A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

It’s always a busy day in the neighborhood at Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville, where wee ones can cook up a pizza lunch, lay a wall of bricks, review a

Madison County Championship Rodeo

It’s always a busy day in the neighborhood at Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville, where wee ones can cook up a pizza lunch, lay a wall of bricks, review a

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

It’s always a busy day in the neighborhood at Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville, where wee ones can cook up a pizza lunch, lay a wall of bricks, review a

Just Kidding Around Charlotte

It’s always a busy day in the neighborhood at Discovery Place Kids – Huntersville, where wee ones can cook up a pizza lunch, lay a wall of bricks, review a plush pup’s x-ray, and climb aboard a shiny firetruck. Here, a kid can be a kid — and they can also be a chef, a builder, a veterinarian, and a first responder.

Heather Norton, Chief Science Officer for Discovery Place, says it’s through this kind of play that foundational skills — and memories — are made. “This museum is about providing early learners and their families with an immersive hands-on experience where they can really nurture those early childhood domains: fine and gross motor skills, literacy, and, of course, exploration with your whole family.”

And that’s just the start. Known as a great place to raise children, Charlotte is packed with opportunities for locals and visitors. So although we may not quiet the “Are we there yet?” chorus, we’re sure that once they arrive in the Queen City, your princes and princesses will have plenty of places to play.



 

Kids can get hands-on at Discovery Place Science in Uptown. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Field Trips

With multiple locations to choose from, Discovery Place has a museum to match every interest, Norton says. If your crew consists of older learners, head to Uptown’s Discovery Place Science, where three levels of exhibits celebrate our world and beyond. In addition to traveling exhibitions, an indoor rainforest, and an ever-popular Think It Up innovation space, the museum has recently reopened its state-of-the-art Accenture IMAX Dome Theatre, featuring laser technology and lifelike visuals.

If celebrating the natural world of the Piedmont appeals, bring your zoo to Discovery Place Nature. Start with the awe-inspiring planetarium shows, get up-close meet-and-greets with animal ambassadors, and check out the buggy collection at Insect Alley.

Adjacent to Discovery Place Nature, Freedom Park is a 98-acre haven to run and roam before heading home. Focus on fun at the playgrounds and connected greenways, then pause for a picnic and enjoy a hillside view of the seven-acre lake.

To see stories come to life, travel to the city’s cultural arts district to find ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center. Not your typical library, ImaginOn is a collaboration between Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Featuring high-tech theaters, a dedicated space for pre-readers, a teen-only library, a multimedia production studio, and exhibit spaces, ImaginOn’s mission is to spark the imagination.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s Orchid Conservatory is a five-story glass house filled with tropical plants. photograph by JILLLANG/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS

Even the wildest in your bunch will stop to smell the roses at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The magic of springtime will be on full display as you meander through this 110-acre wonderland of gardens and trails. Leave plenty of time for the medieval-inspired Lost Hollow: The Kimbrell Children’s Garden, where creative play comes easily as kids hop, skip, and jump around a castle, moat, and cave.

Or take a walk on the wild side and see dozens of species of birds along a short trail just north of town. The Carolina Raptor Center, which becomes The Raptor Center at Quest this year, is located in Huntersville’s Latta Nature Preserve and works to educate the public and rehabilitate birds of prey like eagles, falcons, vultures, and owls. After seeing the winged residents, swing by the Quest gift shop for drinks and snacks, nature-themed gifts and crafts, or even a fishing rod and bait.

 

Feel the rush on Fury 325 at Carowinds. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Thrillers

Carowinds has been welcoming families for more than 45 years as one of the state’s most iconic entertainment destinations. Amusement park newbies will find fun at kid-sized Camp Snoopy, where junior rides, an elaborate playground, and shady rest spots please parents.

For a bigger buzz, buckle in for Fury 325, North America’s longest steel coaster. Crossing over the state line from North to South Carolina, the 1.25-mile coaster reaches speeds of 95 mph. Check the website for the park’s seasonal hours and specials.

Go zip-lining at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

You don’t have to get wet to dive into a day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Ziplines, rock climbing, mountain biking, and ropes courses make the center a year-round playground. Double-check minimum weight requirements online, then book a day pass to choose your own adventure. Or, for just the price of parking families can set out on foot and enjoy scenic hikes alongside rivers, creeks, and lakes. When you work up an appetite, swing into Rivers Edge for macaroni and cheese or a brownie a la mode.

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, more than 50 interactive experiences take guests into the driver’s seat to explore the history and future of racing. Try to make the team in the Pit Crew Challenge, zoom along digitized tracks in iRacing simulators, and don’t forget to refuel at the Pit Stop Cafe. Along the way, build a digital scrapbook so you can replay the memories of your family’s big Queen City day.

 

At SEA-LIFE Aquarium, get up close and personal with critters at the touch pool. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Malls with More

North of Charlotte, at Concord Mills, attractions like SEA-LIFE Aquarium and The Speedpark help you make a day out of your visit. Inside SEA-LIFE, walk through North Carolina’s only ocean tunnel, ogle the jellyfish, and save time for the touch pool. Go online for the day’s schedule and time your visit around an educational talk or feeding demonstration.

Or, for more of an adrenaline rush, kids ages 3 and up can grab a wristband for The Speedpark’s unlimited go-karting, miniature golf, bungee jumping, and more.

In South Charlotte’s SouthPark Mall, North Carolina’s only American Girl Store features a signature salon for doll hairstyling and pampering, or visitors can attend special events, such as dolly-and-me pizza parties and cupcake decorating.

Top off your big adventure with a locally made treat at Golden Cow Creamery. More than 150 scratch-made ice cream flavors mean you’ll never get bored, but the delicious Dunkaroos is a sure bet for all ages.

This story was published on Mar 23, 2022

Lauren Eberle

Raised in Winston-Salem, Lauren Eberle now enjoys writing, editing, and storytelling from her home in Cornelius.