Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Thornton, CO

  • Published 2023/01/07

Thornton is a quaint but lively northeastern suburb of the Denver metropolitan area.

This small community in Adams County is an excellent place to relax and unwind because of its well-balanced city life and recreational opportunities.

Thornton, considered a Colorado municipality, is home to over 141,000 inhabitants.

One main reason people flock to this Colorado community is its perfect cool weather since it sits 5,351 feet above sea level in Weld and Adams Counties.

Historically, this city was named after the former Colorado governor, Daniel Thornton, when it was established in 1953.

Today, Thornton is the home to over 25 major parks, so you’ll engage in various fun outdoor activities when visiting.

Of course, you’ll enjoy plenty of attractions and activities in Thornton without burning a hole in your pocket.

Here are the free things to do in Thornton, Colorado:

Escape from the City at the Platte River Trailhead Park

Scenic view of Platte River Trailhead Park

Gennady Zakharin /

The Platte River Trailhead Park is a pleasant spot in Thornton because of its peaceful environment with nature.

This natural area meanders through the South Platte River and is accessible at E. 88th Avenue.

This place is your perfect escape from the city’s noise with its tranquil and lush green atmosphere in the heart of Thornton.

Stony banks of Platte River Trailhead Park

Gennady Zakharin /

It has a picturesque urban environment, perfect for taking a break or meditating and taking advantage of the quiet surroundings.

If you want another outdoor activity, hike the Platte River Trailhead Park trail to explore more of its beauty.

Check Out the Cherry Park Pavilion

To start your Thornton adventure, check out the Cherry Park Pavilion.

You can visit this park along Birch Drive.

This park is known for its unique features, such as its clubhouse-themed playground, which is an excellent place for your toddler to have fun.

At the same time, this park has a lovely picnic area where you can relax and chit-chat with your loved ones or friends.

Besides its picnic area, it has numerous baseball and basketball sports facilities and a multi-purpose field for other activities.

Overall, the Cherry Park Pavilion is an excellent place to relax upon arriving in Thornton.

Let Your Kids Have Fun at the Carpenter Park

Carpenter Park is another park you mustn’t miss visiting.

You can check out this park along E. 112th Avenue.

This park is perfect for bringing your kids because of its massive play area with the coolest features, from slides, climbs, ladders, and obstacle courses.

At the same time, this park has a splash pad, which is also ideal for kids to cool down, along with grownups.

During summer, Carpenter Park has added exciting features.

These features include paddle boats for its lake and a carousel, making it an exciting place to visit, especially during that time of the year.

Above all, this park has no admission fee, giving you plenty of reasons to add it to your itinerary.

Follow the Big Dry Creek Trail

Take a break from the parks and head to the Big Dry Creek Trail.

You can visit this charming hiking spot in various locations on Washington Street or at E. 134th Street.

The entire point-to-point trail spans over 18.2 kilometers, taking you to the neighboring places of Broomfield and Westminster.

The entire route is relatively easy to hike.

It can be completed within three hours, depending on how many times you stop to pose for some photos.

Besides hiking, this trail is famous for off-road biking and birdwatching.

Bring your hiking gear to Thornton to embark on an outdoor adventure at the Big Dry Creek Trail.

Spot Various Bird Species at the Eastlake #3 Park and Nature Preserve

The Eastlake #3 Park & Nature Preserve is a small but thriving natural area that features the local flora and fauna.

You can visit this natural area along Fillmore Street.

Locals go to this place to spot local wildlife, particularly waterbirds such as the blue-winged teals, cinnamon-winged teals, and hooded merganser.

You can hike through its marshy trails and wooded areas to spot these magnificent birds.

Occasionally, plenty more bird species stop by the area to feed or to rest before continuing their migration.

Bring your binoculars when visiting Thornton to enjoy spotting birds at the Eastlake #3 Park & Nature Preserve.

Cast Your Line at the Pelicans Ponds Open Space

Pelicans Ponds Open Space on a bright sunny day

Ariel Vicens /

The Pelican Ponds Open Space is renowned for its scenic natural beauty.

You can visit this natural attraction along Riverdale Road.

The entire natural area spans over 200 acres offering nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts excellent walking trails, wooded areas, birdwatching spots, and a fishing dock.

Landscape of Pelicans Ponds Open Space

Ariel Vicens /

Most of the time, people who visit this natural attraction love to cast their line and wait for their best catch.

Bring your fishing gear when visiting Thornton for a pleasant fishing experience.

Besides excellent fishing spots, you’ll also appreciate the peaceful and picturesque landscape of the Pelicans Ponds Open Space.

View of Pelicans Ponds Open Space

Ariel Vicens /

Bring Your Family to the Maize in the City

Maize in the City is a beautiful open-air family attraction known for its farm-related activities.

You can visit this place along McKay Road Unit 1.

This place is famous for its family-oriented farm activities, which are mainly free to enjoy.

Families visit this place during special occasions, especially autumn and fall, where they can harvest pumpkins.

However, there is more to that since this place has plenty of fun-filled activities, such as games at the corn kernel box, the hay bale maze, and its children’s playground.

Of course, remember to pose for photos at one of the place’s booths and attractions for lovely souvenirs.

Maize in the City is fun spending time with your family, especially enjoying its free activities.

Wait for Your Catch at the West Gravel Lakes

West Gravel Lakes is another popular fishing spot in Thornton that you mustn’t miss.

You can visit this place along Colorado Boulevard.

Whether you’re an avid angler or someone who wants a relaxing outdoor activity, this lake won’t disappoint you.

