Plan Your Trip to the Museum of Life and Science
Discover your inner scientist with a visit to Durham's popular museum.
Posted By Chika Gujarathi
In 1946, a group of volunteers created a small trail-side nature center at C-36 Lavender Street off Durham’s West Club Boulevard to offer storytime, a preschool, and hands-on nature discovery opportunities to the community. Now, over 75 years later, the Museum of Life and Science’s many exhibits cover a sprawling 84 acres on Murray Avenue; it seems unfathomable to imagine such humble beginnings for an institution synonymous with childhood in Durham and the Triangle.
Located about five miles from downtown Durham, the Museum of Life and Science has grown exponentially in the past few decades. With over 35 indoor and outdoor exhibits for all ages including an aerospace museum, a science lab, a nature preserve, a conservatory, an old-time railway and more, the museum has upheld its commitment to spreading a sense of wonder, awe and critical thinking through play and exploration. Honored as the “National Model” by the National Science Foundation, we are proud to have the Museum of Life and Science as a steadfast part of Durham’s vibrant and ever-evolving community.
433 W. Murray Ave, Durham, NC 27704
All visitors are welcomed through the main building entrance. Once inside, museum members, pre-purchased ticket holders, and walk-in visitors can walk left to check-in at to the front desk.
The museum is open every Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum members can gain access an hour early at 9 a.m.
Closed on Mondays. Closed on New Year’s Day, Presidents Day, Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- General – $23
- Seniors (Ages 65+) – $21
- Children (Ages 3-12) – $18
- Children (Ages 2 and under) – Free
- U.S. Military (with ID) – $21
- Members – Free
*Group Pricing is available and must be requested in advance via an online form.
*On Durham Community Days, the museum provides free entrance to all Durham County residents with current proof of residence. All adults must have Durham residency to get in free; each adult can bring up to five children. A current listing of Durham Community Days can be found on the museum’s ticketing webpage.
Everyone is welcome to use the restroom they feel comfortable using. Changing tables are available in all restrooms. The main building offers three restrooms spread across both floors including one at the main entrance. The main building also has three comfortable Caregiver Areas for nursing parents or families who need to take a break. The Butterfly House has an additional restroom and Caregiver Area. Four more restrooms are thoughtfully spread throughout the outdoor exhibits.
Free car parking is available on both sides of Murray Avenue. A covered three-story parking deck, also free and open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., is located on the south side, across the street from the museum. For active families who choose to bike to the museum, multiple racks on the front entry plaza accommodate up to 15 bicycles. Two electric car chargers are also located in the main lot; however, they might be unavailable during any ongoing construction.
Sprout Café and Elements Coffee Bar are the two food venues available to guests. Located by the outdoor exhibits, Sprout Café provides breakfast, lunch, and snack options, with indoor and outdoor seating. Elements Coffee Bar on the first floor of the main building offers hot and cold beverages, bakery items, and snacks.
Light snacks for children are allowed on campus as long as they are enjoyed responsibly in designated areas. For the safety of the animals, disposable straws are not allowed (so leave that juice box behind).
Other outside foods, coolers, and picnics are allowed only in the Picnic Dome located by the parking deck across the entrance.
Strollers and Wheelchairs
Accessibility for all is one of the museum’s highest priorities. As such, the entire campus — indoors and out — is easy to navigate via strollers and wheelchairs. Additionally, five manual wheelchairs are available on loan for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Strollers are also available for rent (single $2/day, double $4/day) on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the main building, the Butterfly House, and Bayer Insectarium.
Make sure to pack sunblock, hats, and a change of clothes to make play in outdoor exhibits safe, fun, and fuss-free.
Let the Adventure Begin
Simply put, it’s almost impossible to enjoy everything that the museum offers in one visit. The best thing to do is to review the museum campus map and exhibits information online before your arrival and seek out sites your group might enjoy the most on the day you plan to visit.
- Butterfly House
- Carolina Wildlife
- Flip It Fold It Figure It Out
- Investigate Health!
- Launch Lab
- Leafcutter Ants
- Math Moves
- Play To Learn
- The Lab
- Catch the Wind
- Dinosaur Trail
- Earth Moves
- Explore the Wild: Black Bears
- Lemurs and Tortoises
- Red Wolves
- Gateway Park
- Hideaway Woods
- Into the Mist
- Sound Garden
- The Farmyard
- The Train
- Wander Away
Can’t Miss Exhibits
A two-acre, nature discovery environment that opened in 2015, Hideaway Woods features treehouses, rope bridges, ladders and slides, a flowing streambed, a nature-based imaginative play area, a fenced-in area for younger explorers, dedicated stroller parking, seating and more. With some structures up to 20 feet off the ground, it offers a unique perspective of the surroundings no matter the season.
The Museum’s Dinosaur Trail, which first opened in 1967 by then curator Richard Wescott who hand sculpted the giant models in plaster, has since been reimagined and updated to keep up with science and new discoveries. Immerse yourself in the late Cretaceous period with an up-close look at over a dozen life-sized dinosaurs. The Fossil Dig site on the trail is filled with dirt trucked from Eastern North Carolina that is rich in marine fossils. Grab a shovel and start digging — you may take home a fossil that is 5 million to 23 million years old.
Speaking of dinosaurs, make sure to find Bronto, the 30-foot brontosaurus hidden in the trees of the West Ellerbe Creek Trail across the street from the museum.
This 35-foot tall glass conservatory called Magic Wings is one of the largest on the East Coast. It houses sustainably farmed butterflies from across the globe in a tropical rainforest environment which includes over 200 species of plants. Visitors can get ID guides and try to spot as many as possible, some from as far as East Asia. Truth be told, it feels like the quickest escape to a tropical vacation without ever leaving the city. Magic Wings is also home to the Bayer Insectarium, featuring a rare assortment of insects and invertebrates from around the globe.
If getting the kids to leave the Butterfly House becomes challenging, mention the 20-foot waterfall at Earth Moves. This outdoor exhibit is all about how mountains rise, rocks turn to sand, and water reshapes the planet. There is a sandstone cave formation, a place to experiment with sand, stones, and rolling water to learn about the rock cycle. And yes, you can expect to need a bathing suit and maybe a change of clothes.
Play to Learn
For very young children, Play to Learn invites children to develop their imaginations and abilities through play to aid social, cognitive and critical thinking skills. Kids five and younger are invited to safely play with patterns, building blocks and balls to learn cause and effect, spacial awareness, self-awareness and more. Open-ended play zones are meant to stretch the imaginations of the young while a gentle zone offers a safe space for toddlers and infants to practice rolling, crawling and walking, and a stage is set up for special programming.
The Ellerbe Creek Railway offers a 10-minute ride through the museum park on a scale replica of a C.P. Huntington locomotive —two laps around the track pass through nature and creative art installations. The train runs daily (weather permitting) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Train rides cost $4 for members and $5.50 for the general public. Children two and under ride free on an adult’s lap. Tickets are only available daily on a first-come, first-served basis at the front desk. The train offers an accessible ramp and railcar for one wheelchair at a time.
Apollo-era space artifacts like space suits, the actual Mercury capsule, a prototype of the Apollo 15 Lunar Lander and a real moon rock are just some of the things you will find in the Aerospace gallery (it boasts the largest collection of Apollo-era artifacts in the state along with items on loan from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and NASA’s Langley Research Center). Don’t forget to spot your house at the satellite mapping table.
All exhibits at the museum are designed for kids of all ages and seemingly morph into something new and different with every visit. This unbound freedom of imagination and play has weaved the Museum of Life and Science into the fabric of life in Durham.