Families Visit These Vermont Science and Nature Centers for Learning and Fun | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Guides » Kids VT

Families Visit These Vermont Science and Nature Centers for Learning and Fun


Published May 15, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
It's fantastic when a family outing can be both fun and educational. That's just what you'll get if you visit one of Vermont's top-notch science and nature centers. Whether you're looking for an indoor spot to pass a few hours on a rainy day or a venue that will provide a little structure to your outdoor explorations, here are 11 spots to visit.

1. ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

This science center features tanks of lake-dwelling fish, turtles and frogs; daily naturalist and live animal presentations; and a deluxe play space for ages 6 and under with a water table, tree house and imaginative play areas. For older kids, the Northfield Savings Bank 3D Theater screens short science films multiple times per day. This summer, learn about the geography, science and history of the U.S. through the interactive traveling exhibit "Trivial Pursuit, A 50-State Adventure." $11.50-14.50; free for children 2 and under. [location-1]

2. Perkins Museum of Geology

Perkins Museum of Geology - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Perkins Museum of Geology
This small facility on the University of Vermont campus, managed by UVM's geology department, houses the reconstructed skeleton of a beluga whale found in 1849 in a Charlotte field — proof that the land was once covered by the Champlain Sea. Other exhibits feature rocks, minerals and fossils. To enhance the experience, read the 2018 picture book Charlotte's Bones by Vermont elementary school teacher Erin Rounds and download educational materials on the museum's website before you go. Free. [location-2]

3. Ed Weed Fish Culture Station

Built in 1991, this Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department hatchery is open to the public year-round, featuring large aquariums in the visitor center and self-guided tours. On June 8, kids can angle for trout in the hatchery pond during the annual Family Fishing Festival. Free. [location-3]

4. Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve

Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve - COURTESY ALISON NOVAK
  • Courtesy Alison Novak
  • Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve
Search for 480-million-year-old fossils at this 85-acre preserve, maintained by the Lake Champlain Land Trust. Interpretive trails and a visitor center tell the story of the ancient Chazy Fossil Reef that underlies much of the bedrock of southern Isle La Motte. It was formed by hard-shelled marine organisms and reef dwellers, such as gastropods and cephalopods. Take the Walk Through Time Trail, where 80 colorful panels depict the history of life on Earth. Each foot represents 1 million years. Free. [location-4]

5. North Branch Nature Center

North Branch Nature Center - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • North Branch Nature Center
Located on 28 acres in a bend of the North Branch of the Winooski River, this preserve— just two miles from downtown Montpelier — offers free trails for strolling, bird-watching and river frolicking. On the weekend, a nature playscape near the parking lot provides a fenced-in area for young nature lovers to immerse themselves in the outdoors. (Just put things back where you found them.) On June 30, the center hosts BugFest!, during which visitors can get up close and personal with caterpillars, fireflies and other creepy-crawlies. Free. [location-5]

6. Audubon Vermont

Audubon Vermont - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Audubon Vermont
Explore northern hardwood forest, hemlock swamp and the Huntington River on five miles of trails, open to the public from dawn to dusk. Throughout the summer, the nature center offers family programming, including bird banding and monitoring, nature playgroups for children 5 and under, and monthly Pride Hikes cohosted by Outright Vermont. Looking for more nature-focused fun? Head down Sherman Hollow Road to the Birds of Vermont Museum (birdsofvermont.org) to peep an impressive collection of avian dioramas carved by the late Bob Spear. Free. [location-6]

7. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Aboard the Philadelphia II at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum - COURTESY OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN MARITIME MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
  • Aboard the Philadelphia II at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
From the end of May to mid-October, this open-air museum features more than a dozen buildings devoted to the maritime history and nautical archeology of Lake Champlain. This summer, look for a new exhibit focused on steamboats. On June 22 and 23, Abenaki Heritage Weekend celebrates the art and culture of these indigenous people, while Rabble in Arms, from August 17 to 19, features American Revolution reenactments. For lunch or dinner afterward, check out Basin Harbor's Red Mill Restaurant — and its enormous outdoor play structure — just down the road. $7-14; free for children 5 and under. [location-7]

8. Vermont Institute of Natural Science

VINS Nature Center - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • VINS Nature Center
This nature center and avian rehabilitation organization features raptor enclosures where visitors can observe eagles, falcons, hawks and owls — plus a bird hospital, a forest exhibit, live animal shows and nature trails. Mark your calendars for VINS' Incredible Insect Festival on July 6 and Marvelous Mammals Festival on September 1. In the fall of 2019, a new Forest Canopy Walk will allow visitors to see eye-to-eye with the birds from a pathway 65 feet above the forest floor. $14.50-16.50; free for children 3 and under.[location-8]

9. Montshire Museum of Science

Montshire Museum of Science - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Montshire Museum of Science
A perennial family favorite, the Montshire is especially fun to visit in the warmer months. In addition to indoor stations that teach about bubbles, leafcutter ants and the properties of air, the outdoor David Goudy Science Park features interactive water-based exhibits located along a 250-foot waterway. (A bathing suit, towel and change of clothes is a must!) On July 20, the museum marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission with an out-of-this-world space celebration. And an Engineering Festival from August 2 to 4 celebrates creativity and discovery with a variety of building challenges. $15-18; free for children under 2. [location-9]

10. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium

Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium - MATT PAYEUR
  • Matt Payeur
  • Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
In a red sandstone Victorian building in downtown St. Johnsbury, visitors will find an eclectic cabinet of curiosities — from a collection of taxidermied animals (including a polar bear!) to a display of more than 400 species of wildflowers. The Exploration Station includes 14 interactive exhibits related to heat, weather, aerodynamics and electricity, while the 45-seat planetarium offers stellar shows daily. This summer, look for an outdoor butterfly house and a photography exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. A Build It Lab, featuring a variety of construction materials, will be open from June 20 to August 30. $7-9; free for children 4 and under. Additional $6 for planetarium admission. [location-10]

11. The Nature Museum

This southern Vermont museum is devoted to the region's plants, animals and geology. Find hands-on exhibits, dioramas and mounted animal specimens, in addition to three wooded hiking trails. In September, the museum hosts a popular Fairy House Festival with a display of diminutive dwellings made from natural materials and enchanting kids' activities. Admission by donation.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

Related Stories

Speaking of...