Huge Catawba Science Center is a fun day trip from Greenville, SC

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The Catawba Science Center is a perfect add-on to a day trip up near Asheville and Western NC. We checked it out and have all the info you need to enjoy a fun day here as a day trip from Greenville, SC or anywhere in the Upstate.

Ever since I got my Roper Mountain Science Center membership, I’ve started planning day trips and homeschool field trips according to where my family can get in for free or half-price using the reciprocal membership benefits. The Catawba Science Center in Hickory, NC was on the list so that’s where we went. 

About the Catawba Science Center

The Catawba Science Center is a huge, 35,000 square feet science center with two buildings, one that houses the marine and space science exhibits and the other houses the majority of the energy, geology, anatomy, and physical science exhibits. 

They have a planetarium also (we didn’t go to a show there when we visited) plus homeschool classes, summer camps, field trips, science programs, scout camps, and even a technology club. My kids are 11 and 7 and we saw kids of all ages there enjoying the exhibits. 

Exhibits at the Catawba Science Center

Hands On Construction 

Behind the front desk is a huge, open room that has all sorts of hands-on exhibits. When we went, they had building blocks and pool noodles where kids (and, ahem, adults) could let their imaginations run wild and build whatever they wanted. In the same room were a couple of tables where kids (and, ahem, adults) could construct little purses, rings, and whatever else they wanted out of duct tape. 

Next to the duct tape were more tables that held small little wheels, blocks, and connector hickory sticks (they have these same things at the Roper Mountain Science Center) where guests can build small cars, buildings, or invent their own construction projects. 

Gross Labs

Moving on from the construction room and down the opposite hall is a fun exhibit called the Gross Labs. Kids of all ages will get a kick out of these exhibits that use kid-friendly language to demonstrate the actual work of scientists. 

For example, the “Poop Analyzer” exhibit actually demonstrates what a gastroenterologist would do for his or her work. There’s also a Snot Surveyor, which demonstrates the job of an allergist. I don’t remember what the Fart Scientist does but it was an interesting display. 

Energy Avenue

This was a favorite exhibit since you had the chance to launch rockets indoors. They also had a pulley chair system where kids sat in a chair and used ropes to pull themselves up (The Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville also has this particular exhibit). There are also all kinds of hands-on energy exhibits in this hall for kids to learn about conduction and static electricity. 


This is a room dedicated to physics but in a kid-friendly way. Kids can race balls down a track, build superhighways on the wall and see how fast the balls can go down them. 

This room is all hands-on and includes activities to demonstrate force, friction, and kinetic and potential energy. 

Naturalist Center

This exhibit has an extensive collection of fossils, arachnids, shells, and animal hides. They even have a huge python skin to touch and feel. 

Inside this same exhibit are dozens of rocks, gems, and minerals. This was super cool since my kids and I are currently studying Geology so it was neat to see all the neat gems and minerals that have been pictured in our books. 

Little Kids Treehouse

My kids were too old for this exhibit but it looked so fun! They have an area for kids under 5 years old to play in a little treehouse, climb through tunnels, and explore the garden and hide and seek panels. 

Marine Science and Aquarium

Next to the main building is the marine lab and astronomy center. The astronomy hall was closed for renovations when we were there but we did walk through the marine lab.

The aquarium has both fresh and saltwater fish plus an 8,000 gallon shark and stingray exhibit. There are also small tortoises, garden eels, and seahorses. Touching the animals is not allowed at this time because of COVID.

The Planetarium and Outdoor Courtyard

These were the two things we didn’t do so I can’t say exactly what they were like. It was raining so we didn’t go to the outdoor courtyard play area but it looked really fun and had a climbing wall!

The planetarium has a 30-foot dome and your admission ticket includes a show there.

Visiting the Catawba Science Center

The science center is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm and Sunday 1 pm – 4 pm. Tickets are $10/adults and $8/ages 3 and up. If you have a Roper Mountain Science Center membership, admission is free. 

Masks are required for the planetarium only.

We spent about two hours there but you could certainly stay longer if you went to a planetarium show or took your time going through all the exhibits. 

The science center is about two hours from Greenville, an hour from the Biltmore, and an hour to Kings Mountain State Park. We went to the Schiele Museum of Natural History after visiting the science center. It was only about 40 minutes away and was a great add-on for the day trip. 

Catawba Science Center
243 Third Avenue NE, Hickory, NC

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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