8 Fun Activities to Get Your Kids Outdoors

8 Fun Activities to Get Your Kids Outdoors

Gorges State Park offers a range of activities, including access to Turtleback Falls where sliding and swimming are popular during warm-weather months

Nature is one big playground, and in North Carolina we’re lucky that our playground has an abundance of ways to wow. Sure, we have several great water parks across the state, but you can also experience the thrill of sliding down waterfalls. You’ll have your breath taken on our rollercoasters, but have you seen the breathtaking views from a mile-high swinging bridge in the mountains?

These adventures and more can be found in North Carolina’s state and national parks. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the many fun and family-friendly activities that will give you ample opportunities to bond with your kids outdoors – away from the televisions, video games and tablets.

Slide Down Waterfalls at Gorges State Park
Tell your kids its time to go rainbow hunting – that’ll pique their interest – and park at the Grassy Ridge parking area, which you’ll see after driving about 2 miles into Gorges State Park. Your 1.5-mile hike will be lined with views of Rainbow Falls and other smaller waterfalls, and a side trail even takes you to the very top where a wooden observation deck provides a breathtaking view and chance to catch a glimpse of a rainbow in the mist. Walk another one-third of a mile to Turtleback Falls, with a short 20-foot sliding rock that dumps into a swimming hole. Bring a picnic, because your kids will surely want to stay awhile. See more swimming holes in North Carolina.

Walk a Mile High at Grandfather Mountain
Linville, Banner Elk
Talk about bragging rights – families can boast they made it across America’s highest suspension footbridge after braving the mile-high, 228-foot bridge swinging across an 80-foot chasm. Yet, the picture-worthy views are the best reward; well, that and the homemade sweets at the mountain’s Fudge Shop. Look out for loads of butterflies in the candy shop’s adjacent garden, too. Before you go, call ahead to Mildred’s Grill, located on Grandfather Mountain, for boxed lunches or stop by after your bridge journey for lunch-with-a-view from its outdoor tables or through the huge dining room windows. (These attractions are operated by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, which is a separate entity from Grandfather Mountain State Park.)

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Hike the Trails at Stone Mountain State Park
Roaring Gap
Opt for several 2-mile loops or out-and-back trails that offer sweeping views of Stone Mountain, more waterfalls and even ruins from some old liquor stills demolished during Prohibition. Take advantage of the proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive to Milepost 230 for a long-range view of Stone Mountain before or after your hike. Learn about many other must-see mileposts on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rent a Canoe or Rowboat at William B. Umstead State Park
Boat time means quality family time when you explore Big Lake. Surrounded by trees, this lake feels miles from civilization and rarely gets crowded. Rowboats and canoes are a steal to rent at less than $10 for two hours (weekends only). Consider stopping at the 45,000-square foot Raleigh Farmers Market for breakfast and lunch supplies, with two on-site breakfast restaurants: Market Grill and State Farmers Market Restaurant.

Go Fishing at Medoc Mountain State Park
Want to put fishing on your vacation agenda? Little Fishing Creek at Medoc Mountain has been designated as one of the cleanest streams in all of North Carolina. So, parents can feel good about angling for bluegill, largemouth bass and redbreast sunfish that can be cooked up on grills at the picnic area.

Swim at Jones Lake State Park
Thanks to its shallow depth, Jones Lake stays warm throughout late spring to early fall, and since only 10-horsepower boats are permitted, it makes for a great swimming spot for families. Stop by the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market on your way for lots of fresh produce, meats and baked goods; or hit the on-site Cape Fear Bar-B-Que & Chicken for hearty plates of barbecued meats served with traditional sides and a handful of hushpuppies. Kids' meals come with fries and a choice of hot dog, chicken leg or chicken tenders.

Explore Fort Macon State Park
Atlantic Beach
Why is Fort Macon the reigning State Park of the Year? For starters, its pristine beach provides an island experience at a fraction of the cost. Kids will love exploring the Civil War fort and seeing cannon demonstrations, and its Coastal Education Center provides a wealth of knowledge about the area along with frequent interpretive programs. Afterward, take your pick of seafood spots overlooking Bogue Sound or the Atlantic Ocean, such as Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar with generous portions, or Ruddy Duck Tavern with seafood as well as thin-crust pizzas. Add a ferry ride to Shackleford Banks to see the wild horses and your kids might just have the time of their lives.

North Carolina State Parks - Fort Macon

Guided tours of Fort Macon are offered daily throughout summer

Tour Landmarks Along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor
Begins in Wilmington
Since this adventure will be a little more history-based, be sure to load the family up with a hearty breakfast at one of Wilmington’s top-rated diners, like The Dixie Grill or Jimbo’s Breakfast & Lunch. Then, hit several spots along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which is part of the National Park System. In Wilmington, spend some time at the Cameron Art Museum, including a visit to the Minnie Evans Study Center, named after and featuring the renowned African-American artist. Then, stop at nearby St. Stephens African Methodist Episcopal Church before heading to the ruins of St. Philips Church in nearby Winnabow to marvel at the architecture and perseverance of their founders.

Just think, you can plan eight mini getaways to these destinations for what it might cost you to plan one big trip to a family resort. Which North Carolina parks will you visit this year? Tag us in your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram photos using #VisitNC.

Please exercise caution and obey all rules and warnings posted near waterfalls, swimming holes, lakes and rivers. The rocks around these bodies of water are often slippery, and the currents can be very strong. Also take heed to all regulations regarding hiking, swimming, camping and any other activities in our parks and forests.

Shawndra Russell is a travel writer and novelist based in Asheville and has written for Forbes Travel Guide, BeerAdvocate and Travel+Leisure.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

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