Colorado — which means “color red” — is rife with parks, forests, and wildlife. In fact, the state has 222 wildlife areas, and it’s not uncommon to see an abundance of nesting and migrating birds as Colorado is the second in the nation for their variety of birds. It also has 15 national forests, 42 state parks, four national parks, eight national monuments, and two national grasslands.
That said, it’s no surprise that there are many wonderful zoos in Colorado that you can visit. If ever you’re planning to see Colorado, check out the following zoos for a unique, educational, and enriching experience that’s truly one for the books:
Cities in Colorado That Have Zoos
Located in Westminster, just 15 minutes from downtown Denver, is the amazing Butterfly Pavilion. It’s home not only to a mesmerizing array of butterflies, but also to hundreds of other insect species. The zoo was founded in 1995 and remains as the first standalone non-profit invertebrate zoo in the U.S.
The Butterfly Pavilion hosts six year-round exhibits for general admission. The exhibits are geared toward entertaining and educating the public, emphasizing the importance of helping preserve endangered ecosystems and habitats both in the tropics and across the globe. Its newest exhibit is the Colorado Backyard, which features live animals, indoor play structures, a rotating exhibit area, and even a virtual reality experience.
Aside from butterflies, insects, and other invertebrates, you also get to see various plant species, underwater habitats, and small marine creatures when you visit other exhibits such as the Outdoor Gardens and Nature Trail, Water’s Edge, or Wings of the Tropics. You can also watch emerging butterflies from the live chrysalis cameras. The Butterfly Pavilion also hosts family-friendly special events. One of these is the Living Lights event, which features interactive glowing exhibits, aerial artists, and a kid-friendly dance party. If you’re looking for a unique, educational, and enriching experience, then visiting the Butterfly Pavilion is worth including in your bucket list.
Colorado Springs Zoos
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Those looking for a memorable zoo experience in Colorado Springs will find this in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Not only can you get breathtaking views of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak, you also get to see and interact with various animals, from local to exotic species found in Africa, Asia, and Australia among many other places.
Some of the zoo’s featured exhibits include Water’s Edge: Africa and Explore Encounter Africa. Water’s Edge Africa provides guests with an extraordinary view of Nile hippos and African penguins, which are two animal species that face threats in the wild. The exhibit is designed to promote breeding programs for the two species by enhancing their environment.
Explore Encounter Africa, on the other hand, is an award-winning exhibit that lets visitors experience what it’s like to walk with elephants, watch lions display their natural hunting behaviors from three separate viewing locations, or marvel at a black rhinoceros from a cantilevered bush plane.
Among the many exhibits featured by the zoo, the giraffe encounters remain the most popular as parents and kids alike can enjoy feeding the giraffes with lettuce. To get the best views, you can also go on the zoo’s open-air chairlift ride or head to the top of the 8,136-foot Will Rogers Shrine. If you’re taking your kids along, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is absolutely kid-friendly, and you won’t have a hard time navigating with a stroller or even a wheelchair.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
If you’re in Mosca and you’re fond of reptiles, then you definitely can’t miss the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. The zoo was originally a fish farm in 1977. Ten years later, the first alligators were brought into the farm to serve as “garbage disposals” for the dead fish. By 1990, the farm was turned into the Colorado Gators Reptile Park and was opened to the public. Remarkably, many of the first alligators are still kept within the park, with some even growing up to 12 feet long!
Besides numerous alligators, the park also features other reptiles such as turtles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, and birds. The park’s aim is to spread awareness and appreciation for various reptile species, as well as their biology, behavior, and important role in the environment. Though it can seem a bit scary for first-timers, many park visitors have actually enjoyed interacting with and touching some of the reptiles with the help of the park’s friendly and knowledgeable staff. Guests could also hold baby alligators and take pictures with them, while others could feed tortoises lettuce leaves.
If you’re taking small kids along, the Colorado Gators Reptile Park also has an outdoor playground. The park also hosts an annual Gatorfest every first weekend of August, where you can experience the world’s first Gator Rodeo and Roundup.
Having celebrated its 125th year in operation, the Denver Zoo remains a beloved landmark in the state’s capital city. Its long history began with a black bear cub given as a special gift to the mayor of Denver at the time. Today, the zoo is an 84-acre campus that houses more than 3,000 wild animals that guests of all ages can learn about and even interact with up-close.
