Thornton is a suburb in the northern part of Colorado known for its expansive open spaces and diverse outdoor activities.
In the 1950s, the city was mainly covered with farmland and became the first thoroughly planned community in Adams County and the northeast region of the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield.
Today, Thornton maintained a balance between metropolitan and countryside living.
Its mixed-use developments and luscious greenery sprawled across its 98.28 square kilometer area helped strike this fine balance.
It has 1,000 acres of parks and several recreational centers, such as golf courses and community centers, open to the public all year round.
Thornton is a family-friendly destination with distinct experiences for outdoor adventure and indoor amenities.
This place has sports facilities, water activities, nature trips to shopping, and even horror adventures.
Another good reason why it’s a perfect choice is its accessibility.
It is just ten miles north of the state’s capitol, Denver.
Just a 28-minute drive from the city is the Denver International Airport, Thornton is an excellent jumping-off point for your Colorado trip.
If you are visiting soon, experience the best things to do in Thornton, Colorado!
Enjoy a Picnic at Pelican Ponds Open Space
The Pelican Ponds Open Space is a vast 200 acres of property situated along a river.
Adams County acquired the property and developed it in the early 2000s as a recreational place for locals of Thornton.
This place offers you plenty of hiking and walking trails, giving you lots of time to appreciate the wildlife.
There are so many outdoor activities you can do within the area, which underscores the value of the wildlife.
The open space also has picnic shelters you can rest on after a day of exploring trails, a wildlife and bird-watching viewing deck, and access to fishing.
Hiking through the expansive Pelican Ponds Open Space is easy.
You’ll see signages that lead you back with ease, especially if you decide to go on a sunny day.
Practice Golf at Thorncreek Golf Course
Golfing is one of the primary recreational activities in the city.
One of the famous golf courses here is the Thorncreek Golf Course, located at N. Washington St., with an 18-hole course perfect for a practice game.
Built in 1992, Thorncreek Golf Course has 7,268 yards of well-groomed course and beautiful fairways that offer terrific views of greenery while you play your regular rounds under the clear blue skies.
Beginners are welcome in the practice range, where you can join weekly golf classes or attend summer camps.
Every day there are ladies’ clinics and daily leagues to try.
Drop by Soderberg’s Bar & Grill and grab some cheeseburgers and chips to keep you fueled throughout the day.
Go Shopping at Denver Premium Outlets
If you want to go shopping during your Thornton visit, you should never miss going to Denver Premium Outlets.
The LEED-certified mall at Grant Street opened in 2018, boasting stunning architecture inspired by the majestic Rocky Mountain landscape.
The 330,000-square-foot shopping center houses retail stores for luxury and lifestyle brands and entertainment spots.
You can find beloved brands like Coach, Michael Kors, and Polo Ralph Lauren at Denver Premium Outlets.
A massive selection of various outdoor gear, fitness equipment, and accessories also awaits you.
Of course, a day of shopping would not be complete if you will not cap it with good food.
The center has numerous snack bars and restaurants you can choose from, whether you like steaks, sushi, pizza, or pretzels.
You’ll spot a good find for your hungry tummy.
Pick a Pumpkin at Maize in the City
A popular event during the fall, Maize in the City (MITC) at McKay Rd Unit 1 offers a series of fun, family-oriented activities.
MITC opened in 2001 as an exciting 20-acre corn maze attraction.
Inside the maze, you can pick your pumpkin in the field grown by farmers at a very affordable price.
Staff in the maze field help guide you from the entrance to every activity area you choose, ensuring you enjoy every bit of what the site can offer.
There is also a barrel ride, playground, hay bale maze, and corn launcher.
Kids will enjoy the sand art area, where they can play for hours.
The maze field is just 15 minutes from downtown Denver and is a common activity ground for families in Thornton’s neighboring city.
Visitors have also voted Maize in the City the best maze field in Denver.
Escape a Haunted Hotel at 303 Escape
Are you looking for a different kind of thrill?
