The 105,000-square-foot, Smithsonian-affiliated museum, which was voted one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas in 2008, boasts the second-largest collection of space artifacts in the United States (behind only the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.). An all-day mission pass gets you access to all the museum’s treasures: the Carey IMAX Dome Theater, Justice Planetarium, Dr. Goddard’s Lab, and the Hall of Space Museum. Start by strolling through the Hall of Space, where notable space souvenirs such as the command module from Apollo 13 and the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule chronicle mankind's courtship with the cosmos. Then explore Dr. Goddard’s Lab, a replica of the 1930s laboratory where Dr. Robert Goddard pioneered modern rocketry. Explosive reenactments of the doctor's attempts to find the right rocket fuel, figure out how to circumvent gravity, and lick his elbows are performed daily to delight children and their copilots. Click here to download a basic museum itinerary.
After stopping outside to examine the mine’s antique train, the GE Engine No. 2, guests plunge 650 feet below the surface in about 90 seconds to embark on a self-guided walking tour through the mine’s salty corridors. Various exhibits along the way feature displays of old equipment and rusty salt shakers, as well as interesting geological finds, such as the approximately 250-million-year-old bacteria awakened from spores found in a salt crystal. Experience the feeling of being trapped in a time capsule when checking out the exhibit on the Underground Vaults and Storage, a high-security storage facility that is home to important keepsakes, priceless items, and Elvis.
Nine acres of natural habitats make up the Hutchinson Zoo, a place that nearly 160 animals—most of which are native to Kansas—call home. The zoo’s many exhibits feature local reptiles, birds, and mammals, a fossil pit where kids can dig for dinosaur bones, and the Wild Habitats Building that houses animals from afar, such as cotton-top tamarins, gila monsters, and mexican red-knee tarantulas. In the barrier-free aviary, visitors watch native Kansas birds flying untethered overhead while in the wetlands below, North American beavers gnaw old furniture back into the shape of trees. To keep the area's wildlife populations strong, the zoo's Cargill WildCare Center rehabilitates approximately 500 injured or orphaned Kansas-native animals each year.