Have you explored the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, SC? You may have heard the name of the Roper Mountain Science Center and wondered what in the world this is or maybe your kids attended a field trip there. But really, do you know how cool this place is?
With a dinosaur trail, a living history farm, a Marine Ecology lab, and active classrooms you can explore, you can visit multiple times and find something new and exciting at each visit! Plus, RMSC has the only planetarium in Greenville, SC and a giant 23” refractor telescope that you can look through during special events. It doesn’t get much cooler than that!
RMSC is part of the Greenville County School system and during the week they host classes for science exhibits and hands-on learning for the public school system. However, they have greatly expanded their offerings and hours for the general public in the last several years and there several wonderful opportunities to explore this gem in Greenville. Every season offers something new and exciting at the RMSC.
This article includes:
What is at the Roper Mountain Science Center?
Friday Starry Nights
Laser Shows at Hooper Planetarium
The Nature Exchange
Afternoon Explorations: September to May
Science on Wheels & Educator Tools
What is at Roper Mountain Science Center?
The Roper Mountain Science Center is absolutely the place to go for STEM activities in Greenville, SC that are fun and engaging. During special events throughout the year, Roper Mountain is open to the public, and it is truly worth a visit (or ten). From September through May, you can visit during Afternoon Explorations from Tuesday through Friday.
You can also explore June through July during their Summer Adventure programming, during which an exciting traveling exhibit is set up. And don’t forget their year-round Friday Starry Nights at the Hooper Planetarium.
Kids of all ages will love the RMSC. There is so much for them to see and do from the Dinosaur Trail, the touch tanks in the Marine Lab, the rainforest with its small waterfall, the outdoor play area, the new pirate and castle playgrounds, and traveling exhibits.
Environmental Science and Sustainability Building
There is so much to explore at Roper Mountain Science Center that we promise you’ll need lots of visits to see everything. When you first arrive, you will enter through the Environmental Science and Sustainability Building. The building is dedicated to water ecology and sustainability practices and is filled with immersive experiences, a traveling exhibit (in summer), live animal displays, and more.
You can see a Timber Rattlesnake and Copperhead snake mere inches away and see a Hellbender up close as well. Kids love the interactive exhibits that teach them what not to flush down the toilet (parents like this one as well) and how to lower and raise the water level in a lake. Pretty neat stuff.
One of the most popular exhibits is the Nature Exchange. Here, your child can bring in items they found in nature, including moss, rocks, shells, lichen, or other items in exchange for points that they can use to spend on awesome items like crystals, fossils, and even owl pellets.
The Environmental Science and Sustainability Building is only open to the public during special events and Afternoon Explorations and Summer Adventure.
Harrison Hall of Natural Science
As you leave the lower level exit of the Environmental Science building, you can follow the path toward the Dinosaur Trail to the left or the Harrison Hall of Natural Science to the right. I am a huge ecology lover, so I immediately gravitate toward Harrison Hall. Here you will find multiple active classrooms to explore. There are live animals to meet and even touch like docile snakes, lizards, and sometimes even an alligator.
I love the permanent rainforest exhibit since it’s nice and humid and has a small waterfall, cocoa tree, and benches to enjoy the warmth, which feels especially nice during the colder months.
You can explore taxidermied animals, bone collections, specimen collections, and living animal exhibits. Your child can touch snakes, meet a skink, and learn about ecology and biodiversity during their exploration.
The Marine Lab is super popular because you and your children will be able to touch stingrays, starfish, and other sea creatures in the tide pool while learning about them.
The Ecology Lab showcases South Carolina habitats with their native animals, which include a Mountain Trout Stream, a Beaver/Turtle Pond, a Cypress Swamp (with an alligator), and a Salt Marsh. Guests can also check out a live honeybee hive at work.
Harrison Hall of Natural Science is only open to the public during special events such as Summer Adventure and including most First Fridays and Third Thursdays events during Afternoon Explorations.
If you decide to head to the Dinosaur Adventure Trail first, then your dino adventure will start with a meet and greet with a Triceratops. All the dinosaurs are life-size models, so be sure to notice the awe in your young kid’s eyes as they notice them towering above them.
Be mindful of the ropes, as RMSC does not allow climbing on the majority of the exhibited dinosaurs. There is a big slide and play area that was designed to look like dinosaur bones coming out of the ground that kids can play on.
In 2023, a brand new animatronics T-Rex was added, which moves and roars. It’s motion-activated so you have no idea it’s going to move until you (or your kids) walk in front of it.
The Dinosaur Adventure Trail is open to the public during special events, Afternoon Explorations, and Summer Adventure.
Pirate and Castle Playgrounds
In 2023, RMSC added two new playgrounds: a large pirate playground for older kids and a smaller castle playground for toddlers.
Both are located next to Harrison Hall and are partially in the shade depending on the time of day. There are benches for parents to sit on as well. Kids really love these new playgrounds as they foster lots of imaginative adventures on the high seas and in the world of knights and ladies at the castle.
