Looking for a great family activity in Salt Lake City?
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.
Why do I think this? Here are two reasons.
First, Utah's natural history is rich and fascinating. Utah is full of fossils, so the Natural History Museum of Utah has some amazing exhibits featuring the latest finds. Utah is also home to unique geography and culture, and this museum is a great place to find exhibits about local features that you won't see anywhere else.
Second, the Natural History Museum of Utah is fairly new. Unlike some famous museums we've visited, you'll get to do a lot more than walk around and look at old stuff in glass cases. You'll find fun hands-on activities and active learning opportunities around every corner.
Here are my top tips for visiting the Natural History Museum of Utah.
What to Expect
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.
Related: 100+ Things to Do in Salt Lake City
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 few 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.
My son especially loves the Land exhibit in the center of the museum. When he was younger, he could spend a long time at the sand and water table where he would build dams and hills.
He is 12 years old now and has moved on to the earthquake section. He likes to use the provided building materials on the earthquake table and see if his structure will stand up to a historic earthquake.
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. Staff members displayed a live owl and falcon in a learning lab on our last visit.
Related: Tips for Families at Red Butte Garden (it's next door)
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 Natural History Museum of Utah hosts several special exhibits throughout the year. These are usually high-tech, interactive exhibits about fascinating topics. In the past, we've visited special exhibits about the Mayans, Extreme Mammals, Extinct Animals and the History of Chocolate. I'm pretty sure that last one was my favorite.
These exhibits are generally included with admission. Be sure to check out whatever special exhibit is available during your visit!
Ways to Save
There are a few good ways to save money on admission at the Natural History Museum of Utah. See all current offers at https://nhmu.utah.edu/promotional-partners-and-special-offers.
Free Days – There are four free days scheduled at the Natural History Museum of Utah in 2019. Visit https://nhmu.utah.edu/free-days-nhmu to see the list. Expect larger crowds on these dates. I have built in the free days into my Salt Lake City Summer Fun Plan.
$5 after 5 PM – Pay just $5 per person after 5 PM on Wednesdays. The museum is open until 9 PM those days. Last admission at 8:30 PM.
Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass – The Natural History Museum of Utah is included in the SLC Connect Pass. Save 50-80% on admission to 13 of Salt Lake City's most popular attractions. Groupon occasionally sells this pass at a lower price. Learn more at https://www.visitsaltlake.com/things-to-do/visit-salt-lake-connect-pass/
University ID – Current University of Utah students, faculty and staff get in free with valid identification. Members of the alumni association are eligible for discounts.
Military – NHMU participates in the Blue Star Museum program. Active military and their families get in free between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
We have visited top-notch museums throughout the United States and I honestly believe that the Natural History Museum of Utah is one of the best. It's new, with lots of high-tech, hands-on exhibits that make learning active and fun for all ages.
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
How else can I help?
Need a place to stay? The University Guest House is located just a few blocks away. I've stayed here and enjoyed it. Click the button below to check rates and availability for this and other Salt Lake City hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
There are a lot of other fun things to do nearby. Red Butte Garden is next to the Natural History Museum of Utah, and my family has made a lot of fun memories there. Click the Next button to read all my tips for visiting Red Butte Garden. Or, visit my Salt Lake County page to get more ideas for visiting this area.