Hideaway Woods's entrance is next to where the water spout area used to be (that space is now the sandbox with diggers). There is a giant tunnel that goes underneath the train tracks, and although the train wasn't running today, I know it will make the train ride and walking underneath more fun than ever! A fence surrounds the entire play area, which makes it secure and safe.
Here's the big map at the entrance (sorry for the quality, it was raining so the map was covered by water). The map on their website has not been updated as of today.
The disclaimer on the sign notes "Dirt, bumps, and scratches are part of natural play and may happen here. Be aware of your children as they play." :)
As you leave the tunnel, you are greeted by cross sections of giant trees, hundreds and hundreds of years old, perfect to climb on.
To your right is Sweetgum Thicket, designed by local artist Patrick Doughterty, which lends itself immediately to imaginative play and hide and seek. It's created with bended branches and twigs, uniquely built just for MLS's space.
If you continue down that path, you'll reach the bathrooms which also have changing areas (as they wisely anticipated children getting wet - more on that soon!)
Adjacent to the bathrooms at the far back of the exhibit is an area still under construction that is fenced off. The rear of it meets with the train station, but it will only be a passageway for MLS staff. Eventually there will be a permanent gate only they can use. This was a smart idea because it prevents kids from running off to another area without their parents knowing (this is also how Into The Mist works).
As you continue around the path to the left, you'll see the area specifically built for children ages 6 and under, called "Young Explorers". There are logs to crawl in, a table with small wood pieces that can serve as a tea set, and a small "groundhouse" like the treehouses for the big kids except anchored to the earth. It's a lovely little area and surrounded by a fence so it's safety roped off from the busier spaces around it.
Next is the nature trail, complete with wooden and stone pathways, and a lot of hammocks. They call this the "Sensory Path" and "Sensory Ramble", behind "Lookout Landing". It's nice to be able to explore, as many wooded parts of MLS are understandably off limits. They do have signs warning that visitors should be aware of the possibility of snakes and bugs. This area is definitely accessible to people of all ages,
although not wheelchairs.
Inside the circular path you'll find a wonderful addition of water play with an accessible recirculating freshwater stream! It's a welcome compliment to Into the Mist because this is an even more refreshing way to beat the heat in the summer. Even in the rain and fall weather, there were kids in bathing suits and my own son filled his boots with creek water and joyfully got soaking wet immediately. Around 2 dozen children played in it at a time and all ages were having a blast although younger tots did need to hold hands. The creek is shallow in most spots and slightly deeper in others, never getting above 8 inches by my estimation. Complete with a miniature waterfall at top and rocks to hop on,
it truly was magnetic to everyone!
And finally, the pièce de résistance - the giant, interconnected treehouses reaching high up into the trees, just like in every child's dream (and probably a lot of us when we were that age)! 8 treehouses of varying designs are connected by rope bridges, wooden bridges, ladders, nets, and a spiral staircase. The treehouses are definitely big enough for adults but on busy days will surely be packed. I saw children from around 3 up climbing and it is easy enough for younger children to traverse, while still being fun for older kids. About halfway up there is a section with a bridge that is the only way to reach the highest houses, so people must take turns between those going up and those going down. It certainly created a bottleneck, but like everything at MLS was built with intention. I assume that they did this to slow the flow of traffic to the taller treehouses because there could be children who are not as confident going up and down in those areas, so if the population is somewhat reduced it gives them space to overcome their fears. At the top of most of these treehouses are little rooftops with peepholes to look down on Hideaway Woods. Although some of us had a little trouble traversing the rope bridges in larger rainboots (and flipflops could be problematic), it was relatively easy if you are in normal sneakers. Even in the rain, the wood was not slick and didn't feel unsafe. Bonus - there is an enclosed slide to bypass all the treehouses and get down to the creek quicker (and it is quick)!
Museum of Life and Science - Hideaway Woods Exhibit
433 W. Murray Avenue
Durham, NC 27704
Phone: (919) 220-5429
Tuesday–Saturday: 10am-5pm (fall and winter hours)
Members-only access at 9am Tues.–Sat.
FYI: It is a member only preview now and will open to all on September 29th.
What we liked: Hard to decide! I love how it's for kids of all ages, and how it's only got one entrance so you can corral your kids when it's time to go. Big changing rooms for wet kids are so welcome. Basically, it's a feast for the eyes and the senses and will be great in all seasons (but especially summer)!
What we would change: Can't think of anything at all!