Giant sloth replica

Natural History Museum in Eugene, OR: A kid’s guide (2023)

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We had a dinner appointment in Eugene, Oregon recently. Since we despise sitting in rush hour traffic (after years of L.A. traffic jams) we needed a fun day trip stop that would keep us busy for a couple of hours before our dinner appointment. The Natural History Museum in Eugene (I’ve shortened the name in this article to make it more readable) was just the right place!

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Entrance courtyard to the Natural History Museum in Eugene.
The Museum of Natural and Cultural History (MNCH) at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.

Something for Everyone

Our family has several museum buffs. You know, the person who goes to a museum and has to read every single plaque and take pictures of everything? Museums with extensive collections are like DisneyWorld for museum buffs: you plan a week to see it all! Brian and our daughter “Burro” fit this category.

Me, not so much. I am happy to skim along and take my time on a few things that catch my interest. The boys tend to skip from one thing to the next, and are usually done within 2 hours, tops.

Know Before You Go

The Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene is perfect for both kinds of people: the museum buffs and the skimmers! The collection is large enough and diverse enough to keep you interested, without being so big that another day or two of visiting is needed.

Entrance to the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene, Oregon.
Entrance to the Natural History Museum in Eugene (MNCH)

A couple of important notes to plan your visit (check the website for more up to date information). Family rate admission was a fantastic deal, and would be even more discounted if you show your Oregon Trail (SNAP) card.

Also, there is limited parking available, and some street parking. Call ahead to find the best deal. We ended up paying a parking meter, but probably didn’t have to had we known ahead of time.

Tailgate lunch out the back of the van at the University of Oregon campus in Eugene.
Street parking a couple of blocks from the Museum.

You can also check the GoWhee app for some of our favorite local stops to make a day out of exploring Eugene. We found it to be a family friendly area.

The best person to tell you about a place is the person who enjoys it the most. Our daughter “Burro” agreed to share her impressions of the Natural History Museum in Eugene. Her enthusiasm is contagious. You can bet that if you are looking for a fun, whole-family activity, she will give you the scoop!

“Awesome Natural History Museum in Eugene, Oregon” by Burro

So, we went to the University of Oregon, and…first off, lemme tell you, there was Oregon Ducks stuff everywhere. However, it is basically the home base of the Oregon Ducks, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised😊.

The Museum Courtyard

Sign saying, "This is Kalapuya land" below wolf's head at the Natural History Museum in Eugene.

The Museum of Natural and Cultural History was what we were really there for, though. This Museum had an amazing entrance. A giant metal wolf head was perched on the top of the pergola, then we walked underneath into the front courtyard. 

Mastodon statue outside the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene, Oregon.

There’s a ginormous mastodon statue (believe me, you’re gonna want to take a few pictures next to it) and a cute baby mastodon.

Baby Mastodon statue with “Panther” wishing he could climb up and ride!

Note: You can’t ride the baby, even though it’s just the right height. ☹️They have a sign and everything. A plaque tells you about the different animal heads on the entrances and what they represent in Native American culture

Asteroid model outside Natural History Museum in Eugene.
Asteroid model

In case you haven’t clued in yet, this place is super cool. Then there’s a model of a huge asteroid. You’ll probably want to take a few million pictures  next to it. Now that we’ve toured the courtyard, let’s get to the main attraction: the museum itself. 

Step Inside the Natural History Museum in Eugene!

Inside to the right of the front desk, you’ll see a glass case with information about a prehistoric giant beaver, fossils included. 

Social distancing reminder sticker on the floor shows a giant sloth and reminds patrons to stay at least one sloth apart (6 feet).
In between the directional arrows on the floor were several social distancing reminders like this one.

There’s also a sign suggesting that you follow the blue arrows on the floor throughout the museum. I strongly recommend you do that as well if you want to see the museum in the correct order. 

Archaeology Exhibits

The first exhibit explains where most of the stuff was found, who found it, why they’re important, and so on. A fun comic on the wall sums it all up, so it’s not as boring as it might sound. 

Comic describing Paisley Caves discoveries at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, in Eugene, Oregon.

Next you’ll see samples of prehistoric lunches, bits of woven plant fibers that people back then used for clothing and baskets and such, and some rock and ash samples.

Fur and obsidian samples are part of the hands-on activities at the Natural history museum in Eugene.
Hands-on exhibits like this are great for all ages.

A video explains where they found all this stuff, what era it’s from, and how they identify the DNA. 

On a nearby wall, a map shows some theories that were around before all this was discovered. It explains how prehistoric people traveled from way up north down to Oregon and even all the way to Mexico. There’s also an explanation of how discovering all this prehistoric stuff proved one theory correct. 

Native American History

Next up, the World’s Oldest Shoes! Yup, other states get Most Dinosaur Fossils or Most Popular National Park, Oregon gets Oldest Pair Of Shoes. I don’t know about you, but I thought that exhibit was pretty cool, or at least fun. 

World's Oldest Shoes at the Natural History Museum in Eugene, Oregon.
The World’s Oldest Shoes!

Around the corner there are some giant dioramas, with replicas of huts people lived in, and the way they fished, and what their surroundings looked like back then.

Diorama of life in Native American times.
Diorama room

If you turn around and look behind you, you’ll see prehistoric baskets, clothes and spears and more… the stuff you’d expect to see in a museum. 

Fiber artifacts at MNCH in Eugene.
Fiber samples

Walking along this interesting corridor, you’ll see explanations of how people used these artifacts, and how their traditions and beliefs about hunting and nature worked with said objects.

