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NCMLS | NC Museum of Life and Science

Visitors Guide and Recommendations for Visiting NCMLS


NCMLS | NC Museum of Life and Science

Ellerbee Creek Railway at the NCMLS

Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau

North Carolina Museum of Life and Science
Durham, NC
Directions to NCMLS

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science (NCMLS) is a family-friendly museum that unlocks the mysteries of science with hands-on exhibits. But the exhibits are just the beginning. The real strength of the museum is its programming that could make a science lover out of anyone. It is a local favorite, a perennial on the field trip list for all grades, and a must see if you're visiting with children.

NCMLS incorporates both indoor and outdoor learning experiences. Inside, sit inside a real Apollo Space Capsule, explore a full-scale Lunar Lander, or touch a 13-foot tornado. Outdoors, dig for fossils, view animals that range from sheep to wolves, or make your own music from a series of gongs and larger-than-life drums and bells.

NC Museum of Life and Science highlights include:

  • Magic Wings Butterfly House: Hundreds of butterflies flit among tropical plants, alighting briefly to feed, puddle, or perhaps hitch a ride on your shoulder.
  • Dinosaur Trail: Hike a trail among life-sized dinosaur models and dig for fossils.
  • Elerbee Creek Railway: This old time train ride makes a short loop around the museum grounds. Popular with all ages it is a special favorite of the pre-school set.
  • Explore the Wild: Study black bears, red wolves and exotic lemurs.
  • Catch the Wind: Sail miniature boats and discover the power of wind.
  • Contraptions: Use pulleys, ramps, pipes and balls to construct a chain reaction.
  • Play to Learn: A special learning area for children 6 and under.

NCMLS has daily programming that includes butterfly releases, visits with the wild animal keepers, and frog and spider feedings. Additionally, they feature tons of special events with themes like "The Science of Chocolate," "Dino Days," "Chemistry of Combustion," and "Super Cool Nitrogen Show." You can click here for the NCMLS Event Calendar. The museum also hosts summer camps on-site in Durham as well as off-site in Chapel Hill. Finally, the museum is available for birthday parties and other special events.

Recommendations for Going With Young Children
The NC Museum of Life and Science is very large and spread out. If you have children under six I would definitely recommend a stroller. Favorite areas for younger children include Play to Learn (mentioned above), Loblolly Park which incorporates a huge sandbox area with sit on earth movers, a real train caboose to explore, a huge playset contraption with ramps and rope ladders and a water play area. This area also features picnic tables. While the museum does have a restaurant on site you are also welcome to bring your own and this is a nice place for a juice box and snack. Just past Loblolly Park is the farm animal area and just beyond that is the Butterfly House.

The train is an absolute favorite for younger children, however, it can take some planning to work it in as it leaves according to schedule and you pick your time when you pay for your ticket on the way in. If you get to the museum and there are seats available on the train leaving in the next 15 minutes, you could just head straight for the train and do that first and then work your way back to the entrance. The trouble with this strategy is that the kids always want to play in Loblolly Park and may resist the bypass. Also, if it's early in the morning, the train ride can be cold. Another strategy is to pick the train ride that departs about 2-3 hours from your arrival and then work your way towards it, making it the last stop of the day.

One last note, the wild animals, dinosaur and wind exhibits are a very long way from the entrance. What you might want to do is the indoor exhibits, park, butterflies and train on one visit, and then on the next do park, train, stroller to wildlife, dinosaurs and wind.

Visiting the NC Museum of Life and Science >You can NOT purchase tickets for the train at the train ride and it is a VERY LONG walk back to the entrance. Tickets are not included with the price of admission and are an additional $2.75 per person.

  • They do NOT allow any food or drink on the train. Even water bottles. So stuff your juice boxes and snacks in your diaper bag and be quiet about it or they will make you leave your things at the station.
  • Much of the museum is outside so consider the season, dress in layers and remember hats and sunscreen.
  • Generally the least crowded days to visit are Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays. However, be aware that school holidays can be extremely crowded. Additionally, there seem to be more school field trips in March, April and May than during the rest of the school year.
  • NCMLS is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
  • NCMLS Hours & Admission
    The NC Museum of Life and Science is open to the general public on Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., however museum members are admitted at 9 a.m. The museum is open on Sunday from Noon-5 p.m.

    NCMLS dmission is $12.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors and active military, $9.95 for children 3-12 and free for children under 3. Admission is waived for Durham County residents on Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m., however a $2 per person contribution is requested.

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