North Carolina By Train: A Guide for the Fall

Plus: The special seasonal events from each service


Published:

From Thomas the Tank Engine and The Little Engine That Could, to Platform 9¾ and “Murder on The Orient Express,” trains captivate our imaginations. Journey and destination are so deeply interwoven within the massive steel body of a locomotive, that it has long been a favorite trope for storytellers, as well as a favorite toy for children. 

In North Carolina, we can choose from an abundance of enchanting train options. Go with a functional, carefree way to travel via NC By Train, or delight in pure whimsy at Tweetsie Railroad. Here are some options for the train lover in all of us. 

 

Tweetsie Railroad

300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock

Tucked in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Tweetsie Railroad, located in Blowing Rock, is the oldest theme park in North Carolina. From its traditional Wild West theme to rotating special events, this park has something for everyone. 

Locomotive No. 12, dubbed “Tweetsie,” debuted July 4, 1957, as a family fun activity that gave passengers a 1-mile ride to a picnic site. Since then, the park has added Engine No. 190, the “Yukon Queen,” and expanded the track to a 3-mile loop.

In addition to trains, Tweetsie Railroad consists of hundreds of acres filled with rides, shops, eateries, live entertainment and an animal park. 

Through Oct. 27, Tweetsie is open on Friday through Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is $50 for ages 13 and older, $32 for ages 3-12, and free for ages 2 and younger.

Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad


SPECIAL EVENTS
Ghost Train

Through Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
Admission to the Ghost Train, which is separate from park admission, is $44 for adults, $38 for children ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and younger. The Ghost Train ride takes 20 minutes. Admission includes a haunted house, Halloween shows, trick-or-treating and other “ghastly attractions.” 

Tweetsie Christmas
Starting Nov. 22, Tweetsie Railroad transforms from spooky to merry for its annual Tweetsie Christmas event. Thousands of Christmas lights twinkle during the nighttime train ride. Passengers sing Christmas carols, roast s’mores and get pictures with Santa. 

 

The North Carolina Transportation Museum 

1 Samuel Spencer Drive, Spencer

Billed as “the museum that moves you,” the North Carolina Transportation Museum offers visitors 60 acres of historic artifacts and immersive exhibits. 

Four historic buildings are filled with items and stories that will transport visitors to the time of the Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops. The site was once home of the Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive servicing facility. 

Over the years, exhibits have been added to encompass all forms of transportation history. Explore steam and diesel locomotives, railroad passenger cars, antique automobiles and aviation exhibits, including a full size Wright Flyer and a Piedmont Airlines DC-3. 

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $6 for ages 13 and older, $5 for seniors (ages not specified) and members of the military, and $4 for ages 3-12. Train rides are available Thursday through Sunday as an add-on to the admission price. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM


SPECIAL EVENTS
Day Out With Thomas

Sept. 27-29, Oct. 4-6
Tickets cost $16-32, depending on age, for specific time periods. You can purchase an all-day pass for $32 (for all ages).

Trick or Train
Oct. 26
Kids in costumes receive free admission and a train ride with a paying adult. Conductors will be handing out candy aboard the train and at stations throughout the museum. Additional activities include face painting, temporary tattoos, games, coloring, crafts, photo opportunities, costume contests for different age groups, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, hayrides trolley rides and more. Check the website for train ride times, the costume contest schedule and other details. 

The Polar Express Train Ride
Nov. 15-17, Nov. 22-24, Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Dec. 6-8, Dec. 12-22
Weekends in November and December, all who believe have the opportunity to ride the Polar Express and hear Santa’s magic sleigh bells. Hot chocolate and cookies are served on board. Passengers enjoy singing and dancing during the train ride, as well as a reading of “The Polar Express.” Upon arrival at the North Pole, Santa presents the first gift of Christmas. All passengers receive a silver sleigh bell during the return trip. Tickets range from $32 for a single children’s ticket in standard coach to $325 for a table for four in parlor class. 


Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

45 Mitchell St., Bryson City

If a classic train ride with breathtaking scenery is your goal, look no further than the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Based in Bryson City, this railroad line offers two daily train routes on both steam- and diesel-powered locomotives.

The Tuckasegee River Excursion is a four-hour trip to Dillsboro and passes by the famous movie set of “The Fugitive” (1993). The Nantahala Gorge Excursion is a four-and-a-half hour excursion that carries passengers to the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM


SPECIAL EVENTS
PEANUTS The Great Pumpkin Patch Express

Saturdays and Sundays throughout October
Enjoy a train ride themed on the classic PEANUTS story, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” at select times Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout October. Don your costume and visit Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the PEANUTS gang in the mountains.

