Have you been thinking about planning a visit to the Discovery Park of America? Great! You and the kids will love it, and we’ve got all the info you need to plan your trip.
Union City, Tennessee, may not exactly be anywhere near the top of your bucket list, but it might at least deserve an honorable mention simply for a visit to the Discovery Park of America. In the far northwest corner of Tennessee, near the Kentucky border, the modern exhibit building of the Discovery Park seemingly pops up out of the delta to provide a full day of hands-on entertainment and educational activities.
We recently went to the Discovery Park of America with my entire family while visiting for the weekend. Even though we’ve been before, we easily spent more than six hours checking out the exhibits. By the end of the day, the kids were completely exhausted. Win!
Location and Getting There
Located roughly two to three hours from several major cities- Nashville, Memphis, and St Louis- The Discovery Park of America is a great stopover on a road trip or a destination all its own. A fun trip from Nashville could include driving through Land Between the Lakes and on to the Discovery Park of America, followed by a day at the Tennessee Safari Park.
The Discovery Park of America is easy to get to, albeit remote. This could definitely be done as a day trip from Nashville or Memphis, but it would probably be more enjoyable as a full weekend.
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About the Discovery Park of America
The Discovery Park was a dream of Kirklands owner (yep, the home store) and his wife, Robert and Jenny Kirkland. He was passionate about adding educational value to his humble hometown. They donated around $80 million to fund and sustain the project, which is now a highlight for local families to visit.
The 100,000 square foot main building sits at the center of 50 acres, surrounded by multiple outdoor exhibits. The Discovery Park features a theater simulation of the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 that helped to shape and change the local landscape, a starship theater with a video planetary tour, an aquarium with local fish and reptile species, a 30 foot slide, and various fossils and artifacts.
Looking for other fun places to take kids in Tennessee? Check out our favorite things to do in Chattanooga with kids.
Indoor Exhibits at Discovery Park of America
The main building has 10 main galleries, each with a unique theme. Every area is educational, yet extremely interactive. The main areas are:
Children’s Exploration: toddlers can dress up and play with unique interactive toys in this area. There is also a water table with lots of different areas to build dams, toss balls into a water vortex, and create smoke clouds. Clearly, this is the area where we spent the most time with several toddlers in our group.
Energy– This area teaches kids all about various types of energy sources. The centerpiece is a 20 foot model of a generator that visitors can “fuel” with their own muscles by turning wheels located around it. While this area is geared toward older kids, younger kids will enjoy playing and watching the lights as they power the generator.
Enlightenment: This area contains various artifacts, both local and foreign, much like a true museum exhibit.
Military: This area highlights various pieces of military equipment (real and replicas) from the Civil War up to today. A huge army plane from WWII is suspended above tanks, vehicles, and a chopper- all of which kids can sit and climb on! There are also areas featuring uniforms and weapons.
Native Americans: All the little historians and archaeologists will love this area. Rows and rows of arrowheads line the wall, along with period objects. A wooly mammoth greets visitors to the exhibit, and various animal pelts are around for kids to touch and feel.
Natural History: This area highlights the various eras throughout Earth’s history, including geological changes. There are several dinosaurs for kids to see, along with other fossils.
Regional History: This gallery highlights the natural history of the local area, with a 20,000 gallon aquarium featuring local fish and other wildlife. There area also has various artifacts explaining how life was for residents in the area before modern times.
Science/space/technology: This area features the planets, moon phases, and all things space related. There is a life size replica of the original Gutenberg printing press, along with other inventions that have shaped our history.
Transportation: This area highlights the American automobile, from the Model-T to luxury cars from decades past. There are motorcycles and race cars as well.
Special (changing) exhibit
Outdoor Exhibits at Discovery Park of America
The main building is surrounded by acres and acres of outdoor exhibits, mostly focusing on the history of the local area. There are several log cabins, a grist mill, and farm buildings from the 1800s, complete with artifacts to portray life during that time. Often, they have area craftsmen set up showing how various tools were used to make things like furniture in the custom of the time.
Nearby, a large building showcases restored farm equipment from an early plow to tractors and other types of machinery.
A huge playground was one of the favorite areas for our crew. It features multiple slides, life-sized foam building blocks, and a kid-sized zip line. There are several shade coverings, which help to keep the beating sun at bay.
A train station is located on the opposite side, along with a restored locomotive and several train cars circa the 1800s. Another area near this contains replicas of the Liberty Bell and Declaration of Independence.
Looking for more Tennessee vacation ideas? Check out these waterfalls near Nashville.
Information for Visiting the Discovery Park of America
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am-5pm (closed Monday and major holidays)
Starting in 2020 hours will be changing as follows:
- Jan/Feb and Aug-Dec: 10am-4pm (closed Tues and Wed)
- March- July: open seven days a week from 10am-6pm (closed New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
- kids 0-3: free
- kids 4-12: $11.95
- adults: $14.95
- your second consecutive day is FREE!
- special attractions such as the earthquake simulator are $4.95 each
Where to Stay
While you definitely have the option to make this a day trip from many locations, should you need to stay overnight there aren’t currently a ton of great options.
There is a new Sleep Inn located next door to the museum. There will also be a Holiday Inn and Express opening sometime in the winter of 2019/2020.
Overall Thoughts on the Discovery Park of America
I can honestly say that our trip to the Discovery Park of America exceeded my expectations. We’ve been to multiple children’s museums over the years, and it ranks as one of the best. There is seriously something for everyone, from adults to young toddlers. We’ve been twice now, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
The pricing is also very reasonable, especially for the size and caliber of the facility. It makes for a long day trying to do everything, but everyone will sleep great after a day here.
Tips for Your Visit to the Discovery Park of America
- Go early: It definitely gets crowded throughout the day.
- Take a stroller for younger kids, as there is quite a bit of walking involved. I’d recommend a small umbrella stroller that is easier to navigate the crowds. They do have a limited number of strollers you can use for free, but it is first come basis.
- There is a cafe on site. Unlike other museums, the food is actually well priced. It isn’t anything gourmet, but we were all pleasantly surprised, especially with the $6.99 hamburger!
- Outside food isn’t allowed, but you can get wristbands to exit and return same day if you want to attempt a picnic lunch. There aren’t really any facilities nearby, so this may be somewhat troublesome. For food allergies, you can call ahead to discuss options.
- Plan strategically. This area can get extremely hot during the months of April to October, depending on the crazy Tennessee weather. There isn’t much shade, so I’d plan to do the outdoor areas early or late in the day, saving the inside for midday.
For more information on planning your visit to The Discovery Park of America, be sure to visit their website for more details.
Have you been to the Discovery Park of America?