According to the Science Museum, the Big Back Yard has permanently closed due to space and land use needs required for building construction.
Tucked between the towering buildings on Kellogg Boulevard above and the Mississippi riverfront development below is one of the city’s best splash pads and sandboxes. This endorsement comes courtesy of my four children, who never fail to have a blast when we make our annual summer trip to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Big Back Yard. Now, the museum doesn’t tout itself as featuring a splash pad and sandbox on property, so you’ll have to keep in mind that the Big Back Yard might not be your destination if you don’t want the kids coming out sandy and soaked.
The first culprit is the nine-hole mini golf course. Designed to teach about the flow of water and how it shapes the land, it consists of tempting waterways, a hydraulic jump, and a braided stream. My son takes his golf pretty seriously, but his younger sisters quickly abandon their clubs and start splashing away. (Note: this is not necessarily allowed and probably not courteous if there are other golfers on the course. We try to visit when we’ll have the place to ourselves.)
If the kids aren’t damp enough after the putting, the Ground Water Plaza might guarantee there isn’t a dry patch left on them. The kids can pump buckets full of water from the Museum’s deep artisan well and pour it over a variety of surfaces to learn how groundwater can move through rock. Plenty of the water did end up on the rock, but much of it was aimed at each other.
An adjacent native prairie maze is helpful for drying off after the waterworks. My kids usually play tag through the native grasses and gardens and perhaps learn a thing or two about prairies and their role in cleaning the environment. A second (somewhat) drier activity available is panning for gemstones and fossils in a giant sluice.
So pick a nice, hot summer day to enjoy all the Science Museum’s Big Back Yard has to offer. If I can add one tip: let the kids wear swimsuits under their clothes! Exploring the gardens and ground water plaza is included in museum admission; a charge of $3.50 is levied for kids to play a round of golf, $4.00 for adults. The Back Yard is open Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day and September weekends, weather permitting.
Science Museum of Minnesota’s Big Back Yard
120 W. Kellogg Boulevard
St. Paul, MN 55102
Adults: $13 ($20 w/ Omnitheater ticket)
Child (4 – 12): $10 ($17 w/ Omnitheater ticket)
Minnesota Children’s Museum members receive free admission each Tuesday 9:30 a.m. to noon as part of the Preschool Playdates program!
Big Back Yard mini golf: $4/member, $5/non-member, ages 3 & under golf free
$5.00 per person after 5 p.m. Thursday – Saturday without museum admission!