A few years ago, we set off across the dusty flat plains with our sights set on the Rocky Mountains. My parents actually live in Denver and were were embarking on a two week stay so we could really enjoy time with them…and let’s be honest, recover from the 16+ hour drive!
Our normal vacations are usually less than a week so knowing we had two weeks to fill, I knew we needed to find some affordable (aka FREE) activities to fill up our days. Stretching our vacation budget is always a priority and I wanted to enjoy a slower vacation where we could enjoy things like a local rather than packing the highlights into a few days.
So whether you’re a local or visiting Denver for the first time, these affordable kid-friendly hidden gems are sure to be a hit with your whole family.
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Affordable Hidden Gems in Denver For Kids
My kids love this museum and all the hands-on exhibits they offer. From dinosaur fossils to space exploration, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a whole-day excursion for families that want to learn more about the natural world. Their special kids area is a huge hit and you won’t want to miss the hall of gems either.
The museum also offers lots of rotating exhibits, so check the website for information. If you’re an ASTC Passport program member at your local science museum, admission is FREE (special exhibits are an extra charge).
Don’t underestimate your kids’ fascination of a new method of transportation. We often hop on the Light Rail to ride into downtown Denver (to avoid parking) and will spend a few hours exploring. I recommend visiting Confluence Park and then exploring the huge REI complete with a playground and Starbucks. If you’re staying the city, take the Light Rail to another part of town or even just ride out and back. It’s an affordable and fun to see the city in a new way.
A small petting museum, a kids train ride, water play, and mini golf are all part of this huge city park located on the south side of Denver. For a few dollars your kids can tour the small farm and pet the baby animals, hop on a small train ride, or splash in the creek that runs through the park.
On the other side of the park, you can play mini-golf in a Colorado-themed course, which was a big hit with my boys. There’s a large water park next door as well, if you’re looking for more adventure. We like to pack a picnic and spend the morning playing and exploring. I recommend water shoes for the creek since the bottom can be a bit rocky although it didn’t bother my kids a bit.
Right near downtown Littleton (a southwest suburb of Denver) you’ll find the Littleton Museum, a living history center that showcases life during the 19th century. You can visit various buildings and interact with volunteer interpreters who are happy to answer questions and show off their particular areas.
We visited a blacksmith, saw new baby lambs, and toured a house without indoor plumbing. There’s also a small indoor museum with artifacts from the local area. It’s tucked away and not as well known so we found it a nice place to explore, especially if you go early to beat the field trip and day camp crowds.
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If you want to get up close and personal with some prehistoric fossils, you need to visit Dinosaur Ridge. Rather than excavating the fossils, archeologists have left some of them out in the open so you can see how they were discovered.
You’ll park at the bottom of the foothill on the far west side of Denver and can either hike up the paved road (FREE) or take the tour shuttle (admission charge which includes entrance to a small museum). We hiked up with my parents and the kids so it’s not super strenuous, but you’ll need to keep the kids back from the edge. There’s no shade so go slow and bring plenty of water.
Denver can get really hot in the summer so having some places to cool off is a must. This playground in Centennial, CO has a huge spray park for kids to splash and play in. There’s not a ton of shade but there are some trees and a shelter nearby along with restrooms and a super interesting playground. If it’s a warm day be prepared for crowds, but there’s plenty of places to play and my kids didn’t mind one bit. Pack lots of sunscreen and a picnic lunch to make a day of it.
Visiting Colorado with Kids
If you’re planning a trip to Colorado, make sure to read up on adjusting to the altitude. I always recommend families spend a day or two in Denver before heading even higher into the mountains. The high altitude can be tough for little bodies to acclimate to so make sure you know what to look for. If you’re looking for more Colorado travel ideas, make sure to check out 5 Fantastic Things To Do In Colorado Springs With Kids. Happy adventures!
Have you visited Denver with your kids? What do you recommend all families visit when they visit the Mile High city? Got a question about an upcoming trip? Leave a comment and let me help you plan a perfect vacation!