Park History

Mary Elitch with Ostrich

Elitch Gardens has touched the lives of most of Colorado’s residents and is responsible for many of its best memories. Elitch Gardens was always more than a mere amusement park, it was also:

  • One of the first zoos west of Chicago
  • The home of Denver’s first symphony orchestra
  • Denver’s first botanic garden
  • Colorado’s first Children’s Museum and activity center
  • The site of Denver’s first motion picture theater, and…
  • Home of the Trocadero Ballroom, where most of Denver danced and romanced

The bustling little town of Denver was just 30 years old when Elitch Gardens first opened its gates.

Historical Timeline


Elitch Gardens first opens its gates to the public. John and Mary Elitch turned their farm on the outskirts of Denver into a cool green oasis and zoological park for all to enjoy. Friends of the Elitch’s, P.T. Barnum and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb, were among the opening day crowd.


John Elitch passes away. Mary Elitch continues to run Elitch Gardens and gains the distinction of being the only woman in the world to own and manage a successful summer resort. She was known throughout her life as “the Gracious Lady of the Gardens” and lived on the grounds until her death.


The Elitch Theatre opens and begins its tradition of a century of first-class entertainment. Actors and actresses throughout the years included Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Cecil B. DeMille, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney and more.


The log entrance gate is torn down and an ornate, Greek-Revival styled stucco gate is built.


Denver businessman John Mulvihill purchases Elitch Gardens from Mary Elitch and begins a dynasty of four generations of family ownership.


The Trocadero Ballroom opens. Throughout the years, famous musicians such as Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Gene Krupa and Lawrence Welk performed on stage. Many Denverites travel to the Trocadero to enjoy world-class dancing and music.


The carousel, which took master craftsmen three years to carve by hand, is delivered from the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It still operates in the park to this day.


John Mulvihill passes away and his son-in-law Arnold Gurtler assumes ownership of Elitch Gardens.


The Ferris Wheel is erected.


KiddieLand opens at Elitch Gardens. Popular television star Hop-A-Long Cassidy presides over the opening ceremonies.


The stucco entrance gate is torn down due to the widening of 38th Avenue. It is replaced by an art-deco aluminum arch.


The famous “Mister Twister” roller coaster is built and is advertised ‘not to have a foot of straight track in it.’ A replica of the coaster still operates at the park today.


The famous Trocadero Ballroom is sadly torn down due to ballroom dancing’s lack of popularity.


The final $95 million financing package is completed and construction begins on the new Elitch Gardens in Central Platte River Valley in downtown Denver. It becomes the first amusement park to be built in an urban area in the United States in more than 30 years. After 104 years of successful operation, Elitch Gardens closes its doors at the famous northwest Denver location.


The New Elitch Gardens opens at its new location in Central downtown Denver.


Premier Parks, Inc. acquires Elitch Gardens, ending eight decades of family ownership.



In a dramatic announcement Premier Parks, Inc. announces a huge, multi-million dollar Elitch Gardens improvement program.



The dramatically-improved Elitch Gardens wows Denver by unleashing three incredible rides: The Mind Eraser – a suspended, inverted, looping roller coaster; Tower of Doom – a giant vertical-drop ride; and Shipwreck Falls – a family water ride.



Elitch Gardens introduces Island Kingdom, a water adventure park with Colorado’s first water coaster. Island Kingdom is still free with general park admission. Elitch Gardens is now America’s Only Downtown Theme and Water Park.



The Trocadero returns. Built in honor of Elitch Gardens’ famed Trocadero Ballroom, the new Trocadero Theatre seats 700 and can be easily converted into a ballroom.



Yet another exciting year begins with the announcement of StarToon Studios, a pint-sized playland complete with whirling rides and a multi-story factory of interactive fun. Plus, three new thrill rides and a new 500-seat air-conditioned food court!


Premier Parks, Inc. purchases Six Flags Theme Parks and expands the brand to Denver. Elitch Gardens becomes Six Flags Elitch Gardens.


Six Flags Elitch Gardens opens with even more sensational new rides and attractions including the Boomerang coaster; the children’s favorite, Looney Tunes MovieTown; and the Batman Forever Thrill Spectacular.


