The EcoTarium is a museum about an hour west of Boston that tends to get overshadowed by the Museum of Science. That's a shame, because the EcoTarium is a fun destination for kids, with plenty of indoor and outdoor activities. Located on one of the hills of Worcester, the EcoTarium combines elements of a traditional science museum with flavors of an animal habitat and woodland trail. Anyone with kids heading for the main entrance will likely be delayed by the interactive musical and building-block activities just outside the front door, including a xylophone of sorts made of large plastic pipes (pictured).
Once families do get inside, the first thing they might hear are the screams.
The yelling comes from the vicinity of the Mount Washington exhibit, which features an enclosed wind tunnel, about the size of an old-school phone booth, into which three or four people can cram. Once enclosed, “participants” feel wind gusts of up to 75 mph, similar to what someone might encounter at the peak of Mount Washington. Hair goes flying and your cheeks push against your face. The exhibit also features a small bouldering wall – with a furry predator watching from above – and a speedy, time-lapse video of a vehicle making the climb up the famous Mount Washington Auto Road.
Downstairs on the middle level is a cool race track on which kids try their luck rolling vehicles with different-shaped wheels. Meanwhile, the Alden Digital Planetarium offers several shows, ranging from space and weather topics to a toddler-themed presentation featuring Big Bird.
Speaking of younger kids, further down on the lower level of the museum is a fun, gated preschooler area that tykes can explore with parents nearby.
Floor one also has two oversized classic games: chess and an activity similar to Connect Four. Anyone with kids will immediately understand that Connect Four becomes less about winning and more about making all the pieces crash to the ground (see photo above).
Just outside the doors of the lower level entrance is a seasonal bubble exhibit that draws in youngsters and adults alike. Siegfried the giant Stegosaurus is nearby, although kids are not supposed to climb on the aging statue, which was built in 1964 at the groundbreaking for the EcoTarium.
Along the trails of the museum are several animal exhibits, including an amazing bald eagle and Stark the otter (yes, named after Iron Man's true identity). Families can also walk along the foot paths that meander through the lush hillside.
Finally, for kids who like trains (or parents who need to sit down and relax), the Explorer Express runs through the summer along a 12-minute route around the museum's property. An extensive overhaul of the tracks and train cars wrapped up in May 2016, so now it's all aboard.
222 Harrington Way
Worcester, MA 01604
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 12pm to 5pm
Photos taken by the author