Located in north-central Colorado’s Adams and Weld counties, Thornton isn’t as well-known as some of the area’s other cities like Boulder and Westminster. But it’s the state’s sixth most populous city and has experienced meteoric growth in recent years.
Thornton is conveniently located between Interstates 25 and 76, and visitors have tons of activity options to keep them busy, ranging from historical and artistic attractions to fine dining, kid’s activities, and a variety of annual festivals and fairs.
There’s lots of great skiing too, and fishing, hiking and camping are popular during the warmer months.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Thornton, Colorado.
1. Prairie Playhouse
Primarily serving the towns of Brighton and Thornton, the Prairie Playhouse is a community-centered theater that’s been providing home-grown entertainment to regional performance lovers for nearly a decade.
The playhouse is located on Garfield Way in Thornton and is famous for consistently bringing quality Broadway-style performances to a relatively small city.
Most of the performers and production staff are local volunteers. Taking-in a show or two is a great way to get a healthy dose of reasonably priced entertainment while supporting the community.
Check out the calendar of events on their website to see what’s playing before heading out.
2. Maize in the City
Corn is one of Colorado’s most significant agricultural products; in Spanish, it’s referred to as Maize.
For nearly two decades, the city of Thornton has been hosting an annual fall corn maze that’s open from the end of September to the end of October.
The popular ‘maize maze’ winds its way through more than 20 scenic acres. Though it’s possible to get lost for relatively long stretches of time, nobody has ever disappeared, so it’s appropriate for families traveling with little ones.
The maze coincides with other fall events, including pumpkin carving competitions, corn cannons, and animal rides, as well as lots of tasty food and drink options.
3. Hill’s Harvest
Hill’s Harvest is Thornton’s version of the traditional farmer’s market, and it’s been a popular meeting and shopping attraction since it was founded more than 15 years ago.
During Colorado’s notoriously short growing season, Hill’s Harvest is chock-full of fresh fruits and vegetables, like lettuce, carrots, peaches, and cherries. When the fall comes early, it’s generally pumpkins and gourds.
Hill’s Harvest is located on East 124th Street in Thornton and is open from 10 AM to 6 PM Monday through Saturday, and until 5 on Sundays during the season that begins in July and runs to the end of October.
4. Denver Premium Outlets
Though its name might lead you to believe otherwise, Denver Premium Outlets are actually located on Grant Street in Thornton. For those in need of swanky new clothes or a little time out of the elements, it’s a great place to spend a few hours.
Featuring global brands like Under Armour, Michael Kors, and Kate Spade, you’ll find everything from perfume and athletic shoes to health and body products and jewelry.
Some of the brands are pricy, but deals are the norm, and there are a variety of dining options, including sushi, soft pretzels, Philly cheesesteaks, and gourmet salads.
5. State 38 Distilling
Golden Colorado is home to one of the county’s most iconic beer brands. It’s also the base of operations for a local, small-batch distiller that makes a variety of tasty and intoxicating spirits on-site.
From vodka and gin to whiskey and tequila, State 38 Distilling only uses fresh, natural ingredients, and their facility is open for guided tours and tastings on a regular basis.
For those who’ve never seen how spirits are produced, it’s an interesting way to spend a few hours. The samples you’ll taste along the way are second-to-none, according to previous guests with experienced taste buds.
6. Platte River Trail
According to national surveys, Colorado boasts one of the most active and fit populations of any state in the country.
With so many outdoor recreation activities like skiing, climbing, and mountain biking at-hand, it’s no wonder, and the Platte River Trail is one of the Thornton and Denver area’s most popular amenities.
The multi-use trail stretches for nearly 30 miles and largely follows the course of the river after which it’s named. Users will get varied glimpses of both natural and developed landscapes that include city and mountain views.
Pick-up the trail at Platte River Trailhead Park in town.
7. Springvale Park Disc Golf Course
Though it’s still an obscure sport compared to its traditional golf cousin, disc golf is steadily catching on. It’s cheaper and less rule-bound and doesn’t require players to wear plaid pants and expensive spiked shoes.
Located along Holly Street in Thornton, Springvale Park Disc Golf Course is a perfect option for fun-loving and active travelers interested in enjoying a day in the great outdoors without spending an arm and a leg.
The course is adjacent to scenic Marshall Lake and offers stunning views and wide-open spaces. Many players with kids enjoy the playground and picnic area after their round.
