There has always been so much to love about Fernbank Museum– from FREE parking to the indoor playground called NatureQuest, and from high-quality rotating exhibits to Fernbank After Dark events for adults.
Now there is even more to love. Fernbank Museum just upped the ante with the addition of WildWoods and Fernbank Forest. These two outdoor additions are serious game changers. In fact, I think it’s fair to say Fernbank Museum is now THE best museum in Atlanta.
Explore Fernbank Museum Inside and Out
We’ve put everything you need to know about exploring Fernbank Museum into one post. First we’ll take you on an outdoor adventure through the new Wildwoods and Fernbank Forest Exhibit giving you 17 things you need to know before you go. Be sure to watch the video.
If it’s too cold, too hot or rainy outside, you can still discover the outdoors at Fernbank’s Indoor nature playground called NatureQuest. Splash through virtual rivers, climb a tree, search for bats in a cave, it’s all there in a climate controlled environment.
Of course there are also the IMAX movies, the fantastic traveling exhibits and the permanent exhibits like Walk Through Time in Georgia, and Giants of the Mesozoic where you’ll see the famous Fernbank Museum dinosaurs.
Exploring OUTSIDE At Fernbank Museum: 17 Things You Need To Know
The boys and I had an opportunity to visit WildWoods and Fernbank Forest earlier this week. We’ve all been to museum additions and expansions, right? You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. There is usually some great tidbit, but nothing earth shattering….not this time! Fernbank Museum BLEW ME AWAY with these new changes.
Here are 17 things we saw, learned and enjoyed while at Fernbank Museum’s new outdoor expansion…I hope our enthusiasm is loud enough. We encourage you to get there and savor it!
Fernbank Forest’s 65-acres have been around for a long LONG time (way before Fernbank Museum.) It doesn’t butt against Fernbank Museum’s backdoor – there are a few wooded acres between – so the museum created a “middle space” called WildWoods.
WildWoods is an educational pathway to the forest. It’s filled with opportunities for play, adventure, learning and exploring.
- Toddlers to Teens. WildWoods offers spaces for all ages, from toddlers to teens (and adults will love it too!) Nature Stories includes three individual exhibits, geared toward kiddos 8 yo and younger. There is a climbing structure, a nature play area and a water feature. Adventure Outpost is for teens and tweens (though I could barely drag away my 4 and 8 yo.) It includes more complex climbing obstacles and adventure stations.
- Ropes Adventures. One of the highlights of our adventure was playing on the ropes at Adventure Outpost. There are rope bridges, rope tunnels, rope-lined climbing stuctures…both boys said unanimously that this was their favorite part of WildWoods.
- Science and Art. I love how Fernbank Museum includes science and art within WildWoods. There is a Weather Station, a Sensory Wall, an art walk and more! Don’t miss the learning opportunities around you…take your time, read the signs to your kids, and look for the small details (like the turtle shell on the Animal Tracks walk and the hidden nest of eggs.)
- Splish Splash Water Fun. Even if your kids are older, make sure to check out Creek Run inside Nature Stories. Kids can use levers to control the flow of water, and even have fun getting their feet wet. We also loved the sound of the waterfall.
- Restrooms. There are, of course, restrooms inside Fernbank Museum, but the only restrooms outside are at the pavilion here in WildWoods. Make sure to stop before heading out to the forest.
Once you make your way through WildWoods, follow the signs for Fernbank Forest to access the original acreage that is one of the largest old-growth urban forests in the country –including trees up to 300 years old, and many champion trees.
- Multiple Trails. There are multiple trails inside Fernbank Forest, and you can take the trail that is right for you. The longest route will take you about 45 minutes (unless you have my kids – then it could take you 4 hours because you are stopping to gaze upon each leaf, rock and insect.) We took the shortest route on our visit, around the pond and by Elephant Rock, but the boys are already begging to go back for more.
- Bring the Ergo, not the stroller. WildWoods is stroller friendly and ADA accessible, but Fernbank Forest is all natural terrain. There are mulched paths, rocky inclines (though not too steep) and other elements that won’t work even with an all-terrain stroller. Bringing the baby? Opt for the Ergo.
- Rangers keep watch. While there are only a finite number of trails (and you MUST stay on the trails,) you might still want some assurance that help is at hand. Four Rangers (two at a time) keep watch during business hours. They can help you if you have a health emergency or a boo-boo, answer questions about wildlife, or just point you in the right direction.
