You may know North Carolina as the Tar Heel State, or the Old North State. Either way, this state offers a laundry list of things to do with children. It is awash with outdoor adventures, starting with Linville Caverns. This limestone walled dwelling was discovered on a fluke during a fishing expedition – to all our advantage. Chimney Rock State Park, features breathtaking, panoramic views of up to 75 miles. North Carolina, with its long mining history, is also home to the country’s first documented gold find. Here are 25 fun-filled things to do with kids in North Carolina.
1.Black Mountain Chocolate Factory
© Black Mountain Chocolate Factory
What kid doesn’t enjoy chocolate? Black Mountain Chocolate Factory in Winston-Salem offers kids of all ages the opportunity to watch and learn how everyone’s favorite candy is crafted. Nestled among the majestic Appalachian Mountain peaks, Black Mountain Chocolate provides locally inspired, artisan, bean to bar chocolate that produces mouth-watering treats. Since moving its business to downtown on Trade Street, Black Mountain Chocolate Factory offers a visible factory and kitchen. This setup is perfect for school field trips, family outings, or for the chocolate enthusiast, while providing a first-hand look at how the world’s most coveted dessert is made.
732 Trade Street Northwest, Winston-Salem, NC, Phone: 336-293-4698
2.Cape Fear Riverboats
© Cape Fear Riverboats
How many times has a child pretended to be Captain Hook, from J. M. Barrie’s book, Peter Pan? Or Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, the first woman to sail around the earth, single-handedly. Cape Fear Riverboats in Wilmington provides kids with the opportunity to experience a true Black River adventure on a narrated nature tour. Cape Fear Riverboats has been offering water tours of this area since 1987. Ideal for the kid who loves the outdoors and water, this venue also provides one-hour narrated tours of sites such as the NC State Port, Eagle Island, and the USS North Carolina Battleship.
6000 Sample Road, Huntersville, NC, Phone: 704-875-6521
3.Catawba Science Center
© Catawba Science Center
Originally known as the Creative Museum in 1975 when it first opened, Catawba Science Center (CSC) in Hickory, helped the city be awarded the All-American City award, presented by the National Chamber of Commerce. This 35,000-square-foot facility provides an array of activities for kids of all ages. Kids who love marine life can spend time the saltwater gallery. Once there, kids can pet live stingrays and sharks, along with other saltwater creatures. Kids that love the earth and space, will enjoy the Millholland Planetarium. This space provides daytime laser shows on a giant screen and is free with paid entrance to Catawba Science Center.
243 3rd Avenue Northeast, Hickory, NC, Phone: 828-322-8169
4.Children's Museum of Alamance County
© Children's Museum of Alamance County
The ideal place for children under the age of 10, Children’s Museum of Alamance County in Graham, offers an enthusiastically fun, learning space for young children. The Museum provides interactive exhibits that makes learning fun, while developing problem solving skills. It’s never too early to learn about physics, and with the High School built Race-Track, kids experiment with gravity and speed to help understand the dynamics of physics. Role playing a doctor in the Health Center, kids don lab coats and stethoscopes. Children learn anatomy, DNA, and more, while exploring models of the human body and its organs.
217 South Main Street, Graham, NC, Phone: 336-228-7997
5.Children’s Museum of Wilmington
© Children’s Museum of Wilmington
The not-for-profit Children’s Museum of Wilmington (CMoW) in downtown, provides a fun-filled learning experience for children under the age of 10 years old. Children younger than four will love the Toddler Treehouse – a space where toddlers can develop their motor skills. The room features a slide and squishy material to climb on. The Lawson Learning Center provides the Art Room, a space ideal for the budding artist. Here, kids learn to experiment with different materials to help create unique, imaginative masterpieces. Teddy Bear Hospital allows children to get the feel of a doctor’s office by pretending to care for their Teddy Bear.
116 Orange Street, Wilmington, NC, Phone: 910-254-3534
6.Chimney Rock State Park
Located in majestic Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Chimney Rock State Park, offers an outdoor playground and an educational experience for children of all ages. Outdoor enthusiasts rush to this scenic Park to take in its splendor. The Park features 75-miles of panoramic views atop its overlook, with views of Lake Lure and the surrounding natural habitat. Reaching the top of Chimney Rock is done two ways, either by hiking the 2,280-foot trail, or riding the elevator. For the adventurous group, Cedar Creek Stables provides a guided horseback tour that allows guests to see the Park in a different light. Admission for children five to 15 is only $8.
