I remember visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History at least once when I was a kid, or maybe a teenager. Suffice it to say that it was a really long time ago.
I particularly remembered the huge selection of dinosaur skeletons, and that’s what I mainly looked forward to seeing again with my kids. Recently, we visited my parents in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. During our trip, my dad drove us all to Pittsburgh on a rainy day to visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The CMNH offers a variety of different permanent exhibits. We didn’t get to visit everything, but I think we hit most of the high points. Here are some of my favorites.
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Dinosaurs in Their Time
According to the museum’s website, “Dinosaurs in Their Time is the first permanent exhibition in the world to feature scientifically accurate, immersive environments spanning the Mesozoic Era—the Age of Dinosaurs—arranged chronologically and filled with actively posed original fossil specimens. See dinosaurs like they haven’t been seen in 66 million years!”
The bones are real, too – 75 percent of the exhibits consist of actual fossils, making up one of the finest collections of dinosaur bones in the world. You can observe the live PaleoLab where museum staff members prepare bones and fossils of prehistoric creatures for exhibition. My kids, ages 6 and 12, spent quite a bit of time in the Bonehunters Quarry, digging for bones and fossils just like they would at an actual digging site.
Not only are the huge dinosaur skeletons incredibly impressive on their own, but the museum also offers in-depth information on each exhibit. The spectacular dinosaur fossil collection contains items purchased or donated from throughout the museum’s history.
Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
On our way to the dinosaur skeletons, my older daughter took a detour through the hall of minerals and gems, something that’s always interested her.
Hillman Hall has gained an international reputation as one of the finest and most important mineral exhibitions in the country. The current collection is built around private collections purchased or donated over the museum’s history.
Hillman Hall features Wertz Gallery of Gems and Jewelry, a 2,000-square-foot extravaganza of around 500 gems, jewelry, crystals and other types of gem art on permanent display. The gallery also hosts periodic special exhibits from international collectors.
Cenozoic Hall: The Hall of Fossil Mammals
After all the amazing dinosaurs, we viewed other prehistoric creatures – fossils of animals that walked the Earth starting about 66 million years ago during the Cenozoic Era or Age of Mammals. Mammals first evolved during the Mesozoic Era or the Age of the Dinosaurs, but they really hit their stride during the Cenozoic. That’s after the dinosaurs were wiped out, so the mammals had more space to spread out and diversify.
The Cenozoic Hall includes skeletons of a mammoth, a saber-toothed cat, a giant ground sloth, a dire wolf, and many other long-extinct animals. My older daughter spent many minutes stopped at the microscopes, where she observed numerous items provided for microscopic observation.
Plants, Animals, Dodo Bird, Oh, My!
To get to the additional exhibits we wanted to see, we went through the Bird Hall, which was also fascinating. My kids and my dad were particularly impressed by the dodo bird. I was lucky enough to get a good picture of it, too!
Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt
I have a particular interest in ancient Egypt, so after the dinosaurs, the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt was next on my must-see list. It includes interactive exhibits as well as fascinating displays exploring everyday life in ancient Egyptian society.
More than 600 artifacts, most having belonged to ordinary middle-class Egyptians, line the exhibit display cases illustrating six themes – World View, Cultural Evolution and History, Nautical Tradition, Social Organization, Daily Life and Funerary Religion. Objects include vases, jewelry, tools and much more.
All totaled, the ancient Egypt collection includes more than 2,500 artifacts dating back to 3100 B.C. The very first item was museum founder Andrew Carnegie’s donation of a mummy in its sarcophagus.
Other highlights include a 3,800-year-old, 30-foot funerary boat excavated in the late 19th century near Cairo. It came from the pyramid of Senwosret III, one of only a half-dozen such boats ever discovered.
Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life
Exhibits span the time period of 4,500 years ago through the present day, telling the story of Inuit life in the challenging, frigid Arctic environment, through art, videos, clothing, tools and more. There’s also a large igloo!
Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians
The exhibit hall of American Indians includes an enormous selection of art, clothing, tools, pottery, historical documents and much more, plus the headdress said to have been worn by Sitting Bull. The hall concentrates on American Indian cultures and life during the recent past and present – mostly the 19th and 20th centuries – with nearly 1,000 artifacts displayed.
How to Visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is worth a visit even if you have to drive a few hours to get there. It’s located on Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh, near Pittsburgh University.
Overall, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is gorgeous, clean and well-maintained, with friendly, helpful staff. We ate at the museum’s cafe near the entrance, and the food was delicious and not outrageously priced.
I recommend taking the kids to the bathroom on the way in and again next time you see a restroom. There aren’t many bathrooms, so the walk to one could be very long when someone has to go.
You can check the museum’s hours of operation at this link. Admission costs are as follows:
- Adults – $19.95
- Seniors (65+) – $14.95
- Students with ID and children 3-18 – $11.95
- Members and children 2 and under – free
- 50% off of regular admission rates on weekdays after 3 p.m. No other coupons or discounts apply.
Show a membership card to AAA to get $1 off each admission charge. The museum also offers group discounts and rates.
How About You?
When was the last time you visited a museum with your family? Where was it, and what did you like best? What did your kids like best about the museum?
See a presentation of my museum photos here: