Visitors look at a large Tyrannosaurus fossil

A museum on the trail: The Natural History Museum of Utah

Visitors look at a large Tyrannosaurus fossil

Visitors look at a large Tyrannosaurus fossil in The Past Worlds gallery – NHMU/Tom Smart.

Park once, take a hike, and then explore a museum. A hiking trail and museum may seem unlikely partners, but in Salt Lake City, the concept works brilliantly. Marking access to one of my favorite trail systems is the Natural History Museum of Utah. The location was chosen to highlight the junction of the urban and natural environments.

I’ve used the trailhead regularly since moving to the area, as it’s only 5-minutes from my house. From there, I’ve hiked to The Livingroom, Mount Wire, or just enjoyed a walk/run down the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. However, I didn’t actually realize I was walking past a museum all this time. The architecturally attractive building is unassuming and doesn’t sport any large signage. Instead, it seems to meld into the landscape. The distinctively designed building is wrapped in 42,000 square feet of standing seam copper installed in horizontal bands of differing heights reminiscent of Utah’s layered rock.

The Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center is situated on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail - NHMU/Stuart Ruckman

The Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center is situated on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail – NHMU/Stuart Ruckman

The museum doesn’t just mark the trailhead, it also welcomes trail users to take advantage of its facilities such as human and doggie water fountains, restrooms, and a café. In partnership with Salt Lake County, a 5.27-acre preserve provides a walking trail and protects habitat for migrating wildlife.

I finally visited the Natural History Museum of Utah a few weeks ago. The building was designed to share the outdoor landscape with visitors during their tour, but I didn’t have to be told this. The view from the fifth floor Sky Terrace was breathtaking. Looking west from the Wasatch Range, across the city to the Oquirrhs, it would be an amazing place to enjoy a sunset…adding that to my list!

Also visible from the deck are the solar panels which help power the building, just one of the features that contributed to the building’s LEED Gold certification. According to their website:

“By incorporating the use of recycled materials, local resources, photo voltaic energy, radiant cooling and the implementation of an extensive storm water catchment and management system, the Natural History Museum of Utah is seeking LEED Gold certification, which would make it one of only 18 buildings in Salt Lake City with that distinction.”

Of course, people don’t visit a museum for the views, they want engaging and educational exhibits. Four of the museum’s five floors are filled with collections ranging from Native Voices, displaying the traditions of Utah’s five Native American nations, to Past Worlds, where visitors can mingle with over 30 skeletal reconstructions. Additionally, traveling exhibits mix things up a bit. Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters is currently showing until December 8th. It explores the science behind disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes and more.

I would suggest pairing a visit to the museum with a hike, but on the day I visited, I found there was so much to see that a few hours weren’t enough. I plan to return with more time. Keeping that in mind, I advise making a dedicated visit to the museum and hiking on a separate day. Another option for Salt Lake City locals is to invest in an annual pass and pair several visits with hikes so that you don’t feel the need to see every exhibit at once.

If you go:


Open Everyday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Last Admission is 4:30 p.m.

Open Wednesdays 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. – Last Admission is 8:30 p.m.

Please Note: On Thursday, June 27, 2013, the Museum will close at 3:00 p.m.
Last Admission is 2:30 p.m. on 6/27/13.


Adult – $11.00

Senior 65 and over – $9.00

Youth 13 – 24 $9.00

Child 3 – 12 $8.00

Child 2 and under – Free

Museum Members  -Free

University of Utah Students, Faculty and Staff with Valid ID – Free

More information is available on the Natural History Museum of Utah WEBSITE.

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