Saturday, May 16, 2009

Exploring North Carolina

On Thursday, Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I visited Morehead Planetarium and tooled around Chapel Hill a bit. We had a great time, and Car Guy especially enjoyed the Magic Tree House show at the planetarium. The flexibility to make our own schedule and take lots of field trips marks one of our favorite aspects of homeschooling. On the way home from Chapel Hill, the kids and I discussed our favorite North Carolina haunts that we have visited over the past year or so. See what you think of our list. Perhaps you'll discover a great spot for a summer jaunt with your family.

#12- Lazy 5 Ranch- Mooresville
A drive-through park with loads of exotic animals. Tons of fun, even though I did momentarily panic when our wagon broke down while surrounded by water buffalo. Pay extra to ride in the wagon, so you can get up-close-and-personal with the animals while you feed them (Honestly, you don't want a water buffalo approaching and drooling on your own, personal car.). Curly Girl even let a giraffe pluck a leaf out of her mouth. You probably need to call ahead to make reservations to ride in a wagon.

#11- North Carolina Museum of Natural Science- Raleigh
Great museum in downtown Raleigh and, best of all, admission is free! Younger kids love the Discovery Room and tweens and teens thoroughly enjoy the Naturalist Center. One of the museum's programs about mammals led to Car Guy's desire for a pet mouse which morphed into a guinea pig and progressed to the rabbit we have now. The hands-on outdoor learning programs at Prairie Ridge are also fabulous!

#10- Wright Brothers National Memorial- Kitty Hawk
Tons of fun, even if you are not a history buff. Walking the grounds of the Wright Brothers' first flight brings their accomplishments alive. You can also see a reconstruction of the brothers' plane and living quarters, as well as markers indicating the length of each of their flights. We also took in a great park ranger talk on our visit. Free!

#9- Museum of Life and Science- Durham
A great science museum for kids, but my absolutely favorite part is the Butterfly House. It is magical to walk among the butterflies and totally interesting to check out the chrysalises in various stages of formation. Some even have butterflies bursting from them!

#8- USS NC Battleship Memorial- Wilmington
When the kids and I visited the battleship last spring, it marked my first trip there since I was about ten years old. Climbing up, down, and around the ship certainly gave me a new appreciation for nautical life, even if Car Guy did get a bit claustrophobic when he realized how far we had descended below deck. Great fun, but not a good trip for people who have difficulty climbing up and down ladders (The ship is not even close to handicap accessible).

#7- Reed Gold Mine- Midland (near Concord)
If you want to take a jaunt to the sticks, head to Reed Gold Mine. Here you learn about the first gold strike in the United States (Yes, it was in NC!) and take a tour of the mining tunnels. This is a great summer day trip since the temperature in the tunnels stays around 60 degrees. Unfortunately, this locale is also not handicap accessible. Free, unless you want to pan for gold which just costs a few bucks.

#6- Duke Lemur Center- Durham
I happen to think lemurs are very cool, so I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them. Zaboo from the Kratt Brothers' Zoboomafoo lives at the Lemur Center, so you may even sneak a peek at him. The Lemur Center is a research facility, so younger kids may be disappointed if they are expecting a spot akin to the zoo. Tours are only given at scheduled times, and you must call in advance to reserve spots for your family.

#5- Chimney Rock State Park- Chimney Rock
Considering my fears of heights and driving in the mountains, it's a miracle that I made it through our trip to this beautiful spot. The drive was lovely, and we traipsed through some quaint hamlets (Bat Cave and Lake Lure, anyone?) on our way to one of NC's newest state parks. Once I made it up the drive to the top of the mountain, I did manage to trek out to the uppermost outcropping. The kids and I also enjoyed a scenic hike to a waterfall.

#4- North Carolina Zoo- Asheboro
The kids and I love visiting the zoo, except in the summer when it can be so hot and muggy. We like to arrive when the zoo opens in the morning, so we can take our time exploring and checking out the animals. Car Guy and I will probably visit the zoo one day this week while Curly Girl is otherwise occupied.

#3- ArtQuest- Greensboro
Curly Girl claims ArtQuest as her all-time favorite field trip, and Car Guy loves it, too. ArtQuest offers a great arts-making space with individual rooms dedicated to painting, clay, found art, drawing, and Kapla blocks. I don't know about you, but I much prefer that my children spatter a location other than our home while being creative. I recommend telling your children to paint at the beginning of your visit so their artworks have time to dry before you take them home. Believe me, I am speaking from the experience of getting covered in wet paint while toting handfuls of my children's projects to the car. ArtQuest is located in the Greenhill Center for NC Art across the street from the Greensboro Children's Museum.

#2- Lighthouses at the Outer Banks
Our family absolutely loves the Outer Banks, with visiting the lighthouses ranking near the top of our list. We are partial to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse with its quiet surroundings and the great view it affords after you climb to its apex. Hatteras Light also makes a great outing, but usually has more crowds than Currituck Light. Our family was fortunate enough to witness Hatteras being relocated several years ago and couldn't believe how far they safely moved the structure. Park rangers regularly give free talks at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse since it is owned by the National Park Service.

#1- Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education- Corolla
My absolutely favorite NC spot, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, sits in the shadow of Currituck Light. Our family loves the Center's programs so much that we try to hit several of them each OBX trip. Over the years, we have gone fishing, animal tracking, birdwatching, and enjoyed a nighttime walk where we spied an albino deer. The best program, though, was Kayaking the Sound where a naturalist pointed out the birds, plants, and other wildlife of the sound habitat while we paddled about in our kayaks. The best part is that all the programs are free and include all the equipment you may need. You must make reservations for the programs in advance.

I hope this provided you with some ideas for summer jaunts in NC. A few places on my want-to-visit-in-the-future list: Grandfather Mountain, Biltmore House, the waterfalls in Transylvania County, and the Wildlife Education Center in the Pisgah National Forest. We're also trying to squeeze in a trip to the Outer Banks and a hike around Pilot Mountain.

So, do tell, what are your favorite places and locales to visit in NC?

1 comment:

  1. We're thrilled to see ArtQuest on your list! We love homeschoolers (and everyone else too of course)! :-)

    --Leah from Green Hill