Walk down the world’s longest footbridge while scouting large cats and bears lounging in the shade or splashing around a pool.
With over 9,000 acres of sanctuary lands an hour outside of Denver, The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg is an attraction travelers can’t miss. It’s not only a place to spot big cats but is also thoroughly invested in the captive-wild-animal crisis and helps animals around the world, operating with a mission of saving animals from less-than-ideal situations and rehabilitating them. A typical visit might last 4 to 6 hours, spent walking the 1.5-mile walkway, stopping for lunch at the visitor’s center and learning about the wonderful creatures that call the sanctuary home. Here’s a closer look at why you and your family should add The Wild Animal Sanctuary to your northeast Colorado itinerary.
Nearly 500 animals roam large-acreage, natural habitats and make Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary a must-see for animal lovers. The sanctuary is the oldest in the country, with over 38 years of experience. And while the center is open year-round, there are certain times of the day that are better to see the animals in action. In the summer it’s best to arrive in the late afternoon, as the animals nap during the hottest parts of the day. Come winter, you’re more likely to see animals up and about throughout the day.
2. You’ll get a unique look at a fascinating variety of animals.
Catch a tiger splashing in a pool, watch a lion play on a “jungle gym” or a bear playing with a “boomer ball.” The center is host to animals from all different backgrounds including coyotes, jaguars, mountain lions, porcupines, alpacas and more. Over the course of the sanctuary’s history, they’ve rescued over 1,000 animals — all from illegal situations or neglect — with more than 460 living at the facility today. There’s even a roundhouse to receive new tigers, designed to allow them to recuperate and adjust.
3. Walking “A Mile into the Wild” is a can’t-miss experience.
The center is home to an elevated walkway above the animal habitats that provides a fantastic view for visitors, while ensuring the animals are comfortable. At 1.51 miles in length, it even holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest footbridge. Be sure to visit in the summer for Wild Nights — as the sun starts to set, the animals are particularly active. Wolves begin howling, lions roar and there are beautiful sunset views. You can even bring a picnic dinner!
4. The Welcome Center has everything you need for an enjoyable visit.
A 48,000-square-foot complex housed inside a giant biodome greets you as your first stop at the sanctuary. Since the recommended time to spend at the sanctuary is 4 to 6 hours, you may need to pick up a few provisions. The center is designed as a small-town main street, complete with trees, grass and a brook running down the middle. Stop for a bite at Lion’s Den Café, which serves oven-fired pizza, burgers and pasta. There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available as well. After lunch, grab some ice cream at The Ice Cream Shop; we recommend going for the English Toffee or Caramel Oreo. After walking the refuge, stop in the gift shop for the perfect souvenirs to commemorate your time with the animals.
5. There’s opportunity for education and different ways to give back.
The sanctuary also offers summer safari dinners, which are held at the sanctuary four times a year. These fundraising events include a meal and stimulating conversations with the staff, caretakers and volunteers. Plus, the education center features numerous videos about the animals at the center and there are many programs offered to continue your education. You can even adopt an animal by paying a fee that goes to giving them the best care, food and attention.
6. The Wild Animal Sanctuary continues to look toward the future, with the addition of The Wildlife Refuge.
Expanding into southern Colorado is the sanctuary’s next plan and with the purchase of 9,004 more acres in Las Animas and Baca counties, that dream is becoming a reality. Though it won’t be open to the public, these remote lands feature amazing natural landscapes with rocks, hills, canyons and water that will serve the animals as a true sanctuary. To help with this much-needed extension of the center’s rescue efforts, you can help by purchasing acreage and donating it back.