Denver Zoo Guide

The Denver Zoo is one of Denver’s top attractions for kids and adults. With fun for everyone from infants and toddlers, to big kids and adults, the zoo has something for everyone.

Denver Zoo Animals

denver-zoo-welcome-logo-sm Popular zoo animals include polar bears, monkeys, elephants, giraffes, seals, lions, snakes, and more. The Denver Zoo has several special animal exhibit areas. One of the most sought out zoo areas by young boys is the Tropical Discovery zone which is filled with tropical fish, brightly colored frogs, alligators, komodo dragons, and of course snake and spiders. Needless to say, this area is very popular around Halloween, during the zoo’s special trick or treat event Boo at the Zoo.

Another special habitat area is Bird World, where the Denver Zoo keeps its brightly colored tropical birds like parrots and toucans, as well as more exotic birds like the hornbills. A hard to spot, but worth the look animal is the sloth, which occupies one of the tropical bird rooms and can usually be spotting sleeping – of course — among the ceiling rafters.

Of course, no visit to the zoo would be complete without seeing elephants. The Denver Zoo is home to two Asian elephants. Daily demonstrations show both how zoo keepers interact with the elephants and offer a fun show that lets kids see some of the amazing things elephants can do, especially what they can do with that long trunk. Hippos and the zoo’s rhinoceros, along with the unusual Tapir are all housed in the same complex as the elephants.

The zoo is set to break ground on a new and improved elephant exhibit in 2010.

One whole corner of the zoo is dedicated to primates, that’s monkeys to most of us. But, the zoo doesn’t have just one or two kinds of monkeys, it has dozens of species ranging from a family of several gorillas, to chimpanzees, orangutans, and several smaller and less known monkeys as well. The primates live in indoor / outdoor environments that allow visitors to see them either climbing trees outside, or lounging around behind the glass inside.

Another popular attraction are the zoo’s lions which are housed in a new savannah style environment that mimics the animal’s natural habitat. Guests can see lions lounging in the sun on a rock outcropping, or pacing among the long grasses. An indoor viewing area offers up close and personal views of the lions just inches away through floor to ceiling glass windows.

Denver Zoo Special Events

The zoo offers several special events through out the year. Special events in 2009 include Boo at the Zoo, Zoo Lights, Brew at the Zoo and of course, the Denver Zoo free days.

Zoo Amenities – Food Strollers

Scattered throughout the zoo are concession stands offering the usual fare of hotdogs, hamburgers, and French fries. But, the zoo goes one step further, also offering up fresh salads, both chef salads and southwest chicken salads, and other healthier treats for conscientious parents. But, don’t forget to splurge on cotton candy, or a snow cone for that all around fun zoo visit.

If you don’t want to pack up your stroller or are just hoping that maybe it won’t be necessary, don’t worry. The zoo offers affordable rentals of both sturdy plastic strollers (in traditional and Jeep shapes) as well as wagons big enough for two kids and a day’s supply of food and drinks. Rentals are $5 for wagons, and similar amounts for strollers.

Denver Zoo Deals

For a great Denver Zoo deal, buy a large drink when you first arrive. Refills are just 87 cents (75 cents plus tax) all day. In fact, the zoo souvenir cups are refillable year round for the same price, so if you are making more than one trip to the zoo this year, keep your cup.


Although the zoo is close to downtown Denver, parking is provided with both large surface lots and an underground parking garage. On all but the busiest summer days or when there are special events, parking is no problem. For crowded events like Boo at the Zoo or Denver Zoo Lights, you may have to park at the Nature and Science Museum, or even walk in from one of the surrounding neighborhoods.

If you do park in on neighborhood streets, watch the signs. Some areas require a resident permit and others only permit 2 hour parking. Also, from April to November, be sure to read the street sweeping signs (the red ones with lots of words). These signs will inform you that there is no parking on one side of the street on a certain day each month. If you see everyone parked on the other side of the street, chances are, that day is today.

Denver International Airport

dia-airport-graphicDenver International Airport, or DIA, as it is known serves Denver and the surrounding areas.

The most important thing to know about the airport, is that it is nowhere near Denver. Many locals joke that that airport is actually in Kansas. That is an exaggeration, of course, but it is not without merit.

DIA is technically in Denver, but only thanks to the kind of boundary gerrymandering that is unconstitutional if used for anything other than artificially including airports inside of city limits.

To find DIA on Google Maps, type in Denver, CO. Then, zoom out. Zoom out again. Zoom out again. Now scroll to the right.  Look for a big gray area to the Northeast of Denver.  That is Denver International Airport. You can’t even see the Rocky Mountains from there.

The airport is 40 minutes from downtown in good traffic, but can take significantly longer to reach during rush hour. If you are not going toward downtown, Denver’s only toll road E-470 can get you to the northernmost or southernmost ends of the Denver metro area much faster.

Don’t bother with it for anything close to the center of the metro region. E-470 is a “loop” that doesn’t connect up on the West side that runs around the OUTER edge of the metro area. They say, that in Denver, the only thing further East than E-470 is DIA.