This place, considered an urban fishery, is renowned for its abundance of different species you can catch.

It has carp, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and plenty more, depending on what fish takes your bait.

Head to the West Gravel Lakes for other worthwhile fishing sessions by yourself or with your friends.

Pay Respects at the Thornton Veterans Memorial

The Thornton Veterans Memorial is a monument dedicated to Thornton’s local servicemen and women.

You can find this monument along E. 136th Avenue.

This monument has a monolith dedicated to all the veterans from the Thornton community who gave their lives for the country.

Visiting this memorial allows you to enjoy the area’s quiet atmosphere and offer some prayers to those who died in the line of duty.

At the same time, you can pose for a photo at the Thornton Veteran Memorial as your souvenir before proceeding to your adventure.

Spot Prairie Dogs at the Grandview Ponds Open Space & Prairie Dog Habitat

The Grandview Ponds Open Space & Prairie Dog Habitat is a unique natural attraction where you’ll see these cute and cuddly animals up close.

You can visit this place along E. 104th Avenue.

This place is well-known throughout Thornton and Denver Metropolitan Area as a top-notch spot to see prairie dogs in their natural habitat.

To do this, you can stroll through its trails which take you to a viewing area where you can see prairie dogs popping up from their holes.

At the same time, the place has a gorgeous pond and natural landscape, making it an excellent place for nature lovers to explore.

Check out the Grandview Ponds Open Space & Prairie Dog Habitat for a unique nature experience.

Hike through the Signal Ditch Trail

The Signal Ditch Trail is a trail that meanders through an irrigation channel that once watered Thornton’s agricultural area.

You can visit this trail near the Farmers’ High Line Canal Trail in Thornton’s northern portion.

It’s a nice place to hike and see the other side of Thornton, particularly the city’s agricultural past.

While hiking, you’ll pass through neighborhoods, open spaces, and various parks where you can take a break.

The trail spans over 10.5 kilometers and takes you to neighboring Brighton, giving you plenty of trails to hike for a more worthwhile experience.

Head to the Signal Ditch Trail for another exciting hiking adventure.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Once you’ve completed Thornton’s attractions, you can proceed to its neighboring towns and cities.

Thornton is a few minutes south of Denver, which offers plenty of exciting and free activities to enjoy.

Besides Denver, numerous cities and towns near Thornton boast local gems.

Here are some places near Thornton that is worth visiting.

Explore the Gorgeous University of Colorado Boulder

Signage of University of Colorado Boulder

KYPhua /

The University of Colorado Boulder is a magnificent major university in the heart of Boulder.

You can visit this university 28 minutes northwest of Thornton in the neighboring city of Boulder, Colorado.

This university is renowned as a center for culture and research.

View of University of Colorado Boulder

jenlo8 /

However, the campus is also an open-air museum featuring century-old faculty and department buildings with gorgeous classical architecture.

At the same time, the entire campus offers free access to its buildings during a free tour, including mini museums, art galleries, theaters, and plenty of scenic locations.

Visiting the University of Colorado Boulder is a worthwhile experience with history and charm.

Library at University of Colorado Boulder

jenlo8 /

Wander the Golden Triangle Creative District

The Golden Triangle Creative District is the most vibrant area in Denver, Colorado.

You can visit this attraction 16 minutes south of Thornton.

This area serves as a mix-use district where Denver locals can enjoy leisure and various recreational activities.

Besides its shops, restaurants, and cafes, this area is renowned for the beautiful canvasses of Clyfford Still and the uniquely designed architecture at the Martin Plaza.

At the same time, many of Denver’s exciting events happen at the Golden Triangle Creative District, giving you plenty of reasons to visit this famous attraction.

Join the United States Mint Tour

Signage of United States Mint

Dominick Corrado /

The United States Mint Tour is a unique experience you must not miss on a trip to Denver, Colorado.

You can join one of its free tours after driving 20 minutes south of Thornton.

A tour inside this government facility allows you to see the history of United States coins.

Exterior view of United States Mint

Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, you will also learn how they make the coins you use for everyday transactions.

The free United States Mint Tour takes about 45 minutes, so it won’t take too much time out of your itinerary.

Take Photos at the Westminster Bell Tower

The Westminster Bell Tower is one of the key attractions in the neighboring city of Westminster, Colorado.

You can visit this gorgeous architecture 11 minutes west of Thornton.

The bell tower, constructed in 1988, stands 130 feet or 40 meters high.

One of the main reasons why the city built such a tower was to pay tribute to the famous Big Ben bell and clock tower in Westminster, England.

If you’re on a budget and want to visit Big Ben, head to Westminster and pose at the Westminster Bell Tower for some lovely photos for souvenirs.

Tour the Colorado State Capitol

Exterior view of Colorado State Capitol

f11photo /

Complete your visit to Denver by touring the famous Colorado State Capitol.

This state capitol is famous for its golden-domed roof, one of its prominent features.

Its neoclassical architecture is a beautiful backdrop for a nice souvenir photo.

Interior view of Colorado State Capitol

Nagel Photography /

Meanwhile, inside the state capitol is the rich and fascinating history of Colorado that you won’t find anywhere else.

Book a reservation for the exciting free tours in the Colorado State Capitol.

Hallway at Colorado State Capitol

Jim Lambert /

Final Thoughts

Thornton is your ideal destination for relaxation, a stone’s throw away from Denver.

Of course, there are plenty more local and hidden gems in Thornton waiting for you to discover.

So, pack your things, bring your loved ones or friends, and prepare to make fond memories with the free things to do in Thornton, Colorado.

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