Keeping the kids satisfied is a huge part of any family vacation. Hereâ€™s a limited listing of activities for whole families or for children.
North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville
The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville is a paradise for kids and families. A series of trails and paths meander through whimsical gardens begging to be explored. The sense of wonder is heightened by the discovery of secret benches, foot bridges, waterfalls, outdoor art and sculptures and other treasures tucked into the lush gardens. There are several garden themese, from a quilt garden to an Asian bonzai garden. Also, a series of groomed woodland footpaths form a network of loops to create the perfect length â€śhikeâ€ť for any size legs.
As an added perk, kids can borrow an explorerâ€™s backpack, complete with a magnifying glass, binoculars, net, garden trail map, clipboard and scavenger hunt checklist. Make sure to check out the rotating exhibits and rich line-up of special events, childrenâ€™s programs and day-camps.
For those with older kids or traveling with bikes, the Arboretum has a total of 10 miles of hike and bike trails.
Oconaluftee Indian Village
This exceptional living history site is like stepping back in time to a 1760s Cherokee village. Costumed guides stationed throughout the recreated village go about daily tasks, allowing kids to see first hand the way life was lived 250 years ago and explore Cherokee culture. Blowgun demonstrations, dugout canoe building, weaving and pottery making, cooking, tanning animal skins, ceremonial dances and more. A trail leads through the forested setting, which includes Cherokee huts and an impressive council house.
828.497.2111 or www.cherokeehistorical.org/ OconalufteeVillage.html
Western North Carolina boasts native gems such as rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Head to a local gem mine and get a little dirty in your quest for mineral riches. Kids delight getting a bucket of sand and crushed stone and letting the water from the flume flow over it, gently rinsing away the sand as they sift for the hidden, colorful gems.
The greater Franklin area is a geological hotspot for gems and boasts a whopping eight gem mines open to the public. Thereâ€™s also Ruby City and the Gem and Mineral Museum, both in downtown Franklin, where you can learn about what comes out of the ground.
For a list, contact the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce at 828.524.3161 or go to www.franklin-chamber.com/whattodo/gemmining.php.
There are a couple gem mines in Cherokee and one in Maggie Valley as well. Also check out the Old Pressley Sapphire Mine, located near Canton, where the famous Star of the Carolinaâ€™s sapphire was found. The gem weighed in at 1,445 carats. 828.648.6320 or www.oldpressleymine.com.
Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, Pisgah National Forest
Feeding the fish â€” hundreds and hundreds of teaming, splashing, sparkling trout â€” in the hatchery raceways is every kids dream. Take a walk on paved interpretive trails and check out indoor exhibits that focus on Mountain region wildlife, including live frogs and snakes. Several programs are held throughout the summer for children and adults, from stream ecology explorations to guided tours of the hatchery. Free.
828.877.4423 or www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/ EducationCenters/Pisgah.asp
Cradle of Forestry, Pisgah National Forest
The Cradle of Forestry in America teaches kids about forestry, ecology and Appalachian history. Exhibits include a fire fighting helicopter simulator, an old locomotive, scavenger hunt, and hands-on nature activities. Get a glimpse of life in the past by visiting an old one-room schoolhouse, general store, cabins, blacksmith shop and other historic buildings.
There are often special programs and events, from â€śBug Dayâ€ť to the annual birthday party for Smokey the Bear. Woodsy Owlâ€™s Curiosity Club for 4 to 7 year olds is held every Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
828.877.3130 or visit www.cradleofforestry.com.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City
What kid doesnâ€™t love a train ride? There are few places in America where you can ride scenic passenger trains, and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad serves up the right combinations for families, with short excursions, pretty scenery, open air cars and lay-overs that allow you to get off an walk around for a bit at either the Nantahala Outdoor Center or the village of Dillsboro, depending which trip you book.
The railroad also offers special themed trains geared for kids, like Thomas the Train and Dinosaur Train in the summer, plus the Polar Express and Charlie Brownâ€™s Great Pumpkin Patch train in the fall and winter.
www.gsmr.com or 800.872.4681.
Smoky Mountain Trains, Bryson City
With its collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, cars and accessories, a giant model train set running through a sprawling miniature town, interactive childrenâ€™s train sets, and gift/toy shop, Smoky Mountain Trains in Bryson City is an eye-popping array. The museum is owned by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad â€” also a great experience for kids â€” and admission is included in most excursion ticket prices. Kids enjoy a scavenger hunt to find more than 30 items and scenes on the track layouts. Make sure to talk to the train operators. Adjacent to the train depot downtown.
Catch a trout
Thereâ€™s nothing quite like the satisfaction of your own fresh caught trout. If youâ€™ve never caught a fish before, stop in to one of several trout ponds. Theyâ€™ll set you up with a line, bait and show you what to do. Theyâ€™ll also clean it for you when you catch one â€” and donâ€™t worry, you will!
â€˘â€‚Sorrellâ€™s Creek Trout Farm, Waynesville. 828.648.9903.
â€˘â€‚Fergusonâ€™s Trout Pond, Waynesville. 828.627.6404.
â€˘â€‚Soco Gap Trout Ponds, Maggie Valley. 828.926.3635.
â€˘â€‚Cooperâ€™s Creek Trout, Bryson City. 828.507.0620.
â€˘â€‚Cowee Creek Trout Pond, Franklin. 828.369.2870.
â€˘â€‚Rose Creek Campground, Franklin. 828.524.3225.
â€˘â€‚Andyâ€™s Trout Farm, Franklin. 828.746.2550.
Fun Factory, Franklin
Like an indoor amusement park, the Fun Factory is a kidâ€™s dream come true. Plan an exit strategy ahead of time, as major protests are inevitable when you tell the kids itâ€™s time to go. Activities include laser tag, mini-golf, arcade, go-carts, bowling, an indoor playground good for toddlers and preschoolers, plus a steakhouse and pizza restaurant onsite.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 828.349.8888 or funfactoryfranklin.com.
Santaâ€™s Land, Cherokee
This spectacular, vintage-era amusement park is a great way to spend a day. Kids can ride the rides over and over, as many times as they want, all day long. When they want a break, thereâ€™s the Candy Mountain playground, a small zoo, and an old-fashioned magic show thatâ€™s not to be missed.
Santaâ€™s Land is ideal for kids 7 and under, but has enough to keep the interest of older children as well. Thereâ€™s a fairly large Ferris wheel and the famous Rudicoaster, a small rollercoaster with a couple of stomach-dropping hills and fast spiral curves.
The grounds are clean, shady and well-kept, the rides are safe, and the staff is friendly.
www.santaslandnc.com or 828.497.9191.
Cherokee Fun Park, Cherokee
Go-kart track with under and over passes, arcade with more than 75 games and mini-golf.