Carolina Family Vacations for Adventure Seekers
Rushing around to beat the clock every morning isn't enough activity to scratch everyone's adrenaline itch. For these action junkies, family time is best when filled with heart-pounding, breathtaking exhilaration. The more, the better. The Carolinas don't disappoint, delivering a variety of adventurous activities. From zip lines high in the trees to skydiving in an enormous wind tunnel, families in motion can find plenty to keep them on the move.
Flying on the Wind
Paraclete XP Skyventure
Ever wanted to go skydiving, but don't have a plane or, gulp, a parachute? Paraclete near Fayetteville, N.C., has you covered. Paraclete has the world's biggest vertical wind tunnel: a whopping 51 feet tall and 16½ feet across lets you and your family "fly" together. After suiting up and getting some one-on-one time with an instructor, you float on the power of the wind. There are some restrictions - no expectant moms or kids younger than 2, for example - but if you're in good health, you're ready to fly.
For the less-adventurous visitor: There's a comfortable viewing area where you can watch family members float up and down right in front of you. Young kids are offered coloring books and crayons while they wait, too.
Important info: 190 Paraclete Dr., Raeford, N.C., 1-888-4SKYFUN, www.paracletexp.com. Prices range from $39 for repeat flyers to $63 for first-timers and up.
Climbing the Walls
Triangle Rock Club
Is your family ready to start climbing the walls? Head to Morrisville, N.C., where the Triangle Rock Club has 9,000 square feet of climbing walls in an air-conditioned environment. You can take classes or start climbing at your skill level whether your family is just dabbling or are experienced climbers. With more than 100 climbing routes and bouldering problems (climbing without a rope), you can return often to enjoy a fit family hobby.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Family members with more experience can hit higher walls while more-timid climbers start out with an easier course. No one pushes you to go higher. Do only what you're comfortable with!
Important info: 102 Pheasant Wood Court, Morrisville, N.C., 919-463-7625 (ROCK), http://trianglerockclub.com. Adults, $17; ages 11 and younger, $10.
Zipping Through Trees
ZipQuest at Carver's Falls
Spend more than two hours in this untouched natural area - while you're zipping through the treetops, high in the canopy. ZipQuest at Waterfall and Treetop Adventures offers a zip line experience for the whole family (over age 10). From floating spiral stairways to a suspension bridge over the falls, you can enjoy the beauty of the area without setting foot on the ground. And you'll end your experience by zipping right beside the waterfall itself.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Other family members hang out at the nearby Airborne and Special Operations Museum.
Important info: 533 Carvers Falls Dr., Fayetteville, N.C., 910-488-8787, www.zipquest.com, Adventurers ages 10 and up, $79
Thrills at the Beach
Kitty Hawk Kites
Sure, your family can easily spend hours building sand castles and gathering shells at the Outer Banks. But if you're ready for adventure, Kitty Hawk Kites can get your family hooked up to almost any thrill you're seeking: hang gliding, jet skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking. You name it, chances are they have it. Enjoy a favorite activity or take classes to learn a new one.
For the less adventurous visitor: There's plenty to do to keep everyone happy. If you're waiting for someone to wrap up hang gliding, you're free to explore the amazing Jockey's Ridge dunes. Try a wild horse or dolphin tour. Family members can ride in the boat while another person wakeboards. Kayak tours provide a mild adventure on flat water.
Important info: Different locations in the Outer Banks. Call 1-877-359-
8447 for details on a specific activity. www.kittyhawk.com. Prices vary depending on activity.
Mountain Biking to Waterfalls
Pura Vida Adventures
Here's an action-filled way to see the waterfalls of Western North Carolina: pedal a mountain bike on a waterfall tour. Pura Vida Adventures offers a beginner's tour - with wide trails that are mostly downhill - to let you explore the falls around DuPont State Forest. Can't get enough mountain action? Try a multi-day North Carolina family adventure. One day you'll rock climb. The next, explore rafting. And the following day, hit the trails on mountain bikes. Or mix and match another way.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Pura Vida also offers guided hikes if you'd rather stay on your own two feet on terra firma.
Important info: 152 Hendersonville Hwy., Pisgah Forest, N.C., 772-579-0005, www.pvadventures.com. Prices vary depending on activity.
Adventures In and Out of the Water
U.S. National Whitewater Center
Don't let the name fool you. Sure, your family can go whitewater rafting (on the world's largest man-made rafting river) and kayaking at U. S. National Whitewater Center. But you can also mountain bike, zip line, try an adventure course or free-fall jump. This amazing facility crams in almost every outdoor adventure. Your family can buy a day pass or play the whole year with a season pass.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Try eco trekking. You'll walk the trails equipped with a GPS to track and pinpoint hidden checkpoints where you uncover facts about local wildlife and ecology.
Important info: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy., Charlotte, N.C., 704-391-3900, www.usnwc.org. For an all-day, all-sport pass, $49 for ages 10 and up, $39 for 9 and under. Prices go down if you skip certain sports.
Explore a Remote Destination
Bulls Island, S.C.
If a getaway to a deserted island appeals to your family, head to Bulls Island in South Carolina. It has acres of pristine coastal land only reachable by ferry. Take your bicycle to explore the island on wheels, adopt a loggerhead sea turtle nest, or check out the list of feathered friends and go bird-watching. Spend a full day or half day (don't forget to catch the ferry back!) wandering this remote area - but keep your eyes peeled for alligators! (We're told they're more afraid of you than you are of them.)
For the less adventurous visitor: Hang out on Boneyard Beach, the island's beautiful, untouched beach. You can watch for dolphins in the water, hunt for shells or enjoy a picnic lunch.
Important info: Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, 5821 Hwy. 17 North, Awendaw, S.C., 843-928-3368, www.fws.gov/caperomain/bullsisland.html, www.scgreatoutdoors.com/park-bullsisland.html. For the ferry, adults cost $40, 12 and under are $20.
Screaming Along the Rails
Intimidator at Carowinds
If your family craves coasters, this one, billed as "the tallest, fastest, longest coaster in the Southeast," is the one to try. With a NASCAR theme, the mile-long steel coaster rockets you up over 200 feet. You'll take the first drop, then scream around curves and plunges at up to 75 mph.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Want a roller coaster that's a little less extreme? Carowinds has 12 other coasters to choose from. Visit the website (www.carowinds.com) and click the roller coaster link to find coasters' "thrill" ranking (with two as the mildest and five as the most aggressive).
Important info: 14523 Carowinds Blvd., Charlotte, N.C., 704-588-2600, www.carowinds.com. Ages 3 and up, $51.99 for a day pass ($41.99 if you buy ahead online).
Plunging into Coolness
Fantasy Lake, N.C.
Fantasy Lake in Hope Mills, N.C., provides a thrill while cooling you off. A pair of drop slides start out like regular slides, but launch you into a free fall into the lake below. At the jump towers, you choose from a lower, less-extreme platform or the higher, risk-lovers' jump. There are also rope swings, just like the good old-fashioned watering holes.
For the less-adventurous visitor: Enjoy sitting on a porch swing while dangling your feet into the water to cool off or hit the volleyball court before wading into the lake. Don't forget to check out the pedal boats, too.
Important info: 5869 Permastone Lake Rd., Hope Mills, N.C., 910-424-9999, www.fantasylakewaterpark.com. Ages 11 and up, $14; 10 and under, $10. n
Kathleen M. Reilly and her family are always up for adventure. She's the author of Walt Disney World Extreme Vacation Guide for Kids and lives in the Triangle.