Colorado’s Best Places to Learn – Bugs, Dinos, Nature and More
You will find my tag line “Finding the learning in everything” on my blog, on my bio and on my Twitter profile. I live that tag line everyday with my daughters. No matter where we are, we are all learning.
I’m also known as a science mom. My girls and I enjoy visiting all of the science and learning museums we can. We are so lucky in Colorado to have so many dinosaur museums and fossils at our fingertips. Here’s my list of Colorado’s best places to gain scientific knowledge:
Location: In Westminster at Highway 36 and 104th Avenue.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily
Admission: Adults $8.50, Children $5.50 Discounts for Westminster residents.
Visit Time: Allow 1 to 2 hours.
The Learning: The pavilion is not a huge brick and mortar building, but is huge in learning about insects, arachnids and marine invertebrates. Learn about cochroaches, pill bugs, spiders, scorpions, walking sticks and more. Don’t forget to hold Rosie, the tarantula. Then learn about marine invertebrates and pet a horseshoe crab or two. In the greenhouse, look for several varieties of butterflies. This is the Butterfly Pavilion afterall. Butterflies will flutter all around while you watch them in their natural habitat. The pavilion is a photographers’ dream. So many butterflies and beautiful flowers all around. The Butterfly Pavilion also offers nature trails and an outside garden to look for insects and other area wildlife.
Children’s Museum of Denver
Location: In Denver at I-25 and 23rd Avenue exit
Hours: M-F 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Weds open until 7:30 p.m.) Sat/Sun 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: Ages 2 to 59 $9Visit Time: Allow at least 2 to 3 hours.
The Learning: The Children’s Museum offers several different themed learning stations. My top picks? The Under My Feet and Over My Head wildlife area on the second floor – dress up as a woodland creature while you crawl in and out of your habitat. Learn about the ecosystem in the woods. The Assembly Plant – build helicopters, trucks and buildings using blueprints. Bubbles – learn about the science behind soap and water. I’m also very excited to visit the new Kinetics exhibit opening this October. It is a life-sized marble run that teaches physical science.
Colorado Wildlife Experience
Location: In Parker off the I-25 and Lincoln exit
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m daily
Admission: Adults $10, Kids $6
Visit Time: Allow at least 2 to 3 hours to visit.
The Learning: The Wildlife Experience’s mission is to “inspire an appreciation and respect for wildlife and the outdoors through adventure, experiences and education.” The WE definitely delivers. Learn about animals and their habitats. Our favorite exhibit is Globeology. It’s a journey around the world through all of the major biomes. They also offer an online K-12 education curriculum.
DaVinci Machines Exhibition
Through Sept 2012
Location: In Denver at the Pavilions
Hours: Tues-Thurs 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Fri-Sat 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sun 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.. Closed Mondays.
Admission: 5 and Under are free, Kids 5 to 10 $9, Adults $14, Family pack for up to 5 people $40.
Visit Time: Allow at least 1 hour.
The Learning: This is a do not miss exhibit, especially if you have kids who like building models or thinking up inventions. The exhibit shows a very different side of Leonardo DaVinci from the guy who painted the Mona Lisa. It has over 60 machines and inventions built by DaVinci. Some are interactive. Learn about the inspiration and invention behind so many modern machines. DaVinci had a wide variety of machines that are grouped into several themes – war machines, flying machines, hydraulic machines and nautical machines. There is also an exhibit on the principles of mechanics and the beginnings of the modern motor.
Location: In Canon City – 330 Royal Gorge Blvd.
Hours: See website for museum schedule
Admission: Adults $4, Kids $2
Visit Time: The museum will take 10-20 minutes depending on how much time you want to spend. Allow at least an hour – the kids will want to play in the discovery area upstairs.
The Learning: We stumbled across this little gem while visiting the Royal Gorge area last summer. It’s located on the main street in Canon City near the train station. Learn about fossils, how they are found and excavated. See the world’s most complete Stegosaurus. We had a personal tour by one of the volunteers and peeked into the preparation laboratory while real scientists worked on real fossils. A kids discovery zone is located upstairs – find books, a fossil dig, fossil puzzles, crafts and more. A great learning stop that also agrees with your travel budget.
Dinosaur National Monument
Location: East side of monument is in Colorado, west is located in Utah. Off Highway 40 in northwestern Colorado.
Hours: Open all year, but some facilities may be closed in winter. Check website for park schedule.
Admission: Passes are $10 per car
Visit Time: Allow at least a full day to visit and explore the park to see all it offers.
The Learning: This is one of the many locations in Colorado where dinosaurs roamed the earth and their remains are visible in the rocks. But the park isn’t just about the dinosaurs. Learn about geology, ecology, ecosystems, petroglyphs, wildlife as well as paleontology from self-guided tours or from park rangers. Rangers also offer walks, junior ranger badges and night sky programs. Do not miss the Dinosaur Discovery Trail for those dino fans in your family.
Location: In Morrison off the C-470 and Alameda exit
Hours: Summer hours 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: Free. Guided tours available for $3 per person or shuttle tours are $4 per person. Advance reservations required.
Visit Time: Self-guided hikes take about 1 to 2 hours.
The Learning: Guided and self-guided tours available of Dinosaur Ridge. Come ready to hike and see dinosaur fossils in the rocks along the mountainside. See Morrison Quarry Number 5 – the site where the first Stegosaurus was discovered. Learn about paleontology and geology.
Florissant Fossil Beds Natural Monument
Location: In Florissant off US 24 and Teller County Road 1 (35 miles west of Colorado Springs)
Hours: Summer hours 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: $3 per person. Note – cash or check only, no credit cards accepted.
