It’s not everyday you get to pet a goat, feed a giraffe or hold a furry tarantula. But when these animal encounters do happen, it’s pretty special. Lucky for us, there are plenty of ways to get close and personal with a variety of creatures. From petting farms to unique zoo experiences to a place to pet kitties, here are some of the best ways to get some quality time with animals, especially ones that aren’t always found in the home.
Some of these attractions are working farms or state refuges. Some are private zoos or aquariums. Some are rescue and rehabilitation facilities. You should read up a little bit on the venue before planning to visit so that you understand the mission of the organization. Visit each website (links below) for hours and days of operation.
Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary
Wear closed-toe shoes, bring water and get ready to meet the residents on this Erie farm. The line up includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, cows, donkeys, goats, pigs, horses and sheep, all who have been rescued by this not-for-profit animal sanctuary.
Visit the website for information on all the residents at the farm, and then go meet them in person.
Experience: There are two tours to sign up for, the one-hour connect tour or the two-hour compassion tour. The first is perfect for families and younger children.
The longer one is for those over the age of 10, and includes meeting all nine species from the farm. Both include cuddling with animals, information on how to help, and nibbles at the end.
Cost: There’s a suggested donation of $20 for adults and $10 for children, but you can get tickets with any amount. Purchase tickets in advance on the website, luvinarms.org.
Location: Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, 3470 County Road 7, Erie
The Butterfly Pavilion offers a treasure trove of beautiful insects to look at, hold and learn about. This is not the place to go if you’re afraid of bugs. Think spiders, roaches, millepedes, stick bugs, butterflies and more creepy crawly things, all tucked away inside the Westminster venue.
Experience: Yes, there are things here to hold and touch. To start with, Rosie, the Chilean rose hair tarantula. Visitors 3-years and up can hold the magnificent spider under the supervision of a staff member, and get a sticker to prove it. In another room are sea bugs to gently touch and feel, including starfish.
Then, the butterfly area itself. While you’re not supposed to handle the butterflies, they are free flying and may land on you.
Cost: General admission runs $14.50 for adults; $12.50 for 65-plus; $9.50 for children ages 2 to 12; and free for children under 2.
Bonus savings: Membership will save you money if you plan on visiting more than a couple times a year.
Location: Butterfly Pavilion, 6252 W. 104th Ave., Westminster
While the Denver Zoo offers 80 acres to explore and over 4,000 animals to see, that’s not all there is. Get close and personal with some of the residents and make your visit extra special.
Experience: There are a few ways to get to know the creatures of the Denver Zoo. For starters, reserve a time to feed the giraffes, which costs $150 for a group up to six. Get your group up close to a rhino, meet a hyena, spend 30 minutes with an elephant, or get a first hand look at the bongo family; each experience running $200 for up to six people. All of these encounters must be booked in advance.
On the less expensive end of animal happenings, Lorikeet Adventure is free to enter or, for $3, you can get a cup of nectar in to feed the colorful birds.
There’s also the fairly new Sting Ray Cove where guests can gently touch and feed these majestic sea creatures for $2 to $3 a person, and $2 for food.
Cost: Zoo admission is $14 to $20, and experiences cost extra as stated above.
Bonus savings: If planning on going to the Denver Zoo more than once, a membership can save a lot of money. Look out for zoo free days too.
Location: Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St., Denver.
Denver Cat Company
Coffee and cats are a great combination, but you don’t have to get a drink to enjoy the rescue felines at this Berkeley cafe. Founded by by Leila Qari in December 2014, it’s the only place like it in the city.
Experience: Stop in for an hour or so and pet the kitties that are lingering about. There’s usually around 20 cats at a time here, and since they are all up for adoption the residents constantly change.
Cost: Visit for 50 minutes for $12; or $10 for students with an ID and seniors.
Bonus savings: If you want to visit a lot, save money by purchasing a membership. A single person for a year starts at $100.
Location: Denver Cat Company, 3929 Tennyson St., Denver.
Belleview Petting Zoo
On Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day, this small farm is open for visitors. It’s inside Englewood’s Belleview Park, so make a whole day out of it that includes a ride on the train (same hours and cost), a picnic, playing on the playground and some time in the creek.
Experience: Though small, this simple petting zoo has adorable farm animals for little ones to pet and observe. Buy a handful of feed for an even more personal encounter. Bonus, bring a picnic for after.
Cost: It’s $2.50 a person, under 2 are free.
Bonus savings: Get 15 tickets to the farm (and/or train) for the price of 12 with the Buckaroo Pass, available only at the farm ticket counter.
