Nature Play with Denver Zoo

Come play, learn, and connect with nature on The Zofnass Barclay Family Nature Play Trail. In this space, children have the freedom to leave the trail, climb under bushes, find bugs, dig in the soil, and immerse themselves in nature.  Zoo educators play alongside children as they discover, encouraging them to observe, wonder and try.

The Zofnass Barclay Family Nature Play Trail is made possible through the generosity of the Zofnass Barclay Family Foundation

Open for family play most mornings, Sunday - Saturday; days and hours vary seasonally and are weather dependent.


There are plenty of opportunities to nature play at Denver Zoo! Try these nature play ideas during your visit or in your own neighborhood:

  • Make a Nature Collage: Collect natural objects like fallen leaves, small rocks, twigs and acorns. Use these special items to make a nature collage! Design a pattern, make a smiley face, create an animal or arrange them together any way you like.
  • Look for Local Wildlife: We can find wildlife all around us, including here at Denver Zoo! Take a look around while walking on the path; up in the trees and in the sky. Do you see any local wildlife? Some common visitors are squirrels, geese and rabbits. What else can you find?  
  • Build a Bird’s Nest: Winter is one of the best times of year to spot local birds! Use your observation skills and see what feather friends you can find. Use twigs, leaves and other objects to build your own bird’s nest. Extra points if you can spot a real bird’s nest in a tree!
  • Go for a Nature Color Hunt: On your next walk, see how many different colors you can find. Can you find a plant or animal that has: Green? Blue? Red? Black? Yellow? What other colors did you find?  

20 Nature Play Ideas

Nature play has been proven to have powerful benefits for both bodies and brains—not just for kids, but for parents, too!  Give it a try, and go outside, with these 20 easy nature play activities.

Denver Zoo Nature Play programs are designed to:

Denver Zoo Nature Play programs are designed to:

  • Nurture a child’s interest in and passion for nature
  • Reduce barriers to nature play
  • Encourage exploration of nature through opportunities for unstructured play and guided discovery
  • Inspire teachers and caregivers to be active partners in children’s exploration of nature

What is Nature Play?

Nature Play is simple, and it’s something most children do without even thinking about it. Playing in nature, and playing with items from the natural world. Climbing a tree is nature play, and so is building a fort. Digging for worms is nature play, and so is rolling down a grassy hill.

Nature play is good for children. Research suggests that time spent in nature reduces stress for children, builds brainpower, encourages social skills and the development of empathy. Nature play is good for nature too! When we encourage children to play in nature, to explore it and enjoy it, we are encouraging the next generation of conservation stewards.

Nurturing Scientists

Through Nature Play

Nurturing Scientists Through Nature Play is a preschool partnership program that engages students, teachers and families in nature exploration and nature play – at their schools, at the Zoo, and in their communities.

Nurturing Scientists supports the development of age-appropriate science skills in preschool students through nature play and exploration. Caregiver and teacher workshops empower parents and teachers to be active partners in their children’s learning.

In recognition of the program’s success, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums awarded the program its Significant Achievement Award in Education in 2018, and in 2019 Nurturing Scientists received a multi-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in order to deepen and expand the program’s emphasis on engaging with local families in nature.