Kids love animals. That’s a nearly universal fact of life, and my kids are no exception. Their each have their own particular favorites, of course, but they love watching nearly any animal they stumble across. It’s not surprising then, that the zoo is one of our favorite places to spend a day, studying our favorite animals, taking pictures and sketching. Luckily, our local zoo is a very nice one.
The past few years have been exciting for the Denver Zoo and those of us who frequent it. In 2012 the Toyota Elephant passage was opened. A 10 acre, $50 million dollar exhibit showcasing a variety of Asian animals, the exhibit is a study in modern zoo design with multiple large yards and an immersive environment that’s a huge step up from some of the older habitats. The showcase of the exhibit, as the name states, is elephants. In addition to multiple large yards in which to observe them, the Elephant Passage hosts a twice-daily elephant demonstration for those who want to learn more about the giant animals how they’re trained and cared for. Besides the elephants my kids particularly like watching the Gibbons and Otters.
The Toyota Elephant Passage was merely one in a series of expansions and improvements of the 121-year-old zoo, preceded by Predator Ridge, which opened in 2004 and followed this year with The Edge, a state-of-the-art Amur Tiger exhibit. N was particularly excited about this development, as tigers are his favorite animal aside from beetles and assorted insects. The morning the new exhibit opened we spent a long while at The Edge watching, sketching and photographing the magnificent beasts. We look forward to spending more time in this newest exhibit, and to whatever the Denver Zoo has planned for future improvements.
Besides these newer exhibits, the rest of the Zoo is still a joy to wander around. Our family favorite animals to watch, aside from the tigers and elephants, are usually penguins, bears, and bald eagles, monkeys and great apes. G particularly enjoys the frequent encounters with free-wandering peacocks throughout the zoo. Some of the older exhibits areas seem a bit dated and bland, but the animals within them are still fun to watch, yet the coming years will see continued construction and renovation projects as the zoo works to remain fresh and exciting.
While some out-of-state visitors seem to think of Colorado as a cold, snowy place, the weather is in fact usually fairly mild which makes the zoo a year-round destination for us. It’s generally less crowded than indoor museums in the cold season, and contains a number of indoor exhibits that are fun for colder days. Indeed, we have a family tradition of going to the zoo, which is open 365 days a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Besides traditional zoo exhibits, the Denver Zoo hosts occasional special art exhibits for an added dose of fun and exploration. In 2015 a series of large-scale animal sculptures built from LEGO bricks graced the zoo. This was followed in 2016 by Washed Ashore, an art exhibit exploring how litter affects ocean animals. This fall, DINOS! will see 21 animatronic dinosaur models scattered throughout the zoo. My kids still talk about how cool the LEGO exhibit was and they’re eagerly looking forwards to the dinosaurs.
Of course the best part of any Zoo is the simple unpredictability of animals. Besides whatever new exhibit or art display might be opening, there’s always something fun and surprising to see, Arriving at an exhibit just in time for an animal demonstration, seeing a new baby on display for the first time, or simply watching animals doing weird and goofy things are all part of a typical day at the zoo. During a recent visit, besides watching the tigers and some of our other favorite animals, we happened upon the Bald Eagles just as they were splashing in their pool. M, age three, absolutely loves bald eagles and was delighted to watch them splashing and shaking water around. He still talks about the experience weeks later. I’m surprised he hasn’t taken his stuffed bald eagle and tried to give it a bath in the sink.
So if you’re looking for something to do in the Denver area, the Denver Zoo gets top marks in our book. Like most zoos there’s always plenty to learn, particularly for Unschoolers who see learning everywhere, but it’s also a constantly changing and improving place where there’s frequently something new to see. And that makes it a joy to visit any time of the year.
Check out more of our favorite places in the Denver area:
- Our Favorite Places: Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum
- The Denver Art Museum (coming soon)