Best Family Vacations In North Carolina That All Ages Love
- Christina Rado
- May 23, 2022
Planning a weekend getaway or a family vacation that appeals to both adults and kids can be quite a challenge.
Thankfully, though, North Carolina has dozens of options for entertainment and fun for the entire gang.
So, the next time youre planning a vacation, pull out this list of the best family vacations in North Carolina.
From luxury retreats to outdoor pursuits, our recommended NC destinations promise to give your family a world of fun.
Places In North Carolina To Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up
Kids grow up fast, and the memories they hold dear are often from family trips. Heres a list of things to do theyll never forget.
Whats your most memorable childhood vacation? Was it when your toes first touched the ocean? Eating a sundae the size of your head? Going on your first upside-down roller coaster?
The things that bind these experiences are the thrills and joys that come with doing something new. In that spirit, here are 21 awe-inspiring North Carolina destinations and experiences where you can create lasting memories with your kids, whether theyre elementary-school age or home for summer or holiday break from college.
Boardwalk And Amusement Rides
The kids probably wont care that the Carolina Beach Boardwalk made Budget Travels list of Americas Most Awesome Boardwalks. But they will be excited by the seaside amusement rides, classic arcade games and fireworks that take place weekly during the summer. Enjoy a hot, fresh, hand-made donut at Britt’s Donut Shop, a staple of the boardwalk since 1939. Stop in at the Fudgeboat where a variety of fudge flavors are displayed on a vintage wooden boat hull. Shop a variety of gift shops, swing on the bench swings and let the children play at the lifeguard-protected beach during the summer months.
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Walk Around The Freedom Park
The 93 acres Freedom Park is situated around a 7-acre lake, about 3 miles from the heart of Charlottes downtown area.
The park features 4 baseball fields, batting cages, 12 tennis courts, 4 soccer fields.
Here youll find countless walking trails and 5 outdoor picnic spots with grills.
If youre tired from walking around, the park also has shade and sun garden beds with wide grass paths where you can rest and relax.
This 93-acre park located in Charlotte, North Carolina showcases free films and musical performances in the park pavilion during the summer season. Meanwhile, every September, the Freedom park hosts a five-day-long festival.
Country Inn & Suites By Radisson Asheville Downtown Tunnel Road Nc
During our Asheville trip, we stayed at the Country Inn & Suites using points. We liked the free breakfast, warm cookies at the front desk and the indoor pool. Plus, it was a central location that made it easy to get around.
Booking this room requires 38,000 Radisson Rewards points compared with cash prices starting at $93.60. TPG values Radisson points at 0.4 cents per point, but this point redemption is only 0.25 cents per point. With cash prices so low, I would book using the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or pay with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then erase the room charges once they post to your statement .
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Hike To A Mountaintop View In Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In the morning, the mist rises from the streams and rivers that wind through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Despite the parks name, its not the mountain peaks that draw crowds to the Smokies, its the waterfalls and rocky creeks that families hike to so they can cool off from the summer heat.
Besides the popular Oconaluftee entrance to great Smoky Mountains National Park at Newfound Gap Road, there are more than four other points in North Carolina where families can drive into the national park. All of these areas are quieter than Oconaluftee.
In Bryson City, kids can float past waterfalls at Deep Creek. On the Road to Nowhere families can enjoy classic views of the mountains and find many hiking trails. In Cataloochee, visitors who are brave enough to traverse the dirt road will be rewarded by views of elk happily grazing in the meadow.
Not sure what to do in North Carolina when visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park with your family? Weve got you covered with a full, comprehensive guide of North Carolinas Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Take Part In North Carolinas Folk Arts
There is a thriving arts community in North Carolina and visitors have many chances to admire art of all shapes and sizes, along with the opportunities to make art.
The Hickory Museum of Art is home to a collection of American art including paintings, photographs, drawings, and sculptures. It also hosts summer camps for little artists.
Nearby, on the Blue Ridge Parkway local artisans show off their work at the Folk Art Center located near Asheville. During the summer season there are often artisans available in the entrance to demonstrate their craft for visitors.
The North Carolina Art Museum in Raleigh is a favorite for families because it offers 3 miles of outdoor trails, welcoming staff, and tote bags with hands-on activities.
The best thing about this museum is that it is free so families with young children can stop in for just a short time for some family fun.
