Fun Family Vacation Ideas
Any family that wants to plan a fun vacation for kids will find great opportunities for sharing "green" time in the beautiful mountains and foothills of Western North Carolina, as well as, fun indoor activities that will enrich everyone's appreciation of the history and culture of this unique region.
Lasting memories are made when families and friends gather around a campfire in one of the many campgrounds in the region's National and State Parks, State Forests, and private camping areas. Kids and grownups alike will remember that hot summer day they spent splashing in a cold mountain stream, visiting one of the area's beautiful waterfalls, catching that first rainbow trout, riding the rapids in a river raft, or standing on the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain in the eastern United States.
Plan a Fun Family Vacation in the North Carolina Mountains
Visit Cherokee North Carolina
A visit to Cherokee, North Carolina, is an opportunity for kids to learn about the ancient Cherokee history and culture in a way that they won't find in any history book. A visit to the Oconaluftee Indian Village is like a step back in time to see life as it was in these mountains in the year 1750. Nearby is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, with dramatic and interactive displays that tell the Cherokee story. A splash in the Oconaluftee River afterwards and a walk through the "Talking Trees" exhibit rounds out the day. In the summertime, the outdoor theater drama Unto These Hills rounds out an evening.
Learn about the animals that live in the Blue Ridge Mountains
At the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, kids can meet some fascinating critters native to the Appalachian mountains and visit the petting zoo.
Grandfather Mountain, near Linville, is an International Biosphere Reserve, with seven environmental habitats for black bears, river otters, cougars, bald eagles, golden eagles, and white-tailed deer. Not to mention the Mile High Swinging Bridge, sure to take your breath away!
Chimney Rock State Park and Lake Lure offer side-by-side family fun. The Great Woodland Adventure Trail at Chimney Rock takes kids to 12 discovery stations where Grady the Groundhog, the Park's mascot, illustrates the lifestyles of his forest friends, including chipmunks, frogs, owls, and butterflies. After the park, hit the beach for a cooling swim in beautiful Lake Lure. There are also many hiking trails to explore where wildlife can be seen, just remember not to touch or feed local wildlife.
Explore museums that are just for kids
Museums especially for kids can be found throughout the North Carolina mountains and foothills, including:
- HandOn! Childrens Gallery, Hendersonville.
- KidSenses Museum, Rutherfordton.
- The Health Adventure, Asheville.
- The museum at Mount Mitchell State Park, accessible from Blue Ridge Parkway.
Others offer activities of special interest to kids, including:
- Petting the goats at the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, Flat Rock.
- Learning to ride horseback at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center, Tryon.
- Watching the high-definition, surround-sound movie at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, near Asheville.
- Listening to tall tales on the storytelling hayride at the Orchard at Altapass, at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 328.3.
Mine for gold and gemstones
Gems and minerals abound in the mountains of Western North Carolina, as do opportunities for kids to get their hands dirty and wet as they discover emeralds, rubies, garnets, gold, and other treasures at the many gem mining concessions in the region. Several museums are also excellent stops for families interested in rocks and minerals:
- Colburn Earth Science Museum (Asheville, NC)
- Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum (Franklin, NC)
- Museum of North Carolina Minerals (Spruce Pine, NC)
Photo courtesy of Cowee Mountain Ruby Mine website.
Learn where food comes from
The mountains and foothills of Western North Carolina are a great place for kids to learn about farming and food with a visit to one of the many U-Pick farms, where they can harvest their own apples, blueberries, tomatoes, and other fruits in season. Winter visitors can choose-n-cut their own Christmas tree in the High Country tree farms. Browse the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Local Food Guide for listings of farms to visit. You can also explore many of the area's local and organic farmers markets.
Make family fun travel a thrill
The rivers of Western North Carolina provide some of the most popular whitewater rafting in the country. In fact, some claim the sport was pioneered on the Nantahala River, which tumbles through the nine-mile scenic Nantahala Gorge. There are also great canoeing and float trips for the less adventuresome.
In winter, families can take to the slopes for some great skiing, snowboarding, and tubing at ski resorts in the High Country, Cataloochee, and Sapphire Valley. And for those really adventurous souls, the High Country's eco-adventure, Scream Time Zipline, sends participants zipping along cables high above the mountains at 50 miles an hour or more.
Ride historic trains
If trains are the thing, kids can experience a ride aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City and see an extensive collection of model trains at Smoky Mountain Trains, a railroad museum next to the Depot.
In the High Country, visitors can board the historic steam locomotive, Number 12, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, at Tweetsie Railroad theme park in Blowing Rock.
Another museum favored by railroad buffs of all ages is the Piedmont & Western Train Museum, located in the historic Old Rock School in downtown Valdese.
Other fun stuff for the perfect family vacation
The Orchard at Altapass, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 328.3 near Spruce Pine, offers family fun by the bushel with music, dancing, a historic orchard and a storytelling hayride.
The exhibits at Mystery Hill just north of Blowing Rock baffle the senses and tease the imagination with balls that roll uphill and other gravitational aberrations.
The Blowing Rock, located in Blowing Rock, NC is an immense cliff which rises 4,000 feet above sea level and overhangs the Johns River Gorge, 3,000 feet below. The rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind sweeps with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. It is said that at the Blowing Rock, snows upside down!
Another mysterious phenomenon are the Brown Mountain Lights, said to be the spirits of Cherokee and Catawba warriors slain in an ancient battle on the mountainside in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Purportedly, the best place for a chance to view them is from Wiseman's View on Linville Mountain.
Nearby is Linville Caverns, which offers families an exciting, but comfortable subterranean experience.
Festivals for kids guarantee family fun
Although the abundant festivals that take place throughout the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area are always great for families, here are a few that appeal especially to children:
The Mile High Kite Festival is held at Beech Mountain on Labor Day weekend. Vendors, music and contests for the best decorated, smallest and largest kites highlight the event, along with kite-flying demonstrations by the Richmond (Virginia) Air Force Kite Club and the Wings Across Carolina Kiting and Okra Society of Charlotte. The first 200 children receive free kites to decorate and fly.
Woolly Worm Festival (mid-October)-Legend has it that the Wooly Bear caterpillar, a.k.a. the Wooly Worm, has the ability to predict in October what the upcoming 13 weeks of winter will be like. The Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk has been an annual affair since 1978.
Talking Trees Children's Trout Derby (early August)-This annual event at Oconaluftee Islands Park in Cherokee, NC entertains nearly 2,000 children with fly-tying exhibitions, fish-cleaning stations, wildlife and fisheries exhibits, food, music, and door prizes.