- Guided tours available. Keep a watch on the Fernbank Museum calendar of events if you are looking for a guided walk through the forest. Take a bird walk or join a ranger to learn about native biodiversity and the forest ecosystem.
- Restoration continues. Just because the forest is now open, it doesn’t mean the job is done. Forest restoration is an ongoing project for Fernbank Museum. Along with the Fernbank Museum staff, the forest is being “loved on” by Trees Atlanta, the Audubon Society and others. You are another important factor in the restoration, so please consider joining the volunteer efforts.
- No one lives there. As you make your way along the beginning section of the Fernbank Forest trail, you’ll notice the backyard of a gorgeous, huge red and white brick home. I overheard several dozen people wondering about who lives there (and how lucky it would be to live so close to the forest.) I learned from Fernbank Museum that the house was the Cobb Home, and was purchased by the museum during the restoration process. No one lives there now. Be sure to look around that area for older ruins like stairs and a wall. Those are remnants of the Harrison Home that once stood within the forest.
Points of Note
- Free with admission. Both WildWoods and Fernbank Forest access are included with admission to Fernbank Museum. With these additions, a membership is a MUST.
- Bring Fido a Souvenir. My first question was about pets, but alas, you have to keep dogs and other animals at home. The forest is in a gentle state and we need to be respectful.
- Stay out of the creek. Along that same line of thinking, please stay out of the creek that runs through the forest. My kid’s first inclination was to jump right in the middle of every waterway they see, but we had a talk before heading out. We want to do everything possible to preserve this ancient area.
- No smoking. Fernbank Museum is a smoke-free campus, so please don’t light up even while you are on the outside grounds of the museum.
- Hydrate with H2O. Only water is permitted in WildWoods and Fernbank Forest. No other drinks and no food. Tip: Bring a hydration backpack!
- Prepare for nature. You’re in the middle of the city, but don’t forget, you are still in the forest. Wear proper shoes and clothing, think of sunscreen and bug spray if that’s your thing, hydrate well, grab a map and stay on the trails.
Sue took this great video at the preview – be sure to take a look.
Fernbank Museum’s NatureQuest Indoor Playground
Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s eight million permanent exhibit called NatureQuest is geared toward their younger guests and could be reason alone to become a member (so you can go again and again). The two hours we spent exploring the exhibit wasn’t enough for my kindergartner and I had to drag him away.
NatureQuest is a designed for children 2 through 10 as an interactive, educational, indoor play space with more than 100 interactive encounters including live animals. The exhibit features six diverse ecosystems : the ocean/estuary, swamp, pine flatwoods, forest, waterfall/river, and caves designed around a kids clubhouse.
Heading to New Jersey? Check out this cool dino museum there!
There is literally something to discover in every nook and cranny. I love the water features, the mist waterfall, the river that ripples when you walk across it and the undersea shell puzzle. My boys liked climbing up inside the tree and developing new paths for the acorns to fall. This activity is similar to marble mazes, but uses PCP pipe with magnets and the kids create new paths on a metal wall.
Once you get used to the “big attractions,” you start seeing the more subtle discovery opportunities like the bats in the cave, the soil sample pulled from the ground or the numerous hiding places for pretend animals. Kids will love running, crawling, splashing (virtually) and discovering every nook and cranny using all their senses.
Parents looking for a more structured approach can pick up one of the exploration cards that explain each ecosystem and offer a checklist of what you’ll find. Adults can engage children with the fun facts or question and answers from the cards. There are also “ologist cards” that provide information on the exhibition through the eyes of different scientists, such as an archaeologist, geologist, zoologist, marine biologist, and others.
Fernbank hosts special events throughout the year that are awesome for kids!
In 2021, Fernbank debuted a new toddler program — Littlest Explorers — for those ages 18 months – 3 years old.
The program takes place each Thursday, May 6 – May 27, from 9am to 10am.
Each week, participants will meet for a 30-minute private program followed by exploration time in one of Fernbank’s exhibits prior to the museum opening to the general public. The programs in this series include sensory and exploratory activities, stories and crafts designed to stimulate young minds and bodies and lay the foundation for learning about science and natural history. Themes change weekly. Online registration required.
Fernbank also hosts storytimes, animal encounters, and a special Noon Year’s Eve celebration on December 31 every year for little ones. Check their events calendar for the latest!
Fernbank Science Center
Don’t confuse Fernbank Museum with Fernbank Science Center. See our post here.