Dinosaur Destinations Across the Midwest

For the last 3 years, my daughter has been obsessed with dinosaurs. We have traveled throughout the country, specifically the Midwest, in search of places to enrich her love and knowledge of dinosaurs. There are so many museums and attractions in the Midwest featuring dinosaurs that any mini paleontology enthusiast will love. Here are our favorites.

The Children’s Museum Indianapolis

3000 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46208

The Children’s Museum is my family’s favorite attraction in Indianapolis because of the Dinosphere. We are lucky that we live so close to one of the best museums in the country that showcases such a large dinosaur exhibit. The newly-renovated Dinosphere reopened in 2022 and features 5 separate areas to explore. These include Giants of the Jurassic, Creatures of the Cretaceous, Monsters of the Mesozoic Seas, an art lab, and the paleo lab.

Dinosaur fossils are displayed throughout the Dinosphere. Families can view fossils from two massive long-necked sauropods, Gorgosaur, Hypacrosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Elasmosaurus, Archelon and so many more.

At the art lab, you have many options to create dinosaur art including a design activity led by an instructor. My daughters loved designing their own dinosaur, scanning it, and watching it come to life on a screen. Kids can talk to the scientists at the paleo lab and even touch real fossils. Dinosphere also includes Leonardo the Mummified Dinosaur and features interactive areas throughout the space including a dino dig, a fossil puzzle, and computer stations.

I Dig Dinos NWI

100 S. Broad St., Griffith, IN 46319

This dinosaur-themed interactive play and toy store is a one-of-a-kind experience for children. You are greeted by a stegosaurus when you enter the store and there are close to 100 dinosaur structures scattered throughout the space. These dinosaurs make for great photo opportunities.

There are free dino-themed attractions inside like a big mural on a back wall that kids can help color, a fossil table, a light table, and a dinosaur play table with figurines. At the augmented reality sand table, you use shovels to rearrange the sand to make water, land, and volcano structures.

Additional activities are available for a fee. Ride on the “Randy” the Utahraptor for $3. A rubber mulch dig site allows you to uncover a dinosaur skeleton, and at a separate dig site, you can purchase a small pouch and fill it with the items you uncover. Kids can mine for geodes or purchase one, and there is an area to break the stones open. Other activities for purchase include sand art and stuff-your-own plush toys. The staff here are so incredibly friendly. They really interact with the guests and even brought out “Trixie” the triceratops for my girls to pet.

Dinosaur World

711 Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City, KY 42127

This attraction is right off I-65 about 3 hours south of Indianapolis, near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. My family did a mini day trip here and loved walking the trail and seeing the 150 life-sized dinosaurs scattered throughout the grounds. Dinosaur World features a prehistoric museum with real and cast prehistoric fossils of trilobites, dinosaur claws, eggs, mammoth bones, and more. There is also a “Bone Yard” where you can use tools to uncover the 27-foot skeleton from under the sand and a dino-themed playground featuring slides and swings. Dinosaur World is wheelchair-accessible and pet friendly.

A Fossil Dig and Dino Gem Excavation are available for an additional cost. The Fossil Dig is a 15-minute guided activity where children search for fossils in a specially-stocked pit area filled with items like shark teeth, gastropods, stingray barbs, and Mosasaur teeth. Kids select three of their favorites to take home. Tickets for the Fossil Dig activity are available for $3.

Cincinnati Museum Center

1301 Western Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45203

Last year, we visited the Cincinnati Museum Center, and my daughters loved Dinosaur Hall in the Museum of Natural History and Science. The Cincinnati Museum Center is in the former Union Terminal, a historic Art Deco train station and National Historic Landmark. Dinosaur Hall showcases six giant prehistoric dinosaurs, including plant-eating sauropods, two-legged predators, and the nearly 60-foot-long Galeamopus pabsti.

A new exhibit called Dinosaurs of Antarctica: The Exhibition is included in your admission. This exhibit takes you back 200 million years to ancient Antarctica, which was once a woodland filled with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs of Antarctica showcases fossils from four Antarctic dinosaur species, including the 25-foot-long Cryolophosaurus, and has an interactive feature where you use real tools to learn how paleontologists carefully extracted fossils from the now-frozen landscape.

Center of Science and Industry

333 West Broad St. Columbus, OH 43215

The American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery at COSI features a 6-foot-long mechanical T. Rex model that walks in place, dinosaur casts, and a 15-by-10-foot re-creation of the Davenport Ranch Trackway. The dinosaur gallery features dinosaur casts of a Triceratops and a Pachycephalosaurus. Guests can read theories about how the dinosaurs’ distinctive horns, frills, crests, and domes were used in life. There is also a cast of a T. Rex furcula “wishbone”. The wishbone is important because it was once thought to be a unique feature in birds but now has been found in some “bipedal” carnivore dinosaurs.

An exhibit called “Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs” opened in October 2022. Learn about the pterosaur reptiles including the Quetzalcoatlus northropi, Preondactylus buffarinii, and Dawndraco kanzai that took to the skies millions of years ago. Highlights include casts of rare fossils, life-size models, and interactive activities.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

1 Wade Oval Drive, Cleveland, OH 44106

This museum is currently under construction which includes a large expansion. Unfortunately, the dinosaur skeletons are inaccessible during renovations. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has 2 dinosaur skeletons. Visitors can see the Coelophysis bauri, from the late Triassic Period, and Happy, a Haplocanthosaurus delfsi from the late Jurassic Period.

