School’s out, and there’s plenty of time left to plan a fun-filled summer getaway to the NC Smokies with your family. Not only are our five mountain towns close to some of the best kid-friendly activities in the region, but they’re filled with some of the most affordable overnight accommodations you can find. Really, there’s no reason not to plan a quick road trip! To help you out, we’ve put together our favorite family-fun adventures to inspire your itinerary.
Maggie Valley Rock Shop and Gem Mine
The mountains of North Carolina are known for their gemstones—just ask the Boojum. Stop by the Maggie Valley Rock Shop and Gem Mine to hunt for gems or examine museum-quality fossils. For something out of this world, we recommend taking a peek at their collection of space rocks. You can even take an extraterrestrial rock home with you. Located on Soco Road, the Rock Shop is within easy walking distance to Maggie Valley’s hotels and restaurants.
Make a Splash at Lake Junaluska
The beautiful landscape of Lake Junaluska is more than just photogenic—it’s home to several kid-friendly outdoor recreation options. Take a dip in the public pool from now until Labor Day (September 2), or do your best to stay dry on a paddle board, canoe, or kayak rental on the lake. For only $5 per person, the whole family can embark on a relaxing boat tour of the lake grounds. Looking for something to do on solid land? Put that $5 towards a golf ball and spend the day playing unlimited rounds of mini golf.
Try out Mother Nature’s Slip-N-Slide
Located just short drive from Haywood County, Sliding Rock gushes 11,000 gallons of water every minute, creating a completely natural water slide that makes for a full day of outdoor fun. This unique attraction is a 60-foot flat-sloped boulder with an eight-foot deep pool at the end surrounded by several observation decks, allowing visitors to enjoy Sliding Rock without getting wet. Sliders must go down the rock one by one and are monitored by three lifeguards, so it’s very safe. We recommend you wear old sneakers or water shoes and worn swim trunks to slide in. It’s only $3 to enter the recreation area this summer, and snacks, drinks, water shoes, and towels will be for sale at Sliding Rock for the first time.
Float Down the Pigeon River
Start and end your floating excursion along the Pigeon River at BearWaters Brewing! On a hot summer day, nothing beats relaxing on the river. This is available to kids of all ages, with the added benefit of adult beverages for those of age.
Dance with the world at Folkmoot
When North Carolina’s official folk festival comes to Waynesville later this July, there are a few extra kid-friendly events that you can enjoy. The festivities kick off on July 19 with Camp Folkmoot, which gives kids the opportunity to learn international folk dance from performers around the globe. At the end of the event, they’ll put on a short performance to show off their new dance moves. They’ll also get a chance to make unique cultural crafts that they can take home.
Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
All aboard! Get a front row seat to the beautiful Western North Carolina landscape on a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad excursion. As you ride, you’ll listen to authentic bluegrass music and Appalachian tall tales aboard an open-air gondola or climate-controlled locomotive. You’ll also learn about the 140-year history of the railway that opened up this region to the outside world, encouraging travel and trade. If your kids are feeling hungry during the trip, there are plenty of delicious kid-friendly lunch options available on board. Looking for some extra entertainment after the ride? Families can extend their day of fun with one of several adventurous packages right by the railroad.
Learn at the Cradle of Forestry
Another excellent day trip option, this one-time forestry school has been perfectly restored and now provides indoor and outdoor ways to interact with nature. Inside, kids can try out a scavenger hunt and enjoy lunch in the Café at the Cradle. Outside, families can explore over 3 miles of pet-friendly and wheelchair accessible paved hiking trails. For a step back in time, check out the several historic cabins on site.
Haywood County’s central location and affordable places to stay makes it an ideal place to plan an exciting and adventurous summer road trip. We hope you’ll consider adding any (or all) of these day trip ideas to your itinerary while you stay with us! Be sure to take lots of pictures and tag them with #HayNow for a chance to be featured on our Instagram page. Want even more great ideas? Check out Trekaroo’s take on 5 Ways to Enjoy NC’s Great Outdoors!