Lions roar from their new savanna in Denver's City Park
A tawny-maned African lion pads up to the watering hole, glances around, then bends over the pool to drink just inches away from you. It sounds like a scene from an African safari, but it's something you can do on a one-day getaway to Denver's City Park, starting at the Denver Zoo's new Predator Ridge.
The exhibit, scheduled to open June 22, is a lion-viewing experience unlike anything outside of Africa. It includes three separate enclosures, one for lions, one for mothers and cubs, and one for the lions' hunting rivals: packs of hyenas and African wild dogs. Through the floor-to-ceiling glass along each enclosure, you can study the animals as they eat, defend territory, and come down to drink. Two lion prides are on display, and each rotates into the exhibit for part of the day. One added element: The lions periodically switch sections with their hyena and wild dog rivals. Moving into this enclosure filled with canine scents keeps things interesting for the lions.
Continue your safari at the zoo's 7-acre Primate Panorama. Featuring 7,000 lush plants plus outdoor waterfalls and streams, the exhibit is a jungle home to everything from gorillas to golden lion tamarins. Also check out the Conservation Carousel, where you can ride intricately carved versions of endangered animals.
To see a more fearsome predator ― like a Tyrannosaurus rex ― step into the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (9-5 daily; $9, $6 ages 3-18; 2001 Colorado Blvd.; 303/322-7009), adjacent to the zoo. For a juicy burger in a quiet setting, head 10 blocks west of the park to the Avenue Grill ($$; lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily; 630 E. 17th Ave.; 303/861-2820).
Of course, you can also bring a picnic to the park, then walk off lunch on the nearly 1-mile Shoreline Loop around Ferril Lake. Or you could act like a lion after a big meal and settle in for a nap under the trees.