It’s the peak of summer, where mornings are jumpstarted by bird songs and the evenings wind down with a glass of sweet tea or a local, cold brew (if you’re of age) against the backdrop of mountain peaks. Relaxing, right? It’s the kind of peace that only comes when the kids have had an adventure-packed day, full of the exciting you can only find in Haywood County. 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 load up the car and hit the road. Plan your next family fun-filled getaway to the North Carolina Smokies—or wing it. Either way, you and the family are in for a good time! 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. Spice up your rock collection with Agate, Amethyst, or Aura Quartz. 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 and knock everyone’s socks off at show-and-tell. 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 just as adventure-filled as it is serene, and it’s home to several kid-friendly outdoor recreation options. Take a dip in the public pool from now until Labor Day (September 7), or do your best to stay dry on a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak rental on the lake. For only $10.00 per person, the whole family can embark on a relaxing boat tour of the lake. Looking for something to do on solid land? Put $5 towards a golf ball and get in a round of 18 holes on the mini-golf course.
Try out Mother Nature’s Slip-N-Slide
Located just a 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—and don’t forget your waterproof camera. It’s only $3 to enter the recreation area this summer, and snacks, drinks, water shoes, and towels are available for purchase.
Float Down the Pigeon River
Start and end your floating excursion along the Pigeon River at BearWaters Brewing – Riverside! 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.
Take in the power of Looking Glass Falls
An easy hike within Pisgah National forest will take you to this 60-foot tall waterfall that cascades down and creates a nice cooling mist. Observe Looking Glass from a viewing area at the top of the stairs. You can also take the steps down to view the falls from a lower platform.
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. Load into an open-air gondola or climate-controlled locomotive for a trip. As you ride, you’ll listen to the authentic bluegrass music and Appalachian tall tales these mountains are made of. 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 onboard. 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.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is currently operating under a new schedule, but they’re taking every precaution necessary to make sure you’re staying safe while having fun! Read about their updated safety measure here.
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. They also have an Adventure Zone program designed with fun activities for children and adults on the autism spectrum. For a step back in time, check out the several historic cabins on site.
The Cradle is currently closed, but they’re targeting an August 5th reopening. Plan ahead and keep up-to-date with their opening plans to make the most of this one-of-a-kind experience!
Ramp up your summer with a trip to the North Carolina Smokies. 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!