Looking for some new things to do with kids?
If you have kids, you know that there are plenty of fun, inexpensive things for kids in Charlotte, including parks, museums, splash pads and much more. But it’s worth the short drive to check out some of these slightly out-of-town attractions. All are within an hour or so from the Queen City. Know of others that should be on the list? Email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org and it might make it onto the next iteration of this list.
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Village Park in Kannapolis
700 West C Street, Kannapolis
Village Park recently added a double-decker carousel, the only one of its kind in North Carolina, to its attractions. Carousel rides are just $1.50. The park also features the Rotary Express train (also just $1.50), a splash pad, playground, picnic shelters, open space and a new waterfall feature.
The park is also the site for many of Kannapolis’ summer entertainment programming, including movies and concerts, as well as the city’s extensive Christmas events, including the Celebration of Lights and Winterland Express.
Schiele Museum of Natural History
1500 E. Garrison Boulevard, Gastonia
This excellent natural history museum in Gastonia is probably familiar to many kids, who visit it for school field trips. If your child hasn’t visited Schiele Museum yet, it’s more than worth the short trek to Gastonia. The museum includes indoor exhibits that focus on North Carolina natural history, North American habitats, and the American Indian, as well as outdoor exhibits, including a nature trail, Catawba Indian Village, Stone Age Heritage Site, and an 18th Century Backcountry Farm. At the Backcountry Farm, there are seasonal living history presentations in period buildings, with hogs, sheep, chickens, and cattle. Another highlight of the museum is a planetarium.
There are two perfect times a month try it. The museum offers free admission the second Tuesday of every month from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the fourth Friday of the month from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Otherwise, admission is $7 for adults and $4 for kids, students and seniors. Gaston County residents get $2 off.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
411 S Salisbury Ave, Spencer
The North Carolina Transportation Museum is a must-see for train-loving kids. It’s been a kid-favorite for 40 years. It features antique cars, an authentic train depot, and a 37-bay Roundhouse that includes 25 locomotives, dozens of rail cars and more. The museum offers seasonal train rides, including the popular Day Out with Thomas and the Polar Express.
Admission plus a train ride is $8 for kids 3-12, $10 for seniors/military and $12 for adults. Kids 2 and younger are free. Seasonal train rides are more.
Dan Nicholas Park
6800 Bringle Ferry Rd, Salisbury
You’ll be amazed at the range of attractions at Dan Nicholas Park. There’s a carousel, a train ride, gem mining, an aquarium, paddle boats, a nature center, a water plaza, mini-golf and a playground. There’s even a campground. Most of the attractions range from free to $1/person. Gem buckets start at $8.
Emerald Hollow Mine
484 Emerald Hollow Mine Drive, Hiddenite
Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite bills itself as the only emerald mine in the world open to prospecting. Visitors have three ways to look for emeralds and other gems: sluicing, digging and creeking. Sluicing and creeking each cost $5 for kids and $10 for adults. Different buckets for sluicing cost more. Also, you can get a combination ticket and save some money.
Reed Gold Mine
9621 Reed Mine Rd, Midland
Reed Gold Mine is another attraction popular with young prospectors. It’s the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. It’s free to tour the mine. If you’d like to pan for gold, you can do that between April and October, for $3 per pan. Reed Gold Mine hosts a unique Christmas event. Take a candlelit tour of the underground mine tunnels, which are decorated for Christmas.
Happy Hills Alpaca Farm
708 Winding Brook Road, Monroe
You’ll need to make an appointment to visit Happy Hills Alpaca Farm. When you visit, you can feed the alpacas, see spinning demonstrations, and learn about alpacas. The cost is $7 for children and $10 for adults, which includes the hay to feed the alpacas, the tour and demonstration. 802-683-7433 or email@example.com.
Lazy 5 Ranch
15100 Mooresville Rd, Mooresville
If you want to get close to large animals–really, really close, especially to their mouths–Lazy 5 Ranch is the place for you. It’s home to more than 750 animals from six different continents. Feed them on a 3 1/2 mile safari-ride, which you can travel on a horse-drawn wagon or your own car. The wagon is more fun, but there’s something special about an elk sticking its head in your car window too. Admission is $8 for kids under 12, and $11 for adults. Admission and a wagon ride is $11 for kids under 12, and $16 for adults. Cash only. There’s also a picnic area and a playground. Pro tip: Don’t feed the zebras. Zebras bite.
There are three drive-in movies within an hour or so of Charlotte.
Badin Road Drive-In, 2411 Badin Rd, Albemarle. Double features Friday, Saturday and Sunday. $7 per adult, $5 per child ages 6-11 and free for children under 6.
Hound’s Drive-In. 114 Raven Circle, Kings Mountain, NC. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. $15/carload.
1444 Brattonsville Rd, McConnells, SC
Historic Brattonsville is a living history site that tells the story of Scots-Irish and African-American people in the South Carolina upcountry. It features more than 30 historic structures from as early as the 1760s. Costumed interpreters demonstrate historical farming techniques and day-to-day activities. Also, explore Huck’s Defeat Battlefield Trail and the video documentary, and learn about one of the most important Revolutionary War battles in the Carolinas.
Don’t forget to check out: