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

September 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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The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Embrace your inner rebel and celebrate the motorcycle lifestyle with family-friendly activities ranging from stunt shows and specialty rides to live music and local vendors. See website for hours.

Cost: $10 for ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury 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  17560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Experience a full day of outdoor experiences, nature adventures and family-friendly activities to kick off Take a Child Outside Week.

Cost: Free

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Take part in a 5K race, a kid’s dash and family activities to raise awareness in the fight against lung cancer in North Carolina. 

Cost: Free-$30

Where:
Midtown Park
4011 Cardinal at North Hills
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
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Discover Historic Yates Mill – a place of business, community and exciting local history! Explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water as it turns the milling...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Pepper Fest heats up with a fresh array of pepper-themed dishes and brews, family activities, a kid chef competition and zesty live music.

Cost: $5-$30

Where:
The Great Meadow, Briar Chapel
161 Salt Cedar Ln.
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Monday, Sept. 24, 11 a.m.–noon Let’s celebrate the arrival of Fall! Make a craft inspired by the leaves’ changing colors. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all...

Cost: free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Contact Name: Ashley Martin

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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Search the meadow for katydid, cicadas, crickets and other incredible insects that make up approximately 80% of the world’s species of animals. All ages. Register online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2–3:30 p.m. The harvest season was a busy time for Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneer family. Put on your straw hat or sun bonnet and head to the park to try out the types of farm...

Cost: $6/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Discover how beavers live, eat and play in their watery world. Search for beaver signs around the pond. Ages 3-5 with parent. Advance registration required.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
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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Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy croquet, bocci, corn hole, ladder ball and more. Register online. Choose course #117149.

Cost: $4/resident, $5/nonresident

Where:
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop
Cary, NC  27513
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Play giant board games and special activities.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Cary Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Enjoy nature-themed books followed by a hands-on activity or garden exploration. Ages 3-5 with adult. Register online.

Cost: Free

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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Apple Day features fresh North Carolina apples, an apple dessert and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy trivia about sports, music, movies and more. Register online. Choose course #116583.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring food trucks, inflatables, hayrides and vendors.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Welcome fall's arrival with a food truck rodeo, car show, face painting, a craft show and more.  

Cost: Free

Where:
125 U.S. 1-A
Youngsville, NC  27596
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Enjoy national and regional professional dancers from the Wake Forest dance community and beyond, as well locally rising advanced dance performers. 

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Take part in a 1.4-mile walk for inclusiveness. Registration and activities begin at 10 a.m.; walk begins at 10:30 a.m. Enjoy refreshments, games, raffle and a decorating station. All ages and...

Cost: $15/family, $5/individual

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring food trucks, inflatables, hayrides and vendors.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Take the family for a celebration of Orange County’s heritage and culture. Enjoy local food, music, cooking demonstrations, local artists and crafters, and kids’ activities.

Cost: Free

Where:
Blackwood Farm Park
4215 NC Hwy 86
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Government
Telephone: 919-245-2063
Contact Name: Mike Lanier
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Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Matthew Cordell's upcoming tour for his next book, "King Alice," will make a stop at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Cordell most recently won the Caldecott Medal for his picture book,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Enjoy a day at the park and listen to stories from professional storytellers in an event presented in partnership with Wake County Public Libraries. Enjoy a wagon shuttle, activity tents, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries and Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space
Telephone: 919-212-7695
Contact Name: Abby Jones
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Take the family for pony rides, riding demonstrations, miniature horses and a petting area, hayrides, games, food trucks and an appearance by Woody and Jesse from Toy Story. Purchase activity bands...

Cost: Admission is free. Some activities charge a fee.

Where:
Horses for Hope
2909 Banks Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Celebrate Morrisville, Wake County’s most diverse community, with a day of food, culture and music from around the world. Kids can enjoy face painting and a bounce house.

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Snakes are very misunderstood and feared, yet are so important to the ecosystem. Meet some friendly snakes up close and learn about common snakes found in this area. All ages. Meet at the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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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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Be part of the 2017 Harvest Festival, organized by St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church Raleigh, where authentic freshly cooked food, stage performances, music, live auction,...

Cost: Free

Where:
St Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church
225 Bashford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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