Visit Time: Allow at least 2 hours, but all day is even better to explore.
The Learning: The fossil beds are deep beneath the ground in one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world. Over 1,700 different species have been found. Learn about geologic forces that created fossils. Visit an outdoor exhibit with petrified redwood tree stumps. Hike, look for wildlife and visit the fossil lab.
Georgetown Energy Museum
Location: In Georgetown off I-70
Hours: Summer hours 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Visit Time: Allow about an hour or less
The Learning: Learn about hydroelectric power at a fully functioning hydroelectric plant operated by Xcel Energy.
Lookout Mountain Nature Center
Location: In Golden – 910 Colorow Road on Lookout Mountain
Hours: Tues – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Visit Time: Less than an hour, unless you take a hike
The Learning: Learn about mountain ecosystems and animals in a small visitor center. A short self-guided hike is available to walk around the nature center to look for birds and other wildlife. Offers naturalist-guided programs.
Morrison Natural History Museum
Location: In the town of Morrison
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily
Admission: Adults $7, Kids $5
Visit Time: Allow at least an hour to explore the museum. 60-minute tours are offered 3 times a day.
The Learning: This is a small museum with big discoveries – it even says that on their website. Touch real fossils, help excavate fossils from rocks and learn more about finding and retrieving fossils while you overlook the hill where many bones have been found. Meet today’s dinosaurs – turtles, lizards and snakes. Check the website for tour times and make sure to take the tour. This is what is truly special about this up-close and personal dino museum. After your visit, let the kids dig and search for real fossils in a sand pit outside.
Mountain Top Children’s Museum
Location: In Breckenridge off Main Street
Hours: Summer Hours 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Kids $7
Visit Time: Allow at least 2 to 3 hours to play and explore
The Learning: Learning through play with color mixing, test tubes and a light table. The museum also offers a mini planetarium. Learn about the human body by playing doctor – look at x-rays, study bones and organs. The museum also has an exhibit about local wildlife and will have a Flight for Life helicopter soon.
Museum of Nature and Science
Location: In Denver in City Park
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily
Admission: Adults $13, Kids $8 – IMAX and Planetarium are additional
Visit Time: A full day is best, but any time spent at this museum is well worth it.
The Learning: This is Denver’s largest science museum. It offers educational IMAX movies, Planetarium shows. A newer space exhibit features the red planet, with my kids’ favorite water/sand table. Practice docking a space shuttle, dress up like an astronaut and learn about the rotation of the earth. For more science, head upstairs and check out Prehistoric Journey and Expedition Health. For small children, the Discovery Zone offers learn through play hands-on activities and fun experiments conducted by volunteers. Don’t miss the gems and minerals exhibition. The museum also has a huge life science collection and dioramas. The DMNS is also working on a huge collection of Ice Age animals found in 2010 near Snowmass called The Snowmastodon Project.
Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
Location: In Woodland Park off Highway 24
Hours: M-F 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sundays 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: Adults $11.50, Kids $7.50
Visit Time: Around 1 to 2 hours
The Learning: We found this gem a few years ago while camping near Eleven-Mile Reservoir. As we drove by it on the way to camp, the girls jumped up in the back seat and yelled “We have to go THERE!” The stop on the way back was well worth it. This is a fun museum with hands-on exhibits and a real working paleo lab.
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History
Location: In Boulder on the University of Colorado campus off Broadway.
Hours: M-F 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sat-Sun 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Admission: Adults $3, Kids $1
Visit Time: At least 1 to 2 hours.
The Learning: This museum offers five exhibition halls. No exhibit is listed as permanent, but some are “longer term” exhibits. There is something always new to see at the museum. Currently the museum is offering a paleontology exhibit featuring touchable petrified woods, fossil clams and a dinosaur footprint. In the Discovery Corner you get to touch things and play. There are puzzles, animals, animal lunch boxes and animal artifacts. Don’t miss the anthropology exhibit that explains the historical roots of this discipline along with artifacts and photos.
University of Denver Museum of Anthropology
Location: In Denver on the University of Denver campus in Sturm Hall
Hours: M-F 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Admission: Free to the public
Visit Time: An hour or less
The Learning: This museum is a teaching museum that offers exhibits curated by university graduate students. They also host traveling exhibits. The museum features exhibits to educate visitors about anthropological collections. With all the different collections, you never know what you will find at this museum.
Wings Over the Rockies
Location: In Denver in the Lowry community
Hours: M-Sat 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: Adults $11, Kids $6
Visit Time: At least 1 to 2 hours
The Learning: This museum is located in a real 1930′s-era hangar from the original Lowry Air Force Base. Learn all about the science of spaceflight through hands-on exhibits and real space craft. See a Space Station Module that was Martin Marietta’s mock up for a proposed space station to be called “Freedom.” Check out an interstage skirt from a Titan IV rocket and an Apollo Command boilerplate. Wings is not just about space. Visit a large collection of aircraft and a Star Wars X-Wing fighter.
WOW! Children’s Museum
Location: In Lafayette at 110 North Harrison Avenue
Hours: T-F 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sat. 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Admission: Adults FREE! Kids $8
Visit Time: At least 1 to 2 hours, probably more because the kids will want to stay.
The Learning: My kids LOVE this museum. If it were closer, we would be there every week. The museum is two large rooms, which gives kids the ability to explore while parents can relax while tracking their children around the entire museum. WOW – World of Wonder museum offers a science room along with bubbles, pulley chairs, wind room and our favorite the music, light and shadow room. A must visit in northern Colorado.
Colorado has so many great museums from art, history, science and so much more. Visit Westword.com for a complete list of museums all around Colorado.