Nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina is often thought of as a destination for hiking, fishing, and sunbathing on the beach. However, the state is also home to a surprising number of excellent amusement parks suitable for thrill seekers and young children alike. Depending on where your interests lie, you can hop on a scream-inducing roller coaster, pay a visit to Santa in the middle of summer, or spend the afternoon cooling off in a waterpark. If you're planning a trip to North Carolina, here are the amusement parks you should consider visiting while you're there. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Carolina Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park
2.Carowinds - Charlotte
3.Deadwood - Williamston
4.Frankie's Fun Park
5.Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park
6.Santa's Land - Cherokee
8.Wet'n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park
8 Best Amusement Parks in North Carolina
- Carolina Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park, Photo: Courtesy of bravissimos - Fotolia.com
- Carowinds - Charlotte, Photo: Courtesy of Margie Hurwich - Fotolia.com
- Deadwood - Williamston, Photo: Courtesy of tatsushi - Fotolia.com
- Frankie's Fun Park, Photo: Courtesy of galitskaya - Fotolia.com
- Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, Photo: Courtesy of producer - Fotolia.com
- Santa's Land - Cherokee, Photo: Courtesy of wip-studio - Fotolia.com
- Tweetsie Railroad, Photo: Tweetsie Railroad
- Wet'n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park, Photo: Courtesy of Alexander Gogolin - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of bryanpollard - Fotolia.com
More Ideas: North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo is a zoological park in Asheboro that is home to more than 1,600 animals from more than 250 species primarily from the North American and African continents. Located in the Uwharrie Mountains in Randolph County, the Zoo spans more than 2,000 acres and is one of the largest walk-through zoos in the world. The North Carolina Zoo is open 364 days a year and is one North Carolina’s most popular tourist attractions.
The North Carolina Zoological Society was established in 1967 to study the feasibility of opening a zoo in the region, and after selecting a site for the park in 1972, the North Carolina Zoo was inaugurated in 1976. The first two animals to call the zoo home were two giant Galapagos tortoises, followed by a chimpanzee called Ham, who was famous for being the first hominid to visit space. The first permanent exhibit at the zoo opened in 1979, followed by displays of the Africa region established during the 1980s, and an exhibit on the animals from North America in 1996.
The North Carolina Zoo is home to over 1,600 animals of more than 250 species from regions around the world, including the largest collection of Alaskan seabirds and chimpanzees in the country. The Zoo is divided into two main areas – Africa and North America, with five miles of pathways linking the two, as well as trams and air-conditioned buses for visitors. The Zoo’s exhibits are designed to reflect the natural habitats as they are found in the wild, with vast expanses of terrain and natural vegetation.
The North American section of the zoo features a variety of habitats ranging from the ‘Rocky Coast,,' ‘Cypress Swamp,’ and ‘Streamside’ to ‘Prairies’ to the ‘Sonoran Desert.’ The Rocky Coast reflects the rugged coastlines of the Pacific Northwest and the animals that reside there such as polar bears, harbor seals, Arctic foxes, Californian sea lions and Alaskan seabirds. The Cypress Swamp area of the zoo is home to a range of reptiles and amphibians, as well as alligators, ducks and cougars, and the Streamside section has animals who live in or near rivers and streams such as otters, fish, snakes and bobcats. The Sonoran Desert houses ocelots, coatis, and a variety of free-flight birds like the Gambel’s quail, horned larks, and white-winged doves, while the Prairie enclosure is home to the animals of the great plains such as giant elk and bison. Other exhibits in this section include habitats for red wolves, grizzly and black bears.
The immense Africa section of the zoo spans 37 acres and houses some of the world’s largest creatures in a range of habitats found on the continent such as ‘Watani Grasslands’, and the ‘Forest Edge.’ Animals that reside here include rhinos, African elephants, zebras, Western lowland gorilla, and a variety of game such as gemsbok, kudu, waterbuck and gazelle. There are also lemurs from Madagascar in this section, which joined the zoo in 2010.
The R. J. Reynolds Forest Aviary
Reflecting the conditions of a lush tropical forest, the R. J. Reynolds Forest Aviary is home to more than three thousand tropical plants, and a variety of amphibians reptiles and birds, including yellow-footed tortoises, poison dart frogs, and Chilean flamingoes.
The North Carolina Zoo spearheaded efforts to rebuild and maintain the Kabul Zoo after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, raising funds, organizing exhibit reconstruction and renovation, animal care and purchasing, staff training and business strategy. The Zoo did the same for the Baghdad Zoo following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now coordinates a veterinary medicine program with the zoo instead of maintaining animal exhibits.
The North Carolina Zoo takes part in several conservation projects and breeding programs. The Zoo’s Saving Species Programs include working towards saving endangered species such as the mountain gorilla, polar bears, vultures, salamanders, and chimpanzees, to name but a few. Other conservation projects include Tracking Elephants from Space, SMART Conservation and Ranger Training, U.N.I.T.E Conservation Education, the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative, and Crane Conservation.
Programs run from the zoo include Bowling for Rhinos, Bringing Wildlife Research into the Classroom, Keeper-Led Programs, Monitoring Predators on the NC Zoo Grounds, Pocket Change for Rainforest Conservation, and Rare Plants at the Zoo.
The North Carolina Zoo offers a variety of educational programs, camps, workshops and projects for visitors of all ages that focus on conservation and preservation of the natural environment. Programs and projects include zoo camps, scout badge programs, backyard play activities, family nature club, playful pedagogy, playing out workshops, and a Kid Zone.
The North Carolina Zoo is located at 4401 Zoo Parkway in Asheboro, North Carolina and is open to the public all year round from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day. The Zoo has three restaurants on site that serve a variety of snacks and drinks, as well as have cash machines. The NC Zoo has over five miles of hiking trails to enjoy which are open from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm.
4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205, Phone: 800-488-0444
Back to: Best Things to Do in North Carolina
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More Ideas: North Carolina Botanical Garden
The North Carolina Botanical Garden is a 1,000-acre botanical garden in Chapel Hill. Managed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the botanical garden was established to research, catalog, preserve and promote the native plant species of North Carolina and is open seven days a week.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden features 10 acres of display gardens and several pristine natural areas in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The gardens also feature the Display Gardens and Education Center, home to several habitat display gardens, family-friendly Piedmont Nature Trails, and a sustainable Education Center that offers educational programs, workshops and classes are offered for visitors of all ages.
The Garden was founded by Professor William Chambers Coker in 1903 when he began to plant shrubs and trees on the University’s central campus, now known as the Coker Arboretum. An additional 70 acres was donated to the garden by the Trustees of the University in 1952 and another 103 acres by William Lanier Hunt. Considerable expansions took place in the 1960s, including the sustainable Frank Harmon-designed Visitor Education Center, contributing towards to the vast 1,000 acres that make up the Botanical Garden today.
The mission of the North Carolina Botanical Garden is to inspire a deeper appreciation and understanding of plants and nature and encourage an interest in the conservation of plants to provide and maintain a sustainable relationship between nature and people.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden has a Conservation Garden which was developed to represent the many conservation-related activities that form the core of the Botanical Garden's mission and programs. The Conservation works around eight themed programs that contribute to the overall functioning of the Botanical Garden, including Propagation of native plants, Seed Banking and Reintroduction, Protection and Restoration of natural areas, and the elimination of Invasive Species. The remaining four themes include Gardening in Nature's Context, Sustainable Gardening, supplying critical information on conservation of the flora of the southeastern United States, and People-Nature Relations.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden features 14 collections and unique display gardens, containing over 2,500 species of the nearly 5,000 plant species that are native or naturalized in North and South Carolina.
Battle Park is a beautiful wooded tract on the east side of the University campus in the center of the Chapel Hill. Named in honor of late President of the UNC, Kemp Plummer, the 93-acre forestland features walking and cycling trails and a stone amphitheater known as the Forest Theater.
The Carnivorous Plant Collection is an acclaimed collection of unique carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants, butterworts, Venus Flytraps and sundews, and the Coastal Plain and Sandhills Habitat Gardens feature fauna and flora found in the ecosystems of eastern North Carolina.
The Garden’s Fern Collection is packed with a variety of Southeastern fern species, and the Garden of Flowering Plant Families is a traditional botanical garden that explores the evolutionary relationships between flowering plant groups through an array of informative and exciting exhibits and displays.
The Horticultural Therapy Demonstration Garden features award-winning heirloom vegetables and flowers varieties, while the Mercer Reeves Hubbard Herb Garden contains over 500 species of herbs in a variety of displays, including an Economic Garden, a Culinary Garden, a Medicinal Garden, a Poison Garden, and a Native American Garden.
The Mountain Habitat Garden features a variety of plants and trees found in the mountainous areas of the southern Appalachian mountains, particularly those which are found at high altitudes and can survive at elevations of up to 7,000 feet.
The Mason Farm Biological Reserve is a beautiful natural area of landscapes that spans 367-acre and features old fields and sites dating back to the before the Civil War, the most famous of which are the 65-acre ancient forested site and hardwood bottomland known as Big Oak Woods. Here, visitors can take in the majesty of huge white oak trees that are more than 300 years old.
The Native Plant Border garden features native perennials, shrubs, and small trees and the Native Water Gardens are home to an array of aquatic plants native to the southeastern United States, such as Pontederia cordata, and Nelumbo lutea.
