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

July 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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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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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Take part in Maple View's annual event that features live music by Back Porch Orchestra & The Mason Lovette Band. Enjoy delicious ice cream specials and award winning dairy products, the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maple View Farm Ice Cream
6900 Rocky Ridge Rd.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Maple View Farm Ice Cream
Telephone: 919.960.5535
Contact Name: Allison H. Nichols
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Discover clay through a safe and engaging activity. Dress for the weather and to get messy or wet. Register online. Choose course #220634.

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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Monday, July 16; 10:30–11:00 a.m. Practice your shapes and develop your fine motor skills through games and hands-on activities. Then go on a nature hunt to find plants and animals of different...

Cost: $2/child

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Enjoy a family-friendly movie. See the website for the movie title. Showings at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crabtree Valley Mall
4325 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Website »

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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

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The Art Therapy Institute has been working in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools with the Exceptional Children's Program for the past ten years. Enjoy a summer art therapy groups in June and...

Cost: $20 per session

Where:
Art Therapy Institute of NC
200 N Greensboro St. Suite D-6 (2nd Floor Carr Mill Mall)
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Telephone: 919-381-6068
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Book Harvest and Scholastic are hosting the ultimate summer reading road trip event to celebrate “A Magical Summer of Reading.” In an effort to get kids reading this summer, the 2018...

Cost: Free

Where:
Burton Magnet Elementary School
1500 Mathison St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Scholastic Inc.
Telephone: 212-343-6876
Contact Name: Josephine Djonovic
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Athlete and artist Ernie Barnes is known for his colorful, elongated figures and for his special way of making the figures look like they were in motion. Look at some of his paintings, strike a...

Cost: $5/child

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Meet a favorite princess or superhero from 11 a.m.-noon and 1-2 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crabtree Valley Mall
4325 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Cost: $7 ages 1 and older.

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Tuesday, July 17; 11:00 a.m. – Noon What's swimming underneath the surface of Crowder's Pond? Explore the animals that call this habitat home in a hands-on pond study. Learn the aquatic food...

Cost: $1/Person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

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Enjoy the Fun Caravan, a mobile recreation program equipped with a host of fun activities for ages 12 and younger. Enjoy games, arts and crafts, obstacle courses and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
West Point on the Eno
5101 N. Roxboro St.
Durham, NC
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Enjoy "Grumpy Monkey" by Suzanne Lang.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Enjoy a Build-A-Bear activity, storytime, games and painting from 11 a.m.-noon and 1-2 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crabtree Valley Mall
4325 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Website »

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Many animals and insects live in the pond! Read "Around the Pond" by Lindsay Barrett George and discover what animals can be found there. Make a pond collage craft with all of your favorite...

Cost: $4/Child

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

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Budding naturalists ages 2-6 enjoy a craft, engaging activity, and guided walk along the greenway. Register online. Choose course #219940. 

Cost: $2/person

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2761
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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Join park staff to discover amphibians, birds, insects, spiders and more. Help collect data for the Natural Resource Inventory Database while increasing your own identification skills. Ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Are lizards really dinosaurs in miniature?  Learn the answer to this, plus other interesting facts about some of our  local lizards. Theme related stories and activities for parent...

Cost: $4/child

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Attend a Toddler Tour and Information Session, in which families explore a classroom and learn about half- or full-day toddler classes for ages 18 months-3 years. Classes develop...

Cost: Free

Where:
Montessori Children's House of Durham
2800 Pickett Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Take your own poles or borrow one from the park through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Take your own poles or borrow one from the park through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Sharon O'Donnell visits Quail Ridge Books to discuss her new book and tell humorous and poignant stories of having a child at 38.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Meet a staff member at the information desk and follow your guide outside to the garden exhibit or into one of the museum galleries. Look around and listen to a history-related story. 

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Join us at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro every Thursday at 10 a.m. for a casual storytime on the porch or even out in the yard. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Chatham Marketplace
480 Hillsboro St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Sponsor: Chatham Marketplace
Telephone: 919-542-2643
Contact Name: Craig Kolman
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Take part in hands-on outdoor discovery and the study of birds in their habitat. Ages 6-8. Register online.

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 Nature Preserve staff
Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 7-12 enjoy fashion and design activities from 11 a.m.-noon.; ages 13-18 enjoy the same activities from 1-2 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crabtree Valley Mall
4325 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy an easy-paced and stroller-friendly walk along the greenway. Suggested for ages 3 and younger with parent. Register online. Choose course #219871.

Cost: Free

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

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Learn about sea turtle adaptations for success in the ocean and their incredible life cycle. Carolina Children's Museum is a proud sponsor of this free program provided by Dragonfly Nature...

Cost: Free; donations encouraged

Where:
Devils Ridge Golf Club (In the Players Club)
5107 Linksland Drive
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Carolina Children's Museum
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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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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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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
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $7 ages 1 and older.

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

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This epic musical is about wishes, family and the consequences of the choices that we make. A childless baker and his wife endeavor to lift their family curse by journeying into the woods,...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

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Take a walk with a park naturalist to explore the woods and fields at this special time of day. Register online.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve staff
Website »

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See the G-rated movie under the stars at Booth Amphitheatre. Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast cars, the legendary Lighting McQueen finds himself pushed out of the sport that...

Cost: $5 ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
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Enjoy a movie outdoors at the amphitheatre. Take a blanket or lawn chair.  Call the Halle Cultural Arts Center for film title. Pets and alcohol not permitted.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Nature Park Amphitheatre
2600 Evans Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The Halle Cultural Arts Center
Telephone: (919) 249-1120
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Join staff for a leisurely hike along our trails while learning how to identify plants, insects, birds and any other critters that happen along our path (not stroller accessible, so baby backpacks...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Website »

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Saturday, July 21; 10:00–11:00 a.m. Take a walk in the woods and discover the animals and plants that call our park home. Help collect data for our Natural Resource Inventory Database and other...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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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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Website »

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Meet a real turtle and hike to see others. Play turtle games and bring home a rock 'turtle' in a terrarium you design. Ages 3-5 with caregiver. Register online.

Cost: $6

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve
Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

View the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history and aspects of its preservation. All ages. Registration encouraged online; tickets available inside...

Cost: $5/adult, $3/ ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger.

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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Saturday, July 21; 1:00–3:00 p.m. Stop by our FREE discovery table to learn about bees! Registration is not required. The display table is located by the Upper Playground.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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arcBARKS, the maker of healthy dog treats operated by The ARC of Greensboro, will have free samples for all dogs at this dog- and human-friendly event. Co-sponsor Shoe Crazy Wines will have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Special Treats Chocolate Shop
Timberlyne Shopping Center
1129 Weaver Dairy Rd.,Unit R
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Special Treats
Telephone: 919-883-2151
Contact Name: Dan Friedman
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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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Scott Reintgen discusses his newest book, "Nyxia Unleashed."  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 19.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

This epic musical is about wishes, family and the consequences of the choices that we make. A childless baker and his wife endeavor to lift their family curse by journeying into the woods,...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

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