Free days at Denver’s beloved cultural institutions in 2020

Feb. 14, 2020
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 you can visit some of Colorado’s most beloved cultural institutions for free?

Temporary closure update: All Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens locations are temporarily closed in response to COVID-19. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is also closed. We will provide an update when these Denver institutions reopen.

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. To see all free days, click here.

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

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. Click here for hours.

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.

If you visit on an SCFD free day, brace yourself for crowds, both inside the Zoo and in the parking lot. And please note 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 remaining free days of 2020:

  • Thursday, April 9
  • Tuesday, October 20
  • Tuesday, November 10
  • Saturday, November 14
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

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.

A special exhibit on display now features a newly discovered trove of remarkably preserved fossils that archaeologists from the museum found at Corral Bluffs near Colorado Springs. The exhibit, After the Asteroid: Earth’s Comeback Story, highlights how earth recovered after a devastating asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

And those who are interested in extreme sports can check out an exhibit that runs through April. They can imagine what it’s like to clibm a cliff, pilot a wingsuit, balance on a high-line, race on a mountain bike or kayak through whitewater.

young women enjoy an exhibit on extreme sports at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science during free days at denver cultural institutions.
An exhibit on extreme sports is one of many fun things to check out at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Check it out during free days at Denver cultural institutions this year. Photo courtesy of © Science North.

For children and adults interested in animation, the museum also has a special exhibit called The Science of Pixar. There’s an extra charge to see the Pixar exhibit. But those who are interested can enjoy activities including building robots, touching scale models of favorite Pixar characters and learning how animators created water for the film, Finding Nemo.

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

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

Here are the remaining free days (and nights) for 2020:

  • Sunday, February 23
  • Sunday, April 26 (Día del Niño)
  • Sunday, May 31
  • Wednesday, July 1 (Free Night. Admission free from 5 to 10 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, August 12 (Free Night. Admission free from 5 to 10 p.m.
  • Wednesday, September 2 (Free Night. Admission free from 5 to 10 p.m.)
  • Monday, September 21
  • Sunday, October 11
  • Sunday, December 6

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.

Here are the remaining 2020 free days at this Denver cultural institution:

Monday, Feb. 17 (President’s Day)
Sunday, March 22 (World Water Day)
Sunday, April 19 (Earth Day)
Tuesday, June 23
Monday, July 13
Tuesday, Aug. 11
Wednesday, Nov. 11 (Veterans Day)

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.