Think there’s nothing to see along I-70 on a road trip through western Kansas? Think again! The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is the perfect Kansas road trip destination, offering a few hours worth of entertainment with dinosaur skeletons, live animals and an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Liven up your next trek through Kansas with an interstate rest stop at the Sternberg Museum.
Why is the Sternberg Museum a special Kansas road trip destination?
There was a lot of buzz on the Fort Hays State University campus in the early 1990’s about a new home for the university’s large, remarkable collection of fossils and materials. As a student at the time, I was looking forward to seeing what the excitement was all about when the museum was finished.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see the Sternberg Museum. I graduated and moved away from the area before it was done. But luckily, 20 years after the fact, I was able to recruit several willing kids and family members on a road trip to my alma mater and add to our list of awesome Kansas road trip destinations. No other state university the size of Fort Hays State has a natural history museum comparable in size and scientific importance as the Sternberg and it did not disappoint.
Where is the Sternberg Museum of Natural History?
You’ll find the Sternberg Museum right off of Interstate 70 in Hays, Kansas. There are several restaurants close by and a few have children’s play areas if you want to make a day of it with a meal before or after your visit.
What Exhibits Can You Find at Sternberg Museum?
We found case after case of bones and artifacts from the area. My biggest dinosaur fan was drawn straight to the Plesiosaur display case near the front. The Plesiosaur was also known as the “Tiger of the Sea”. There is a great deal to see and learn about here.
We chose a summer weekday to visit to avoid crowds and give the kids space to run around. They all ran to different things so we let them spread out and explore to their heart’s content.
I particularly loved the Fish-Within-A-Fish display, it’s so interesting to me to observe evidence of the food chain in fossilized form. This large marine fish, Xiphactinus, was digesting a Gillicus fish when it died.
You will also find minerals and gemstones and educational videos on the processes of excavating such incredible discoveries. We also saw a lab where they process fossils. The animal skeletons and mounts got a lot of oohs and ahhs and ‘what is that?’
It took us a minute to notice that we were looking side by side at what each animal looked like on the outside and the inside.
What Are the Kid Favorites at Sternberg Museum?
Around the corner, the kids ran straight to the Mammoth skeleton, in awe of its size. It was pretty cool to look up and see it and compare how big it was in relation to humans.
There are several stations throughout the museum at knee level marked with “please touch” for kids which is nice. Another favorite was definitely the Rattlerssss live rattlesnake exhibit. They were a little spooked by the slithering snakes and the sound of their tails rattling through the glass.
Animatronic dinosaurs make up the grand finale on the top level.
As you enter the exhibit, you see a sign that says “Welcome to Kansas 80 Million Years Ago.” The animal sounds build anticipation as the path winds around to a Plesiosaur, Pteranodons hanging from the ceiling, a few plant eaters and a growling, moving T-Rex.
The kids cheered and ran around the top level several times. The animal movements are slight and we didn’t feel it was too scary, though my toddler covered his ears at first. He ran back through a few times after that, enjoying the environment.
There is also a small bridge after this area that leads to several hands-on activities.
What Activities Can Kids Enjoy at Sternberg Museum?
There is a fossil digging station and a large Discovery Room just over the bridge. The Discovery Room has a small children’s play area inside along with several hands-on activities to enjoy.
A large whale skull centers the room and children are invited to gently touch and explore it. It was a good spot for a group photo.
Several vegetation samples local to Kansas, like tumbleweeds and wheat, are on display. Lizard figures sit atop a card-catalog type of science area. You can learn more about several types of species here and even compare samples of animal poop! We held clear blocks containing wolf and goose poops. There are also several independent study stations in the room with instructions.
Are There Live Animals at Sternberg Museum?
Yes, along with ancient fossils you can see present day animals. The rattlesnake exhibit housed live rattlesnakes, we also saw giant turtles, colorful little tree frogs, and we met Levi in the front lobby.
Levi is an alligator snapping turtle that is more than one hundred years old! He gave us a high five as we made our way out. An alligator gar is in the tank next to him.
There are other displays in the lobby along with a nice gift shop. The Sternberg Museum also offers regular learning camps and hands-on activities. They also rotate exhibits so there is always something new to learn. Visit the Sternberg Museum website for current and upcoming exhibits.
The kids went back through the museum a few more times to get the most out of our visit. The Sternberg Museum is full of treasures for any natural history lover, and very much worth the wait for this Fort Hays State University Tiger. I was very proud of the Sternberg Museum, the ultimate Kansas road trip destination indeed.