A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

“It’s a living piece of art,” declares Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Director Tony Laws to families visiting the city’s newly renovated carousel. He steps back and marvels at the menagerie

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“It’s a living piece of art,” declares Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Director Tony Laws to families visiting the city’s newly renovated carousel. He steps back and marvels at the menagerie

8 Family-Friendly Outdoor Destinations in Alamance County

“It’s a living piece of art,” declares Burlington’s Recreation and Parks Director Tony Laws to families visiting the city’s newly renovated carousel. He steps back and marvels at the menagerie of 46 wooden animals — hand-carved and painted in soft shades of brown, orange, grey, and green to mimic their original style from more than three decades ago. There’s so much beauty to take in: animals crafted with bass and poplar wood, gold-framed oil paintings of wildlife scenes and landscapes, and delighted children going ’round and ’round astride horses, ostriches, rabbits, pigs, deer, giraffes, lions, tigers, and even chariots — all restored to their former glory.

The centerpiece of Burlington’s 76-acre park, the Dentzel Menagerie Carousel, was built around 1906 to 1910 in Pennsylvania — the “golden era” of carousels — before it was purchased by the City of Burlington and relocated to North Carolina in 1948. Laws, who used to run the carousel as a college student, says he’s just one of a generation’s worth of riders with fond memories of the city’s crown jewel. “The Dentzel carvers were known for their intricate craftsmanship,” he says. “I’m still overwhelmed by each of the animal’s beauty, and so are many locals, who remember the carousel from their childhood and come back to visit.”

Take a spin on Burlington’s Dentzel Menagerie Carousel. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

The three-row historic carousel underwent its first renovation in the mid-’80s and was due for another restoration for both artistic and functional elements in 2019. After three years of reconstruction — plus a new, more accessible glass-enclosed Carousel House on higher ground — the ride is now open to local and visiting families year-round.

And even when the carousel comes to a stop, that simply marks the start of a beautiful spring day in Alamance County. From fun-filled festivals and outdoor concert series to nature trails and riverside beauty, you’ll find all the makings of a perfect family outing. Read on to discover other great outdoor destinations.


Go for a ride at Cedarock Equestrian Center. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Saddle up at the Cedarock Equestrian Center — or camp out.

Kick off the season on horseback with a family ride on serene Piedmont trails. The Cedarock Equestrian Center at Cedarock Park in Burlington provides six miles of dedicated equestrian trails where experienced riders can bring their own horse or beginners can take a ride with a trained guide from Sunset Ridge Equestrian, with whom the park partners. Trail rides are available for kids ages 6 and up and are around 45 minutes to an hour through beautiful, wooded terrain. Plus, it’s the perfect place for an overnight stay; the equestrian center also includes trailer parking, running water, and campsites with scenic views of the whole park.


See a picturesque waterfall over an old mill dam at Cedarock Park. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Step back in time at Cedarock Park.

It’s not just Cedarock Park’s equestrian trails that draw more than 180,000 visitors to its 500-acre grounds each year. Situated in the foothills of the Cane Creek Mountains Range, this expansive park in southern Alamance County offers a variety of opportunities for outdoor adventures, including picnic shelters and gazebos, two disc-golf courses, volleyball and basketball courts, a playground, and walking trails. But whether you’re a history buff or an adventure-seeker, you can’t miss the Cedarock Historical Farm. The original site of the Garrett farm, which dates to the 1830s, this living-history museum depicts North Carolina farm life during the late-19th century. Meet sheep, goats, cattle, and a team of draft mules, see antique and replica farm equipment, and explore a barn, smokehouse, post office, and corn crib. Self-guided tours of the farm are available during park hours and guided tours are available by appointment. But try to schedule a visit on an Open Farm Day, held throughout the year, when you can go inside the farmhouse and see demonstrations.


Head to the Burlington Carousel Festival.

In 1997, an annual festival was initiated by locals to celebrate the Dentzel Menagerie Carousel — a tradition that continues today. Now, the Burlington Carousel Festival is back, and it will be extra special this year as it celebrates the multi-year restoration of the beautiful carousel and the new Carousel House. Head to Burlington City Park on May 6 and 7 to enjoy live music and performances on multiple stages, an artisan market, a beer garden, and a variety of food vendors. In addition to the carousel, kids can enjoy miniature train, car, and boat rides, face-painting, and an action-packed Kids’ Zone.


Root, root, root for the home team during a Burlington Sock Puppets game. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

See the Burlington Sock Puppets.

