North Carolina's best summer activities for families
Summertime is get-out-and-play time. In North Carolina, that playground runs along the vast Atlantic shoreline, through the capital city of Raleigh, to the state’s largest city, Charlotte, across the many historic towns and hamlets, then onward to the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains.
North Carolina's No. 1 attraction, Biltmore House, is the largest home in America. A jaw dropper, the massive, castle-esque French chateau encompasses four acres, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and bowling alley, 10,000-book library and seven-story-high banquet hall under one roof. George Vanderbilt's home has a whopping 250 rooms and formal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park. The spring tulips alone are worth the trip, but there's also a winery, restaurants, shops and the on-site Biltmore Inn. You'll likely need at least one full day to visit; two-day tickets and longer passes are also available.
1 Approach Road
Asheville, North Carolina 28803
Phone: 800-543-2961, 877-245-8667 or 828-225-1333
Hours: Grounds -- 365 days a year, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Biltmore House -- 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; hours vary seasonally
Admission: Adults, $59 to $69; children 10 to 16, $5; children 9 & under, free
North Carolina is the birthplace of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), now the No. 1 spectator sport in the country. Trace NASCAR's early roots to today's high-tech, multi-billion-dollar racing industry at both NASCAR Hall of Fame, Uptown Charlotte, and for the thrill of the race, at Charlotte Motor Speedway near Concord.
At the Hall of Fame, time yourself on a pit crew, drive a racecar simulator or practice announcing the big race. Check out Glory Road, a re-created, angled race track with real cars and a backdrop of fans in the stands that almost looks real in the photos you'll take. True fans swarm to the cars of their favorite drivers. You easily can spend an entire day.
Across from the Charlotte Convention Center
400 East Martin Luther King
Charlotte, North Carolina 28202
Phone: 877-231-2010 or 704-654-4400
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $19.95; seniors/military, $17.95; children 5 to 12, $12.95; children under 5, free
5555 Concord Parkway South
Concord, North Carolina 28027
Phone: 800-455-3267 or 704-455-3200
Ticket hotline: 800-455-FANS (3267)
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.; check website for race times
Tickets: For the Richard Petty Ride-Along in a NASCAR race car, $99 to $135
Challenge rapids like an Olympian at the U.S. National Whitewater Center near Charlotte. This $38 million whitewater park is the largest in the world and home to the U.S. Olympic team. You don't have to be a medal-holder to take a guided raft trip on the challenging, 3/4-mile, artificial recirculating whitewater river, though. Alongside are mountain-biking and running trails, a climbing center, ropes courses, ziplines and a canopy tour.
At I-85 South and I-485
5000 Whitewater Center Parkway
Charlotte, North Carolina 28214
Hours: Dawn to dusk, weather permitting, 365 days a year
Admission: AllSport Pass (most popular) covers whitewater rafting and more -- adults, $49; children 9 and under, $39. Kayakers and canoeists may paddle the two separate channels with a QuickSport Pass, $15 or $25, depending on activity; check online for more pricing options. Free River Jam concert series, $5 parking per car
This 60-foot natural water slide in the Pisgah National Forest is a locals' favorite. To beat the summer heat, wear your old cutoff jeans to sit and slide down the rock into the cool, 60-degree natural pool below, about six or seven feet deep. Wear water shoes and prepare for long lines on summer weekends. Tidbit: The 60-foot falls were featured in the film Last of the Mohicans. Scenes also were shot at Chimney Rock (see separate listing.)
A few minutes' drive from Looking Glass Falls, on U.S. Highway 276, about five miles past the entrance to Pisgah National Forest
Hours: Recreation area with lifeguards on duty Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day
Admission: $1 per person; parking is limited
Natural wonder Chimney Rock has been one of the Southeast's most iconic and popular tourist destinations for more than a century. The Park's 535-million-year-old monolith offers guests 75-mile panoramic views of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. There's the breathtaking 404-foot waterfall, plus wildlife, plants and bird watching along hiking trails; Grady's Animal Discovery Den; musical performances; guided hikes; and beginner rock climbing. The climactic final fight scene in Last of the Mohicans was filmed at the top of Hickory Nut Falls; a mile down the road, Lake Lure is the setting of the movie Dirty Dancing.
Chimney Rock, North Carolina 28720
Summer hours: Daily 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; check seasonal hours online
Admission: Adults, $12; youth 6 to 15, $5; children under 6, free
Join the millions who have walked across the famed Mile High Swinging Bridge — so named because the 228-foot suspension bridge with steel cables is a mile above sea level and spans an 80-foot chasm. On the way up are marked viewing areas to see bears, cougar, deer, eagles and more in their natural habitats. Watch playful otters above in the open and below in an aquarium-like viewing area. Enjoy 12 miles of hiking trails, an informational visitors' center with displays about the area, the geology and the story of Mildred the Bear and her special relationship with the late owner of Grandfather Mountain, Hugh Morton.
U.S. 221 & Blue Ridge Parkway
Linville, North Carolina 28646
Phone: 800-468-7325 or 828-733-4326
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring and fall; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in winter
Admission: Adults, $15; seniors, $13; children 4 to 12, $7; children under 4, free. Guided tours and hikes with naturalists are available for an additional fee.
Since 1937, families have been visiting the cool nooks, crannies and crevices of North Carolina's only public caverns, which are a chilly 52 degrees year 'round. On 40-minute guided tours, you'll see stalactites, stalagmites and more. Walkways get wet and slick, so wear proper shoes, and tuck a rain poncho in your bag. Embrace the "cave kisses" from the dripping water overhead. You can see the hibernating bats late fall to early spring. Don't miss nearby Linville Falls (free), the most photographed waterfall in the state, cascading a dramatic 90 feet from twin upper falls to a single loud, roiling mass of water in the lower falls. Several overlooks dot a self-guided trail.
19929 U.S. 221 North
Marion, North Carolina 28752
(close to Linville Falls and Milepost 316.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway)
Phone: 800-419-0540 or 828-756-4171
Hours: Seasonal, so check online or call. Open daily June through September, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $7; seniors, $5.50; children 5 to 12, $5; Children under 5, free
As you walk the decks, imagine yourself at sea in 1942, searching the sky for enemy aircraft. Discover how this heroic ship and brave crew fought in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II. Earning 15 battle stars, this is the most decorated ship of that war. Now that the ship is berthed at Wilmington, visitors can tour the nine decks, crew's quarters, gun turrets and more. Afterward, visit downtown Wilmington for day or evening riverboat cruises, museums showcasing artists and history, and tours of the antebellum historic district. Dawson's Creek was and One Tree Hill is filmed here. Movie studio tours are available.
1 Battleship Road
Wilmington, North Carolina 28401
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day; winter hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $12; seniors and military, $10; children 6 to 11, $6; children 5 and under, free; Friends of the Battleship Members, free
There's literally something for everyone but not enough room to list all the great activities -- so go to VisitNC.com or call 800.VISITNC for lots more.