These playgrounds are open during Summer Adventure and Afternoon Explorations.
Living History Farm & Butterfly Garden
One of my earliest memories as a kid was visiting the Living History Farm when I was in Kindergarten. With authentic log cabins, a schoolhouse, a working barn, and a reconstructed former slave cabin, there is so much history that you can live the experience. Walking through the gardens, fields, pasture, farm pond, and farm animals certainly lend itself to easily imagining that time period.
The Living History Farm also has an incredible garden in the summer. You will find the Butterfly Garden on the outskirts of the Living History Farm. The garden has native plants that are frequently visited by butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
The Living History Farm is only open to the public during special events and Summer Adventure while the Butterfly Garden is open during Afternoon Explorations, Summer Adventure, and special events.
Symmes Hall of Science
If you are a lover of all things STEM, then the Symmes Hall of Science will be the highlight of your trip to the Roper Mountain Science Center. Though Symmes Hall is only open during special events, it is worth it when you get to explore chemical reactions through experimentation, explore Tesla coils and solar panels, and interact with robotics.
Hooper Planetarium & Daniel Observatory
Last, but not least, the incredible Hooper Planetarium and Daniel Observatory. If you are wanting to spark a love for science in your child, this is a great place to start. The Hooper Planetarium is designed with a 360-degree dome with 4K projection and a truly immersive sound system.
The Hooper Planetarium offers special space-themed programming called Friday Starry Nights throughout the year. The planetarium is also equipped with a Laser Fantasy projection system, which is spectacular, to say the least! You can enjoy Laser Days of Summer, Halloween Laser Shows, and Special Laser Events throughout the year.
If you’re looking for a truly magical experience for adults and kids, then head to the Daniel Observatory after your planetarium showing to look through the historic 23’’ refractor telescope. The telescope is the 8th largest of its kind in the United States! You’ll be able to observe Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and more as you climb the steps to look through the scope.
Friday Starry Nights at the Roper Mountain Science Center
You can find out everything you need to know about Friday Starry Nights in our KA review.
Friday Starry Nights are offered on Friday evenings throughout the year at the Hooper Planetarium. Typically, there are three showings (4:30 pm, 6:00 pm, 7:30 pm), with each showing offering a unique feature film themed around space. The 4:30 pm show is excellent for younger children to attend and is recommended for ages 4 and older. The 6:00 pm show is also kid-friendly and features a film that is more exploratory of space in a kid-friendly way. The 7:30 feature showing is most appropriate for older children and adults.
Tickets to Friday Starry Nights are $6/adults and teens, $5/kids ages 3-12. Starry Nights is free for RMSC members. The shows are generally not recommended for kids three and under (I can vouch for this – to my dismay, my toddler was scared when we visited the planetarium during an event).
Laser Shows at the Hooper Planetarium
The planetarium also features several special events throughout the year, including Laser Days of Summer, Halloween Laser Shows, Holiday Laser Shows, Pink Floyd Laser Shows, and more. I saw the Laser Days of Summer Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon a couple of years ago, and it was EPIC.
These events are fully immersive, and allow you to sit back and listen to classic albums of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Stranger Things, and more while lasers tell a story across the 360 degree screen. Regularly check the Roper Mountain Science Center website for updates about their upcoming special events and laser shows.
Tickets for Laser Days of Summer can be purchased now, and the event will begin Thursday, July 20th, 2023. Multiple showings are offered from Thursday through Saturday from 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm on most nights. Tickets for Laser Days of Summer are $8 per adult or child, and $4 for members.
The Nature Exchange
There are 12 Nature Exchanges in the country and they are like little shops for kids that focus on learning about things you find in nature and seeking out neat things that you may not otherwise see if perhaps you weren’t looking for them.
The Nature Exchange at the RMSC is the only one in the state but it’s connected to the other 11 through a database. When your kids sign up, they are entered into this national database. As they rack up points, if they visit another Nature Exchange on a trip, they can use those points to get something from that particular place they visit.
At the Nature Exchange at RMSC, there are lots of neat items already that kids can choose from if they earn enough points. Each person who signs up automatically gets 100 points plus they get points for their birthday, also. Kids can then choose something from the big Nature Exchange wall that is the same number or less than the points they have accumulated. Or, they can accumulate their points and save up for something super cool like a dinosaur fossil plate or a pretty stone or a big bug.
Kids will find everything from gemstones to intricate shells to mummified grasshoppers and tarantulas. The Nature Exchange is located on the top floor of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Building, to the left of the main entrance.
Afternoon Explorations at Roper Mountain Science Center
Afternoon Explorations is when RMSC is open to the public during the school year. For 2023-24, they will open on September 14, 2023 and be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 1:30-5 pm. Guests will have access to the Environmental Science and Sustainability Center, the Rain Forest Room, Marine Lab and Ecology Lab in Harrison Hall of Natural Science as well as the Living History Farm when weather permits.