Native American handicrafts.
Native American artifacts and art

Near the end, there’s a collection of art and poetry by a descendant of these tribes, as well as her explanation of her traditions and beliefs. Cool, right? 

Temporary Exhibit: Magic in the Middle Ages

At the end of the corridor you can either choose to make a quick stop to write something down (no spoilers, but it’s a pretty cool spot, so at least consider it), or continue to the next set of exhibits. 

Magic in the Middle Ages exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Eugene.

So, the next exhibit is, strangely enough, set in the Middle Ages. It’s mainly themed on superstition, comparing how it looked then and how it looks now. 

Display showing objects used for healing in the Middle Ages.
Magical healing items

The exhibit talks about some superstitions back then that started things like Halloween and even leaving cookies out for Santa, if I remember right. It’s a really fascinating exhibit. However, it’s dwarfed completely by what’s up ahead. 

Fossils and Geology

That’s right folks, just when you were beginning to wonder if we’d ever get to the Natural History/Ice Age part, we’re there! Now, when you first step in, it’s mostly earth science.

However, if you look straight ahead through the door, you’ll see a giant fossilized skeleton! Only a replica, sadly. 

Pterasaur skeleton replica at the Natural History Museum in Eugene.
Hanging over the entrance to the fossil section

You might be tempted to skip the geological bit, and we kinda ended up skimming it because little boys were all fired up to see the sabretooth cat and the fossils. Plus, I was way behind the others because I was taking photos and reading every plaque I could. (Note to self: less photos, more taking it in). 

Hands-on Learning

Kids watching video of Oregon Geology.
Video of Oregon Geology

However, they have a video on the geology of Oregon and such, plus fossil shells and prehistoric small mammal exhibits. Also, some of those fun touch-and-feel, try-it-for-yourself exhibits to go with the facts! 

Oregon fossil samples
Fossils found in Oregon

I had recently learned about seafloor spreading in science class, so it was cool that they had an exhibit on how it works. Spoiler alert: You get to turn a wheel and watch what happens! Fun, right? 

Ice Age Fun

Now we get to the cool stuff. First up, the giant sloth skeleton! Woohoo! It’s basically the size of a grizzly bear on its hind legs, but it’s a prehistoric sloth. With claws that are longer than my arm! Ideal selfie spot, people!

Giant sloth replica at the Natural History Museum in Eugene.
The giant sloth was HUGE!

If you stand with your back to the sloth, you face two options. Read the stuff on the left side, which is basically depressing stuff about how our environment is changing and species are on the edge of extinction because of our actions as well as environmental change. 

@dinkumtribe Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene #oregon at the #uoforegon . #familytravelblogger #dinkumtribe_eugene #fossil #travelwithkids ♬ Jungle Vibes – 윤새 (Yunsae)

Then when you finish with that, a bunch of stuff about the Ice Ages and temperatures then compared to now, and species extinction then compared to now in facts and numbers. Mostly numbers. 

Paleontology Study

The other option? On your left will be a spot where you and your kids can look for fossils of small mammals and plant fibers and the like in little scoops of what looks like your typical, everyday gravel. 

There are several fun, ginormous magnifying glasses you can use to search the pebble samples. They even have a little guide so you know what to look for! 

Next you’ll see a prehistoric wolf/dog exhibit! In fact, a whole little room on the different types of prehistoric wolves/dogs, a skeleton in the center in a glass case, and fossils! There’s skulls, toe bones, fragments of their meals, etc. 

Fossils in glass display cases.

The exhibit is also about prehistoric horses and the development of their toes. Fascinating!

After that, giant salmon! Seriously, these things were huge, and they had dozens of super-sharp teeth. The exhibit is small but awesome. Check it out! 

More to Explore at the Natural History Museum in Eugene

Then you can learn how archaeologists discern rocks with fossils in them from ordinary river rocks. After that, there’s a glass case with fossils (such as a giant prehistoric sea turtle shell) and taxidermied animals (although they might be models. I hope they’re just models).

Hint: there are drawers below the glass case. They say please open, and you should seriously open them. 

After that, more stuff about Oregon and geology and stuff, and a board where you get to write something you love about Oregon. And then you’re done! 

If you go to the museum, you’ll probably see that I missed some stuff. My recommendation is to go there and explore the museum for yourself! Have fun, y’all!” -Burro 

More fun in Eugene

After a fun day of exploring the Museum, grab a meal and a cold one at one of Eugene’s family-friendly breweries. Or drive a little further north on the Interstate 5 to enjoy some of Salem’s amazing breweries and restaurants like Taproot or Cozy Taberna.

© Copyright Burro and Jennifer D. Warren 2022

Collage of images from the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene
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  1. This looks like such a great place to take the kiddos! I love hands on exhibits. This one looks like they have plenty for all ages to see and do.

  2. these are good places and museums to visit, another place I want to see also is maybe the house of Steve Prefontaine in Eugene, one of the best runners of Oregon and USA.

    1. He has a beautiful running trail named after him in downtown Eugene, at Alton Baker Park. We went there after the museum!

  3. Looks like an amazing museum indeed. My ten year old would love all these hand on exhibits. I would love to catch that medieval Europe show.

  4. Thanks for all the pictures they are amazing, and it’s hard to believe such great artifacts exist and the exhibit looks like it is done well. I must make a trip to Oregon, there is so much to see there.

  5. I grew up in Eugene and we go back often to visit my parents, but I’ve never taken my kids to this Eugene museum. Thanks for the great reminder — now I want to go on our next visit!

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