See mascot Socksquatch at a Burlington Sock Puppets game. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

On a perfect spring day, grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks and watch nine innings at the Burlington Athletic Stadium. Root on Burlington’s summer collegiate baseball team, the Burlington Sock Puppets — is there a better team name? We don’t think so — as you watch the antics of the dynamic mascot duo Bingo and Socksquatch. Kids can enjoy inflatable games behind the grandstand and fans of all ages are encouraged to swing by the “build-your-own sock puppet” station. When stomachs start rumbling, hit the concession stands for ballpark food classics such as hot dogs, burgers, and popcorn. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the loaded nachos, brimming with macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, and jalapeños. But save room for dessert, too: Shaved ice from Pelican’s SnoBalls is a Sock Puppet fan favorite.


See the sculpture of native musicians Joe and Odell Thompson at Mebane Community Park. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Find your rhythm at Mebane Community Park.

The North Carolina Piedmont has been a musical mecca for string-band music since the 19th century. World-renowned fiddlers — and cousins — Joe and Odell Thompson, who lived in Mebane, carried that tradition into the late 20th century. In fact, Joe — one of the last musicians to carry on the black string band tradition — served as the mentor for Grammy Award-winning group the Carolina Chocolate Drops before he died in 2012. If you take a stroll in Mebane Community Park, you can even pay a visit to the sculpture of the two musicians, which was built at the park in their honor. Now, plans to construct a special new Fiddler Stage are underway with plans for completion by early-July.

“Our hope is that the stage will give the community a nice setting for small concerts and provide up-and-coming musicians a stage to show off their craft,” says Aaron Davis, Mebane’s Recreation and Parks director. “We chose ‘Fiddler Stage’ as the name because we wanted it to mirror the small-town feel that Joe and Odell Thompson had. This would have been an ideal place for them to play.”

With open, grassy lawns and picnic tables with charcoal grills, Mebane Community Park is already one of the best spots for family fun in the area. It has the only two artificial turf ball fields operated by a municipality in Alamance County and is used regularly for the Mebane Youth Soccer Association’s practices, games, and tournaments. Get the family moving at the park’s state-of-the-art bodyweight resistance workout area, the Cone Health Community Fitness Court, and bring furry friends to the park’s walking and running tracks. After working up a sweat, grab a lawn chair and a blanket from your car and sit back to enjoy a family-friendly film during Movies in the Park, hosted on Friday nights at 8 p.m. throughout the spring.


Kids will love sliding through the mouth of a giant fish at Saxapahaw Island Park. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Explore an island in the Haw River.

Take a short drive over the bridge from Saxapahaw, and you’ll find an island in the Haw River that’s made for exploring with kids. Providing 30 acres of family fun and exploration, Saxapahaw Island Park features easy walking trails, a playground, and river access for swimming, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The highlight of the playground? A wooden fish slide measuring 45 feet long from head to fin. Spend an afternoon exploring and basking in sweeping views of the river and you’ll find out why it’s a haven for wildlife and paddlers alike. Then head back to the former mill village for your evening entertainment.


Enjoy the summer concert series during Saturdays in Saxapahaw. photograph by Heather Lagarde

Spend a Saturday night in Saxapahaw.

We’ve got your Saturday evenings sorted: From May through August, enjoy the festivities at Saturdays in Saxapahaw. This weekly community event held from 5 to 8 p.m. features a thriving farmers market, live music by country, bluegrass, and folk bands on an outdoor stage, food trucks, handmade arts and crafts, and more. Check off your grocery list by picking up fresh spring produce, eggs, baked goods, flowers, and more, bring blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy food truck fare and ice cream, and let the kids run wild.


Jam out to live music at the Graham Amphitheater.

On every third Saturday from April 15 to October 21, the Graham Amphitheater is a destination for music and dance during its annual Maverick 95.1 Kinfolk Concert Series. Roll out your blankets and enjoy food and drinks from local Graham vendors. Festivities begin with a car cruise-in at 4 p.m. and bands will start to play at 7 p.m., including country group — and crowd favorite — The Mason Lovette Band, and Southern gospel artists from Maverick Radio’s sister station Hope Radio. “The concert series has always drawn a huge crowd,” says Jennifer Talley, owner of the Graham Amphitheater and Graham’s city manager. “I see it as a catalyst to bring people together, and we love to see that happen in our community.”

This story was published on Apr 19, 2023

Tamiya Anderson

Tamiya Anderson is a Concord-based writer and former Our State intern who is proud to call The Tar Heel State home.