742 Chimney Rock Park Road, Chimney Rock, NC, Phone: 828-625-9611
7.Discovery Place Nature
© Discovery Place Nature
Offering an up-close, safe, and personal way to connect with nature, Discovery Place Nature in Charlotte provides a unique, hands-on way to educate children in the field of science, particularly natural history. The educational setting of this venue offers children the Paw Paw Nature Trail, a Charlotte treasure. Children roam the 100-year-old woods searching the tall trees for hammering woodpeckers and barred owls. The budding botanists will love the lush foliage and seasonal wildflowers in this enchanted area. Discovery Place Nature aspires to educate children in the field of science by providing an unforgettably fun learning experience.
1658 Sterling Road, Charlotte, NC, Phone: 704-372-6261
8.Fascinate-U Children's Museum
© Fascinate-U Children's Museum
Providing a space that is educational and safe for more than 20 years, Fascinate-U Children’s Museum in Fayetteville provides a role-playing setting to teach young kids a hands-on approach to how the world is run. The museum is set up as a mini city with children playing the role as adults. It features a grocery store with a cash register, clerk, and foods to buy. The museum offers a second floor science room for older children, as well as a model train exhibit of the Cape Fear Railroaders Association on the third floor. Entrance fees to this unique venue is $3 for children and $4 for adults.
116 Green Street, Fayetteville, NC, Phone: 910-829-9171
9.Frisco Native American Museum
© Frisco Native American Museum
With a collection of Native American artifacts that are nationally recognized, the Frisco Native American Museum on Hatteras Island, is an ideal location for kids who love exploring the great outdoors and love learning about Native American history. Opening its doors in 1987, in a building nearing 100 years old, the Museum offers a rich history of early inhabitants of this area. Here, kids will see thousands of local artifacts from area tribes. The Museum also offers nature trails that run through a maritime forest, featuring a large pond, a small stream, and two wooden bridges. Entrance fee to this majestic place is $5.
53536 NC Highway 12, Frisco, Hatteras Island, NC, Phone: 252-995-4440
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10.Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine
© Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine
In the Blue Ridge Mountains between Boone and Asheville, Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine offers kids a chance to take a step back in time to when mining was a major way of life in the 1800s. Children and families are able to mine for some of the world’s purest quartz, mica, and beautiful gemstones known to man. Entrance to this mine is free, however in order to mine, guests have to purchase buckets, ranging from $30 to $170. Kids actually get to keep the treasures they find by placing the items on a screen and wetting them down to see the different gems.
13780 Highway 226 South, Spruce Pine, NC, Phone: 828-765-6130
11.A Time for Science
© Arkady Chubykin/stock.adobe.com
Focusing on putting their community in touch with science and nature, A Time for Science in Greenville was the brainchild of John and Nancy Bray. Their motto has been to “explore nature, do science, and have fun.” They’re long-time advocates of schooling kids in the sciences. A Time for Science provides all ages of students with opportunities for hands-on science and exploring nature. Families can explore astronomy via a planetarium and observatory. They host Saturday planetarium shows. Kids can explore a nature playscape, view wildlife, hike trails, camp, and kayak. Visitors can interact with exhibitions, or join programs, classes, field trips, and day camps.
729 Dickinson Avenue, Greenville, NC, Phone: 252-364-2862
12.Gray Line Trolley Tours of Asheville
© Gray Line Trolley Tours of Asheville
Owned and operated locally by Gray Line Worldwide, Gray Line Trolley Tours of Asheville offers a hop on, hop off trolley tour to see the historic city of Ashville. There’s no better way to explore a city than being able to sit back and listen while a local narrates the many things to see. The nostalgic trolley seats 34 passengers, and is equipped with heaters and roll down curtains that are perfect for winter and inclement weather tours. Kids of all ages will appreciate this fun-filled style of learning the history of Ashville. The tour company is open all but four days a year.
36 Montford Avenue, Asheville, NC, Phone: 828-251-8687
13.Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Families can catch Great Smoky Mountains Railroad at the Bryson City depot in North Carolina. This heritage railroad takes passengers on an unforgettable journey through the beautiful countryside of Western North Carolina by either steam or diesel powered trains. There are a variety of adventurous and fun tours, ranging from just over three-hours to all day. Kids who love locomotives and the great outdoors will especially like the Tuckasegee River Excursion. This tour travels through scenic meadows and old railroad towns. The narration car gives a rich and detailed history of the journey along the way.
