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

August 2019

August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. Come to the Finley Center anytime during the day to share some jokes with the park community. A large board will be set up in the Exhibit Hall where...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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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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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Enjoy live music, kid activities, a taco eating contest and The Best Taco contest.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
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See the Game Grumps play games, make jokes and more in this stage show. Purchase tickets online. 

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Ages 11-17 learn how to make foods inspired by Asia. Register online. Choose course #124729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

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Enjoy storytime with Amy Godfrey. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Locopops Dessert Cafe
2618 Hillsborough St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Dragonflies love to eat flying bugs, especially mosquitoes and gnats!  Discover the different parts of a dragonfly's body through a colorful craft, learn about its life cycle, and play fun...

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
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Join us at Harris Lake County Park as we explore the wonders of water through educational activities and some for just plain fun! We will dip for critters in our pond to discover what lives...

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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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Come to Learning Express Falls Pointe for an instructive class on how to make your very own Do-A-Dot Art creation.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124972.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/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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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Design a T-shirt. Materials provided. Grades 3-5. Register at the library or call 919-245-2539.

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W. Margaret Ln.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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We are so excited for our next Durham Night Market at Pine & Poplar at The Wine Feed. Over 40 local makers will be selling their handmade products. There will be food trucks, live music...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Wine Feed
307 S Roxboro St
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
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Film to be announced. *Actual time to be determined by sunset. Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics to enjoy a movie under the stars in our beautiful garden!

Cost: Free

Where:
GREGG MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN
1903 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Sponsor: Gregg Museum of Art & Design
Telephone: 919-515-3503
Contact Name: Gregg Museum
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. Little Miss...

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
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Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
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Bring your friends and family to Learning Express for a Family Game Night. There will be several games available to play including popular board games, card games, arcade games, and dice...

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124903.

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Take the family for a night of jigs, reels and anything Celtic. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Hundreds of artisans from across the Southeast, festival foods, demonstrations, a kids' play area and live music highlight the town's signature arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Town Hall Campus
316 N. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27513
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Website »

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The North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir Half-Day Camp and Music Workshop is open to public (all children in our community between 7 and 14 years of age). Register online. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Binkley Baptist Church
1712 Willow Dr
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir
Telephone: 919-239-9083
Contact Name: Robert Unger
Website »

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Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
View map »


Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
Website »

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Play children's games from the past. No registration rquired. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Website »

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Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

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This event is FREE and open to the public! Join Read-a-roo and her PBS KIDS friends for a music-filled day of concerts, hands-on activities and more, Saturday, August 24, from 10 AM to 2 PM, at...

Cost: Free

Where:
University Place
201 S. Estes Dr
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: UNC-TV

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Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for treats, music, art and more. See a special exhibit showcasing the work of Artspace's talented young artists.

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace
201 E. Davie St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30 & 3:00 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Come into Learning Express North Hills for a trading event. Socialize with others who collect Pokemon and/or LOL dolls and negotiate for rare cards.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

More information

Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online. Choose course #124931.

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

Join Horne Memorial UMC & First Baptist Church of Clayton for an evening of Christian fellowship, inspirational music, free food and family fun. All proceeds benefit Clayton Area Ministries...

Cost: Free

Where:
Clayton Town Square
100 W. Main Street
Clayton, NC  27520
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Sponsor: First Baptist Church of Clayton and Horne Memorial UMC of Clayton
Telephone: 919-218-4010
Contact Name: Melissa Dooley
Website »

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East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
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Caribbean culture and cuisine showcase this 7th annual festival that features masqueraders, arts and craft vendors, live music and a kids corner. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
400 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC
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North Carolina State University celebrates the beginning of a new academic year with good, music and family-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC  27607


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