St. Louis Science Center

5050 Oakland Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110

St. Louis Science Center is a free nonprofit museum that features an OMNIMAX theater, the McDonnell Planetarium, an indoor/outdoor Grow agriculture pavilion and gallery. There are also 10 other galleries with hundreds of interactive activities.

In the dinosaur exhibit, you will see a huge Cretaceous diorama of a Pteranodons and a large T-Rex hovering over an injured Triceratops. The Dana Brown Fossil Prep Lab and Dig Site is an interactive display of the Badlands in Montana where you can uncover casts of a dinosaur fossil. The real fossils that the casts mimic are displayed in the prep lab where you can view staff and volunteers working on preparing real dinosaur fossils.

The Dinosaur Discovery Museum

5608 Tenth Avenue, Kenosha, Wisconsin

The Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin focuses on the link between meat-eating dinosaurs and birds, with the largest collection of theropod dinosaurs showing the evolutionary transition between dinosaurs and birds. In the main gallery, the dinosaur skeletons are casts of actual dinosaur fossil bones.

There is also an exhibit that tells the story of Little Clint, a 3-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex that was excavated in southeast Montana by the Carthage Institute of Paleontology. The tale follows Little Clint from when he first hatches from his egg to his arrival at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum. The exhibit also has puzzles, activities, and a dinosaur dig appropriate for children ages 3-10 with adult supervision. The museum is free but there is a suggested donation of $3.

Western Michigan University Dinosaur Park

2101 Wilbur Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49006

The outdoor Dinosaur Park, which opened last year, is free to the public. It is located behind Rood Hall and Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University and can be visited at any time. Currently, the Dinosaur Park features a Spinosaurus, a Triceratops, a Stegosaurus, a Parasaurolophus, a pair of Utahraptors, and a 15-foot Brachiosaurus. The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences is hoping to receive further donations to expand the number of dinosaurs that they feature.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

1105 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Located in the Biological Sciences building at the University of Michigan, this free museum has an exhibit about the four billion years of life on Earth called Evolution: Life through Time. This exhibit teaches about the earliest organisms that changed our world, the connection of all living things through evolution, and about the five major extinctions and how life persisted through them all. The museum also features two Cretaceous-period dinosaurs, the Majungasaurus and the Dolichorhynchops.

Cranbrook Institute of Science, Michigan Museum of Natural History

39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303

The Cranbrook Institute of Science features a permanent exhibit called “Life Changes Over Time.” Here you can see a full-sized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton cast and learn about the connection between birds and dinosaurs. The museum also features a Megalodon jaw, a fossil tooth, and facts about this apex predator. Through April 30, 2023, the museum will be hosting the traveling exhibit of Sue: The T. rex Experience. This exhibit gives visitors from around the world an opportunity to see Sue the T. rex, typically on permanent display at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Jurassic Gardens

27582 Volo Village Rd. Volo IL, 60073

Jurassic Gardens is an indoor dinosaur attraction that features 30 large animatronic dinosaurs. Visitors can also check out fossils, and dinosaur skeletons, a Dino-Dig area, a dinosaur-themed playground, and a Dino-lab. A 30-foot-tall animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex, a Triceratops, and a Dilophosaurus are on display, along with informative facts about their species.

The park is wheelchair-accessible. The dinosaurs do roar and make noise, so those with noise sensitivity are encouraged to bring ear protection. The Dino-Dig area allows children to pretend they are a paleontologist by uncovering dinosaur skeletons in the rubber mulch.

At the Dino lab, you will learn about the discovery of fossils and other dinosaur facts. You can also watch a short educational video, interact with fossils and eggs, and stand next to a dinosaur bone.

Chicago Children’s Museum

700 East Grand Avenue, Suite 127, Chicago, Illinois 60611

Located inside Navy Pier, the Chicago Children’s Museum has a Dinosaur Expedition exhibit. The attraction features a Suchomimus skeleton that was discovered by Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. The Suchomimus exhibit teaches about how these dinosaurs lived, what they ate, and where they called home. The Dinosaur Expedition allows children to dig for bones in the excavation pit. They can compare claws, teeth, and skulls with a T-Rex, and learn what it would be like to be part of Paul’s expedition team.

The Field Museum

1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

The Field Museum is home to quite the assembly of dinosaurs. Visitors can see the collection in the Elizabeth Morse Genius Hall of Dinosaurs and a cast of Maximo, the titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum. Sue is the largest and most complete T. rex specimen in the world. Through sensory interactives, you can experience Sue at different stations by smelling what her breath could have smelled like, hearing how she could have sounded, and feeling how her skin could have felt. A media experience allows you to watch Sue in South Dakota 67 million years ago.

The Field Museum also offers “Doze with Our Dinos,” an overnight sleepover event in the museum. All tickets include parking, museum admission for the day after your sleepover, and an evening snack plus continental breakfast.

Fryxell Geology Museum at Augustana College

639 38th Street, Rock Island, IL, 61201

Located at Augustana College, the Fryxell Geology Museum offers a complete skeleton of the “sea serpent” Platecarpus, skulls of Parasaurolophus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and a complete 22-foot-long skeleton of a Cryolophosaurus. Augustana paleontologist and museum director Dr. William Hammer discovered the carnivore Cryolophosaurus in Antarctica in 1991. The museum features items he has collected at digs in the Badlands of Nebraska and during his trips to Antarctica.

 

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