The Denver Zoo free days are by far the most popular Denver free days for families with kids, and are typically held during the fall and winter.
Kids love to walk through the zoo and watch the animals, and there are also fun activities for the kids at various locations throughout the zoo, such as the drums at Congo Basin.
If you're a Denver resident or you're traveling through Denver during one of the zoo's free days, I highly recommend spending a day at the Denver Zoo.
Since much of the zoo is outdoors and free days are in the colder months, be sure to dress warmly. There are plenty of chances to step inside to warm up also, such as the indoor rainforest at Tropical Discovery.
Location: The Denver Zoo is located next to City Park on 23rd Avenue in Denver.
The popularity of the Denver Zoo free days sometimes creates long lines of traffic particularly on weekends. If it is not possible to park in the free parking garage, you might want to park in city park and walk to the zoo.
2016 Denver Zoo Free Days:
- Friday, January 8
- Saturday, January 9
- Thursday, January 21
- Sunday, January 31
- Monday, February 1
- Thursday, February 18
- Friday, November 4
- Monday, November 7
- Thursday, November 17
On my family's Denver Zoo trip, we took a look at the map before deciding on a course. Most people travel counter-clockwise because the entrance is situated to direct you toward the right. But we were interested in the big cats, and they were to the left. So we toured the zoo clockwise, beginning with the sleepy lions right in front of the entrance, and then moving past the mongoose and porcupine exhibit to the left. There is a small cave that young children can enter to get an up close and personal view of the mongoose exhibit. Next are the dik-dik's, which are very cute small African antelope. A short walk takes us past the zebra exhibit, where three of them were munching on grass.
This brings us to the first cat house. The first animal we saw there didn't seem to be a cat at all, but to our surprise we learned that the hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs. The cats may be inside or outside depending on the weather. On this day they were outside and we had great fun checking out the sleepy leopards and curious fossa. We also went inside to see if there were any more critters in there, and there were some small mongoose and pygmy marmoset hanging out.
The first cat house exits into a covered pavilion, where there are views of the beautiful but stinky maned wolves. This is only the first of two maned wolf habitats at the zoo. At the other end of the pavilion, doors open to the second cat house. If it's a nice day, most of them will be outside, so you might exit the second cat house quickly and walk around to the outdoor pens where you might spot a snow leopard. At the far end of the cat habitat lies the real prize, the tigers. Hopefully you will catch them at an active time of day.
Moving on in a clockwise direction, the new giraffe feeding experience may or may not be open, but even if it isn't, the view of giraffes feeding from baskets of food hung high in 'treetops' is amazing. If the weather is poor, they might be inside, so step in but hold your nose! Across the way, walk uphill to the polar bear exhibit. There is a downstairs underwater viewing area, but I've never seen the bears in the water. Usually they are hanging out topside. Most people miss the beaver habitat after seeing the polar bear, but try to make a stop to check it out. Sea lions and harbor seals are next, and there is a restaurant with outside tables so you can watch the sea lions play. They also put on a show a couple times per day when they are fed, this is very fun to watch.
At this point, it's very easy to miss the Tropical Discovery house, but it's easily accessed from the sea lion exhibit if you just look for it. This is a great place to warm up on a chilly fall or winter day, and the selection of fish, turtles, snakes (and even bats!) will keep you busy for a good part of your day.
Next, you pass some construction where a new exhibit is slowly taking shape, maybe it will be ready by the time you visit (in the past, this area was the wolf exhibit).
Another restaurant with sheltered seating opens to the elephant arena, where trained elephants regularly put on demonstrations of their amazing talents. The elephant habitat is right next door. It's a huge area fitting of such a large animal, with side attractions such as overhead swinging monkeys. The little kids will want to take turns driving the tuktuk, but right behind it is a hidden house that most people miss. Be sure to check it out, you don't want to miss the special cat who loves water!
At this point we took a shortcut across to the area near the main entrance where the cafeteria is. The cafeteria has better food prices than the other restaurants, and it has both indoor and covered outdoor seating, although the geese can sometimes be a pest.
After having a nice relaxing lunch, we cut back across to where we left off: the birds. Huge eagles fly across their pens from tree to cliffside, and in the winter the pink flamingos can be viewed through a window into their indoor winter habitat.
Next stop: MONKEYS! One of my daughter's favorites, the monkey exhibits are really amazing and take up a large part of the Denver Zoo. You will want to go inside the monkey house, as there are always some inside, as well as check out the outdoor exhibits.
This is where the drums are, and kids will jam out to their own little bongo session. The gorillas and orangutans are located in separate sides of an ape house. Hopefully they will be outside basking in the sun.
By this time , we were very tired, so we skipped the middle area which features the carousel of finely carved zoo animals, and the train. Instead we moved on toward the bears, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. We made a long stop at the cheetah habitat where a beautiful cat was sunning on a mound of grass. Kangaroos and water buffalo rounded out our day until we were too tired to explore any more.
Although we explored most of the outer circle of the Denver Zoo, we saved plenty for next time! There are a lot of attractions in the center that we didn't have time for, but maybe you will.
The Denver Zoo has a rather limited number of free days offered only during their slowest times of year. But that doesn't mean you have to give up your search for fun free things to do with the kids. Click on Museums at the top of this page to see a list of all the major museums (including children's museums) in Colorado with free admission or free days.