North Carolina Destination Lakes


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From the mountains to the coastal plain, North Carolina lakes offer pristine natural beauty and endless opportunities for adventure. Looking for quiet activities? Try reeling in a trout, floating along in a canoe or breaking out the binoculars to spot an osprey or mink. If an adrenaline rush is what you seek, rent a jet ski, hike to a waterfall or bike one of many trails surrounding our state's lakes.

The three lakes featured below guarantee family togetherness and provide thrills and chills. All offer countless activities and varied accommodations.

Fontana Lake: Bryson City
greatsmokies.com/fontana

Nestled on the westernmost edge of North Carolina, Fontana Lake has 240 miles of minimally developed shoreline, giving boaters and kayakers unobstructed views of the Smoky Mountains.

The National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service owns more than 90 percent of the land surrounding Fontana Lake, a naturalist's paradise. Spots on the water offer a clear view of Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the most unique aspects of the lake is Fontana Dam, completed in 1944 to provide electricity as part of the war effort. At 480 feet high, this working hydroelectric dam is the tallest east of the Rockies and the fourth-largest in the U.S.

Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, recommends visiting in June, July or August, because September marks the beginning of the annual draw-down. Families can learn how the dam was built at the visitor center, open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May through November.
Fontana Lake is one of the deepest (more than 400 feet) and coldest in the region, with a diverse fish population that includes walleye, muskie and smallmouth bass, so it's perfect for the amateur reeler.

Wilmot suggests the Deep Creek hike, through the entrance of the Park. "It offers three lovely waterfalls on an easy-to-manage trail. Make a day of it with the kids with a picnic, creek tubing and just splashing around," she says.

For a bit of history, visit nearby Cherokee and the Oconaluftee Village, an 18th-century "living museum" that features a dugout canoe, pottery and basket making, and a blowgun demonstration.

There are multiple choices for accommodations, including camping, motels/hotels and cabins. "We offer a great deal of lodging for all budgets and family dynamics, so it just depends on what you're looking for," Wilmot says.

Lake Lure: Rutherford County
townoflakelure.com

About 100 miles west of Charlotte you'll find Lake Lure - a spot you may recognize because it was featured in films such as Dirty Dancing, The Last of the Mohicans and My Fellow Americans. With two beaches, a water park, beautiful mountain scenery and dozens of family-friendly activities, Lake Lure is sure to keep you busy.

Start with a guided boat tour. Your skipper will show you landmarks and share mountain legends. Or rent a boat, whether you're interested in water skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking or canoeing. The lake is filled with small coves ideal for fishing and bird-watching, and you may catch a glimpse of one of the many collegiate rowing teams that practice there. The beaches and water park feature 100 yards of sand and a swimming area, water slides, bumper boats and water games.

kid-climbing-at-crsp-at-lake-lure.jpgAbout a half-mile away are Chimney Rock State Park and the iconic Chimney Rock, a 315-foot monolith offering spectacular views from its peak. Take the 44 stairs to the top or hop on the elevator for a 30-second ride. Five hiking trails range from easy to strenuous. Or schedule a rock-climbing lesson. Kids love Grady's Animal Discovery Den, home to woodland creatures such as nonvenomous snakes, turtles and toads. (Photo at left of rock climbing at Chimney annual-dragon-boat-festival-on-lake-lure.jpgRock State Park, near Lake Lure, is courtesy of Town of Lake Lure.)


Lake Lure is also home to many festivals throughout the year. The International Dragon Boat Festival in June features races, parties and a "Waking of the Dragons" opening ceremony. The annual Lake Lure Olympiad in August accommodates all ages and abilities. The Dirty Dancing Festival, also in August, includes a lakeside screening, family dance festival and after-party dance party.

During late April and May, as well as the early fall months, you'll have the place to yourself, says Valerie Hoffman, communications coordinator for the Town of Lake Lure. Accommodations are plentiful and vary from log cabins to motels to campsites. "We've got it all," she says. "The mountains, lake and beach. It's what has drawn families here for so long." Pictured above, dragon boats race during the International Dragon Boat Festival at Lake Lure. Photo courtesy Town of Lake Lure

Lake Waccamaw: Columbus County
lakewaccamaw.com

Head to the swampy Coastal Plain on the eastern side of the state to visit Lake Waccamaw. One of North Carolina's few natural lakes, Waccamaw offers ecology lessons for the entire family.

There's definitely something in the water of this "one of a kind" lake, says Toby Hall, Lake Waccamaw State Park superintendent.

The extreme biodiversity living in and around it includes seven species native only to the area - three fish, two mussel and two snail species. Known as a bay lake, Lake Waccamaw was named not for a body of water, but for the "bay vegetation" growing nearby. A peaceful paddle is the best way to observe this shallow, oval lake of tea-colored water, because it allows visitors to see various birds and reptiles - maybe even an alligator. Paddlers can also glimpse the limestone bluffs along the north shore, which create the neutral pH in the water necessary for the survival of such unique ecosystems.

