Exactly a mile — or 5,280 feet — above sea level, Denver more than lives up to its laid-back mountain town reputation and offers loads for families to see and do. During our 3-day visit, we covered a few family-friendly attractions and culinary delights; with more time, we could have fit in a baseball game or even visited the U.S. Mint, which has a Denver post and offers free tours for adults and children 7 and older. Whatever you choose, there’s no wrong way to explore this walkable and sunny city nestled near the Rockies.
Set on 24 acres, the Denver Botanic Gardens are beautifully manicured yet wild all at once. Learning about flowering plants and native pine trees as you stroll the garden paths is an easy all-ages activity. Kids and adult will love seeing the water lilies floating at Monet Pool. Watch for the cottontail rabbits that scurry across the lawns too, which, of course, our children loved! Kids, especially younger ones, will also enjoy the Mordecai Children’s Garden above the parking structure across from the main gardens, where they can engage in water play and try building a beaver dam, visit a vegetable and herb garden, and cross a swinging bridge.
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Dating back to 1900, this comprehensive multi-story museum houses one of the best displays of dinosaur bones, many of which were discovered in Colorado itself! The dinosaurs are part of the Prehistoric Journey exhibit, which takes visitors through the evolution of life on planet Earth. The museum also boasts 89 life-size animal dioramas, a planetarium, a hall dedicated to gems and minerals, and much more.
Having been to a few children’s museums around the country, we weren’t sure how different or unique the Denver one would be. In the end, we were really blown away by how thoughtfully done the exhibits were, drawing inspiration from Colorado’s history, landscape and resources in many cases. Our children loved the water area, where they could set off a geyser. Upstairs, they learned about aerodynamics by launching streamlined paper rockets and built with recycled materials at workstations complete with real tools. The piece de resistance, especially for our older one, was the outdoor Adventure Forest, a 500-foot-long play structure and obstacle course opened just this year. Our advice: Don’t miss this fantastic museum!
An hour and half from Denver, this gorgeous national park is a doable day trip, though a few days would certainly allow for more hiking and wildlife sightings. We spent our day in the park scrambling on rocks near a waterfall along the half-mile Alluvian Fan trail; spotting elk and marmots from the Forest Canyon Overlook; and driving the highest paved road in America only to come down to a tranquil lake nestled at the base of the mountains. Our son fondly remembers fist bumping a park ranger, the equivalent of a celebrity sighting for a 4-year-old!
We were reminded of the benefits of being out in nature with kids and of what a treasure our national parks really are. To make the most of your time, it’s advisable to start from Denver as early as possible (we got in our rental car at 6:45 am) because the park does get busy and parking becomes increasingly challenging. While spring, summer and fall are all wonderful times of year to visit, heed caution and be advised of road closures during the winter season.
Along with these attractions, we managed to hit a few culinary highlights during our long weekend in Denver. Our meals at Safta and Root Down were exceptional and we saw families at both restaurants; our detour to Sweet Action Creamery, where scoops of salted butterscotch, vanilla and oatmeal raisin were had, also ranks very high. We only scratched the surface of all there is to see, do, eat and drink in Denver and can’t wait to return to the Mile High City soon.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Tanvi Chheda.
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We love Denver, plus there are so many fantastic hiking trails and open spaces near Denver for when you need a break from the city! We need to get to the Botanical Gardens soon.