Location: Belleview Petting Zoo, 5001 S. Inca Dr., Englewood.
Fish, tigers, jellyfish, turtles and other creatures make up the inhabitants of the aquarium, located right downtown. Make sure to check out the large shark exhibit near the end, right before a real-life animal encounter.
Experience: After going through the whole exhibit there’s a room filled with stingrays. Anyone can gently touch them as they swim through the water, and/or spend an extra $2.99 to feed them.
Cost: General admission to the aquarium is between $18.99 and $24.99. Or, just go to see the sting rays, it’s $3.95 to enter the exhibit, or $6.25 to get fish food too.
Bonus savings: Membership will save you money if you plan on visiting more than a couple times a year. Plus there are discounts on food, merchandise and experiences. All military, active and veterans, get 10-percent off with a military ID.
Location: Downtown Aquarium, 700 Water St., Denver.
The Bee Hugger Farm
Spend a morning on the farm and let little ones climb on tractors, feed animals and ride ponies. The Bee Hugger Farm is open to the public daily at 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Bonus, they do pick-your-own sunflowers and have bees on the farm so you can check out the hives and buy honey. Just make sure to leave the family dog at home.
Experience: Bring your own helmet so those 6 and under can take a 5 to 10 minute pony ride on Sundays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. There are also horses to feed and pet, sheep, goats, peacocks and other farm animals to meet.
Cost: Entrance is free for all, but it’s $10 to ride a pony, and $1 for food to feed the horses, cash or Venmo only.
Location: The Bee Hugger Farm, 12590 Ute Highway, Longmont.
The Urban Farm
Located in Denver, this truly is an urban farm complete with horses, goats, sheep and more. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and it plans on adding Saturday to the public hours soon. Though the farm moved, it has been operation as The Urban Farm since 1993.
Experience: Learn about farming and meet the animal residents at the same time. All guests have to fill out a waiver (good for the whole year) prior to visiting. No reservations required.
Cost: Ages 3 and up are $5, free for 2 and under.
Bonus savings: Become a member of The Urban Farm for $50 a year for a single membership, or $100 for a family pass, and get free admission any time. It includes discounts on summer camp, farm goods and events as well.
Location: The Urban Farm, 10200 Smith Rd., Denver.
SeaQuest Littleton Aquarium
SeaQuest isn’t just home to a variety of spectacular fish. While tanks may hold some incredible fish species like the Blacktip reef shark; birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals also call the facility home.
Experience: SeaQuest calls itself “a petting zoo aquarium feeding experience.” The facility has a wide variety of animals you can get up close with from hand-feeding sharks in the Shark Lagoon to interacting with flocks of friendly birds in the Mayan Jungle.
Cost: Tickets: $16.99 for adults, $10.99 for kids age 2-11, and free for kids under 2. Military, students and ages 55-plus admission is $14.99. Discounts on tickets through Groupon here.
Location: SeaQuest, 8501 W Bowles Ave., Littleton.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
With 146 acres of land and animal exhibits that mirror the creature’s natural setting, this zoo is worth the drive to Colorado Springs. See tigers, hippos, primates, bears and more, all in a unique setting.
Experience: There are a few ways to have animal encounters here. First, visit The Loft, an area with hands-one animal displays. Pet a lizard, prepare food for the animals and learn more about the creatures in the zoo. There’s also My Big Backyard. Here kids can feed chickens, pet bunnies and get close and personal with some insects.
Cost: Tickets start at $10.75 and go up to $29.75 depending on the date and time. All kids under 2 are 75-cents. Military with ID gets $3 off ticket prices, and those 65-plus get $2 off.
Location: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Rd., Colorado Springs
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
The gator farm isn’t near Denver, it’s about 3 hours away. But, if you find yourself in southern Colorado, it’s worth a visit. Open daily save for major holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Once there, see hundreds of rescued reptiles including alligators, lizards, tortoises and turtles here, the most of any place in the whole state. Best part, the gator area is open air, and guests can see them clearly from a safe distance.
Experience: While you can’t go out and pet an adult gator, the staff does allow you to handle baby ones with supervision. Snap a picture and then go find one of the large tortoises walking around.
You can “pet” them too, though keep in mind this animal’s spine is right under the shell so they are more sensitive than one might think. Add on a $2 bucket of gator chow and feed them too.
Cost: Ages 5 and under and over 80 are free; ages 6 to 15 and 65 to 79 run $10; and those 16 to 64 cost $20 a ticket.
Location: Colorado Gators, 9162 Lane 9 North, Mosca.