The main area of Lake Waccamaw State Park features a visitor center, picnic area, two public piers, four hiking trails and four primitive campsites. The park staff provides a variety of educational programs, including interpretative nature hikes, campfire programs and special events.

Hall says many visitors choose to tent camp at the park. Other accommodations include nearby Lakeshore Bed and Breakfast, RV parks, hotels in Whiteville (about a 15-minute drive) or rental homes on the lake.

"Lake Waccamaw is a very tranquil and peaceful place," Hall says. Visitors and local residents enjoy the lake and its surrounding area for its serenity and beauty. This place is truly a gem for the state of North Carolina."

Amy Salvatore Reiss is a freelance writer who lives in Davidson and is the mother of two young girls.

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Calendar

January 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Dress in your princess best and enjoy magical activities and delightful treats with a princess. Registration required online; limited availability. Choose from either the 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m....

Cost: $15/member, $20/nonmember

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Enjoy live entertainment, hands-on projects and gallery hunts.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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Experience the excitement of the NFC and AFC Championship games with 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist Torry Holt and former NFL star Terrence Holt at this one-of-a-kind fundraiser to...

Cost: $25-$150

Where:
William Neal Reynolds Coliseum
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Women's Voices Chorus Winter concert, Song of the Universal, expores themes of war, the wish for peace, and the redemptive powers of nature, love and mercy.  Music will include works by...

Cost: $17/adult, $7/student

Where:
University United Methodist Church
150 E. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27714
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Sponsor: Women's Voices Chorus
Telephone: 919-307-6860
Contact Name: Publicity Chair
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Make a craft and enjoy tea with Belle. Ages 3-5. Register online. Choose course #110646.

Cost: $16/resident, $28/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Learn to make appetizers. Ages 11-14. Register online. Choose course #110048.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Take part in Open Studio Explorations, which are open-ended experiences in which children can use the materials in the studio to create at their own pace. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Our PlayHouse Preschool
3501 Hwy. 54 West
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Telephone: (919)967-2700
Contact Name: Elizabeth Lenn
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Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Learn to prepare a meal inspired from Japan. Register online. Choose course #109615.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Parents and their children ages 18 months to 4 years enjoy storytime, craft and snack. Contact Sarah Rapp to RSVP. srapp@saintraphael.org or 919-865-5725

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Ages 18 months-4 years enjoy storytime, craft and snack. RSVP by emailing Sarah Rapp at srapp@saintraphael.org or calling 919-865-5725

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Kids ages 11 and older test their knowledge of New Year's traditions, music, movies and more. Register online. Choose course #111618.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
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Parents learn strategies for helping raise a child when a sibling has special needs. Register online. Choose course #11159.

Cost: $11/resident, $15/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
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See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
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Learn how to help your baby excel in motor development and master tummy time. Tummy time is a foundational skill for developing strong babies, and this class is appropriate for newborns and beyond....

Cost: $30

Where:
Baby + Company
226 Ashville Ave
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Telephone: 773-495-8117
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Read "Dragons Love Tacos" by Adam Rubin and make tacos for dragons. Register online. Choose course #109611.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Youth ages 9-13 find out how not to be fooled by Fool’s Gold. Learn how geologists test minerals by using properties like hardness, streak, color, luster, and acid reactivity, then...

Cost: $6

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
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See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
View map »


Website »

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Take part in fun, hands-on science experiments, which include chemistry, physics, materials and an engineering experiment. See website for ages and times. Register online. 

Cost: $55/child

Where:
SMILE Camp
6301 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: SMILE Camp
Telephone: 919-538-5278
Contact Name: Sheila Marsh
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Learn to make cupcakes with a winter wonderland theme. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #111457.

Cost: $26/resident, $34/nonresident

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Dr.
Apex, NC  27539
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Take 3-5 gently used books for a discount or purchase a book to donate for a discount. Read A. Roo and other guest readers will be present.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Learn to identify common winter birds by sight and sound. Visit a bird-feeding station for up-close encounters, learn how to be a citizen scientist, and take home a feeder and identification...

Cost: $8/member, $10/nonmember

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
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Enjoy all things LEGO at this festival that features creative displays and more. Organized by the North Carolina LEGO Users Group.

Cost: Free

Where:
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
250 E. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Learn how to navigate the college search and application process, prepare for college entrance exams, and more. Ages 12 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course #109354.

Cost: $5/resident, $6/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Gather your recyclables or use some at the preserve and enjoy relay challenges. Take part in engineering feats like bridge building and egg drops using recyclables. Hot chocolate...

Cost: $4/person

Where:
Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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