Just this morning, while walking my dog in our neighborhood, I saw a herd of eight mule deer and one gorgeous black squirrel. The outdoor life draws families with children to Colorado, as tourists and residents, and the lucky ones get to see wildlife in a natural setting. If you want to be intentional about exposing your children to wildlife in Colorado, these great places bring kids and wildlife together.

As the name implies, this facility focuses on wolves, but that’s just the beginning. Come here for a tour and you’ll see packs of artic, timber, and Mexican gray wolves, plus coyotes, red foxes, and swift foxes. It’s one of the few wildlife sanctuaries in the country that’s certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Their mission is to educate, to preserve, and to provide natural habitat for animals that couldn’t otherwise live on their own in the wild. Located one hour west of Colorado Springs in Divide, the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center also hosts weddings, full moon tours, and feeding tours. Schedule a tour well ahead because slots fill up. My boys especially love this place!

America’s only mountain zoo sits nestled on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain. Named sixth-best zoo in the nation in 2015, its exhibits are terraced along the side of the mountain, switchback-style.  Hand-feed giraffes and budgies, experience animals up close, and witness a view that’s so beautiful it’s hard to describe. Take advantage of the zoo’s unique chairlift-style tram to ride over the zoo exhibits and up the mountain from where you park and enter.  (On clear days you can see all the way to Kansas!) Our family’s favorite picnic spot is at the top, and we always ride the tram back down to see more animals. Allow a half day to see the animals. My children love the Australian walkabout and the giraffes (signature animals at this zoo). Thanks to their heavy commitment to giraffe conservation and participation in breeding programs, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo houses the largest herd in the United States. Food is allowed in the zoo, but many sit-down and carry-out restaurant options are also offered.

Southern Colorado is known for its open spaces, public parks, and affiliated nature centers.  The nature centers are hubs for wildlife education for everyone, but especially for kids. Their programs are free of charge and open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

This park is a launching point for hiking and searching for wildlife. Landscape along the hiking trails includes meadows, ponderosa pine forests, creeks, and foothills.  Look for mule deer, prairie mammals, and aquatic animals in Bear Creek. This regional hiking trail permits horseback riding and pets on a leash.

The regional park is an “oasis on the plains” with ponds, marshes, meadows, and cottonwood forests. Its beautiful nature center offers programs, special events, and guided and self-guided tours.  The kids will love walking the wetlands, watching for great blue herons, and looking for aquatic life as they explore Fountain Creek.

With the beauty of the Front Range and the red rocks of Garden of the Gods as a backdrop, the entire family will love a trail ride on horseback. Book either a one- or two-hour trail ride and prepare to be saddle sore! There are several options for public riding in southern Colorado, but two notable stables are Academy Riding Stables and Old Stage Riding Stables. These long-established stables offer a variety of horses so they’ll have mounts to match novice or experienced riders. Visitors often spot deer, wild turkey, and even fox along the trail.  Typically, children ages seven and under are required to do tethered pony rides and aren’t eligible for the longer trail rides. Plan accordingly and call ahead to reserve your ride.

Known for its memorable mascot, the falcon, the U.S. Air Force Academy brings its live bird mascots to perform at many outdoor venues and sporting events. The Academy feels the falcon best represents the combat role of the Air Force.  Thanks to their speed (exceeding 200 mph when diving), graceful flight, keen eyesight, courage, and regal carriage, these high-flying birds thrill crowds with
their aerobatics.
The birds, who only perform at outdoor venues, are trained year-round and handled by carefully selected cadet volunteers.  Attend a USAFA football game or cadet wing parade and you’ll likely see the falcons perform.  Kids will love when the birds soar and dive,
often zooming low over the heads of those in the audience.  Watching these birds fly is truly a thrill.

Stand on the bank of a river or lounge on the end of a dock.  Wade in a pond up to your knees or rent a boat for a day on a shimmering lake. Whatever you choose, fishing in southern Colorado is a great family experience. Don’t forget to check with Colorado Fish & Wildlife to purchase a fishing license, check fishing regulations, and to ensure the waterway you intend to fish is open to
the public.

The Arkansas River is a Gold Medal fishing destination. Thanks to the riverbed’s rock structure, the river is both a great habitat for trout and a fly fisherman’s paradise. Many fishing guides offer family friendly half- and full-day outings, accommodating novices and
experienced fishers.

Back in Manitou, Fountain Creek is an urban fishing destination. Catch some brown trout with the kids, enjoy the nearby playground, then walk this vibrant town for a sit-down dinner.

You’ll have access to three sizeable high mountain reservoirs. Crystal Reservoir is the perfect choice for kids of all ages. Look
for rainbow trout, greenback cutthroat, and brook trout regardless of whether you are a beginner or an experienced fisherman.

This reservoir is open for baitcasting, fly fishing, or simply letting little ones dangle a line into the water. At Monument Lake you are likely to catch a variety of fish including brown trout, catfish, sucker, rainbow trout, and
small mouth bass.
Seeking out wildlife in southern Colorado is well worth it. With options and adventures for the whole family, neither you nor your kids will be disappointed by all Colorado has to offer.