While youre visiting Raleigh, dont miss the a Trekaroo favorite for families with young children.
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Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Jordan Lake in Apex is, simply put: a really beautiful lake. The entire area offers spectacular views that you can enjoy from the land out on the water.
Jordan Lake is home to seven swimming beaches, hiking trails, camping spots, and boating and fishing are enjoyed here too. Spotting bald eagles and osprey is a popular pastime.
The park rangers work with the Morehead Planetarium to offer Skywatching events, in which youll spend some time learning about the night sky.
Whitewater Rafting On The Nantahala River
For the family that likes a bit of an adrenaline rush, theres nothing like whitewater rafting, and the teamwork aspect bonds parents and children in a special way. Nantahala Outdoor Center and other local outfitters offer half-day excursions, or full-day trips with lunch. After conquering the river, grab street tacos and other mouth-watering fares on Big Wesser’s patio.
Best when kids are:
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Tour The Biltmore Estate
You could spend an entire weekend just visiting the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate. The main building was completed in 1895 and contains more than four acres of floor space. There are 35 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Words do not do justice to how ornate and beautiful the home is.
As you move about the estate, youll discover lush gardens, a village of shops, a winery and an equestrian center. We saw people cycling, riding horseback and hiking throughout the estate. Our children loved the playground, model train set and petting zoo at the village.
Ticket prices vary based on the time of year you visit. This summer, prices ranged from $60 to $85 per person. You can save $10 on each adult admission when you buy tickets online at least seven days in advance. Children 16 and under are free all summer. We visited during Fathers Day weekend, so my ticket was only $25.
Interactive Exhibits At Asheville Museum Of Science
Although this museum is relatively small, it packs a big punch. The kids loved the indoor jungle gym representing the Southern Appalachian Forest. We were mesmerized by the TerraBox, which has lighting that changes based on the sand elevations you create. And the Hurricane Simulator with winds up to 60 miles per hour was intense.
Admission is $7 to $8 for children and adults. Members of the ASTC Passport Program receive free admission for two adults and two children.
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Childrens Theatre Of Charlotte
You can set your childs imagination free when you enroll them in one of the many creative classes offered by the Childrens Theatre of Charlotte. There are classes for all ages starting with the Side-by-Side class for two and three-year olds, which helps these very young children to learn social skills and build their confidence. As children get older they will graduate to My Spotlight and Acting Adventure classes, followed by Shooting Stars and Young Explorers workshops. If your child would prefer to watch some theatre before joining in you can bring them to see one of the delightful shows at the McColl Family Theatre or the Wells Fargo Playhouse.
Childrens Theatre Charlotte, 300 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 704-973-2828
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Camping At Mount Mitchell State Park
Not just any mountain, Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in the East, and that fact will make your kids feel like young kings and queens of the world. Nine tent-only campsites are available here, each equipped with a grill and picnic table. Dont forget supplies for the unofficial dessert of childhood: smores.
Best when kids are:
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Learn About The Natural Side Of North Carolina At A National Park Visitors Center The North Carolina Zoo Or A Science Museum
North Carolina is made up of three principal geographic segments: the eastern coastal plain, the middle Piedmont region, and the Appalachian Mountains.
All offer great opportunities for families to get up close and personal with lots of different types of animals, from viewing elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to observing sea turtles on the beach.
Looking for things to do in North Carolina with young children? Visit the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, home to many diverse types of animals on display, a kids play areas, and walking trails.
Have a child whos passionate about horses? Then dont miss the chance to see the wild mustangs living in their natural habitat in North Carolinas Outer Banks.
Is there a budding scientist in the family? North Carolina is home to a several science museums that educate and entertain.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill is over 70 years old and was the first planetarium built in the South. In the early years of the space program, NASA astronauts trained at Morehead. Now, it offers a variety of shows for families.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh is also a beloved destination thanks to its nine different exhibit halls, which include dinosaurs, snakes, butterflies, prehistoric North Carolina, and much more. This natural sciences museum is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina, and its free to visit.
Neuse River Greenway Trail
This is a 27-mile paved trail stretching from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border in southeast Raleigh, but you can break it up into short sections and along the way are winding boardwalk areas, views of historical sites, and suspension bridges.
