Butterfly Pavilion

More than 1,600 butterflies free-fly around this attraction just a short drive northwest of Denver. 

Founded in 1995, the Butterfly Pavilion was the first non-profit, stand-alone insect zoo in the U.S. Wander through 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters) of tropical rainforest as thousands of butterflies of myriad colors, shapes and sizes flit around you. It’s a fun and entertaining way for the entire family to learn about conservation.

The Wings of the Tropics forest walk is one of six permanent exhibits alongside aquariums, insect displays and outdoor gardens. The rainforest is an impressive habitat and is kept warm and humid throughout the year. It’s the closest thing to a tropical holiday during the long winter in Colorado. About 600 to 1,000 butterflies are brought every week from butterfly farms throughout the world as part of the Butterfly Pavilion’s conservation efforts. The non-profit organization contributes over $80,000 a year to sustainable farming.

Kids will love checking out the Crawl-A-See-’Em exhibit for close encounters of another kind with Rosie the tarantula, and other creepy crawlies. Rosie can even be patted and held, a safe thrill for little ones.

Touch and admire sea stars, crabs, sea cucumbers and more at the Water’s Edge aquarium. You’ll learn about dozens of fascinating creatures, including coral, shrimp and snails.

Head back outside to find the nature trails and gardens within the Butterfly Pavilion grounds. Native animals run wild along the half-mile (800-meter) walking trail. In summer it’s possible to spot prairie dogs, rabbits, herons and eagles.

The Butterfly Pavilion is located in Westminster, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver. It’s open daily and can be busy with school students on weekdays September through May. Come after 1.30 p.m. during these times if you want to avoid the crowds. Snacks are available and there’s free parking.