Best Museums for Children

What's New — By njensen on November 18, 2011 at 7:41 am


Speaking as a parent of three mostly grown children, I have a lot of experience in traveling with children and finding interesting museums they are going to like. The best ones go beyond displays behind glass that involve nothing more than walking around and looking. Children get bored with that really fast. They like hands-on displays, interactive things to do. They like museums that encourage them to touch, talk, and be children. With that in mind, here are some ideal places to take children in Idaho.

Most of these museums bring in traveling exhibits, hold special events that feature their particular specialty, and offer docent led programming.


Discovery Center of Idaho is a great little science museum designed for kids of any age. DCI features permanent exhibits of hands-on science fun as well as rotating exhibits. You can play with the wall of bubbles, make your own tornado, lie on a bed of nails, and look at the city through a periscope. There is so much to do here, you will need to go back again and again.

Old Idaho Penitentiary looks as spooky as it sounds. The old sandstone brick building sits on the edge of Boise, and really was the penitentiary. Some of Idaho’s most notorious criminals were held here. Docents give tours that are thrilling and informative.


Idaho Historical Museum traces Idaho’s history from the Native Americans to the 20th century. A large auditorium hosts traveling exhibits. Kids love the upstairs pioneer area, where they can sit on a variety of saddles, including a side saddle. How did women stay on their horses? The museum’s displays are mostly artifacts, but they are set up in nicely designed displays. Part of the museum includes full sized historical pioneer buildings. The Museum Comes to Life every fall brings history to 3D.


Boise Art Museum has hosted traveling exhibits ranging from Georgia O’Keefe to Picasso ceramics to art quilts. The permanent exhibits display art from native cultures up to present. A kids room features hands-on art to do with or without an adult.


MK Nature Center has an indoor museum as well as outdoor trails and lots of fish. Inside, visitors can learn about native animals in Idaho. Outside, the trails meander through river habitat, featuring glass enclosed fishery areas.


Exploring habitat at MK Nature Center

Warhawk Air Museum is for every kid who loves flying machines. All kinds of airplanes and related technology are on display, especially war planes.


Airplane from the Warhawk Air Museum

Three Island Crossing State Park has an interactive pioneer museum that walks visitors through what it was like to travel along the Oregon Trail. The state park is the site of a Snake River crossing along the Oregon Trail, a treacherous and sometimes fatal river crossing.