Biosphere 2 is “the world’s largest Earth and Environmental Science laboratory.” It has been owned and operated by the University of Arizona since 2011.
As you walk onto the expansive 40-acre campus, you’ll probably feel like you are entering the Dharma Initiative on the wildly popular television show LOST. The giant glass building with cylindrical lines is both beautiful and mysterious against the mountainous backdrop. Inside the facility, you almost expect to suit up in a futuristic one-piece uniform to visit dinosaurs or travel to another time/space dimension.
Don’t let appearances full you, however. Biosphere 2 is a scientific laboratory with a mission to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching, and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.
Constructed between 1987 and 1991, the original 150 million dollar project was funded by a private donor.
The 3.14 acre facility is an astonishing 7,200,000 cubic feet of sealed glass.
Biosphere 2 contains the following biomes:
- ocean with a coral reef
- mangrove wetlands
- savannah grassland
- fog desert
Also in the same facility is an agricultural system, a human habitat, and a below-ground infrastructure.
Biosphere 2 had two “closure experiments” – dubbed Mission 1 and Mission 2 – during which the structure was sealed with researchers living inside. The first, with a crew of eight people, ran for two years from 1991 to 1993. Following a six-month transition period during which researchers entered the facility through airlock doors and conducted research and system engineering improvements, a second closure with a crew of seven people was conducted March 1994 – September 1994. The researchers – now referred to as “Biospherians” – lived and worked inside the facility… conducting experiments, harvesting their own food, and maintaining their living space.
After being owned by Columbia University from 1995-2003, the facility was in limbo and was almost replaced by a luxury housing development. The University of Arizona formally took over in 2011 and now uses the space for research and education.
Where is Biosphere 2 located?
Biosphere 2 is at 32540 South Biosphere Road in Oracle, AZ (northwest of Tucson).
What are the hours?
Biosphere 2 is open every day of the year (rain or shine) from 9:00am to 4:00pm – with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Tours are offered daily and there are a number of options available.
The Under the Glass Tour runs continuously throughout the day and is included with general admission.
See the schedule for information on Family Tours, History Tours ($), and/or Beach & Ocean Tours ($).
Depending on the size of your group, tours last between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. There are also a few exhibit areas that you can wander through on your own. Note, however, that the primary part of your visit is a guided tour with an interpretive specialist. You cannot explore the biomes without a guide.
Why would I visit Biosphere 2?
- To take a guided walking tour of the facility
- To learn about Mission 1 and Mission 2 when Biospherians lived inside the closed facility
- To learn about the facility’s current uses
- To attend an educational lecture
- To go on a school field trip
How much does it cost?
- Adults: $21
- Seniors: $19
- Children (ages 6-12): $14
- Children (5 and under): Free
What is the parking situation?
Plentiful, complimentary visitor parking is available.
What should I wear?
Dress for the weather as you will spend part of your tour outdoors. Some of the biome areas can be quite humid/warm so layers are advised. Good walking shoes are also recommended since the tour consists of approximately 150 stairs (up and down) and the route is just under one mile to walk round-trip.
What should I bring with me?
Water bottles and a camera. Even though food is not permitted on the premises, it would be wise to bring a few snacks or a small cooler in your car since the facility is quite a ways out of the city center.
Are bathrooms available?
Is outside food allowed at Biosphere 2? If so, are there picnic tables?
No outside food is allowed on the Biosphere 2 campus.
Does Biosphere 2 have a restaurant?
Yes. The Biosphere 2 Café offers light snacks and drinks – including “artisan sandwiches, freshly made salads, soups, and hot dogs.”
Most meals are between $7-$8 and include a drink + your choice of chips or fruit.
What restaurants are located NEAR Biosphere 2?
Biosphere 2 is pretty far off the beaten path. Expect to drive 15-30 minutes to dine. Our top restaurant picks within a 15-mile radius are:
- The Oracle Patio Cafe, 270 W. American Ave (5.2 miles away) – breakfast, lunch, smoothies, homemade pies
- It’s Greek To Me, 15920 N. Oracle Rd (7.2 miles away) – fresh fish, gyros, pita sandwiches, greek yogurt, gluten-free options
- Grain River Asian Bistro, 12985 N. Oracle Rd (11 miles away) – fine Asian cuisine, lunch special
- The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, 12005 N. Oracle Rd (12 miles away) – steak, fish, chicken ribs
BABIES & KIDS
What ages would be best suited for a visit to Biosphere 2?
All ages are welcome, but the nature of the facility really lends itself best to a young adult and adult audience. We recommend ages 10 and up.
Should I bring a stroller?
The guided tour is not accessible for strollers and wheelchairs, but you may want to bring one for your walk from the parking lot to the main building if you have a toddler. Note that backpack carriers cannot be worn, but front carriers and slings are permitted.
Are there changing tables in the restrooms?
What about my other “baby” (dog, cat, etc)?
Only assistance animals, such as guide dogs for visually impaired people, are allowed on the premises.
Can I have my child’s birthday party at Biosphere 2?
Yes. You are welcome to make the guided tour a part of your child’s birthday celebration.
Can I have my wedding or rehearsal dinner at Biosphere 2?
Yes. Events are approved on a case-by-case basis.
Is Biosphere 2 active on social media?
What else do I need to know before I go to Biosphere 2?
- Don’t forget water bottles and your camera!
- Cell phone service is limited inside the facility.
- Have a great time.