The good news is that parking is relatively easy at DIA compared to other airports at all times except the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It is also cheaper than a lot of other metropolitan airports with close-in garage parking going for $18 a day and further out, but still walkable parking lots costing $10 for parking.

Unless you are going downtown and staying downtown the whole duration of your trip, rent a car. With the exception of a 15 block area downtown, this is not a walking city.

Every downtown Denver motel and hotel has parking of some sort, and while the locals will complain loudly about the rates, they are much lower than in other major cities. Valet parking at most hotels is about $30 a day with self-park costing $15 to $20 depending upon the hotel.

Taxis are not common except at hotels and a couple of other spots. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a phone call and then wait for one to show up. Cab fare from the airport will typically pay for a full-day of car rental, with a round trip costing you at least what a 2-day rental would cost.

Plan ahead and get a discount car reservation and you might be able to rent a car for the whole week for the same price as a rountrip taxi cab ride to the airport.

If you have ever driven in another metropolitan size city, you can handle driving in Denver.

Denver City Layout

Which Way Is North?

Getting your bearings in most cities can be a challenge. In Denver, and anywhere along the Front Range for that matter, finding North, South, East, and West is as easy as finding the mountains. The Rocky Mountains are to the West.

If you are ever lost or confused, just take a minute to look around. Find the mountains; that is west. You can take it from there.

(For the super directionally challenged, if you are looking West, North is to the right, and South is to the left. East is behind you.)

Denver City Streets

Like most cities, Denver has a network of streets crisscrossing its downtown area. Unlike, most cities, those streets are not always laid out on a North-South and East-West axis.

denver-street-layout-graphicMany of Denver’s downtown streets are laid out diagonally, more on a Northeast to Southwest and Northwest to Southeast type grid. The reason for this unusual layout?

Early on in Denver’s history, the streets were actually laid out so that if you looked down the street (to the Southwest) you would see Pikes Peak. The name streets are laid out in this direction. They are crossed at the standard 90 degrees by the numbered streets. This arrangement was abandoned later, but not before Denver ended up with a “weird” layout for almost all of its downtown streets. It also makes for some interesting intersection where the “normal” North-South/East-West streets meet their diagonal counterparts.

Numbered Streets

The numbered streets in Downtown Denver run from lower numbers to the south toward higher numbers to the north.  Thus, 14th Street is south of 15th Street.

The crossing streets are named streets. These streets do not progress according to any external order. (They are not alphabetical, for example).

Denver Landmark Locations

A handful of Denver Landmarks and Attractions make for useful directional landmarks.

The Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, is in the Southwest corner of downtown, while Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, occupies the Northwest corner.

The Denver City and County Building and the Colorado State Capitol building flank Civic Center Park on the eastern edge of downtown.

About Denver

The City and County of Denver is Colorado’s largest city, as well as the capital city of Colorado.

Denver is known as the Mile High City because it’s elevation is 1 mile above sea level. There are many Denver attractions that mark the spots where the elevation is exactly 5280 feet. The 13th step of the Colorado State Capital Building, and the purple row of seats inside Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, are two examples.

History of Denver

Like many cities in the West, Denver got its start as a gold mining camp after prospectors discovered gold where the South Platte River and Cherry Creek meet. The mining camp grew into a major city in the area thanks to the railroads.

Denver Population

The US Census Bureau pegs Denver’s population at 598,707. However, most people would consider the city to be much larger. While Denver’s official boundaries contain just under 600,000 residents, this reflects a law which prevented Denver from annexing any new land, thus, artificially limiting its size. The surrounding area, known as the Denver Metro Area, has closer to 2 1/2 million people.

Denver Weather

Modern technology obscures Denver’s semi-arid climate. The area averages just 13 inches of total precipitation each year. While the city does get snow in the winter, most storms pack less than an inch or two of accumulation. Most of the time, the snow melts away the next day, sparing Denver the slush and grayness that can plague other wintry cities.

While spring Thunderstorms can be powerful, Denver’s location next to the Rocky Mountains spares it from most of the severe weather, particularly tornadoes, that is common in its neighbors to the east.

Together, these factors provide for very sunny conditions, regardless of temperature, throughout the year. Denver boasts of 300 days of sunshine a year. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the weather is always the same, though. A favorite saying of the locals is, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”

Denver Geography

Denver sits just to the east of the Rocky Mountains, known throughout the region as “The Rockies.” The mountains do not rise abruptly out of the plains. Rather, a ridge of hills in front of the Rocky Mountains runs from North to South. These hills are called the foothills and are often mistaken for the Rockies that lie behind.

The hills in the front are typically more purple while the mountains behind tend toward blue. The tallest mountain peaks visible from Downtown Denver, like Pikes Peak and Longs Peak have snow on them year round (it’s the white that you see).

Denver does sit in a slight depression which can result in hazy days when the air is calm and the temperatures are right, often resulting in what is called an inversion.

Otherwise, Denver’s sunny skies often seem unusually blue to visitors. This isn’t your imagination, there is less atmosphere at 5200 feet which makes the sun brighter and the skies bluer. It also makes it easier to get sunburned!

Where to go in Denver?