The phrase, “let’s go to the Denver Zoo,” should not be thrown around lightly when you have kids. Planning is key: On a hot summer’s day, a misstep could lead to a meltdown in front of the penguins. But when planned correctly, this is an outing filled with stimulation, education, and, of course, good old fun. From sea lion feedings to watching peacocks stroll on the sidewalk, the zoo can be a different experience every time your family goes this summer.

Packing List: Be prepared for the heat with hats, sunscreen, water, and a spray bottle, but also bring layers in case a Colorado storm blows through. Guests are allowed to bring in their own food and non-alcoholic drinks, but fair warning: Straws are not allowed for the protection of the animals. Bringing in your own snacks will help curb the number of requests for ice cream, cotton candy, and kettle corn and helps avoid the midday sugar-crash. You can either bring your own wagon or stroller, or rent one from the park.

Time Management: The Denver Zoo opens at 9 a.m., but zoo members can enter the park half an hour early. Going early helps avoid the heat of the afternoon and the chance of missing naptime. Don’t try to see the whole zoo in one trip. You don’t want to leave overextended, so save some animals and exhibits for another daytrip.

Animals: With time management in mind, know which animals you want to see. Ask each kid going to the zoo to pick one animal they have to see on their visit so that no one misses their favorite. Realize that kids of different ages will enjoy different animals. For the youngest guests the elephants should be a must see, while the polar bears and primates will definitely be a favorite for toddlers and preschoolers. Be aware that the area between Northern Shores and Elephant Passage is a slow section of the park and Bird World is not for everyone.

Key Stops: The Northern Shores’ polar bears, seals, and sea lions are almost always playing around (check out show times before your trip so that you don’t miss special tricks from the animals). If you want to skip requests to ride the train or carousel, plot ahead to skoot around this area of the park to avoid disappointing the kids. Primate Panorama takes some time to navigate, but that’s because all the kids are pressing their noses against the glass to get a better view of animals that move and act so much like humans (read: worth it).

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—Photo Credit: Denver Zoo