Thornton not only offers you activities in open spaces.
It also gives you an option to immerse in an old and haunted place that will surely leave you with goosebumps.
303 Escape’s Homicide Hotel at Fox Drive is a go-to place if you want a scary experience for you and your friends.
The escape room tells a chilling tale about serial killer Robert Quinlan, who built the hotel as a place to torture and murder unsuspecting hotel guests.
The entire hotel is designed to look like a gripping Hollywood horror movie, so you’ll believe it's the real deal.
Start the creepy adventure in the lobby, leading to eerie hallways, secret passages, and torture rooms.
Guests have an hour to solve mystery puzzles, interact with objects, and find clues to escape the room before it’s too late.
All rooms at the 303 Escape Homicide Hotel are private.
You can book a room for up to eight people and enjoy the spine-chilling experience with your friends.
Play Bowling at the Summit Thornton
Another fun-filled experience awaits you in Thornton when you visit the Summit Thornton, an entertainment center for all ages established in 2019.
The spacious center at 144th Ave. has 24 lanes of upscale family bowling, two levels of laser tag action, and a 5,000-square-foot arcade.
The fun won’t be complete if you’ll skip grabbing a bite at Crossroads Tavern and Grille.
Over 175 people can enjoy delicious food and drinks while dining on the patio or viewing their favorite sports game.
If you want an elevated experience, go to its Eagle’s Nest VIP lounge with eight lanes for bowling, full bars, billiard tables, and party rooms that can accommodate your private event.
Bring the family to the Summit Thornton!
Play Sports at Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center
If fitness and sports are your interests, then the Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center at Colorado Boulevard should be your top choice.
Established in 1994, the facility boasts its 78,780-square-foot space dedicated to various sports.
Whatever sport you are into, you’ll find a spot in this location.
There are basketball and volleyball courts, racquetball courts, a lap swimming pool, a vortex pool, a diving board, a lazy river, an open gym, and a pickleball court.
The center also has two running tracks.
Runners can use the outdoor track, while joggers and slow walkers may use the indoor track.
There are also a weight room, sauna, steam rooms, and hot tub.
You can book a class at any sports facility and spend a whole day working up a sweat at Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center.
Reflect on Courage at Thornton Veterans Memorial
The Thornton Veterans Memorial started as a community project in 2010 to honor veteran heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country and the people.
A pentagon, flag pole, and memorial paver bricks stand in the area, serving as a quiet place for reflection and prayers.
The park, located at 136th Ave, is divided into five sections that symbolize the military branches—Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy.
On top of the pentagon is a five-sided obelisk engraving the branches of the military and their respective motto.
Aside from the obelisk, a status also stands symbolically at Thornton Veterans Memorial.
Local artist Christopher Romero donated a four-foot-tall statue of a winged angel releasing a dove with dog tags.
The figure is named Grace, a beautiful creation that signifies the freedom the veterans enjoy after saving and protecting the country.
Walking through the park, you can stop to read historical facts about the veterans, which adds more depth to the meaningful visit.
To express gratitude to the country’s heroes, you can purchase a paver brick that can be set into the park’s walkways.
If you want to dedicate a brick for a loved one, you can buy them in the memorial’s service area for $100 to $125.
Play with Your Dog at Trail Winds Dog Park
Thornton is not just a family-friendly destination.
It also welcomes furry pets and even dedicated a park just for them to roam around and enjoy.
The Trail Winds Dog Park at Holly St. is inside the city-owned Trail Winds Recreation Center property built in 2019.
This off-leash dog park boasts two acres for large and small dogs.
Inside the park, you can find large tree logs for them to play around, drinking water, benches, and trees.
There is also a separate playground for large dogs and small dogs.
The trail to the park is pretty walkable, allowing you to appreciate the vast property while your dog jumps and runs around.
If you want to sit and look around, you can find shaded structures to rest for a while at the Trail Winds Dog Park.
