Free days at Denver’s beloved cultural institutions in 2023

Jan. 13, 2023
lions on a free day at the Denver Zoo
The Denver Zoo is one of Denver’s most popular attractions. Check it out on a free day. Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo.

Did you know that you can visit some of Colorado’s most beloved cultural institutions for free?

Just plan to explore places like the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Botanic Gardens on a designated free day.

Denver and surrounding counties have joined together to boost funding for cultural amenities through what’s called the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District or SCFD. And thanks to this funding, arts and cultural facilities, both big and small, provide free days, events and performances.

a girl holds two lorikeets at the Denver Zoo
A girl holds two lorikeets. Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo.

Here are some of the highlights for the biggest SCFD recipients.

Denver Zoo free days

Are you a fan of wild animals? Then, the Denver Zoo is a great place to visit. You can see fan favorites like the elephants, giraffes and gorillas. Or, you can meander and see more unusual creatures like tapirs, animals that some kids and adults refer to as an Oreo animal because it’s half black and half white. Tapirs developed their unusual coloring to better blend into their surroundings in the wild. Another master of camouflage is the okapi, which looks a little like a giraffe crossed with a zebra.

From lions to tigers and bears, the Denver Zoo offers hours of entertainment and is open every day of the year, including holidays. Since the Zoo now limits the number of visitors who can visit each day, reserving or purchasing your ticket online before you go is strongly recommended, even for people whose entry is free. There is a limited number of tickets available for purchase at the zoo. If you’re not comfortable reserving on your computer or phone in advance, please call 720-337-1400.

Because of the timed entry requirement, to get free tickets, you must register for the Free Day Lottery (within the lottery registration period for that free day) to win up to 5 free-day tickets. Zoo members can use their membership to reserve their tickets as usual if they’d like to visit on a scheduled free day.

a gorilla at the Denver Zoo interacts with people beyond the glass
The Denver Zoo’s gorillas are among its most popular animals. Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo.

When you arrive, ask about the daily zookeeper talks, where you’ll learn wonderful tidbits about zoo residents like penguins, sea lions and grizzly bears.

Before visiting on an SCFD free day, make sure you’ve been awarded special lottery tickets in advance. And please be aware that free admission does not cover extra attractions at the Zoo, like the 4D Theater and rides on the train and carousel.

Here are the free days for the Denver Zoo for 2023:

  • Sunday, January 22
  • Sunday, February 5
  • Sunday, April 9
  • Saturday, October 7
  • Tuesday, November 7
  • Sunday, November 12

View hours for the Denver Zoo.

flamingoes at the Denver Zoo, enjoy them during one of the 2020 free days at denver cultural institutions.
On free days at Denver cultural institutions, visitors can check out the beautiful pink flamingoes at the Denver Zoo. Photo courtesy of the Denver Zoo.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science free days

From its popular permanent exhibits on space and the human body to dioramas showing animals in their native habitat, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science provides stimulation for scientists of all ages. There are also special temporary exhibitions.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science offers many interactive exhibits.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science offers many interactive exhibits. Check it out during free days at Denver cultural institutions this year. Photo courtesy of Science North.

The museum has an Imax theater and a Planetarium. Shows at both also cost extra.

You don’t have to reserve your ticket for these free days and nights. If you arrive on these days, you will have free access to the Wildlife Halls or the permanent exhibitions. Tickets must be reserved online to visit a temporary exhibition, the planetarium or Infinity Theater.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is open every day, except Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Here are the free days (and nights) at Denver Museum of Nature and Science for 2023:

  • Sunday, January 29
  • Monday, February 6
  • Sunday, February 26
  • Sunday, April 30
  • Wednesday, June 28 (Free Night)
  • Wednesday, August 16 (Free Night)
  • Wednesday, September 6 (Free Night)
  • Monday, September 18
  • Sunday, October 15
  • Monday, December 4

Along with free days, the museum offers many other special discounts.

Denver Botanic Gardens

You might think of visiting the Gardens only in the summer, but Denver Botanic Gardens offer inspiration for plant-lovers and serenity seekers all year long.

Read more “Live Colorado” stories that highlight the best places to see and other great free events.

During the winter, even when there’s snow on the ground outside, visitors can transport themselves to a hot rainforest by visiting the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. It’s a giant greenhouse full of hundreds of thousands of plants – including showy orchids – from around the world.

Children love charting their own course on paths all around the Gardens. Inside the tropical greenhouse, challenge your young friend, child or grandchild to find the secret elevator hidden inside a tree sculpture.

In winter, you can also visit the Orangery, one of the ornamental gardens. Inside a glass-enclosed walkway – that opens up to the outdoors during good weather – visitors can feel like they’re in a traditional French garden with potted citrus plants. The plants grow indoors during the winter, produce divine-smelling blossoms in the spring, then get to spend summers on the terrace.

Visit in the spring to see glorious tulips in a variety of colors, along with sweet-smelling purple lilac bushes. In the summer, color springs from every nook and cranny of the garden and visitors can find a special cactus garden, a Monet Garden with lily pads, a Japanese garden and fountains galore. The Gardens frequently host art shows that blend in with the plants. Visitors can still see a spiky glass Chihuly sculpture from one of the most famous special exhibits ever held at the Gardens: the 2014 show featuring the work of glass artist, Dale Chihuly, throughout the Gardens’ 24-acres.

Advanced online registration is required for all free days. Tickets for free days are available three months at a time (on a rolling basis), and are released on the 1st of the month. Free days are for regular Garden hours and do not include special ticketed events like concerts or holiday light displays.

Here are the 2023 free days at this Denver cultural institution:

  • Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • Thursday, February 16
  • Wednesday, March 15
  • Thursday, April 22 (Earth Day)
  • Tuesday, June 6
  • Wednesday, July 5
  • Tuesday, August 15
  • Friday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Friday)

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.