Spending time in nature is good for everyone, especially your kids. The National Wildlife Foundation says that getting outdoors comes with numerous benefits to your body, mind, and spirit. Colorado’s nature-filled experiences also provide countless opportunities for discovery, creativity, and critical thinking. Use our guide to discover five new sites around Thornton where the whole family can get close to the wild.

Go Jump in a Lake

Image via Flickr by donnierayjones Licensed CC BY 2.0

One of the best things about living in Thornton is its access to natural water sources, like lakes, streams, and even some inviting reservoirs, like at Chatfield State Park. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Service manages this exceptional wilderness area, the 1,423-acre lake, and its large, sandy beach. Go swimming seasonally from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are grills and tables nearby for a picnic and well-maintained restrooms.

Beyond being one of Thornton’s best places to take a dip, Chatfield Reservoir is a popular place to fish. Catch rainbow trout, walleye, bass, crappie, perch, and catfish. Before you go, download a wildlife checklist for each child and bring it along. While you’re enjoying the water, you might get to see Chatfield’s many four-legged residents, like the red fox and cottontail rabbits, and you can even look to the skies for more than three hundred bird species.

Remember, there are no lifeguards at Colorado State Park beaches, so always practice water safety and teach your kids how to swim. The beach is open seasonally from sunup to sundown, and the daily vehicle park pass is $10.

Hike the Rockies

The Thornton area is home to a variety of awesome hiking destinations, like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This 15,988-acre wilderness preserve in Commerce City is about a 15-minute drive from home. The Fish and Wildlife Service established the refuge in 2004, so mile-high urbanites can escape to the tranquil setting and discover vast recreational experiences for the whole family.

It’s an ideal place to spot native species like bison, deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. If hiking isn’t your family’s favorite hobby, try your hand at catch-and-release fishing. Spend a relaxing afternoon on the water with ducks and geese while you listen to the song of birds nearby. Just make sure you have your fishing license before the start of the season on April 1st.

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal offers loads of other seasonal pursuits, like mountain biking and archery. You can ride traditional peddle bikes and class 1 e-bikes on the park’s dirt roads and pedestrian hiking paths. The Havana Ponds Trail, on the south side of the preserve, offers archers a free walk-up range. It’s open from sunrise to sunset and is part of the organization’s mission to expand the refuge’s outdoor skill centers.

Visit Thornton City Parks

Thornton manages 2,500-plus acres of parks and more than 140 miles of trails. Officials designed these water-wise open spaces for residents of every age to enjoy. Sustainable landscapes help reduce our community’s carbon footprint, enhance native vegetation, and increase wildlife biodiversity. There are many choices, like Carpenter Park, Homestead Hills Park, and Yorkborough Park.

Now’s the perfect time to explore your neighborhood park and refresh your family’s spirit with some fresh air and sunshine at the kid-friendly Hunters Glen Lake. This scenic local fishing pond is a fantastic spot for loads of nature-filled experiences. Find this secluded 6-acre park on East 128th Avenue. It features fishing piers, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, a paved walking path, and stunning mountain views. Thornton’s city parks are open every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Explore The Denver Zoo

One of the best activities for kids is a trip to the zoo. Where else in Colorado can you hear a lion roar? The opportunities to engage with nature are endless here, and the Denver Zoo is the ideal place to learn about exotic creatures. More than 4,000 animals representing 750 species call its grounds home. 

You only have to take the kids 30 minutes from home to discover the wonders of the African safari and the magical creatures of Asia. You and the kiddos will stroll by many weird and wonderful mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds. Once your family meets a Western Lowland gorilla or a Malayan Tapir, you’ll understand why the zoo’s worldwide conservation efforts are so important.

Summer general admission tickets to the Denver Zoo are $20 for adults and $14 for kids over 2. Winter rates are less, and you can also save more with free entry. There are seven days throughout the year when you can enter a lottery for a complimentary pass, including:

  • Friday, January 7.
  • Saturday, January 22.
  • Sunday, February 6.
  • Sunday, April 10.
  • Saturday, October 8.
  • Tuesday, November 1.
  • Sunday, November 13.

Discover Majestic View Nature Center

Step outside and learn all about local nature at the 3,000 square foot Majestic View Nature Center and Community Park. Located on Garrison Street in nearby Arvada, it’s an outstanding place near home where your family can learn about, understand, and appreciate the great outdoors. The Majestic View Nature Center’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s always free to come inside and wander the many educational collections.

You and the kids will enjoy interacting directly with nature thanks to the center’s hands-on displays, wildlife exhibits, kid’s area, beautiful demonstration garden, and various classrooms. This 80-acre park also features Oberon Lake, wetland areas, meadows filled with prairie grass, and many protected areas for local and migratory wildlife. Follow the interpretive trails or take a class like Make-A-Kite or candle making.

Well, now that’s a wrap! The staff at Crème de la Crème of Lone Tree put together this guide to five of the area’s best places for a nature-filled experience. Which one of our picks will you visit first? Did we include your family’s favorite place to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and wildlife? If we did, let us know! Drop us a line so we can share your ideas with local parents like you.