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Field Trip: Playing with History at Auburn's White River Valley Museum

Nine new interactive exhibits allow kids to sniff, touch, climb and work their way through the museum

Kids playing at the White River Museum
Kids playing at the White River Museum

Bottom line

Adults will enjoy exploring history while kids engage all of their senses as they sniff, touch, play and explore their way through nine new kid-friendly exhibits at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn. 


White River Valley Museum is a small museum in Auburn (next door to popular Les Gove Park), which explores local history through displays and interactive exhibits. Permanent historical exhibits include downtown Auburn in the 1920s (complete with a 1924 caboose), a Muckleshoot Native American canoe scene and a Japanese American farmhouse. 

My 8-year-old son and I visited recently to check out a new series of interactive exhibits at the museum, many of which are integrated with the larger permanent exhibits. My son raced past the historical displays such as a walk-through log cabin in the first room in search of the hands-on fun I had promised. He soon found the first exhibit, a kid-sized cook tent, where he pretended to roast a marshmallow and cook salmon over the fake campfire. 

He also enjoyed the Native American exhibit, which includes a miniature Muckleshoot longhouse, complete with tiny figures and a glowing campfire. Kids can look for a list of objects in the longhouse, and sniff canisters to to guess the scents, such as wood smoke and pine.

Muckleshoot Indian canoe scene. Courtesy White River Museum

The biggest area of the museum, set up to look like downtown Auburn in the 1920s, offers seven more interactive areas to explore. Kids can put their hands inside mystery boxes to identify artifacts, pretend to repair model trains in the "trainman's repair tent" and write on chalkboards in a schoolhouse, as well as look at an antique alphabet book. In the Japanese-American farmhouse display, kids can pull out drawers and view (but not touch) household items and toys.

Riding "Sandy" at the White River Valley Museum. Photo credit: Tiffany Doerr Guerzon

Don't miss riding “Sandy,” a coin-operated mechanical horse from a store in old Auburn (bring a dime to ride). My son was delighted that it offered a much faster and jerkier ride than the mechanical horses available today.

The absolute highlight was the real caboose. Once in the caboose, my son didn’t want to leave. He found a conductor’s cap to wear and then proceeded to conduct the train and climb all over the car.

The museum is small, which will make it a quick trip for many families (we went through it in about an hour). A benefit is that you can keep an eye on several kids pretty easily. 


You might tell your child that only some of the exhibits are hands-on. My son became a little frustrated that he would be able to handle some items in some areas, but not in others. 

The steps to the caboose are steep with wide gaps in between, which makes it tough for little ones to navigate without help.

If you go ...

Hours/cost: White River Valley Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon–4 p.m. Cost is $5 adults, $2 seniors and children, children 2 years and younger are free. Free admission on the first Thursday and the third Sunday of every month. On first Thursdays, the museum offers free “late play dates” from 6–8 p.m. with themed crafts and activities. Check the website for more events.

Best for which ages? Preschool to elementary age

Insider tip: Bring a dime to ride the horse! Ask for a scavenger hunt sheet for kids to use while exploring. Also, older and fashion-oriented kids may enjoy the special exhibit currently on view, 100 Years of Pretty Purses.

Bonus: Next door, find popular Les Gove Park, which boasts a seasonal spray park. The nearby Mary Olson Farm, which is open on weekends starting June 25, is free and fun. See the restored farm buildings and have a picnic on the grounds. 

Address/info: 918 H St. S.E., Auburn. Call 253-288-7433 or visit wrvmuseum.org for more information. 

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