The UNC Herbarium is a treasure trove of natural history specimens with the earliest collections dating back to 1835. The Herbarium features 750,000 natural history specimens that document the identity and distribution of plants in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast.
Other special areas of the Botanical Garden include the Coker Arboretum, one of the Garden's oldest tracts, and the William Lanier Hunt Arboretum.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden is located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at CB 3375 in Chapel Hill and is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Admission to the gardens is free to the public.
The University of North Carolina, CB 3375, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, Phone: 919-962-0522
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More Ideas: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is set on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and is one of the oldest and largest planetariums in America. The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center was opened in 1949 to train astronauts in celestial navigation from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs and has since seen more than 7 million visitors pass through their doors.
Designed by the same architects whose claim to fame was the Jefferson Memorial, the Morehead Planetarium, and Science Center contained one of the largest working Copernican orreries in the world until the late 1990s. Today the Planetarium houses a GSK Full Dome Theater, a Science Stage, an array of interactive exhibits, and classrooms for educational programs. The Morehead Building also features the UNC Morehead Observatory and the UNC Visitors Center, and there is a beautiful iconic Sundial at the entrance of the building on Franklin Street.
Built as a gift from John Motley Morehead III in 1891, the Morehead Building and Planetarium has been used to train astronauts for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, including those astronauts that walked on the Moon like Neil Armstrong. The Morehead Planetarium features a 68-foot wide and 44-foot tall dome, can seat up to 240 people and features two different projection systems, including a full-dome digital video (FDV) projection system for a super-high-definition image resolution, surround-sound, and totally immersive planetarium experience.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center also offers a range of outstanding educational programs, classes and workshops for adults and children, public viewings of astronomical events and public lectures, afterschool programs and summer camps for children, and special courses for teachers.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center features an array of permanent and temporary exhibits which are free to the public. Permanent exhibits are open during the Center’s regular hours, and special exhibits are open on the weekends.
The History Hallway is an excellent exhibition that showcases all the astronauts that have trained at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The exhibit honors the more than 60 astronauts that used the Center to train in celestial navigation through a fascinating array of artifacts, objects, and photographs.
‘Highway of the Planets’ displays Joseph Caldwell’s unrivaled devotion to the study of the night sky and how it laid the foundation for astronomy at UNC. Joseph Caldwell was a professor of mathematics and the first president of the University of the North Carolina.
‘Where American astronauts first met the stars...’ tells the story of UNC's Morehead Planetarium, how is as donated as a gift by John Motley Morehead III and how it laid the foundation for the observational teaching of astronomy at the University. It also highlights the distinct privilege of being able to train more than 60 NASA astronauts between 1959 and 1975.
Temporary exhibits at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center include ‘Zoom In: Science at the Extremes’ – a fascinating exhibition that explores science at the extremes of size and scale, and ‘The Ancient Carolinians,’ which explores the lives of the settlers of what is now known as North Carolina. This amazing exhibit tells the story of how these early settlers lived, how they used various tools and objects and includes an array of 10,000-year-old artifacts found at the Hardaway archaeological site.
‘Water in our World’ takes visitors into the world of water, how and why water is cleaned, how it is delivered, and why it has become the world’s most precious natural resource. Visitors can explore different ways to make water "flow" through interactive and hands-on models and discover how much water is used for normal, everyday activities such as flushing a toilet or washing your hands.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center presents a range of educational programs for visitors of all ages. Programs for adults and teenagers include the Carolina Science Café, which explores current science research, Starry Nights, which takes a deeper look at celestial objects, and Skywatching sessions where visitors can observe the night sky.
The Carolina Science Café offers free, current science awareness programs on the first Wednesday of every month for adults that explore the science topics making a national and international headline. The Starry Nights program is designed to teach adults and older teens how to identify the constellations, planets, and stars with expert guidance from an astronomy educator.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center offers a variety of exciting special events throughout the year, ranging from Discovery Classes, Family Science Days, and planetarium shows to Science Symposium, guest speakers, and LEGO-palazzo.
Discovery Classes are interactive, hands-on learning experiences designed specifically for school groups, while Family Science Days offer a series of fun activities for the whole family. Live star shows on the Carolina Skies led by a Morehead educator can be enjoyed in the Morehead Planetarium throughout the year. The STEMville Science Symposium is a half-day science conference for children in grades four through seven to explore different types of STEM careers.
The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is located at 250 E Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm.
The annual UNC Science Expo is a signature event that showcases the wonders of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Expo is a free, family-friendly event held every year that boasts over 100 splendid exhibits with riveting demonstrations, interactive experiments, laboratory tours, stage performances and more.
250 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, Phone: 919-962-1236
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