The Natural History Museum of Utah has been one of Salt Lake City’s best museums for a long time, but since it moved into the Rio Tinto Center a few years ago, I believe that it is now among the best natural history museums anywhere.
The museum’s innovative design begins in its massive, three-story main lobby (known as The Canyon) and then winds gradually upward through four levels. The trail begins in the present day with Utah’s current environmental and social challenges, and then launches back to the dawn of life on earth. From there, you’ll work your way upward and explore hands-on, interactive exhibits about everything from the earliest organisms on earth to the Native cultures that are still a vibrant part of Utah today.
Here are a few exhibits you won’t want to miss.
Utah is home to some of the most productive paleontology sites in the world, with new species of dinosaurs still being found! If you want to see the latest and greatest dinosaur discoveries, the Natural History Museum of Utah is the place to do it.
In Past Worlds exhibit, you’ll find a wide variety of dinosaurs and other ancient species that called Utah home. Lythronax argestes was an ancestor of the T-Rex, and was discovered just a couple of years ago in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Keep an eye out for this fearsome creature as you enter Past Worlds.
Around the corner, I love the Ceratopsian Wall. The triceratops, with it’s three horns and fancy frill is one of the best-known dinosaurs in the world. It turns out that it had a bunch of cousins, whose crazy horns and frills made the triceratops look downright frumpy.
Throughout the museum, watch for learning labs where kids can learn through play. Find games, puzzles, toys and books that related to the exhibits nearby. I’ve found that these learning labs are often less crowded than the main exhibits, and are especially good for families with toddlers and preschoolers.
My kids are older, but they still enjoy pulling off into the learning labs and exploring new activities. Puppets and puzzles are always a hit. So are the activities where they can see, touch, hear or smell fossils, animals or artifacts.
Native Voices on the top floor of the Natural History Museum of Utah is dedicated to Utah’s contemporary Native American cultures. This exhibit has some fun games, activities and displays that have helped me become more aware of the Native American tribes that are still live in Utah, and the changes and challenges they face today.
When you’re finished with Native Voices, look for the weather station and outdoor patio, which offers excellent views of Salt Lake City and the Oquirrh Mountains. There is indoor and outdoor seating, so you can relax and appreciate those views (if your kids slow down that long) no matter what the weather.
The latest special exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Utah is Extreme Mammals. This traveling exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City features the largest, smallest and strangest mammals ever.
Like the rest of the museum, Extreme Mammals is interactive, hands-on and good for all ages. Here are a few of the surprising things you might learn more about during your visit.
- How humans compare with other mammals.
- How and why mammals developed interesting features like horns, wings and armor.
- Where mammals lived. Look for “I’m a local” labels for mammals that lived in Utah.
- Why mammals go extinct and why we could be on the verge of a 6th Great Extinction.
- Where new mammal species are still being discovered. Several mammals discovered in the last 25 years are featured.
While Extreme Mammals is open, look for “I’m Extreme!” labels throughout the entire museum. Extreme Mammals will be open until July 26, 2015.
Good to Know
Where: 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
When: Open daily, 10 am – 5 pm. Wednesdays, 10 am – 9 pm.
Tip: This museum is a popular school field trip destination. The Natural History Museum of Utah has plenty of space, but if you want to avoid school groups or crowds, try weekdays after 2 pm, Wednesday evenings or Sundays.
- Adults – $13
- Senior (65+) and Young Adults (13-24) – $11
- Children (3-12) – $9
- Infants (0-2) – FREE
How Long: 2-4 hours
Amenities: Gift shop, cafe
Planning a visit to Salt Lake City?
The Natural History Museum of Utah is located near some of Salt Lake City’s best attractions for families. Here are some of our favorite local attractions.
- Red Butte Garden – adjacent to the museum
- Hogle Zoo – a couple of blocks away
- The Leonardo – Downtown
- City Library – Downtown
- Temple Square – Downtown
- Tracy Aviary – Liberty Park
- Hotel Review: University Guest House – a couple of blocks away