The Museum of Life + Science, in Durham, is a day-long, indoor-outdoor adventure where inquisitive visitors of all ages can expect to do a lot of walking.
Durham is 140 miles from Charlotte, about a 2 1/2-hour drive.
To see and do
The Museum of Life + Science is spacious indoor galleries plus several outdoor exhibits. The main museum has tons of hands-on activities intended to engage the curiosity of children about weather and daily science. The Carolina Wildlife exhibit showcases owls, alligators, snakes, turtles and other critters common to the Tar Heel State.
All ages will find interesting objects in the Aerospace gallery, among them the Mercury-Atlas 5 capsule. In 1961, this spacecraft carried a chimpanzee named Enos into space for a two-orbit flight lasting 3 hours, 21 minutes. The focal point of the gallery is the mockup of the Apollo 15 Lunar Lander. In 1971, commander David Scott and lunar module pilot James Irwin spent 67 hours on the moon’s surface in a craft of this type and collected 171 pounds of lunar samples. (A moon rock collected by Scott is also on display.)
Outside, at Loblolly Park, kids have fun banging drums, clanging chimes, climbing aboard a caboose and playing in the sandbox and tree house. The Farmyard is populated by sheep, goats, pigs, roosters, turkeys and other farm animals. The Ellerbee Creek Railway is a kid-size train ride that winds through the heavily wooded northwestern perimeter of the museum complex. (With limited seating, this ride often sells out early on weekends. Tickets can be purchased at the admissions desk.) The “Explore the Wild” exhibit includes a wetland habitat and separate compounds for bears, wolves and lemurs. In the “Catch the Wind” section, you can pilot radio-controlled sailboats and “fly” a da Vinci-inspired ornithopter. “Dinosaur Trail” might be the most memorable outdoor section: It features life-like, life-size models of dinosaurs. You can stand close enough to a flesh-eating T. rex to count its teeth!
The Magic Wings Butterfly House features a tropical conservatory where hundreds of butterflies flit about. One area of the Butterfly House is the Insectarium, where you can have close encounters with cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and other six-legged bugs. Not all the residents in the exhibit are insects. Tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes and poison dart frogs are on hand, as well.