Since it’s home to thousands of animals, you definitely won’t run out of exhibits to enjoy in Denver Zoo. Among the most unique and memorable exhibits is The EDGE, which lets park visitors get as close as six inches to two Amur tigers, which are classified as critically endangered species. The exhibit’s central area is equipped with heavy-duty perforated panels, ensuring the guests’ safety while allowing them to have the rare chance to meet these magnificent creatures.
The Denver Zoo also has the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Animal Hospital, a 22,000-square-foot treatment facility where park guests can learn more about top-notch animal care. During some visits, guests may get a chance to witness animals undergoing a live treatment procedure or surgery using the hospital’s state-of-the-art equipment.
Other exhibits in the Denver Zoo include the Pinnacol African Penguin Point, Tropical Discovery, the Stingray Cove Experience, and many more.
Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center
Pueblo County has two amazing zoos you can visit: the Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center and the Pueblo Zoo.
The Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center is a multi-campus zoo that features a mountain campus, river campus, and raptor center. The Mountain Campus at Beulah is a vast, 611-acre area that includes a lodge, pavilion, classrooms, an amphitheater, various hiking trails, and a challenge course for low ropes. The River Campus, on the other hand, can let guests enjoy an afternoon walk, hike, bike, or even a cookout alongside the Arkansas River.
The zoo also has a Raptor Center, which offers weekend guided tours around the area twice a month. The Raptor Center, which is home to 16 resident raptors, also rehabilitates 200 raptors per year. It also cares for ill, injured, and orphaned birds of prey, so they can eventually return to living in the wild.
Similarly, the Pueblo Zoo is home to different animal species, namely mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and arthropods and invertebrates. Kids as young as six can enjoy the Behind the Scenes events at Pueblo Zoo, where they can meet endangered species such as African penguins, African painted dogs, American bison, and red pandas. What’s more, 10% of every ticket purchased for the Behind the Scenes experience goes to conservation efforts for the animals. Other regular events in Pueblo Zoo include the Safari Cafe Open Weekends and Half-Price days.
Wild Animal Sanctuary
Although there are three facilities under The Wild Animal Sanctuary name, the one located in Keenesburg is a 789-acre zoo sheltering more than 600 large carnivores. During its 40 years in operation, the resident animals of The Wild Animal Sanctuary are primarily rescued from abandonment, captivity, illegal ownership, or even abusive situations. It’s also home to surplus animals from other zoos and wildlife facilities that can no longer provide them with adequate care.
Many of the animals in The Wild Animal Sanctuary include tigers, African lions, mountain lions, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, hyenas, bobcats, foxes, lynx, ostriches, emu, alpacas, wallabies, among many others. The zoo even has rescued cats and dogs.
As the largest and oldest sanctuary of its kind in the world, The Wild Animal Sanctuary is one of the best zoos in Colorado where you can learn a lot about different creatures in the wild. With its Mile into the Wild walkway, guests can travel 1.5 miles of elevated bridgework, which is designed to give guests a unique view without putting undue pressure on the animals. Additionally, the sanctuary offers three programs focused on animal care and education, namely the Wild Animal Rescue, the Wild Animal Care Program, and the Captive Wildlife Education Program.
Wolves Offered Life and Friendship Sanctuary
The W.O.L.F. (Wolves Offered Life and Friendship) Sanctuary in Bellvue is located at the foothills of Northern Colorado. Founded in 1995, the sanctuary has since been rescuing captive-born wolves and wolf dogs. There are currently about 30 wolves and wolf dogs residing in the sanctuary, with packs kept between two to four individuals. Aside from rescuing and providing a permanent home for these creatures of the wild, the W.O.L.F. Sanctuary also has educational programs where people can develop awareness of the threats facing wolves and wolf dogs, as well as gain a deeper understanding of their role in our environment.
While the W.O.L.F. Sanctuary can be a great place to visit, it is currently not open to the public, and only volunteers who have confirmed schedules are permitted in the sanctuary. However, because of the locational challenges faced by the organization, it is currently in the process of moving to a more suitable location that will be open to the general public in the future.
Zoos in Colorado Recap
Exploring zoos and encountering many creatures of the wild can be a fun and educational experience. Many of the zoos in Colorado can provide just that and so much more. Aside from just letting guests view the animals, the Colorado zoos mentioned above have a particular focus on educating the public about different animal species and how it’s important to keep them protected from threats such as habitat loss, human encroachment, catastrophic events, and abuse.
Get in touch with your wild side and visit any of these zoos in Colorado for a memorable time with family and friends.