Seven Colorado destinations where animals await
May 11--Colorado wildlife is legendary, from the bugling elk of Estes Park to the pronghorn on the Eastern Plains. But the state's animal offerings don't end with species native to the region -- or even the hemisphere.
Start your drive on the wilder side at Pueblo Zoo (pueblozoo.org). Operated by the Pueblo Zoological Society and owned by the city, it's home to 420-plus animals representing more than 140 species around the world. While in town, be sure to visit the Nature and Raptor Center (natureandraptor.org), where more than 5,000 injured birds of prey have convalesced since the center's opening in 1981.
Drive west to Westcliffe, where the volunteer-run Mission: Wolf (missionwolf.org) houses 32 captive-born wolves and wolf-dog crosses on open grounds. Tours on "Big Feed" days, Wednesdays and Saturdays, offer the best chance of meeting one of the center's residents.
Gather the pups and head on to Mosca and Colorado Gators Reptile Park (coloradogators.com). What began with 100 baby alligators purchased in 1987 to dispose of fish remains from a tilapia farm is now a family-oriented educational center and sanctuary for unwanted exotic pets, including Nile crocodiles and the park's famous albino alligators.
Some 120 miles due north is Leadville National Fish Hatchery (fws.gov/leadville). Established in 1889, the second oldest federal fish hatchery in operation focuses on trout production for stocking recreational waters and offers self-guided and volunteer-led group tours by appointment.
Westminster's Butterfly Pavilion (butterflies.org) is the next stop on the itinerary. The 30,000-square-foot center houses more than 1,600 butterflies and 5,000 animals, including sea creatures and Rosie the tarantula.
Only a short drive away, in Keenesburg, is The Wild Animal Sanctuary (wildanimalsanctuary.org), the world's oldest and largest nonprofit refuge dedicated exclusively to the rescue and lifelong care of captive exotic and endangered large carnivores. It's home to more than 450 lions, tigers, bears and more.
Head to downtown Denver for the final stop of the trip, the Denver Zoo (denverzoo.org), founded in 1896 when an orphaned black bear cub named after politician William Jennings Bryan was handed over to the keeper of City Park. The zoo today is an 80-acre facility housing more than 4,000 animals.