Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Park Food Truck Hub in Redding, California
Woman at Castle Crags State Park
Bikers on the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California
Woman at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Park Food Truck Hub in Redding, California

9 Reasons your kids will love Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Museum

By Choose Redding | 02/05/2020

If you’re looking for a place for a family vacation, Redding, California, is a great choice. It’s in one of the most beautiful parts of the state, surrounded by mountains, lakes, and forests. The Sacramento River runs through town, and there is a wide variety of options for hiking, biking, paddling, boating, and sight-seeing for family members of all ages. You can even find outdoor adventure just steps away from downtown Redding at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

This sprawling indoor and outdoor park is home to a natural history and science museum, botanical gardens, live animal exhibits, butterfly gardens, and walking trails. Young kids will find playgrounds and interactive exhibits, and older kids will love the miles of trails to explore.

Families enter the park via the parking area by the world-famous Sundial Bridge. It’s worth letting the kids stretch their legs on this bridge first; it’s pedestrian-only and visually appealing with a tinted glass floor and sundial feature. Afterward, head to the Turtle Bay park entrance and explore the indoor exhibits. Here are nine things to do at this impressive Redding park that will ensure your kids will have the time of their lives.

Not only is the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Museum fun, but it’s filled with educational opportunities, from guided walks to onsite demonstrations. Take advantage of these experiences by looking over the events calendar before you arrive. Remember, Turtle Bay’s lectures and events are not just for kids—lectures on hawks and other birds of prey and demonstrations on local art and culture of the region’s indigenous people are just examples of presentations that are fascinating for adults as well.

Get to know the freshwater species of the Shasta Cascade region—while still staying dry—at the Visible River Aquarium. Explore on your own or take advantage of the interpretive programs that teach visitors about water ecosystems. See fish and beaver feedings, learn more about turtles, and get to know what’s going on below the surface of the Sacramento River. There’s a saltwater tank, too, for seeing marine life from the Pacific.

Museums are great, but sometimes the kids just want to play. Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp is modeled on the forest camps that were common in the region more than a hundred years ago. This area of the park offers educational opportunities at the Mill House, a butterfly house, a water feature, animal shows, and playgrounds!

Both Babe’s Corral Playground, for younger kids, and the Forest Adventure Playground, geared toward older children and adults, are a big draw with age-appropriate activities that include swinging nests, super slides, climbing walls, and ziplines. They are a perfect spot for kids to enjoy some unstructured playtime. Also, be sure to take advantage of the wildlife woods hiking trails in this part of the park, and don’t miss the interpretive forest and turtle pond.

Before exploring Redding’s storied mining history with a short trip to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area—where families can access more hiking trails and historic sites—give the kids an introduction to the subject at Turtle Bay’s history gallery. The Shasta Cascade has a long history of mining, fur trapping, and Native American culture, and kids can get a hands-on look here.

Found in Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, this year-round, walk-through aviary allows kids to feed the colorful Australian lorikeets as they taste nectar from a cup. Careful…they’ll land on your head in their enthusiasm. While having birds eat right from your hand may be fun for some, it may feel a little overwhelming for others. You can watch from the screened doorways of the Playhouse first, or take in a show at the amphitheater, which still features live birds, just not as close up.

Explore a cave, learn about the local watershed, and create your own dams and eddies with hands-on exhibits that teach about the specific topography of the area. Kids love this section, which pairs well with a later trip outdoors to explore the “real” thing. Walk through the cave in the museum before a trip to Lake Shasta Caverns, and study the watershed before a fun day trip to Lake Shasta.

What kid doesn’t love reptiles? The Mill Building in the Paul Bunyon Forest Camp is the spot to find a wide variety of creatures, including a variety of snakes and lizards. There is also a Rock’n Reptile program where kids can see reptiles up close and learn more about them. Additional interpretive exhibits abound in this building, especially for the younger set.

There’s almost always a new and interesting temporary exhibit on display at Turtle Bay, so you can return again and again and get a new experience each time. Past exhibits have included art exhibits, a holiday village, a look at the human genome, an interactive trip to the Mayan Empire, and fashion displays.

Photos by Dan Shepler

The animal programs at Turtle Bay are grounded in conservation and education—their inhabitants are non-releasable and rescued. You can see local species here in addition to many North American animals seldom seen in the wild by most people. During the winter months, be sure to catch the Survival Indoor Animal Show, and learn how wild critters survive harsh winters, protect their young, and find food. You can catch the same show in the summer, but it’s outdoors, under a shaded pavilion.
There are a variety of other live animal shows as well. Join a porcupine or skunk in a walk around the park, learn about turtles and other aquatic animals, or find out if/how the animals at the park are related to your pets at home!

Written by Amy Whitley in partnership with Redding CVB.

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