Hanging Rock State Park
Located in nearby Stokes County, Hanging Rock State Park is the home of the Hanging Rock natural formation. There is a hike that takes you to this formation, but note that there are steep cliffs involved, so it may not be appropriate for those who get nervous easily. The Park is also home to a plethora of hikes that vary in difficulty, many of which are great hikes for children. Upon parking at the visitors’ center, make sure to pick up a map and a Junior Ranger Packet. If you enjoy waterfalls, ask the Ranger on duty to point you in the direction of the five waterfalls the Park offers as hike destinations. You can even get a Waterfall Badge (for only $2.50) if you complete all five hikes in one day. Next to the visitor center parking lot is a large picnic area that includes grills, as well as water fountains that have bowls for your canine friends. Access to the State Park itself is free.
Marbles Children’s Museum
Our state’s capital, Raleigh, houses one of the best children’s museums in the state: Marbles Children’s Museum. Within the walls of this museum, there is an abundant amount of creative exhibits for children to challenge themselves with. While there are the traditional hands-on exhibits, such as dressing up, painting, and a child-sized grocery store, there are also new innovative exhibits. Children can build their own wooden creations using hand-powered drills and real saws. They can play hockey in their socks and slide across the floor or learn about music in the interactive TreeTunes exhibit. With a picnic area just outside of the entrance, you can bring your own lunch or walk to one of the many great restaurants Raleigh has to offer. To put a cherry on top of it all, the admission is only $7 a person!
Greensboro Science Center
Not only is this a fantastic science center, it also houses a zoo and an aquarium. With the recent expansion, the aquarium now holds new marine animals, such as jellyfish and octopus, in addition to the otters, sharks, and penguins that have been there for an extended time. For a hands-on experience, don’t forget to stop by the touch-tank, filled with Sting Rays. In the science center section, you can find a submarine, a dinosaur section, a Komodo dragon, and an interactive play area for all ages. If you continue to the outside, you will find the extensive zoo portion of the Science Center. Here you can see red pandas, gibbons, wolves (including recently born cubs), and tortoises, among others. The petting zoo is also a big hit among all children and adults alike. With admission prices ranging from $13.50-$14.50, this a great mid-range option for a family day.
Lake Norman State Park
During the warmer months, Lake Norman State Park is a fantastic place to enjoy a day trip for a swim at their large lakeside swimming beach. While there is a small fee for the swimming beach during peak season, when a lifeguard is present from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day (between $4-5/day), it’s free during the offseason. The beach also has free use of life vests and locker rooms with showers. Right next to the swimming beach is a picnic area that has grills, so that families can take a break from swimming to bring out the cooler and have a cookout. During the cooler months, there are several hikes throughout the park of varying difficulty, as well as fishing and boating available.