Two years ago our family made our first visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens at York Street, to take advantage of a “free day.” (If you aren’t familiar with Denver Free Days, make sure you check them out and put them on your calendar!) This visit made such an incredible first impression on us that we decided that day to buy a membership, which we have continued to renew annually.
I have to admit that prior to our free day experience, the Botanic Gardens seemed like an elusive “secret garden” that we sometimes peeked into through the officious looking gate that is located on the east side of Cheesman Park. I’m really not much of a gardener and always figured that the Botanic Gardens were really just meant for those types of people who know the Latin names of plants, but I was wrong!
If you have a kid and have heard anything about the Botanic Gardens, it was more than likely about the Mordecai Children’s Garden. I’ll admit that this was our initial draw for wanting to become members, but little did I know that there were so many exciting things to explore with children over on the main side of the Gardens. The main Gardens live on the west side of Yale Avenue, and the Mordecai Children’s Garden sits on top of the north end of the parking garage (super cool use of space) on the east side of York Street.
Now let’s dig in (pun intended). Here are the top seven things that you need to make sure and check out during your next visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens!
- Mordecai Children’s Garden – I know this one’s obvious, but I’ll just put it out there. This is such a cool area for children to explore. You’ll find bouncy bridges, a teepee, a semi-shaded water feature for kids to play in, picnic tables, pretend camping areas, a vegetable garden, a play kitchen, a station to build your own log home, fun puppets, and costumes scattered about, and a really neat hands-on greenhouse where kids can see the unique plants that grow food they are familiar with.
- Helen Fowler Library – Did you know that there is a library at the Botanic Gardens? We accidentally wandered in there one day and discovered that there is a children’s corner. It has great children’s books and toys, and I swear I have never seen anyone else using this space! I’m kind of giving away my best-kept secret now, but I figured I would share the wealth. It’s especially nice on a crowded or cold day.
- Greenhouse Complex – I highly recommend spending some time in this little tropical wonderland (makes a great combo with the library on a cold day). There are two aquariums inside the greenhouse that have small colorful tree frogs. Kids love these! And, on the very bottom floor of the Greenhouse, there is a small pond that has huge fish and really beautiful petite ducks. Once you’ve seen those, make sure you take the elevator inside the faux tree up to the top floor for a great vantage point of the entire greenhouse.
- Japanese Garden – This is in the far northwest corner of the garden (closest to Cheesman Park). There is a beautiful pond that is stocked full of gigantic colorful Koi Fish. After seeing the fish – make sure to explore my daughter’s favorite little stone path that snakes through the trees along the Cheesman Park fence line.
- Science Pyramid – This structure is fairly new (opened September 2014). It has interactive kiosks that make interesting noises or show short videos about animals or the environment. There is also a gigantic digital globe that you can control with a touch screen. Sometimes they have a volunteer doing a presentation at the front counter about things like seedpods, spiders, or leaf designs and will display magnified images on a large screen.
- The “Hill” – Ok, I just made that name up, it’s actually called the UMB Bank Amphitheater. Names aside, this outdoor amphitheater area is where they hold all of their summer concerts and is basically comprised of four fairly steep grassy hills that all converge at the bottom. Kids LOVE running and rolling up and down these hills. It’s a great way to burn some energy!
- Woodland Mosaic – This is THE perfect place for a snack break or picnic. This little treasure is tucked back along the south edge of the Gardens. It looks like a greenhouse and it’s typically furnished with tables and chairs so that anyone can come inside to enjoy a breeze from the ceiling fans and take a break from walking.
I should also note that inside the Gardens you will also find the cafe and bistro style restaurant, in case you or your child get hungry or thirsty during your visit. Please note that these establishments discourage patrons from bringing in their own food. Also, the Botanic Gardens will offer 5 more Free Days this year, so there are lots of opportunities for everyone to take advantage of what the Gardens have to offer, even without a membership or having to pay an entry fee.