The Tropics in Denver: Two Free Locations

I was expecting Denver to be a lot prettier in the winter. It’s gorgeous here in the spring and fall, with tree leaves respectively budding white and pink and changing red and orange. But in the winter everything is just dead. I think I was expecting to live in a Thomas Kinkade winter scene: pine trees heavy with snow, kids skating on frozen ponds, white-capped mountains in the background… Nope. The weather here has a severe bi-polar personality disorder, which means it will be snowy and gorgeous for five minutes and then everything will melt and it will be fifty degrees the next day. Trees and parks will remain dead-looking until April.

Denver winter

Luckily there are antidotes to this excessive brownness. You can either

  • Head up to the mountains where it’s so cold that you eyeballs freeze, but the snow doesn’t melt. OR…
  • Find something tropic in Denver. And no, I’m not taking about fruity drinks with umbrellas. I hate Margaritaville. Thank goodness there isn’t one in Denver. I’m talking about the greenhouse at Denver Botanic Gardens and the indoor rainforest at Denver Zoo.The only picture I took at the zoo
  • Since only part of the zoo and gardens are tropical, I recommend not paying for your admission to these attractions, particularly if you go during the winter. Free 2013 zoo days this winter have already passed, but if you are into planning waaaay ahead, the zoo will be free again on November 4th, 15th, and 21st  The Botanic Gardens will again be free March 27th, April 22nd, July 9th, August 27th, and October 7th.

At the zoo last month I skipped the elephants, zebras and cheetahs and met my friends somewhere around Bird World and Lorikeet Adventure, where it was nice and warm. The Emerald Forest and Primate Panorama also feature inside viewing areas.

On the other side of the park is Tropical Discovery, an indoor rainforest. There are no dead looking brown trees here. Everything looks very lush….except the “temple ruin in the heart of the jungle.” It looks rather cheesy. But while in my fake rainforest, I enjoyed gazing at the fish and turtles, and my baby girl craned her neck to look at an exciting light coming through the water.

The zoo is located inside downtown Denver’s City Park (also very brown and dead looking this month). Being free day, the parking lot and garage was very crowded, and the line of cars piled up to get into the park was long. However the zoo itself didn’t feel very crowded. Maybe that’s because everyone was checking out the elephants and cooler outdoor animals.

Adult admission to the zoo is $12 during the winter and $15 in the summer. Winter hours are 10-4, summer hours are 9-5. Check out the zoo’s website here for more information.

Last week when my parents came to visit I suggested that we visit Denver’s Botanic Gardens, which shocked them because I hate botany. Botany 101/plant identification was the only class I failed in college, and I failed it twice. The first time with a 10%. And I was actually TRYING to pass. I’m sorry, it is just impossible to tell if a leaf is separated (in which you should turn to page 652 in your dichotomous key) or merely serrated (page 152 – an get ready for another equally impossible task). But my farmer father was an ag major, my mom loves gardening, it was free, and I had a baby to entertain me so off to the Botanic Gardens we went.

A flowerIt wasn’t so bad – mostly because I skipped the pools, outside gardens, and ornamental grasses. They didn’t look too interesting from afar (dead, brown, etc.). The greenhouse was kinda nice though. I stepped inside the garden, stepped back out, stripped my daughter of her pink fuzzy snowsuit, and re-entered. It was VERY hot and humid in there. The greenhouse is several stories (there is an elevator) of lush greenness. In addition to various plants that I don’t know the Latin names of (I left my dichotomous key at home, dang it!), the greenhouse has a water feature complete with ducks. I especially liked watching little kids run around with petri dishes, collecting various stuff. I don’t know if they were supposed to be doing this, but they looked very cute and earnest. I’m sure they’ll make good botany students in the future.

I conveniently got hungry an hour after our arrival at the gardens. (My dad said he could have spent NINE HOURS there. Oh, the horror.) If you, like me, don’t want to dine at a place called Offshoots at the Gardens, Three Lions, a soccer (football?) pub around the corner has great bar food. Denver Botanic Gardens are open from 9 -5, and if you don’t go on a free day, it’ll cost you $12.50 (more than the zoo? That’s absurd!) The gardens are downtown at 1007 York Street. Check them out here.  

Less than five weeks ‘til spring!


Denver, Denver Botanical gardens, Denver zoo, winter

Jenna Vandenberg

Teacher, writer, runner, mom and wife.

Comments (3)

  • Brigid Anne

    Dude! How in the world did I pass that class and you didn’t?! Anyway you and the kiddo are always welcome in year round tropical Florida… Just saying its been in the eighties since mid February… 😉

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