8. Broomfield Community Park
Jump online and check out a map of Thornton, and you’ll see that it’s liberally dotted with municipal parks of nearly all shapes and sizes.
Parks are generally free attractions and offer lots of activity-inducing recreation options that have been known to keep visitors busy for hours.
Broomfield Community Park is comprised of more than 40 acres and includes multiple playgrounds, lighted ball fields, and an outdoor swimming pool that’s open seasonally.
The batting cages, amphitheater, and an inline skate rink are popular, and there are several paved walking trails, ample parking, and clean restrooms too.
9. Legacy Ridge Golf Course
Located just a short drive away from Thornton in Westminster, Legacy Ridge Golf Course is a championship-level facility known for its first-rate amenities, challenging holes, and all-around value.
The course plays more than 7,100 yards from the blue tees, making it noticeably longer than most of its contemporaries, but it offers a variety of tee box options for children, seniors, and women.
The course is known for its Scottish-style target layout, wide fairways, and well-manicured putting surfaces.
Mountain views, blue skies, and gentle, low-humidity breezes round-out the course’s most notable characteristics. Consider booking your tee time in advance during peak periods.
10. Elitch Gardens Theme & Waterpark
Located near downtown Denver on Elitch Circle, Elitch Gardens Theme & Waterpark is one of the area’s oldest attractions and is generally open from May through October.
The facility packs a big punch and features amusement park-style rides and tons of watery options too, like slides, pools, and tubing areas.
Though it’s definitely a kid-centered attraction, adults usually end-up having a blast too. For those who’d rather keep an eye on things from a safe distance, there are plenty of covered seating areas near the action.
Movies, live entertainment, and a number of staff-led activities ensure engaged minds and tired bodies, and the cost of admission is surprisingly inexpensive.
11. Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Though William Shakespeare never spent a day of his life in the Rocky Mountain State, his memory lives on in the form of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, which is an annual event that’s been going strong for more than six decades.
One of those events that draws many loyal followers year after year, it takes place at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre on University Avenue in nearby Boulder.
The festival’s productions are the result of countless hours of hard work, and theater aficionados consistently rank them among the best they’ve seen.
Expect great food, arts and crafts, and other live entertainment as well.
12. Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
Lovers of history, the military, and aviation need look no further than Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum when visiting Thornton.
Housed in a historic Air Corps hanger more than eight decades old, the museum’s collection is spread over more than 100,000 feet of space and includes an impressive array of civilian and military aircraft from eras past.
F-14 air superiority fighters, B-52 bombers, and an F-4 fighter-bomber are a few of the museum’s centerpieces, and the cost of admission is cheaper than just about any other attraction in the area.
Most visitors spend a few hours on-site, and it’s typically a big hit with kids and adults alike.
13. Denver Botanic Gardens
Though Colorado is generally known for its rocky soil and short growing season, it’s still home to a few amazing botanical gardens. The Denver Botanic Gardens is a natural oasis that draws nature lovers away from the city’s more commercial attractions.
The gardens are organized into a number of distinctly themed areas spread over more than 20 acres and include inspirations from Asia and the Mediterranean, to name a few.
The facility boasts North America’s most complete collection of plants, trees, and flowers from temperate climates around the globe, as well as a variety of native cacti that come in all shapes and sizes.
14. American Museum of Western Art
The western American states have a rich art tradition that generally features cowboy, mountain, and solitary life themes that are popular with art lovers from all over the country.
The American Museum of Western Art’s collection focuses on pieces from the early 1800s through to the present day, and includes works from world-famous artists like Frederic Remington and Thomas Moran.
Most guests choose to show themselves around, but for those who’d like in-depth insight from a knowledgeable local, guided tours are available as well. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling with kids, they’ll need to be accompanied at all times.
15. Children’s Museum of Denver
If most children were honest, they’d probably tell their parents that botanical gardens and art galleries are world-class drags that should be avoided like cholera.
Luckily for families who find themselves with hours to kill in the Thornton area, there are more kid-friendly options; the Children’s Museum of Denver is one of them.
The museum’s history dates back to the ‘70s. Though its beginnings were humble, it’s grown into an impressive facility full of engaging, interactive exhibits that touch on lots of topics, ranging from science and animals to history and technology.
There’s an on-site snack bar and play areas for toddlers as well.