We all know American kids are spending too much time in front of screens—an average of six hours per day for eight- to 12-year-olds—but replacing smartphone games with outdoor experiences isn’t just about getting kids moving. “Risky play,” a type of physical activity youngsters crave (think: climbing trees, hide-and-seek), is a crucial part of physical and cognitive development. Enter Adventure Forest, a 500-foot-long aerial adventure course that opened at the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus this past June and is designed to (safely) encourage this sort of free play. “It’s about doing things at height or speed where there’s perceived danger or feeling lost and having to find your way,” Adventure Forest coordinator Karyn Perdue says. Here, we outline the ways the course’s various features help make your child stronger and smarter.

Pick A Path
There are numerous access points into Adventure Forest (created in conjunction with Grand Junction’s Bonsai Design), but if children begin their journeys near the park’s entrance, they’re immediately faced with options: Walk up the staircase, or wiggle up the chimney climb? Decision-making promotes self-efficacy.

Off The Edge
Taking the first step onto the rope spider web—situated 28 feet above the ground—allows children to confront their fears and learn to appraise risk. It’s also a practice in social navigation. “It’s about encouraging other kids,” Perdue says. “Comforting them and showing empathy.”

Flying High
The rope swing advances locomotor skills such as grip strength, coordination, and spatial orientation while allowing kids to feel what it’s like to not be in control. Once on the zip-line-like swing, for example, they can’t stop until they reach the other side. Explorers can also scramble across a net below the swing or walk around the side—choices that instill a sense of personal agency.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

From The Beginning
Adventure Forest tells a story, in words and pictures, of reconnecting humankind and nature. It all stems from the creative mind of Wes Sam-Bruce, a New York–based artist born in Greeley. Some kids may race past his alphabet, which translates the ABCs into animal-inspired symbols, but others will want to sit and decode every fragment.

To The Top
To reach Adventure Forest’s highest point, kids climb up a series of ladders and platforms, building awareness of how their bodies move through space and improving agility and self-confidence. They must also navigate two-way traffic, a scenario that teaches them about patience, sharing space, and communicating (politely) with others.

Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

Into The Unknown
A duo of 70-foot-long slides at the far end of the course are covered and steep, and kids must ride by themselves. Although a staffer is present to prevent pileups, kids are expected to look over the side before beginning their descents to see if the base is clear for them to ride.

If you go: To experience Adventure Forest, you must be five years old or at least 44 inches tall and be able to climb independently (adults may only enter to accompany kids). Access is included in admission: $14 for ages two to 59 and $12 for those 60 or older.

This article was originally published in 5280 Health 2020.
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.