45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC, Phone: 800-872-4681
14.Greensboro Children's Museum
© Greensboro Children's Museum
Located in the Greensboro downtown area, Greensboro Children’s Museum (GCM) provides a safe, energetic environment for teaching children of all ages with a hands-on approach. GCM offers a wide variety of programs for children ranging from eight months to pre-adults. The Museum provides family cooking and yoga classes, for children three and up. This class teaches children the importance of stretching, and harvesting the Museum’s garden while spending time with a family member. GCM offers 37,000 square feet of space, which is ideal for hosting birthday parties or any celebration. Children under the age of one enter free, all others pay $10.
220 North Church Street, Greensboro, NC, Phone: 336-574-2898
15.Hands On! Children's Museum
© Hands On! Children's Museum
Open Tuesday through Saturday, Hands On! Children’s Museum has an entrance fee of $8 for everyone over one year old. Hands On! This popular children’s museum in Hendersonville is an interactive museum geared to teaching young children about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. (STEM) Stimulating the mind and captivating the imagination of elementary aged children are the priorities of this museum. By offering weekly programs like Critter Crafts and Mad Science Labs, Hands On! utilizes an extensive, fun, hands-on approach to learning. The museum also boasts a Science on Wheels Outreach Program that brings its excitement about learning to any school.
318 North Main Street, Hendersonville, NC, Phone: 828-697-8333
16.Imagination Station Science Museum
© Imagination Station Science Museum
Located in eastern North Carolina, Imagination Station Science Museum (ISSM), which started in 1988, provides a learning experience for children of all ages. ISSM offers a learning center designed just for preschoolers and toddlers called the Curiosity Corner. This space helps the development of motor skills by playing with different types of toys. Older children will love the Observation Hive, an exhibit that shows the inner workings of a beehive. Witness forager bees bringing in nectar and pollen as well as the worker bees that continually help with the upkeep of the hive. There is a $5 entrance fee for all except guests aged two and younger.
224 Nash Street Southeast, Wilson, NC, Phone: 252-291-5113
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First discovered in the early 1800s on a fluke by a fishing expedition, Linville Caverns continues to astound the thousands of yearly visitors who descend upon this majestic mountain. Children of all ages are drawn to this oasis on Humpback Mountain, which features fish appearing to swim into a solid rock wall. The limestone walled caverns are opened to the public all year-round, with an entrance fee of $7 for children aged five to 12. Tours are roughly 30 minutes long. Visitors are accompanied by a guide who provides information about the formations, cavern history, and the tricolored bats, the most popular resident in the cavern.
19929 US-221 Marion, NC, Phone: 800-419-0540
18.Lynnwood Park Zoo
© Lynnwood Park Zoo
Built on 10 acres of land in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in close proximity to Camp Lejeune, Lynwood Park Zoo offers a wide variety of exciting animals in its exhibits. The Zoo, established in 1990, provides a self-guided tour of this intimate place. Being privately owned, and smaller than most zoo’s, the employees here provide a more hands-on approach to the zoo experience. The venue has a petting farm for almost all the animals here, making this quaint zoo ideal for children under 12. It’s suitable for older kids as well. A bag of corn is provided upon entry for feeding animals.
Jhg1071 Wells Road, Jacksonville, NC, Phone: 910-938-5848
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19.Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
© Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
Being one of the largest and oldest planetariums in the country, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is nestled on the grounds of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This stately Planetarium first opened its doors 70 years ago. Initially a training program for Apollo and Gemini astronauts for celestial navigation, the Planetarium was also home to the world’s biggest working Copernican orreries (mechanical Solar System models). Now specializing in full dome planetarium shows, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center offers production leases for theaters across the world as well. The facilities are closed on Mondays.
250 East Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC, Phone: 919-262-1236
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20.North Carolina Zoo
© Vladimir Wrangel/stock.adobe.com
A natural habitat zoo that is the world’s largest, North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is an ideal venue for kids of all ages to not only see animals, but to learn to protect wild places and animals as well. With such a big interest in protecting wildlife, the zoo provides expansive areas for all its animals. North Carolina Zoo also offers a world leading Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, offering professional veterinary services free for North Carolinian animals that are orphaned, sick, or injured. The venue is situated on 500 acres of developed land and a total of 2,600 acres of wooded land.
