Make the Most of a Quick Trip to North Carolina
North Carolina is a great place to spend an extended family vacation, but it’s perfect for shorter trips too. So long as you choose a destination with density, you'll find plenty to do without leaving the immediate area. If your family has only a weekend to spend in the Tar Heel State, you can't go wrong with one of these destinations.
Wilmington and the Beaches
Wilmington is so pretty that it’s a popular place to film movies and television shows. There’s also plenty for families to do in Wilmington, like the Children’s Museum of Wilmington (116 Orange St., Wilmington, NC), where kids ages 10 and under can explore hands-on exhibits. If you've got a membership at another children's museum, check to see if it's part of the Association of Children's Museums, because you may get a reciprocal discount. There's also the Battleship North Carolina (1 Battleship Road, Wilmington, NC), where visitors can learn about naval history through a refurbished World War II ship, and children 5 and under get free admission. The beaches in the Wilmington area have much to offer, with bustling Wrightsville Beach in the north and quiet Kure Beach to the south. There are places to stay in the area to fit every budget, from campgrounds to luxury hotels.
Asheville and the Mountains
Asheville is a popular vacation spot because there’s plenty to see and do. Families with kids will love the Western North Carolina Nature Center (75 Gashes Creek Road, Asheville, NC), where they can learn about and interact with species native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Asheville is also home to the Biltmore Estate (1 Lodge St., Asheville, NC), a chateau built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 on 8,000 acres. Tour the house and gardens to get a sense of how life was for the family that lived there and hike the 22 miles of trails through farmlands and meadows and along the river. This is a perfect hiking adventure for kids because it’s not strenuous terrain.
A weekend isn’t long enough to see everything in Asheville, but if you're looking for something to do outside the city, it’s an easy drive to Sliding Rock (on U.S. Route 276, Pisgah Forest, NC), a natural waterslide in the Pisgah National Forest, and also to Grandfather Mountain (2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC), where the Mile High Swinging Bridge awaits. If your family is on a budget, consider camping in one of the nearby national forests, heading into Asheville to enjoy what the city has to offer. The best time to camp is in the spring and fall, because summer heat can push into the 90s, and winter lows can plunge into the 20s.
The Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee
The Smoky Mountains offer opportunities for fun family adventures. Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to check out scenic views or hike on the designated trails. Camp, fish, hike and go tubing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pan for gold and jewels at one of the area’s many gem mines. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (45 Mitchell St., Bryson City, NC) for a scenic train ride through the mountains. If you have time to spare, take a trip to Cherokee, NC, to learn about Cherokee heritage, history and culture. This area is a great vacation spot for families on a budget. While attractions like the railroad can be costly for a large family, much of what will make the trip memorable, like camping, hiking and swimming in a national park, is inexpensive or free.
Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks
Cape Hatteras National Seashore allows visitors to experience the Outer Banks in the most natural way. Camp near the ocean, climb a lighthouse, watch birds and sea turtles on the beach and view the wild ponies on Ocracoke Island. The night sky is very dark in this part of North Carolina, making it the perfect place to view the stars. The nearby towns of Duck and Kitty Hawk have great places to eat and shop, and just a bit further away is the Wright Brothers National Memorial (1000 North Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC), where visitors can learn about the Wright brothers and the history of flight. This is a great area to visit in summer, because temperatures are a good 10 degrees cooler than they are inland, and sea breezes keep it pleasant.
Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill
To expose your kids to science and technology, North Carolina’s Technology Triangle may be the perfect weekend getaway. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (11 W. Jones St., Raleigh, NC) is the largest natural history museum in the Southeast, and admission is free. You'll find dinosaurs, a two-story waterfall and a naturalist center with real specimens, but there are also opportunities to watch scientists working and veterinarians performing procedures. Hands-on programs include opportunities to perform experiments under the supervision of educators. Exploration for younger kids can be found at Marbles Kids Museum (201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC), where kids ages 1 to 11 can engage with interactive exhibits and educational programs. There are also plenty of opportunities to get outside in places like Eno River State Park (6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC), where kids will enjoy hiking along the river and perhaps skipping stones in the slower sections.
- Wilmington and Beaches CVB: Things to Do
- Battleship North Carolina
- Wilmington and Beaches CVB: Kure Beach
- Wilmington and Beaches CVB: Wrightsville Beach
- Western North Carolina Nature Center
- RomanticAsheville.com: Sliding Rock
- RomanticAsheville.com: Grandfather Mountain
- RomanticAsheville.com: Great Smoky Mountains
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
- National Park Service: Cape Hatteras
- Destination Commerce Corporation: Duck Guide and Southern Shores
- Visit Raleigh: Things to Do for Kids
- Visit Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- Visit Raleigh: Marbles Kids Museum
- Carolina Parent: 10 Hikes Kids Enjoy in the Triangle
Amy Curtis has been writing her entire life and professionally for the past decade. Her work has been featured on sites like Wayvs.com, 10Best.com and WorkingMother.com. A vagabond at heart, Curtis has lived all over the U.S. and Europe. She loves a good road trip, and has traveled extensively for business, pleasure, mission trips and as a military wife. She's currently busy working on a novel and planning her next big trip to Lake Powell, Utah.