You will also be able to hunt for dinosaurs on the Dinosaur Adventure Trail, play in Wildwood, visit the Butterfly Garden, and play on the Pirates of the Carolinas playground.
Tickets for Afternoon Explorations are $5 per person for ages 3 and older. Members receive free admission.
Summer Adventure and 2023’s summer Traveling Exhibit
Summer Adventure begins on June 1, 2023, and runs until July 29, 2023. You can visit during Summer Adventure Tuesday – Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm. Explore all the exhibits RMSC has to offer, including a traveling exhibit that is only accessible during the summer.
The traveling exhibit changes every year, so it’s something special and unique to experience. Summer Adventure also offers special programs, including cockroach racing, the Eat a Bug challenge, farm animal interactions at the Living History Farm, period costume volunteers, and more to get children engaged and excited about science.
For 2023, the traveling exhibit theme is ‘How People Make Things’ and is located on the top floor of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Building. This exhibit is a lot of fun as kids can create different objects at various stations throughout the exhibit like a trolley car (based on Mr. Rodgers’ show), a pressed coin, or a small box made from cut out paper.
Admission is free for members, and tickets are $12 per adult and $10 per child 3 – 12 years of age. EBT cardholders can purchase tickets for $5.
The Butterfly Garden
The butterfly garden is located beside the parking lot in front of the Harrison Hall of Natural Science. This is a great time of year to check it out, enjoy the beautifully landscaped garden, and see some butterflies. If you’d like to make it a homeschool adventure, try some of the books, ideas and activities below.
Make it Educational
Math: Draw the butterflies with colored pencils (maybe take pictures with a cell phone to reference later) and keep a tally count of how many of each variety you see. Once you return home, turn your tally count into a bar graph. Siblings can compare their graphs and see how they differ.
Science: Use some butterfly books or websites to help you name the different species of butterflies you see. If it’s too much to manage “in the field” just take pictures and look them up when you get home. The following resources may be helpful.
Discuss the butterfly life cycle before or after your visit to the garden. Here’s a great freebie coloring sheet of the life cycle.
Language Arts: Come up with some super sentences about butterflies. Make them factual or fictional. Use the bright colors and textures of the insects and the garden to dress up your sentences with adjectives. Look at how the butterflies move and what they do to pick some great verbs for your sentences.
This website deals with butterflies specific to our area, and has pictures that may be helpful to you when trying to name species.
The Life Cycles of Butterflies: from egg to maturity, a visual guide to 23 common garden butterflies (J 595.789 Burris) by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards -This book shows the life cycle of butterflies, but also shows pictures of common butterflies and areas where they are found. The Greenville libraries have many other fine books on butterflies with photographs under the call number J 595.789.
If you’d like to know a little more about the purpose of butterfly gardens, or the specific plants and landscaping you see at the garden, check out this portion of Roper Mountain’s website. It lists the host plants and nectar plants found at the science center’s butterfly garden. Many of these plants are labeled in the garden. Spend some time examining these plants.
Summer Camps at Roper Mountain Science Center
RMSC is focused on making STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics- fun for kids, and summer camps are no exception. But summer at Roper Mountain is more than just science: they also offer camps focusing on art, literature, moviemaking, mythology, photography and so much more. Summer camps at the Roper Mountain Science Center are available from K5 through Grade 12, and early drop-off and lunch stays are available for students attending separate morning and afternoon sessions.
Summer camp registration begins in March and camps fill up very quickly. Members will get first dibs on summer camp registration and if you really, really want your kid in a certain camp, you can get the concierge membership, which will ensure you will be able to register your kid(s) before anyone else.
Bring Science Lessons to you with Science on Wheels
If you are looking for a unique and science-driven demonstration for a school program or public outreach program Science on Wheels will bring the experimentation to you. They even have a portable planetarium! The program is perfect for school science days, preschools, library events, family audiences, afterschool groups, evening school events, summer camps, and community centers.
If you think RMSC’s Science on Wheels would be perfect for your group event, you can request more information by contacting the Roper Mountain Science Center directly. Educators can also utilize the many amazing programs Roper Mountain has to offer, including field trips, virtual field trips, elearning Live From Roper, and more to boost their science curriculum for their students.
Roper Mountain Science Center Membership
Speaking of membership to the RMSC, they have some worthwhile packages, especially if your family loves science and technology.
Memberships include free admission to Afternoon Explorations, Summer Adventure, and Friday Starry Nights, special pricing for special events and Laser Days of Summer, and early registration to summer camps. A family membership only costs $95 and is easily paid for in just a couple of visits to the RMSC.
Additionally, members get free or discounted admission to over 300 science centers and museums worldwide. This is a great perk when traveling or planning day trips or summer vacations.
For instance, if a family of four travels to nearby Asheville and goes to the Western NC Nature Center, admission for them would be free with a membership to the RMSC.
Bottom line: A membership to the RMSC is a good investment in both learning and entertainment!
Have your kids ever been to Roper Mountain Science Center?