My family lives in Colorado’s mountains, about three-and-a-half hours from downtown Denver. When we drive “down the hill” to the big city from our rural residence, we typically make a point to hit one of the Mile High City’s major family-friendly attractions. Over the years, our trips have evolved from visiting the Children’s Museum of Denver (great for babies, toddlers and young children up to age eight) to more complex exhibits at the fascinating Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

 

Here are my suggestions for the top places in Denver to go with your school-age children – say, ages nine to 12:

 

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

My children never seem to tire of visiting the Expedition Health exhibit here, where they can test their lung capacity (by riding a stationary bike), see what they might look like when they’re 80 (especially if they don’t use sunscreen), test their balance, use their mind to move matter, and measure their stride and wingspan. The highly interactive stations here are both engaging and entertaining. But the Denver Museum of Nature and Science at City Park also has high-quality, detailed exhibits about the prehistoric times, space travel, and Egyptian mummies, among many others. A planetarium and IMAX theater offer several different shows daily.

Asian elephants have lots of room to roam at the Denver Zoo.

 

Denver Zoo

The addition of the Toyota Elephant Passage, which debuted in 2012, helped make a great zoo even better. In this section of the 80-acre Denver Zoo, visitors can get up close and personal with Asian elephants, Malaysian tapirs, and great one-horned rhinos, who make their home in expansive enclosures. Watch gibbons swing overhead and fishing cats hunt for their next meal. I amazed even myself when I managed to walk through the indoor exhibit that’s home to the largest bats (flying foxes) I’d ever seen (I’ve got a thing with bats). Other animals at this City Park zoo include pythons, clouded leopards, and otters – and that’s just one section! In total, you’ll find more than 3,500 animals from 650 species here.

Viewfinder Tip: Give older kids some alone time at museums; it helps them connect to exhibits independently and individually.

History Colorado Center

With high-tech, interactive exhibits that appeal to screen-minded tweens, downtown’s History Colorado Center makes learning about the state’s past downright fun. Through a video, kids can learn how miners used to set the dynamite just so for perfect blasting – then they can try it themselves (with faux explosives, of course). With the technology in other exhibits, kids might descend into a mine shaft, take a virtual ski jump, and get to know Colorado through it’s most endearing residents, such as “Barrel Man,” who, for 30 years attended every Denver Broncos home game wearing only a barrel and cowboy boots. (Yep, we’re a little quirky here in Colorado).

Lazy river and water slide at Elitch Gardens

 

Elitch Gardens

Open daily Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, and then weekends through September and October, Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park is packed with tweens and teens who love roller coasters and water slides. The downtown amusement park actually has a quite a history, having been a fixture in Denver for more than a century. Thrill rides like the Tower of Doom and Mind Eraser coaster are modern scream-inducers, and there’s a mellow, 83-year-old carousel, too. My biggest tip: Mentally prepare for the crowds (get there when the park opens, preferably on a weekday) and the high-priced theme-park meals (outside food and beverages are prohibited), and you’ll be just fine. 

 

What’s your favorite city to visit with kids?