Physical Address:
625 Esplanade
(near  Bidwell Mansion)
Chico CA

Mailing Address:
College of Natural Sci.
CSU, Chico
Chico, CA 95929-0545


Ongoing Exhibits

The building is LEED Gold Certified! Check out the LEED features of the building and design.

Valley Oak Cross Section

This cross section of a 115-year-old valley oak (Quercus lobata) that grew in front of the Bidwell Mansion has been a featured exhibit since Fall 2012. The tree fell in a rain and windstorm in January 2008.

valley oak cross section


Hooker Oak Legacy: Gateway donation box

hooker oak tree

Photo of Hooker Oak

The donation box created from Hooker Oak wood has been at Gateway since February 2012.  At one time, Chico’s Hooker Oak tree was considered to be the largest valley oak in the world, standing more than 100 feet tall. The circumference of the outside branches was nearly 500 feet. 

California is a global hotspot for oak diversity, with more than 25 native oak species, natural hybrids, and oak varieties. Known for their long lives, oaks are dominant influences on the larger ecology, creating drought-tolerant, shady habitat for many other plants and animals.

In 1887, Annie K. Bidwell named the tree in honor of British botanist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. A friend of the city founders John and Annie Bidwell, Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Hooker Oak fell during a windstorm May 1, 1977. Once the tree fell, it was determined that Hooker Oak was actually two trees that had grown together, forming the appearance of a single tree.  The site of the tree is registered as California Historical Landmark #313.

The Hooker Oak is one of Chico’s great legacies, conserved and protected by the city and private citizens like the Hall family. The family milled and helped store the Hooker Oak wood, stamped with the Hooker Oak brand, from 1980 until 2005 when they returned much of the wood to the city.

In 2011, the Hall family passed along some of the Hooker Oak wood to Gateway Science Museum, and Jim Ellisor used it to create the donation box. The box was designed to maintain the rustic appearance of the legendary wood, and all of the saw marks from the original tree cutting and board preparation are still present.

Ongoing Exhibits


sabertooth cat

river voices

Outdoor Ecoregions

Ice Age Skeletons

 River Voices

Outdoor Ecoregions

Five distinct eco-regions surround the museum.

Paleo Flora Area: The terms “paleo flora” refer to the plant species that evolved in the earlier phases of plant history. The large, compound leaves and rotund trunks of cycad plants are located in this area, as well as two beautiful gingko trees that border the museum’s parking lot. Also included in the paleo flora area are palms, ferns, aloes, cannas, and restios.

Riparian Zone: Located behind the amphitheater is a collection of trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and grasses similar to those found along the rivers of Northern California. Many of the plants found in this area were once used by Native Americans in the region. For example, the red bud trees were used to make baskets and the orange pigment from the white alder trees were used to paint their bodies and faces for the Native Americans’ salmon ceremonies.

Buffer Zone: The plantings found in the buffer zone illustrate the passing of scientific knowledge throughout history. The plant species represented in this zone were once introduced by the settlers of the region—from the Native Americans to the Bidwells—and exist to this day.

Delta Region: Resisting the sweet, edible berries found in the Delta Region may be difficult for people and pollinators alike. The same sycamore trees that were once used by Native Americans to make a medicinal tea thought to be good for asthma exist in this area that depicts the Bay Area of Northern California.

Northern Lower Mountain Region: The lower elevation forests of Northern California and the headwaters of the Sacramento River are depicted in this ecoregion. A mixture of trees such as Douglas fir, Sequoia, ponderosa pine, and incense cedars populate this region along with unique ancient shrubs, fragrant foliage, and distinct grasses.

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Ice Age Skeletons

Short-faced Bear Short-faced bear: The giant short-faced bear, Arctodus simus, was one of the largest land carnivores in North America during the last two million years, according to the National Speleological Society.

The common name for the bear originated from its lack of a well-defined forehead, as well as a short, broad muzzle.

Named by American paleontologist Edward Cope in the 1890s, the giant short-faced bear was nearly five-feet tall when walking and more than 11-feet tall when standing on its hind legs. The bear’s autumn weight has been estimated to be about 1,700 pounds, which includes its collection of fat for the winter. (See How Big Was the Giant Short-faced Bear for another story).

Don't let its size fool you. The giant short-faced bear is known to have run about 40 mph despite its enormous size!

Additional to Cope’s initial findings were the remains of eight female short-faced bears, which have been found in Potter Creek Cave, located in Shasta County, Calif.

Saboor Tooth Cat Saber-tooth cat: The saber-tooth cat, Smildon fatalis, entered North America more than 1 million years ago and was especially common in California. Weighing in at 840 pounds with up to 8-inch canines, this animal was certainly no domestic cat!

Using its enormous canines, the saber-tooth cat preyed on and consumed larger animals for food. Sloths, deer, bison, small mammoths and mastodons, peccaries, horses, and camels were all thought to have fallen prey to the saber-tooth cat.

Both the saber-tooth cat and the short-faced bear lived in a time period called the Pleistocene, which is also known as the ice age because vast areas of land were covered in massive ice sheets. It was during this time that megafauna (massive animals) roamed the Americas.

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River Voices

An outdoor photography exhibit on The Confluence of Culture on the Sacramento River Watershed

Photographer Geoff Fricker documents one of the most important rivers in California, the Sacramento River, and its diverse role in the region. Seven 6-foot by 9-foot photographic panels leading toward the museum's front door record the diverse layers of culture in the landscapes that intersect along the Sacramento River. Here, 500,000 acres of historic riparian habitats once existed, but today, only 25,000 acres of the original habitats remain.Additional panels provide quotations about the relationship between humans and the land. Other images reveal years of scouring, deposition, and tree growth along the meandering river system, as well as areas of the floodplains adapted to farmland throughout the history of humans in Northern California.

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