If you’re on a tight budget, but still want to get away and have some fun with the family this summer, no worries. There are plenty of fun things to do in North Carolina that won’t cost you a cent. From sunbathing on the beach or hiking through the woods, to going to museums and festivals, there are numerous activities and attractions to check out in the Tarheel State that are absolutely free.

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Go to the Beach Wrightsville Beach
Credit: James Willamor
Wrightsville Beach

Go to the Beach (Nearby Hotels)

Of course, one of the best free things to do in the summer is relaxing on the beach. There’s nothing like the smell of the salt in the air, the feeling of the sand beneath your feet and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. And with over 300 miles of beaches along the east coast of North Carolina, there are plenty to choose from. For a more secluded, natural coastline experience, visit the beaches of the Outer Banks. Or, if you’d rather have a beach vacation that’s conveniently located near an array of modern amenities, try Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach, both located just outside of Wilmington, NC. Just pack yourself a picnic lunch, grab some sunscreen and towels and hit the beach for a free day of rest and relaxation!

Visit a Waterfall A natural close-up of Looking Glass Falls in Ashville, North Carolina.
A natural close-up of Looking Glass Falls in Ashville, North Carolina.

Visit a Waterfall (Nearby Hotels)

If you want to take in the beauty of a waterfall up close, the area around Brevard, NC is the place to do it. In fact, this town in the Western Mountains of the state is known as the “Land of Waterfalls” because there are so many in one place, with over 250 waterfalls in the area. Some of these falls have even made the big screen and were seen in movies like Last of the Mohicans and The Hunger Games. Whether you are an avid hiker who prefers a strenuous trail or just a beginner who wants an easy to moderate hike, there are numerous ones to choose from including Rainbow Falls, Looking Glass Falls and Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States, at 411 feet.

Slide Down a Natural Waterfall
Credit: Facebook

Slide Down a Natural Waterfall (Nearby Hotels)

Sliding Rock, located in Pisgah National Forest, is a 60-foot natural waterslide that’s created by the 11,000 gallons of water that flow over the flat rock face every minute. There’s no need to pay admission at a water park, when you can visit here and ride this natural slide as many times as you want for free! There’s also an 8-foot deep pool at the base of the rock that you can splash into after your ride and wade around in before you’re ready for your next turn. This is an extremely popular spot for visitors though, particularly on the weekends during the summer, so make sure you plan accordingly.

Go For a Bike Ride (Nearby Hotels)

If you enjoy bike riding, there are lots of trails and routes all over the state of North Carolina, whether you want to go for a leisurely ride or have a full blown mountain biking adventure. If you’re up for a long ride that’s filled with breathtaking scenery, try the 25-mile coastal route that runs along Highway 12 on Hatteras Island. You’ll be treated to water views on both sides, as you ride between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound, before arriving at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s a great way to go sightseeing and get some exercise at the same time, all without spending a dime.

Visit a Museum North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Visit a Museum (Nearby Hotels)

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located in Raleigh, NC, is the largest natural history museum in the Southeastern United States. Spanning over two city blocks, there are seven floors of educational exhibits to explore, about everything from dinosaurs and marine life, to rocks and fossils. Plus, you’ll have the chance to explore a fully-immersive Central American tropical forest, meet live animals, talk with real scientists and veterinarians, and even take part in a laboratory experiment… all with your free admission to the museum.

Attend an Equestrian Event
Credit: Facebook

Attend an Equestrian Event (Nearby Hotels)

Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center is a free, family-friendly event that includes food, live music, face painting, carousel rides, dance contests and a variety of performers including acrobats, magicians, fire twirlers and more. But, the main event is the Grand Prix equestrian event – the highest level of competitive show horse jumping at the Center. You’ll watch as riders take their horses through a variety of obstacles in the ring and try to earn the most points for completing the most obstacles in the shortest amount of time. Although you do have to pay for food, admission to the event, parking and carousel rides are all free!

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