13 NC Destinations that will Broaden Your Child’s Mind
BY JANICE LEWINE
Kids love a good adventure—especially one that involves travel. From the mountains to the coast, North Carolina boasts countless opportunities to discover nature, science, history and culture. For your next trip, consider these destinations across the Old North State where your kids will learn—and have fun.
GEM MOUNTAIN GEMSTONE MINE
13780 Highway 226, Spruce Pine | gemmountain.com
Discover your very own treasure in the flume mine at Gem Mountain, and have your emeralds, aquamarines, rubies and sapphires made into jewelry. Gem Mountain also features private mines where guides educate visitors on what gemstones to look for and how to use their tools. Gem Mountain is open March 1–December 31; mine trips end October 31.
MUSEUM OF THE CHEROKEE INDIAN, OCONALUFTEE INDIAN VILLAGE AND “UNTO THESE HILLS” OUTDOOR DRAMA
CHEROKEE | VISITCHEROKEENC.COM
Experience 13,000 years of Cherokee history through animation, life-size figures and artifacts at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. At the nearby Oconaluftee Indian Village, take a guided tour to the 1700s to discover Cherokee dwellings, work areas and sacred ritual sites. Meet Cherokee villagers as they hull canoes, weave baskets and even prepare for battle. “Unto These Hills” is a live production about the triumphs and tragedies of the Cherokee story. Performances take place nightly, May–August, at the Cherokee Mountainside Theatre (closed Sundays). Visit the website for venue locations.
One Lodge Street | biltmore.com
Experience America’s largest home, built in 1895 by George and Edith Vanderbilt. A self-guided visit to this luxurious chateau spans three floors and the basement, which includes an indoor pool and bowling alley. During the tour, discover stories of the Vanderbilt family, their guests and employees through displays of clothing, artwork and furniture. Engaging, temporary exhibitions enlighten visitors of all ages. Active families can hike, bike, raft and enjoy horseback riding on the grounds.
19929 U.S. 221 North, Marion | linvillecaverns.com
Inside the base of Humpback Mountain lies Linville Caverns, a subterranean world of active limestone. View nature’s awe-inspiring work featuring stalactite, stalagmite and flowstone formations, a “bottomless pool” that reaches a depth of more than 250 feet, and an underground stream containing native trout that are blind due to the lack of light. Linville Caverns is North Carolina’s only cavern system open for tours, which are 30 minutes in length.
LINVILLE GORGE WILDERNESS
Address varies depending on each section | fs.usda.gov (search for Linville Gorge Wilderness)
Just around the bend from Linville Caverns is Linville Gorge Wilderness, a national forest that is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Virgin forests, three rivers, five species of rare plants, and silverbell, wild indigo, orchids and rhododendron dot the area. Animal lovers can view deer, turkey, vultures, hawks and owls in their native habitat. Easy, kid-friendly hikes abound, such as those leading to Linville Falls, Duggers Creek Falls and Wiseman’s View. You may need a vehicle with high clearance and/or all-wheel drive to access some of the more remote trails.
OLD SALEM MUSEUMS & GARDENS
900 Old Salem Road, WInston-Salem | oldsalem.org
Established in 1776, Old Salem shares the cultural history of the early South, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina, enslaved and free people of African descent, and indigenous peoples of the Southern Woodland. Tour the various buildings that enabled the village to thrive, including tradesmen’s workshops and the Doctor’s House, the Single Brothers’ House and the Boys’ School for ages 6–14. Play Colonial-style games and purchase Moravian baked goods at the historic Winkler Bakery. Learn about Moravians of African descent at the St. Philips African American Heritage Center before exploring St. Philips Moravian Church—the oldest standing African American church in the state.
NORTH CAROLINA TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM
1 Samuel Spencer Drive, Spencer | nctransportationmuseum.org
Formerly Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive repair facility in the Southeast, the North Carolina Transportation Museum houses passenger rail cars, locomotives, a full-size replica Wright Flyer, firetrucks, a restoration of the Piedmont Airlines’ Potomac Pacemaker DC-3, and an automotive exhibit. The Barber Junction Depot, an authentic train station built in 1898, serves as the museum’s visitor center.
NORTH CAROLINA ZOO
4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro | nczoo.org
With 500 developed acres, the NC Zoo is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo, housing 1,700 animals of more than 250 species, primarily representing Africa and North America. See elephants, zebras and giraffes grazing in open fields, polar bears Payton and Anana swimming in icy waters, chimpanzees swinging from high branches, flamingos foraging for food, and other fascinating animals. Watch animal feedings and training sessions in “Meet the Keeper” encounters.
INTERNATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS CENTER & MUSEUM
134 S. Elm Street, Greensboro | sitinmovement.org
The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is dedicated to the understanding and advancement of civil and human rights. It commemorates the sit-ins of the 1960s that began when four college students from North Carolina A&T State University occupied a whites-only lunch counter—acts that helped renew the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Housed inside the former Woolworth store where the first sit-in took place, the museum offers 35,000 square feet of exhibit space that includes the restored lunch counter in its original location, audio and video narratives, artifacts, interactive components and a captivating look at the A&T Four. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are encouraged.
WRIGHT BROTHERS NATIONAL MEMORIAL
1401 National Park Drive, Manteo | nps.gov/wrbr
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s dream of flight became a reality in 1903, when they achieved the first successful airplane flights in Kitty Hawk, changing our world forever. View the locations where their flights took off and landed, see their living quarters and touch artistic representations of the moment of the first flight. View interactive exhibits in the visitor center and see the impressive monument built in the Wright Brothers’ honor.
NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUMS
900 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach | 1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores | 374 Airport Road, Manteo
7223 South Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head | ncaquariums.com
Explore North Carolina’s oceans, estuaries, rivers, streams and other aquatic environments at the North Carolina Aquariums in Kure Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Manteo and Nags Head. All four aquariums feature dive shows, live animal encounters and feeding programs. The smaller aquarium at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head features native fish species and fishing opportunities.
“THE LOST COLONY”
1409 National Park Drive, Manteo | thelostcolony.org
What happened to the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke? Explore one of America’s oldest unsolved mysteries that dates back to 1587, when a group of 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island. Witness the pageantry of Queen Elizabeth I and her court, and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. This 86-year-old outdoor musical offers a Native American cultural preshow performed by Indigenous cast members. The 2023 season runs June 2–August 26.
BATTLESHIP NORTH CAROLINA
1 Battleship Road, Wilmington | battleshipnc.com
Moored along the Cape Fear River since 1962, World War II’s most recognizable battleship beckons visitors to walk her decks and envision the daily life and fierce combat her crew faced in the Pacific. Learn about ship terminology and the inner workings of the vessel as you tour the galley, kitchen, staterooms, repair shops and sick bay. Through oral histories and mementos, discover the men who served their country during its greatest time of need.