Hiking the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs

cheyenne mountain zoo colorado springs logoMost zoos are built on flat ground and exploring them is a matter of walking in circles, either outward in or from the center out, as you spiral around the property. Actually, it can be hard to hit every area, every enclosure at zoos because of their weird layout and I have more than once left a familiar zoo like the San Diego Zoo or the Denver Zoo just to realize that I never made it to a specific area or saw a specific, favorite animal.

Which is one of the many reasons I really like the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado (about an hour south of Denver): it’s built on the side of the mountain so exploring it is a matter of either hiking uphill or getting a shuttle or taking the Mountaineer Sky Ride (a chair lift to the top of the zoo property). In fact, given that Colorado is already the “Mile High State” (a reference to altitude, not behaviors!) the Zoo is also at 6,800 foot elevation, something that might prove a small obstacle to more elderly visitors.

Fortunately it was my 12yo daughter K- and I who visited the zoo in early April and we’re both acclimated to the elevation and happy to hike up and down hills. Which was good as the Sky Ride was closed that day. Yeah, we could have take the $2/person tram ride to the top of the zoo and walked down, but we just wandered up and down the hills instead.

Rather than seek to have every animal on Earth, which would be an impossible task as it turns out that there are over 5,000 mammal species alone the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has focused on a smaller number of animals and built some really splendid enclosures that make the zoo seem much more interactive. It’s certainly the only place I’ve seen where people can feed giraffes, something that causes great fun and occasional anxiety among zoo visitors:

cheyenne mountain zoo, feeding giraffes

What I have learned from the giraffe feeding area is that they have really long, weird black tongues that are remarkably articulated and can wiggle around and curl on themselves in ways that can definitely seem more like a b-movie octopus than a tongue. One gal was screaming and freaking out, refusing to even go near the giraffes, while her tattoo-covered boyfriend thought it was hilarious and kept trying to get her to feed the giraffe. 🙂

The Zoo also has a variety of feline enclosures, some of which are larger and more modern than others, but it does give visitors the chance to enjoy lions and tigers (relatively) up close. A few photos to show what I mean, starting with the lion’s indoor “chill” area:

lions, cheyenne mountain zoo, colorado springs

There were three younger lions in the enclose too, all intertwined while sleeping on an upper platform.

In another area of the Zoo there were more lions too, four females and one male:

lions, cheyenne mountain zoo, colorado springs

Honestly, it’s no wonder the male lion lets the females hunt. He’s probably exhausted. 🙂

There was also a tiger enclosure that sprawled across a mountainside, which made it really great for the animal, but more difficult viewing for visitors. Then again, the tiger seemed to take that into account and was instead laying regally and cleaning his paws right by the edge of the enclosure where he could seemingly dream about which humans he’d be eating later in the afternoon:

tiger, cheyenne mountain zoo, colorado springs

We have four house cats in our family, notably including my daughter K-‘s cat “Frozzy”, so it’s always fun to see how they share behavioral traits – like licking their paws and stretching – with the big cats and we spent a good 15-20 minutes just watching this particular tiger lazily spend his time in the enclosure.

As with many zoos, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has peacocks wandering freely, which led to this photo of one particularly proud male atop the reptile enclosure:

peacock, cheyenne mountain zoo

Unlike the Denver Zoo, apparently the peacocks in Colorado Springs are more mellow so I never saw any signs warning people that they can be cranky, even as another one stood right by a concession area, hoping to steal some stray crumbs from sloppy children. Maybe the altitude keeps them more chill?

While K- enjoyed the giraffe and elephant enclosures (the latter of which has a 20-foot waterfall, among other features), it was the “Australia Walkabout” area at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo that was her favorite, and being able to walk thru the wallaby enclosure was so fun that we circled back and did it twice.

But the wallaby, a cousin to the kangaroo, is also ridiculously cute, as you can see:

wallaby, cheyenne mountain zoo

So you understand, there’s no fence, no wall, no glass, between the visitor and the wallaby: just a walkway thru their enclosure. Small children are warned not to touch them unless they’re actually on the walking path, but the urge is likely common to most visitors because they just look like the kind of animal you want to bring home with you. K- says “cuddly. They’re just really cuddly.”

Not far from the wallaby but definitely behind a glass wall is another creature, one I find interesting because of its prehistoric appearance and air of barely repressed danger:

alligator, cheyenne mountain zoo

Yes, if this American Alligator were really just a few feet away without an enclosure, I’d be hightailing it out of there with great anxiety: they can actually explode into action, at speeds of 20mph or faster. Much better to run than be lunch, right? Fortunately, we were safe and could watch them in their enclosure, doing a whole lot of nothing.

In another area, there’s a much more amusing exhibit of the alligator in another of its “native habitats”, at least if you live in Florida:

alligator in pool, cheyenne mountain zoo

Yes, this is an enclosure that’s designed to look like a suburban pool. With a live alligator swimming in it. Yeah, let’s make sure we have a close look at what’s in the pool before our next swim, eh? K- and I both really loved this particular exhibit because it was so funny!

There was a lot more to explore at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and it took up most of an afternoon for us to walk around and enjoy it all. Time definitely well spent while in Colorado Springs!

dave taylor and daughter at cheyenne mountain zoo, colorado springs colorado

Disclosure: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gave us two tickets to enjoy the zoo and write about our experiences. If you’re used to expensive zoos and attractions, however, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the admission fees are quite reasonable: $14.25/adult, $10.25/child in the off season (Sept-April) and $17.25/adult, $12.25/child in the peak summer season. Learn more and plan your own trip to the Zoo at cmzoo.org.

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