With the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the new History Colorado Center, Denver offers oodles of top-notch things to do for visiting families.

 

However, if you're planning to stay in Denver for a while, or you're road-tripping through the state, I suggest venturing outside the city limits to check out some attractions a bit farther afield. Here are my recommendations:

 

Boulder: This university town, about an hour's drive northwest of Denver, has the fabulous Pearl Street pedestrian mall in the middle of its downtown. Especially in warm-weather months, it overflows with sidewalk entertainment: magicians, jugglers, and musicians, to name a few. Play areas for preschoolers let small children burn off steam with small climbing structures. Plenty of patio restaurants – and ice cream stands – offer sustenance, while big kids (such as my fashion-conscious teen) appreciate the myriad shopping options. If you're visiting on a Saturday between April and October, swing by the Boulder County Farmers' Market for some fresh produce, then hit the gentle Boulder Creek Trail or serene and green Chautauqua at the base of the Flatiron Mountains.

 

Butterfly Pavilion: Also to the northwest, but much closer to Denver, is the Butterfly Pavilion, home to more than 1,600 butterflies, as well as hundreds of insects, arachnids (spiders), and marine invertebrates (sea urchins, sea stars and horseshoe crabs). Plan to spend a chunk of time at this Westminster attraction, admiring colorful butterflies in the rainforest-like Wings of the Tropics exhibit. There also are nature trails, touch tanks, and engaging, interactive programs led by enthusiastic staff who love to share their knowledge of animal habitats and insects – winged and otherwise!

Viewfinder Tip: Because Denver is at high altitude, it's important to stay hydrated when you're playing outdoors.

Roxborough State Park: This 4,000-square-foot state park in Littleton, southwest of Denver, is chock full of otherworldly red-rock formations. You can just walk a bit past the visitor center for some dramatic views, or get up close and personal with the geological wonders on hiking trails for all abilities. One reason I love hiking at Roxborough State Park: Horses, mountain bikes and pets aren't allowed, so you won't be bothered by speedy cyclists or four-legged friends (and their waste!) on the trails.

 

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: Another great close-to-Denver spot for hiking — and biking — trails is Red Rocks, in Morrison, west of Denver. This site is well-known for its awesome natural amphitheatre, and it hosts headline concerts in the summertime (Michael Franti, Bruno Mars, Steely Dan and Widespread Panic are on tap for 2013). But the trails amid the craggy buttes and looming rock towers also are fun; consider hiking the moderate, 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail with hardy school-age children. 

 

Golden: Just west of Denver, Golden is home to the old-timey Heritage Square Entertainment Village, with a human maze, ropes course, train rides, alpine slide, go-karts, mini golf, and other amusements. For more warm-weather fun in Golden, pack the bathing suits and hit Splash at Fossil Trace for its water slides and water sprays, lap and leisure pools, and sandy “beach.” Adults, head over to the Coors Brewery Tour for a free self-guided walk through the world's largest single-site brewery. All tours end with samples.

 

What are your favorite things to do with kids in Colorado?