Catawba Science Center (Hickory)

It’s Road Trip Week here on MiCHill!! That means we are hitting the road and exploring places that are within a drive of our Triangle area. We’re opening up the map! Get out your GPS, fill the car with gas, and come along with us this week. Kicking off Road Trip Week 2010 is a post by Stacey “S’Rich” about Catawba Science Center in Hickory, NC:

We were looking for a way to break up the four hour drive to Asheville with a fun activity for our very active toddler (“G”) and decided to stop at the Catawba Science Center in Hickory, NC. It was a perfect stop!

Now we had the ‘unfortunate’ luck of stopping there on Free Day, which seems like it would be great, but we would have gladly paid money to cut back on the crowds. (Regular pricing is very reasonable at $6 for adults, $4 for children and free for 3 and under, along with a variety of other pricing options.) The place was packed and parking looked hopeless. Fortunately, we found a spot and were able to squeeze into the museum. I’d guess that on a regular day, both parking and crowds are not such a problem, so I won’t dwell on those and will instead tell you about some of the great things about the museum.

The first is that they have a toddler play area called “Explore It!” which is perfect for trying to wear down a little one that’s spending a lot of the day in the car. It has a play house with a tunnel, a light table, padded building blocks, magnetic fishing(so great!), and other activities for little ones. It’s actually similar to the toddler area at the Museum of Life + Science (although it could use a door to keep the little ones from escaping). A nearby room contains several ball ramps for the ball-obsessed set to do various ball rolling experiments. There was also a huge area downstairs from Explore It (called “Energy Avenue”) that, judging from the joyful shouts we heard, sounded like a great area for older kids to burn some energy while learning about science.

Another one of our favorite areas was the wetland petting zoo. This area of the museum had hermit crabs, fish, turtles, sting rays and sharks, and the kids could put their hands in the water to pet all of these little creatures except…. the turtles (bet you thought I was going to say sharks, didn’t you? Wrong! The little sharks were actually petable, but also so popular that we couldn’t get close.). We weren’t sure G could handle petting the animals, but each of the aquariums had baby-height windows that G loved. I personally enjoyed the giant African turtle and the kid-friendliness of the place.

A strategy note: The museum is actually spread out across a couple of buildings. The toddler play area is in the one that looks like an old red brick school house and the wetland petting zoo is in the tan one that looks more like the official museum, so if you’re stopping after a long car ride, I’d recommend starting with the red brick building and heading straight for “Explore It!” to kick off your museum tour.

We didn’t check it out since our little guy isn’t ready for movies yet, but the museum does have a planetarium. For information and showtimes see link below.

I didn’t see a place to eat at the museum, but there were lots of families having picnics in the field out front, so you could pack a lunch and make a full stop of it.

I am not sure I would suggest driving two hours just to go to Catawba, but it’s a nice museum and definitely a great stop if you’re already heading west–the timing is especially perfect if you’re heading to the Asheville area since it’s just a little over half way and it’s only about 5 minutes off of I-40.

Updated 11/18: The nice folks at Catawba informed us that if you have a Museum of Life+Sciences membership you get into the Catawba Science Center for free!

Catawba Science Center
243 3rd Avenue NE
Hickory, NC 28603
Closed Mondays
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