4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC, Phone: 800-488-0444
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21.Reed Gold Mine
© Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
Site of the United States first documented gold find, Reed Gold Mine in Midland, was the nation’s leader in gold recovery and production until 1848. The California Gold Rush finally eclipsed it. Reed Gold Mine is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. This scenic venue is ideal for the whole family, especially middle school aged kids who are learning about the Gold Rush era. Admission to the park is free, although there is a $3 price for each pan that is used for mining. Reed Gold Mine is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.
9621 Reed Mine Road, Midland, NC, Phone: 704-721-4653
22.The Lazy 5 Ranch
For over 35 years, The Lazy 5 Ranch has been privately operated and owned, without any state or federal funding, by its founder, Henry Hampton. With over 750 animals to see, from six different continents, this venue is ideal for elementary aged children, but is suitable for older kids as well. Admission to the ranch is $8 for children aged two to 11, and $11 for kids 12 and up. This is a cash only establishment, so be remindful of this. Tours of this venue can be done by car with admission fee, or an additional fee allows guests to ride on a horse drawn wagon.
15100 Mooresville Road, Mooresville, NC, Phone: 704-663-5100
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© Winterpast Farm
A working 10-acre family farm located near Falls Lake, Winterpast Farm in Wake Forest is an ideal venue for children 11 years old and younger. It also appeals to kids of any age who genuinely love animals. This small family-owned facility offers a wide variety of fun activities. The venue offers a large campground area for scout and church groups, a petting zoo that keeps families continually coming back, and a hill that is ideal to slide down with cardboard boxes or large plastic tubes. Winterpast Farms rents animals out for parties and gatherings. Patrons can purchase fresh chicken eggs as well at a dozen for $5.
12936 Ghoston Road, Wake Forest, NC, Phone: 919-244-1800
© Zootastic Park
Ideal for kids 11 and under, Zootastic Park in Troutman, offers an experience that keeps children wanting to come back, parents as well. With an $11.50 admission fee for kids 2-11, Zootastic offers a wagon ride around the park or patrons may choose to walk it. This privately- owned park offers a large plethora of animals, ranging from primates, big cats, and kangaroos. The venue also provides a petting and feeding area, so kids can interact with the animals. Offering something different, Zootastic allows patrons the opportunity to have a truly special encounter with animals at an additional price.
385 Ostwalt Amity Road, Troutman, NC, Phone: 704-245-6446
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24 Best Things to Do in North Carolina with Kids of All Ages
- Black Mountain Chocolate Factory, Photo: Black Mountain Chocolate Factory
- Cape Fear Riverboats, Photo: Cape Fear Riverboats
- Catawba Science Center, Photo: Catawba Science Center
- Children's Museum of Alamance County, Photo: Children's Museum of Alamance County
- Children’s Museum of Wilmington, Photo: Children’s Museum of Wilmington
- Chimney Rock State Park, Photo: Moonborne/stock.adobe.com
- Discovery Place Nature, Photo: Discovery Place Nature
- Fascinate-U Children's Museum, Photo: Fascinate-U Children's Museum
- Frisco Native American Museum, Photo: Frisco Native American Museum
- Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine, Photo: Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine
- A Time for Science, Photo: Arkady Chubykin/stock.adobe.com
- Gray Line Trolley Tours of Asheville, Photo: Gray Line Trolley Tours of Asheville
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Photo: digidreamgrafix/stock.adobe.com
- Greensboro Children's Museum, Photo: Greensboro Children's Museum
- Hands On! Children's Museum, Photo: Hands On! Children's Museum
- Imagination Station Science Museum, Photo: Imagination Station Science Museum
- Linville Caverns, Photo: Mario/stock.adobe.com
- Lynnwood Park Zoo, Photo: Lynnwood Park Zoo
- Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Photo: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
- North Carolina Zoo, Photo: Vladimir Wrangel/stock.adobe.com
- Reed Gold Mine, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- The Lazy 5 Ranch, Photo: Shiva3D/stock.adobe.com
- Winterpast Farm, Photo: Winterpast Farm
- Zootastic Park, Photo: Zootastic Park
- Cover Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com