Dive at Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center
As a swimming center that can host an Olympic competition, the 43,574-square-foot Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center can accommodate 800 athletes.
Developed by the city and the Adams 12 School District, the swimming center boasts a 50-meter pool and can fit 765,000 gallons of water.
The Olympic pool is divided into three sections, with one having 13-foot diving well.
The place is a frequent location for diving and swimming meets.
If you want to try your swimming and diving skills in Thornton, head to the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center for a fun experience.
Ride a Bike through the Platte River Trail
Another trail-worthy place to check is the well-known Platte River Trail, one of Denver’s popular trails that runs a stretched 28.5-mile path that rests alongside the twisting Platte River.
Hiking within this area lets you witness high grassland scenery with towering mountains resting in the backdrop.
Hours of hiking the trail leave you in awe of the lush greenery and various flora and fauna present throughout the course.
The trail has two separate portions.
The first section from the north runs from East 120th Parkway north, about three miles in Henderson.
It ends just before you arrive at the E470 toll road.
If you are in Thornton, you can enter through the vast Elaine T. Valente Open Space in the city’s south.
Before continuing the trail, you’ll hike to Mary Carter Greenway’s south section and Chatfield State Park, where you can also find the 1,423-acre Chatfield Reservoir.
Bikers can find traffic loops locations at trail intersections and signage.
There are also areas to rest and revel in nature’s beauty throughout the route.
You’ll find cozy cafes, serene memorials, gardens with various flora and fauna, and numerous spacious parks to bike around.
Additionally, you can also sightsee kayakers tackling the current along the river.
Spend the day at the Platte River Trail!
Catch Fish at West Gravel Lakes
Another outdoor activity you can try in Thornton is fishing at West Gravel Lakes, located near the South Platte River in Thornton.
It guarantees an equally fun outdoor experience when you cannot hit the mountains for a hike.
As a go-to urban fishery for Thornton locals, West Gravel Lakes are home to warm water species such as rainbow trout, carp, bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, perch, and walleye.
The fishery is also a favorite fishing spot for locals in downtown Denver as it is only ten miles from the metro.
Play Disc Golf at Springvale Disc Golf Course
Disc golfing is another popular sport played by Thornton locals.
Established in 2010, the Springvale Disc Golf Course at Holly St. is a beginner-friendly golf course with 18 holes and concrete tees.
The grass in the field is thick and well-manicured, which is generally safe for young people and adults who want to learn to play this recreational activity.
It is also a frequent event place for tournaments and leagues.
With the cool breeze from towering trees on the sides, you’ll enjoy an early morning game at the Springvale Disc Golf Course.
Buy Outdoor Gear from Cabela’s
While enjoying the outdoors, you can drop by Cabela’s, an impressive 90,000-square-foot retail shop for quality adventure gear at I-25 and 144th Ave.
After opening in 2013, it became a favorite place for everything outdoors.
You can find clothing for hunting and camp from brands such as Under Armour, Columbia, Yeti, Carhartt, Shimano, The North Face, Ascend, and more.
Aside from that, the sporting goods and outdoor retail companies also have beautiful selections of fishing equipment, boats, and RVs at competitive prices.
Cabela's also plays the part of an outdoor scene with stunning wildlife exhibitions that will leave you in awe.
Jog around Hunter Glen
Hunter Glen is a 1.3-kilometer loop trail popular for outdoor activities such as road biking, running, and jogging.
Although people may flock to the trail in peak hours, you can still find solitude when you decide for a nice walk or a quick afternoon jog with your dog.
Its flat trail makes it a family-friendly recreational place, perfect for people in wheelchairs or mobility equipment and strollers.
Between walks, you can rest on benches situated along the trails shaded by trees.
Thornton is a fantastic city offering various outdoor and indoor activities for all ages.
Whether you want to go to Thornton to play sports, hang out with friends, shop for new clothing, or need a quick getaway with the rest of your family, the city gives you many options.
Plan your trip today and discover the best things to do in Thornton, Colorado!