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Old Salem Museums And Gardens
Old Salem is a historic district found in Winston-Salem, NC. Originally founded by the Moravian community in 1753, this small district features over 90 buildings and 100 acres of gardens.
You can walk down Main Street and enjoy the beauty for free, but if you buy an all-in-one ticket, you can explore the entire district. Twenty-five of the buildings are interpreted with a staff, so you can learn in-depth facts about these historical buildings.
Bechtler Museum Of Modern Art
A family visit to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art could prove to be the first vital step you take to awaken your childs inherent artistic creativity. The museum offers both audio tours and docent-guided tours which offer a great insight into the amazing collection of art on display. If you are visiting with younger children you should try and schedule your visit for one of the museums regular Family Days when special guided tours are arranged especially for younger visitors and children are encouraged to have fun creating their own works of art to take home with them. The museum has a brilliant shop where you can buy a variety of childrens art books and equipment.
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Levine Center for the Arts, 550 S Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28202, Phone: 980-236-1521
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The Haunted History Tour Charlotte Nc
The Haunted history tour is probably one of the most spooky things to do in Charlotte, NC.
While on this ninety-minute walking tour you will visit the fourth ward and its most infamous landmarks.
Discover a whole new side to Charlotte as your host shares with you the grizzly history of the city.
Murders, ghosts, and gowls await you as you eventually make your way into to the graveyard.
More than just ghost stories, the tour is designed to both educate and entertain. For the best effect, most tours start at dusk 8 pm.
Fishing At Lake Mattamuskeet
Fishing for many families is a rite of passage. Baiting your first hook and reeling in your first catch makes you walk a little taller with the knowledge that you can, in fact, fend for yourself . This lake doubles as a national wildlife refuge, and its the largest natural lake in North Carolina. Parents can also relax since fast boats and jet skis arent permitted, guaranteeing a peaceful day on the water.
Best when kids are:
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Wild Horses At Shackleford Banks
Take the exuberant reaction your kids have to visiting a zoo and multiply it several times over thats what you get when your little ones see animals in the wild. The adventure begins with the ferry ride to the Crystal Coast island of Shackleford Banks, the southernmost barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore. More than 100 wild horses roam free here, just as they have for the past 500+ years. Get an in-depth experience by taking a guided tour from Shackleford Wild Horse and Shelling Safari.
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See The Animals At The Wnc Nature Center
This attraction is on a hillside, so bring your walking shoes. As you take the paths to see the animals, you will walk about 1.5 miles. The recently opened red panda exhibit was a hit with our kids. We also saw otters, black bears, wolves and turtles.
Admission is $7 for kids ages 3 to 15 and $11 for adults. Seniors are $10 and kids ages 2 and under are free.
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Nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum
Visits to museums have long been ways for kids to learn history outside of the classroom and textbooks. Plus, at this museum, there are some really cool planes spread throughout the grounds for them to ooh and ahh over. Its also the only museum in America to showcase the history from World War I to the present of the 82nd Airborne Division, and its all free.
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The popularity of trains among kids has lasted through generations of toy trends. In Blowing Rock, parents can bring the fantasy to life aboard the 3-mile Tweetsie Railroad ride. To make the experience even more special, plan your visit during one of the park’s special events such as Day Out With Thomas or Tweetsie Christmas.
Best when kids are:
Sea Life Concord Aquarium
A bit out of the way of downtown, the aquarium is located in a huge mall and is another great place to visit.
This just might just be your ticket to get the kids to agree to a couple of hours shopping in Charlotte.
I loved the kid-friendly touch tank featuring sea stars.
Also worth seeing is the octopus . The highlight is definitely a cool walk through the tunnel with sharks, Rays, and a school of fish swimming over and all around you.
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Visit The Nc Film Sites
Are you a fan of The Hunger Games? How about Dirty Dancing? If you are, then you probably already know that these are just a couple of the movies that have been filmed across North Carolina.
Have “The Time of Your Life” reliving the famous “lift” scene from Dirty Dancing by visiting Lake Lure. And if you take our advice and visit Chimney Rock State Park — you’ll already be right there!
Hunger Games fans will love exploring from Charlotte to Asheville to DuPont State Recreational Forest in Henderson, so you can experience nature in a way that the characters did — minus the stress of survival!
Or consider taking the Nicholas Sparks tour of the North Carolina coast. You definitely can’t go wrong with that!