunking, a river for splashing, and even a child-sized zip line.
Looking to add some bonus fun to your museum trip? Access the Children’s Museum by taking a ride on the historic Denver Trolley. The museum is the second stop on the route, which runs five days a week from May through September.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Part of downtown’s City Park, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a perfect stop for a family looking to satisfy many different interests. Explore fossils and dinosaurs, discover mysteries of space and the universe, learn about historic cultures, and dig deep into geology.
At the popular Discovery Zone, kids can access science with activities and programs focused on fun. There’s fossil excavation, water play, building, and art targeted to children ages 3 to 5, with some activities for younger and older siblings as well.
For an additional fee, the IMAX theater and the planetarium have show times throughout the day.
Denver Art Museum
Entertain the family for a day at the Denver Art Museum, where admission for visitors 18 and under is free. Start your visit on the first floor of the Hamilton Building, where you can pick up a free family backpack filled with art, games, and crafts for an immersive art experience.
On every floor of the museum, you find Creative Corners designed to make art accessible and fun. Enjoy activities like piecing together portraits and making a treasure chest while learning about art from every corner of the world. Some exhibits are also equipped with Gallery Games, which engage kids with learning activities like scavenger hunts and I Spy.
Air & Space Museum
Celebrate sky and space at the former Lowry Air Force Base’s Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. In this aviation wonderland, you’ll find more than 50 iconic planes and space displays featuring modern and historic aircraft.
Both aircraft and space enthusiasts love the variety of exhibits, from antique planes to fighter jets to the Apollo Boilerplate Command Module. History buffs may especially enjoy exhibits featuring aviator uniforms, aircraft engines, a Space Station Freedom Command Module mockup, and even a special Cold War exhibit.
For dinosaur fanatics, plan a quick trip to Morrison (just 20 minutes from downtown Denver) to visit Dinosaur Ridge. This outdoor museum is a national natural landmark and the site of the first Stegosaurus discovery in the world.
Start at the Main Visitor Center and buy an Adventure Pass (kids three and under are free). Start your journey indoors at the Trek Through Time exhibit hall, where you find paleo-murals, T-rex teeth, and an entire Triceratops skull. Stop for a quick snack at the Stegosaurus Snack Shack before making your way outside.
Once you’re outdoors, kids can practice hands-on fun like sluice mining, sifting for fossils, and uncovering a dinosaur of their very own in the backyard dino bones dig area. Next, head to Dinosaur Ridge Trail, a 1.1-mile site with world-famous dinosaur bones, tracks, and geological features that are sure to make their mark.
Prefer a guided tour? Hop on the shuttle bus for a 45-minute ride through Dinosaur Ridge with a museum expert taking you back through history with a discussion of more than 15 unique fossil and geological sites.
Exploring the Great Outdoors
Denver’s collection of playgrounds and parks are sure to keep you busy outside, but if you’re looking for something a little more sprawling, check out one of the dozens of hiking trails or ski resorts within about an hour’s drive of downtown.
High Line Canal Trail
If you’re looking for an ideal spot to stroll, hike, or bike with the family, don’t miss the High Line Canal Trail. Sixty miles of paved and unpaved pathways lead you on an urban hike through downtown metro, along the High Line Canal, and into the foothills of Chatfield State Park.
Red Rocks Park
A 30-minute drive from downtown, Red Rocks Park is home to the renowned Red Rocks Amphitheatre — a world-class concert venue with natural acoustics. It also features excellent trails for hiking and biking. For a short pedestrian hike with beautiful views, try the Geologic Overlook Trail, located in the park’s Northwest corner. This moderate hike is the easiest to manage and the most suitable for kids.
For a longer, more challenging trek, consider the Trading Post Trail, which is strictly pedestrian only. You’ll wind through gorgeous rock formations and a natural meadow that make the hike worth the effort, but this 1.4-mile trail comes with a few important considerations: Some of the terrain is rough, and there are steep grades, sudden drop-offs, and road crossings. At more than 6,000 feet above sea level, the elevation of this hike is a concern for visitors with certain health conditions as well.
If you’re biking or traveling on horseback, head to Red Rocks Trail, the park’s only multi-use trail. This six-mile loop takes hikers through nearby Matthews-Winters Park.
