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19 Cheap Things To Do with Kids in North Carolina

Activities for the entire family can add up in cost, but North Carolina is home to endless outdoor activities that are easy on the budget. The state’s full range of seasons means you can explore the outdoors throughout the year. From state parks to wild animal encounters, here are some cheap things to do with the kids in North Carolina.

Walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain
Credit: Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain by bobistraveling via Flickr

Walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

What Is It? Enjoy the crisp mountain air and beautiful landscapes as you cross America’s highest suspension footbridge

Why Do It? Cross the mile-high 228-foot bridge across an 80-foot chasm to discover beautiful panoramic views on the other side. 

Good to Know: There are eleven nature trails to explore and a Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum to learn about the area’s history.

Take a Ride on the Tweetsie Railroad Tweetsie Railroad
Credit: Tweetsie Railroad by Tweetsie Railroad

Take a Ride on the Tweetsie Railroad

What Is It? A popular theme park in North Carolina, the Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock is a family-friendly attraction with two historic steam engines, No. 12 Tweetsie and No. 190 Yukon Queen. 

Why Do It? Hop on the three-mile, steam-powered train ride and see how its timeless coal-fired engines work. 

Good to Know: A highlight for train enthusiasts of all ages, the area also has a variety of amusement rides, live entertainment, gem mining, a petting zoo, and more.

Catch a Sunset at Jockeys Ridge State Park Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nags Head, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Credit: Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nags Head, North Carolina, U.S.A. by bigstock.com

Catch a Sunset at Jockeys Ridge State Park

What Is It? A famous spot to watch a sunset over the water, Jockeys Ridge State Park in Nags Head offers plenty of natural beauty as one of the best state parks in North Carolina

Why Do It? Climb to the top of the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States and watch the sun dip below into the Roanoke Sound. 

Good to Know: You’ll also find a museum with a 360-foot boardwalk with exhibits that highlight the dune’s ecology.

Go Camping in Pisgah National Forest Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Credit: Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest by © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

Go Camping in Pisgah National Forest

What Is It? Pisgah National Forest boasts more than 500,000 acres. 

Why Do It? Climb mile-high peaks, and go camping at Lake Powhatan or Davidson River. 

Good to Know: With three districts the Pisgah Ranger District, the Appalachian Ranger District and the Grandfather Ranger District, you’ll find rugged mountain scenery that is ideal for a weekend of outdoor recreational activities.

Explore the Linville Caverns Linville Caverns located in Linville, North Carolina
Credit: Linville Caverns located in Linville, North Carolina by © Jerry Coli | Dreamstime.com

Explore the Linville Caverns

What Is It? North Carolina’s only show caverns, the Linville Caverns in Marion allow visitors to come and explore some of the state’s natural landscapes from the inside.

Why Do It? Go deep within the Humpback Mountain to see an incredible series of rooms and passages. 

Good to Know: A popular day trip from Asheville, you can also see an underground stream with native trout and a “Bottomless Pool.”

Get Wild at the North Carolina Zoo North Carolina Zoo
Credit: North Carolina Zoo by nczoo.org

Get Wild at the North Carolina Zoo

What Is It? Spanning across 500 acres, at The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro you can browse exhibits constructed to look like natural habitats. 

Why Do It? Spend your afternoon walking around the park, riding the tram, and exploring areas that resemble Africa’s grasslands and North America’s Arctic coast. 

Good to Know: With over 1,600 animals to see, from polar bears to elephants lions and alligators, the park’s highlight is a Zoofari, a thrilling African wildlife adventure tour.

See Wild Horses Along the Shackleford Banks Shackleford Beach
Credit: Shackleford Beach by Bigstock.com

See Wild Horses Along the Shackleford Banks

What Is It? North Carolina’s coast offers animal lovers a real treat, as it gives visitors a chance to see several groups of wild horses in their natural habitat.

Why Do It? You’ll have the chance to spot Corolla’s wild Spanish mustangs, Beaufort’s wild horses at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, and Quarter horses found along Shackleford Banks’ wild Banker horses. 

Good to Know: Most of the places to spot these majestic creatures are free.

Go Swimming at Jones Lake State Park Jones Lake State Park
Credit: Jones Lake State Park by Gerry Dincher via Flickr

Go Swimming at Jones Lake State Park

What Is It? An expansive 2,308-acre park in Elizabethtown, both kids and adults alike can enjoy activities. 

Why Do It? Staying warm throughout late spring and early fall, it’s a great place for the little ones to go for a dip, with swimming spots found in the shallow waters.

Good to Know: Wooded campsites are also available, while those on a day trip can enjoy water-based adventures on a rented canoe or paddleboat.

Interact with Underwater Marine Life at North Carolina Aquarium North Carolina Aquarium
Credit: North Carolina Aquarium by ncaquariums.com

Interact with Underwater Marine Life at North Carolina Aquarium

What Is It? Located at Pine Knoll Shores, the North Carolina Aquarium enables you to watch river otters play, touch a stingray, or look a shark in the eye. 

Why Do It? See a rare white sea turtle at the Loggerhead Odyssey and learn the history of the state’s landscapes. 

Good to Know: Don’t miss the special exhibits of replicated shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast.

Take the Plunge at Sliding Rock Sliding Rock, North Carolina
Credit: Sliding Rock, North Carolina by wikimedia.org

Take the Plunge at Sliding Rock

What Is It? A naturally occurring waterpark that will only cost you $2 per person, Sliding Rock in Pisgah Forest is the state’s premier outdoor water slide. 

