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Huntsville, Ala.

Courtesy Huntsville CVB

Long known as a preteen’s dream destination, Huntsville, Alabama, is more than just space camp. The destination is famous for the immersive astronaut experiences at its U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville specializes in making education exciting through a variety of hands-on encounters.

Space is still a big part of Huntsville’s attraction for youth and student groups, but a number of other sites help give a more wellrounded visit. Interpretive historic sites, interactive science exhibits and a wealth of outdoor activities give youth group planners plenty of options for a diverse trip.

Learning in bloom
Young visitors can learn about the horticulture of the South and beyond at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Broken up into numerous themed areas, the gardens present native ferns and flowers, as well as more exotic varieties such as Japanese bonsai. Groups can learn about fresh produce in the vegetable and herb gardens or hike a number of nature trails on the property.

The garden staff offers special classes, programs and tours for groups. Horticulturists will guide visitors on a plant identification walk around the property or help them build terrariums with moss, ferns and other small plants to take home.

Hands-on science

In the middle of Huntsville’s research park, Sci-Quest gives groups a chance to participate in the scientific exploration going on in the surrounding area. The museum uses fully interactive exhibits to introduce young minds to physics, earth science, human biology and chemistry.

The crowning jewel of Sci-Quest is its immersive three-dimensional theater, which houses programming such as “Vertical Vortex,” an experience that gives participants a close look at extreme weather systems. The museum also offers more than 150 interactive programs, designed for a range of ages, that give visitors hands-on introductions to concepts such as robotics, game production, cosmetic chemistry and veterinary science.

Mountaintop history
Situated atop Monte Sano Mountain on the outskirts of Huntsville, Burritt on the Mountain is a historic home and farm complex that gives visitors a look at Alabama life in the 19th century.

Costumed interpreters work in six log cabins and outbuildings in the historical park as well as in a barnyard that uses period animals and agricultural techniques. Groups can also tour the Burritt Mansion, a 1936 home at the site that includes exhibition galleries with prehistoric Indian artifacts and 19th-century furnishings.

The staff at Burritt on the Mountain offers a variety of educational programs for children and young adults. Opportunities include plein air painting classes, historic dance lessons and mansion scavenger hunts.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.