If you ever find yourself in Denver, Colorado ensure to allot a few hours to explore the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. This wildlife refuge has quite a historic background. It has transitioned from farmland, a war-time manufacturing site, to currently a wildlife sanctuary. This could be your only chance to see a herd of bison feet from your face, so be sure to include this in your itinerary.
This preserve is located roughly ten minutes from the Denver Airport. It makes the perfect stop if you have some time before you need to check into your hotel.
There is no fee to enter the park or enjoy the multitude of activities that it offers. Here are a few highlights of what makes this park such a gem.
Check out the Visitors Center
Not all visitor centers are created equal. There are some that only provide a tattered map and an outhouse and then there are others that are practically a natural history museum. This center was history museum level. The thing we loved most is that it was toddler friendly. Sophie could toddle around and feel and touch things till her heart’s content. All items were secured down so she couldn’t run off with them, thank goodness! The taxidermy animals, including the bison were a Soph favorite. While my husband and I enjoyed the exhibits on the fascinating history behind the refuge. They have an incredible discovery center aimed at kids of all ages. The young explorer adventure zone was perfect our little one as she could build with the tree blocks and check out the puppets.
Other notable things about the Visitor Center is that they have clean bathrooms. (You will appreciate this if you ever had to hover over a”toilet”.) There is butterfly garden located directly behind the building that allows guest to go in and appreciate the butterflies and their treats up close. Be sure to pick up your free explorer backpack while you are there! It comes complete with nature games, wildlife activities and discovery tools you will need before venturing into the park. They have them in Spanish as well!
Visit the Black-Footed Ferrets
Located in the Visitor Center’s backyard is the Ferret exhibit. Guests can go in and see how the park is reintroducing these furry friends back into the wild. We were able to see two of these little cuties sleeping, but that was all the action we got. Check the park schedule to see if they have a special ferret program going on.
Take the Self Guided Wildlife Drive
This was the highlight of the park for us. There is an 11 mile motor tour that takes you through the preserve. The perfect trail for those who like to enjoy nature from the comfort of their air conditioned vehicle with a latte in hand. The tour will take you an average of 45 minutes to an hour depending on how often you stop and if a herd of bison decides to cross your path.
Wildlife tends to be best spotted at dawn and dusk, however as you can tell from our pictures we were in luck at 11 am. As you begin your tour you will pass Mary’s Lake where you can stop to get out to hike, fish or just relax . You will need a permit to fish. Don’t be discourage if you don’t see anything before you get to the bison entrance, because once you enter it is truly a sight to behold. We almost turned around when we saw the sign that it was 11 miles, but we were so glad that we didn’t.
Bison Viewing Area
After you roll on into the bison area keep a close eye out for the herd. We saw two lone bison when we first entered. and took a gazillion photos. Only to realize that the best was yet to come. We got to witness the herd pictured below stampede into the woods after being spooked by a motorcycle. This brings me to my next point; patience will pay off. If you see buffalo moving in the direction of your car, wait it out. You may get the opportunity to see these exquisite animals up close and personal. They will then proceed to take their sweet time to cross the road in front of you, but you will not care, I promise.
Remember that the bison are wild and not domesticated. They will run you over and not think twice, so its best to observe from the safety of your car. Death by bison is not the best way to go out.
Pay attention to the side of the road and you may just happen to see one of the smaller, yet most adorable little critters you will lay eyes on. Families of prairie dogs can be caught scurrying about and playing for those with a keen eye and can spot them.
Take a Hike
There are over ten miles of scenic hiking trails throughout the refuge. Most of them are easy, which is an added bonus when hiking with children or just out of shape like me! We were even able to take a stroller on some of the trails as it was soft graveled. There are plenty of wildlife viewing areas and you can even check out a pair of binoculars at the visitor center for free. Like I stated previously, the visitor center is amazing. If you happen to plan your visit during a nature tour or program it comes highly recommended. We came at a time where there wasn’t one which was a bummer!
Whether you decide to spend your time on the wildlife drive, fly fishing or hiking be sure to bring your camera. You never know what nature has in store for you during your visit.
The goose that you see as the symbol of the national wildlife refuge system was designed by J.N. “Ding” Darling. Whose preserve we visited while vacationing in Ft. Myers.
Read about our visit there: http://consistentlycurious.com/2018/02/08/hidden-gems-in-ft-myers/