Why Do It? A 60-foot slippery waterfall cascade, here you can take the plunge into 50-60 degree water into a 7-foot deep pool. 

Good to Know: Lifeguards are on duty in season.

Climb to the Top of Hatteras Lighthouse Bodie Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Credit: Bodie Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore by John Buie via Flickr

Climb to the Top of Hatteras Lighthouse

What Is It? An iconic part of the state’s landscape, the Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.

Why Do It? Making for a budget-friendly daytime activity, climb the 268 steps up the historic landmark and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views of Hatteras Island. 

Good to Know: Ideal for those who can navigate the narrow stairs, once on top you’ll see why it is the perfect reflection of America’s maritime history.

Slide Down the Waterfalls at Gorges State Park Gorges State Park
Credit: Gorges State Park by bluesman46 via Flickr

Slide Down the Waterfalls at Gorges State Park

What Is It? Set in the midst of a series of plunging waterfalls, Gorges State Park is a great place to tell the kids you’re going on a rainbow hunting adventure.

Why Do It? Take the 1.5-mile hike to find spectacular views of Rainbow Falls, where a smaller trail leads to a wooden observation deck where you can catch those colorful rainbow rays that you’ve been searching for.

Good to Know: Camping, trout fishing, mountain biking, and horseback riding are also popular activities in this park.

Enjoy the Views at Chimney Rock Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park
Credit: Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park by © Chansak Aroonmanakul | Dreamstime.com

Enjoy the Views at Chimney Rock

What Is It? Chimney Rock Park is home to a 315-foot spire that overlooks Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. 

Why Do It? Pack a bag for a day of hiking, where you can have a picnic and soak in breathtaking scenery, or spot the Hickory Nut Falls, the second-highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. 

Good to Know: There are kid-friendly nature explorations to go on, such as the discovery stations on the Great Woodland Adventure.

Admire the Colorful Landscapes at North Carolina Arboretum North Carolina Arboretum
Credit: North Carolina Arboretum by North Carolina Arboretum

Admire the Colorful Landscapes at North Carolina Arboretum

What Is It? The North Carolina Arboretum offers over 400 acres of beautifully cultivated gardens.

Why Do It? You can meander along the landscaped trails, which are peppered with some of the most colorful plants in the region. 

Good to Know: Take the kids to explore forested hiking and biking trails, go on a garden tour, or visit the Blue Ridge Court with a garden pool and botanically diverse landscapes.

Search for Treasures at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine Foggy Mountain Gem Mine
Credit: Foggy Mountain Gem Mine by Foggy Mountain Gem Mine

Search for Treasures at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine

What Is It? Boone is an ideal place to visit for all sorts of outdoor adventures and search for rare gems in gem mines at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine. 

Why Do It? Pretend to be a miner like in the old days by sifting through dirt and rock using water flumes to find treasures like emeralds, rubies, quartz, topaz, and other gems. 

Good to Know: Staff members will help you identify your gems, and even cut and polish them so they can be made into jewelry.

Visit Neuseway Nature Park in Kinston Neuseway Nature Park
Credit: Neuseway Nature Park by Neuseway Nature Park

Visit Neuseway Nature Park in Kinston

What Is It? Neuseway Nature Park hosts a hands-on salt-water touch tank filled with an array of different coastal creatures as well as housing multiple exhibits of plants and animals that are indigenous to North Carolina.

Why Do It? You can get up close to exhibits with live venomous and non-venomous snakes, bears, and bobcats. There are numerous hiking trails, a 24-foot planetarium, and a museum with awesome science exhibits.

Good to Know: There is no admission fee to get into Neuseway Nature Park.

Explore the Crystal Coast Beaches Fort Macon, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
Credit: Fort Macon, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina by Sara Kendall/shutterstock.com

Explore the Crystal Coast Beaches

What Is It? The Crystal Coast is home to more than 85 miles of gorgeous North Carolina coastline. 

Why Do It? Watch the wild horses that race along the silken shores of Shackleford Banks, visit the iconic Cape Lookout lighthouse that watches over the Graveyard of the Atlantic, and go beachcombing for beautiful shells.

Good to Know: Stopping at Fort Macon State Park to tour the Civil War fort museum or witness a Civil War reenactment.

Play Pirate on Ocracoke Island Ocracoke Island
Credit: Ocracoke Island by Bigstock.com

Play Pirate on Ocracoke Island

What Is It? Ocracoke Island, the southernmost island of Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, was one of Edward Teach’s (AKA the infamous pirate Blackbeard) favorite spots to drop anchor.

Why Do It? At Teach’s Hole, Pirate fans can explore the Blackbeard exhibit and buy fun souvenirs.

Good to Know: For free you can visit the oldest operating lighthouse on the east coast and the second oldest in the entire nation, the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse.

Learn About the Gold Rush at Reed Gold Mine Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site
Credit: Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site by Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site

Learn About the Gold Rush at Reed Gold Mine

What Is It? The Reed Gold Mine offers the chance for an entertaining learning experience. 

Why Do It? While most people equate the gold rush with California, the very first one in the U.S. happened right here. The estimated value of gold recovered in North Carolina reached more than one million dollars a year at one point.

Good to Know: Today the underground tunnels of the mine are a historic site open for free tours. Try gold panning yourself, for just $3 a person.

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