Bear Creek Trail
Take a 30-minute drive west of downtown to Lair o’ the Bear Park for a hike along the Bear Creek Trail. This 12.6-mile trail is moderately challenging, with a few steep climbs and fun rock challenges. Along the way, find great picnic spots, a mix of shade and fun, and the beauty of Bear Creek. This area is popular with mountain bikers and can get crowded on the weekends, so don’t let the little ones wander too far ahead.
Visiting Denver in the winter? Many of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts are at least a few hour’s drive from the city, which can make a day trip tricky. If you’re looking to fit in a full day of skiing, drive 50 minutes outside of downtown to Echo Mountain, the closest ski resort to Denver.
Echo Mountain is one of the few resorts in the state to offer night skiing. Onsite equipment rentals are available, including helmets and protective clothing like ski jackets and gloves.
About an hour-and-15-minute drive from Denver, Eldora Mountain offers visitors 680 acres of terrain for skiing and snowboarding. With beginner trails making up 20 percent of the resort’s runs, Eldora offers a unique experience for first-time skiers through its single day lesson packages designed for both kids and adults.
Full-day and half-day passes are available, and you can save money if you purchase tickets online the day before instead of at the ticket window on the day you arrive. When you’re hungry or ready to warm up, choose from three resort restaurants offering a variety of American fare and hot drinks.
Feed the Family
Denver days packed with unforgettable adventures deserve delicious meals to go along with them. While you’re visiting Mile High City, be sure to try these kid-friendly restaurants to keep everyone fueled throughout your vacation.
Start your day at Maddie’s, a neighborhood breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot named after the owner’s youngest daughter. Designed with a family-friendly mission in mind, this is an ideal spot to bring the entire crew. Enjoy sweet treats like cinnamon brioche sticky buns, breakfast bites such as yogurt with granola and berries, and more traditional classics like poached eggs and huevos rancheros.
No time for a sit-down breakfast? Stop by Voodoo Doughnut for out-of-this-world doughnuts. Choose from yeast or cake doughnuts in classic and creative creations, like the maple bacon bar, which comes with two slices of crispy bacon on top. The shop also features vegan options, including toasted coconut, chocolate sprinkles, and frosted Oreo-topped. Lines can get long on the weekends, and the shop is cash only.
Avanti Food & Beverage
For a unique lunch or dinner experience, head over to Avanti Food & Beverage, a collective eatery near Denver’s Lower Highland (LoHi) neighborhood. Once a former printing plant, Avanti is now home to seven mini-restaurants featuring different concepts and cuisines from all over the world.
Grab anything from pizza, pasta, and burgers to poke bowls and Venezuelan arepas. Enjoy your meal in a communal first-floor dining area or up on the rooftop deck with views of the downtown skyline.
Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
Who doesn’t love a good hot dog? Biker Jim’s, situated downtown between the city’s LoDo and Five Points neighborhoods, is a perfect spot to appease both kids and adults. The little ones can opt for a more familiar all-beef dog, while parents can find more adventurous creations on the menu, such as Alaskan reindeer or elk, as well as toppings with explosive flavor, like sriracha lime mayo. They even have a renowned vegan hot dog on the menu.
Board Game Republic
For a cool twist on dinner, head to Denver’s Art District to Board Game Republic, where you can enjoy a café meal as you play board games with family and friends. Choose from more than 700 games that cater to young kids and adults. You can find familiar classics as well as newer favorites that are sure to keep everyone occupied for an evening of fun.
The café offers kid-friendly favorites like grilled cheese and PB&J sandwiches, plus artisan sausage hoagies and other goodies to entice the adults. For unlimited playtime, the cost is minimal, plus the price of food and beverages.
For dessert, travel uptown to Frozen Matter, a family-owned micro-creamery with a decadent menu of handcrafted ice cream, ice pops, and soda. Produced in small batches and sourced from local farms, a scoop or two from this Denver gem includes organic, all-natural ingredients you can feel good about.
Interesting and seasonal flavor pairings — like chai salted caramel and spiced plum — keep the city’s ice cream lovers coming back for more. If you’re looking for traditional treats, don’t worry, chocolate and vanilla make the menu too.
With its abundant range of outdoor attractions and cultural treasures, Denver is a city capable of hosting some dreamy family vacations.
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