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.


Nature Play

with Denver Zoo

The Zofnass Barclay Family Nature Play trail, along the edge of Duck Lake, is a place where visitors of all ages can play, learn, connect with and ultimately care for nature.  In this space, meant to be slightly wild, children have the freedom to leave the trail, climb under bushes, find bugs, dig in the soil, and immerse themselves in the kind of refuge that only nature can provide.  Hidden markers hint at things children can touch, smell, hear and see as they explore.  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

  • December - February: Thursdays and Saturdays 11am to 2pm
  • Subject to change due to weather conditions
  • Days and hours vary seasonally, check back for updates

Nature Play in your community

Nature is all around us!  Learning Experiences staff can help schools, community centers and families connect with nature, in their own neighborhood.


Nature Play Camps

Connect with the joys of childhood and nature in Denver Zoo’s Summer Safari nature play camp.  This unique opportunity encourages campers to literally dig into the world around them, engages their sense of wonder and discovery and develops connections to animals and the natural world.  Photo ready outfits are optional, dirt and smiles are not!  Come play with us!


Professional Development in

Nature Play for Teachers

Denver Zoo is delighted to host Chicago Zoological Society’s world renowned NatureStart™ professional development course.  Together, educators will build skills for developing and facilitating nature play experiences for young children in all settings.

June 18-20, 2020

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.