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

November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

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
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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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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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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Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
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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
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
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See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

More information

Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

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: Jackie Trickel
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

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Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

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
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

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
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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