Six Flags Elitch Gardens opens for its 110th season, celebrating years of fun spanning three centuries!


Six Flags Elitch Gardens adds the all-new Spring Concert Series with amazing local and national talent in every musical genre. And thrill-seekers delight in Batman and Robin’s all-new, suspenseful Gotham City Carnival of Chaos stunt show.


Six Flags Elitch Gardens offers a cure for the common coaster – The Flying Coaster! This first-of-its-kind ride has passengers lying down and zooming through the mile-high sky.


Six Flags Elitch Gardens is rocking! In 2003, Six Flags Elitch Gardens offers bigger and better spring and fall concert series. Major stars performing at the Universal Lending Pavilion on the grounds of Pepsi Center delight Six Flags guests.


Who needs snow to ride a snowboard? Six Flags Elitch Gardens adds Half Pipe — the first of its kind in North America. Guests can now spin countless 360s on a gigantic snowboard while cruising up and down a 100-foot tall halfpipe. The Half Pipe is no hype!


Island Kingdom Water Park expands with the addition of EDGE. This four-story water ride sends water adventurers blasting down more than four stories at a vertical angle. The massive slide gives fearless fun-seekers the thrill of “free falling” before they race up at breath-taking speeds to the edge of the other side. Then, riders plunge back and forth on more than a thousand gallons of swirling water before splashing into the relaxing Castaway Creek.


Six Flags Theme Parks nationwide celebrate 45 years of family fun and entertainment!


CNL Properties purchased Elitch Gardens from Six Flags and retained PARC to manage the park. They dropped the Six Flags brand and went back to Elitch Gardens.


Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) assumes management of the park. The history of Elitch Gardens and HFE have much in common and the park benefits from many new initiatives.


Three new rides are added to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park. Tube Top, a thrilling, totally-enclosed tube slide is added to the water park. A fresh, new look at KiddieLand includes two new rides, Rockin’ Tug and Tike Bikes.


A new family roller coaster, Blazin’ Buckaroo, is added to KiddieLand. With an exciting first drop, a few quick turns and a top speed of 15 mph, this steel ride is the perfect roller coaster for the whole family. Live shows are doubled with up-close animal interactions, magical illusions, amazing acrobatics. Summer has never been So Flippin’ Fun!


Brain Drain, the All-New 7 Story Steel, Looping Thrill Ride is introduced. Free concerts are brought back as popular acts take the stage throughout the summer. Adding to the entertainment lineup, Dive-In Movies are introduced for guests to kick back and watch their favorite family flicks while floating in the Wave Pool!


Elitch Gardens celebrates 125 years of fun! SlideZilla, the all new 6-story Hydro-Beast joins the Water Park. Colorado’s first hybrid slide was named Best Water Attraction in 2014 by IAAPA and consists of two thrilling custom features, the BehemothBowl and TornadoWAVE. It will spin you around, swallow you up, and spit you out!


Two new thrill rides added – one wet and one wild. In the theme park, Star Flyer, On this extreme swing ride, 48 guests sit two across in open-air seats, feet dangling and hair blowing while ascending to the top of the 17-story tower and flying round and round at more than 50 mph. In the water park, Mega Wedgie an extreme speed slide tower. Race down a choice of three body slides from 6 stories high!


NEW RIDE! Take a ride on the wild side…of Art. Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape is a mind-bending journey unlike any other. Join us on an odyssey of creative discovery through immersive art landscapes. Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape is not a rollercoaster. It’s a thrill ride for the mind. The newest installation from the brains behind House of Eternal Return takes passengers on an interactive, artist-driven journey.


Elitch Gardens’ honors its history as one of the oldest consecutive-operating amusement parks in the United States in 2020 when it turns 130 years old. All season, the park will honor its past while embracing the future, providing quality family fun that has entertained Colorado for generations.

History timeline compiled with the assistance of Betty Hull, Elitch Gardens historian and author of “Denver’s Elitch Gardens, Spinning a Century of Dreams.” Her book can be found at Tattered Cover bookstores.

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