The half-hour ride to the pumpkin patch is accompanied by the narration of Charles Schulz’ classic Halloween tale. Purchase tickets online or the day of your ride. Depending on which class of service you choose, prices range from complimentary to $10 for children under age 2; $32-$39 for ages 2-12; and $56-$68 for ages 13 and older. 

THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride
Nov. 8 to Dec. 31 (with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day).
Experience Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s “The Polar Express” themed train ride. Once you arrive at the North Pole, Santa boards the train, greets each child and gives him or her a silver bell to keep the magic of Christmas alive. Passengers sing Christmas carols on the return trip.

Tickets quickly sell out. Purchase online in advance. Prices range from $17-$24 for children under age 2; $45-$67 for ages 2-12; and $65-$91 for ages 13 and older. 


New Hope Valley Trains

3900 Bonsal Road, New Hill

Located southwest of Raleigh, New Hope Valley Railway calls itself the Triangle’s Train, and caters to true train lovers. Though the railway does not provide daily train rides, volunteers schedule and promote a number of special events during which visitors can go on an approximate one-hour long train ride along 8 miles of track.

It’s also home to the North Carolina Railway Museum, which features antique train cars, memorabilia and a gift shop. In addition to the trains and museum, visitors can view railroad equipment from the 1920s and a model railroad, which features 1,000 feet of miniature track and several model trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine. 

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Transportation Museum


SPECIAL EVENTS
Track or Treat Halloween Express
Oct. 12, 19 and 26

Slow Down Sunday
Nov. 10

Santa’s Reindeer
Roundup Express

Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15 and 21
Tickets range from $7-$14 depending on the event.


NC By Train

Stations located in cities across the state

The North Carolina Department of Transportation owns and operates the Piedmont and Carolinian Amtrak train lines, as well as 16 stations to serve families throughout the state.

A family of four can hop a train from Raleigh to Charlotte for the day for less than $120. Ticket prices cost $11.50-$27 one way for transportation within North Carolina; $103 for a one-way train from Raleigh to New York City; and $123 for a one-way train from Charlotte to New York City. In addition to offering train travel, NC By Train often partners with local busses and transit systems to make your entire journey hassle-free. Visit the website for deals and specials, and information on everyday and group travel discounts. 

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation


Trains have a special place in U.S. history. They transformed the way we communicate, manufacture and explore the world. And though we now have access to more modernized modes of transportation, there is still something magical about feeling the rolling rumble of rails underneath you as the countryside sails by. 

Mandy Howard is a freelance writer and mother of three in Raleigh. 

 

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January 2020

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7109 Leesville Road
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Raleigh, NC  27613
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Contact Name: Kelly
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Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
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2080 E Williams St
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Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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207 Old Lexington Road
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Cost: Free

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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Cost: See website for fees

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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Cost: $70/month

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Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Cost: Free

Where:
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Sponsor: USNWC
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
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Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
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Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


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Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

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Cost: 20

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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Cost: $3

Where:
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5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Contact Name: Mandy Hunter
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Cost: Free

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Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Cost: $400 per module

Where:
Wynns Family Psychology
130 Preston Executive Drive
#202
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Wynns Family Psychology
Telephone: 919-467-7777
Contact Name: Wynns Family Psychology
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

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Cost: $75-$216

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Cost: $225

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Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
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Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

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Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
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Cost: $225

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Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
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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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Cost: FREE

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Sponsor: Azevedo Family Psychology
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Cost: $12.95 materials fee

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Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

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Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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January Story Time, Puppet Show &  Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic Aesop fable The Lion and the Mouse. Activities include a story time,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Hillsborough Library
137 West Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Main Library
Telephone: 919-245-2525
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
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Puppet Show Inc. presents a re-telling of Aesop’s Fable, “The Lion and the Mouse.”   A make and take craft will follow the show.  No registration necessary.  Ages 4 and up with a...

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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Do you see strange lights in the night sky? Are you hearing odd noises coming from your tool shed? Is your dog now afraid to venture in the back yard? Don’t be scared — it might just be a...

Cost: $2 members, $5 non members

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 West Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Contact Name: Hugo Romero Sanchez
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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
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It's your last chance to catch the Wolfpack at home this season! Help RED OUT Duke by wearing your favorite RED NC State Gear to the meet. The first 300 fans will receive an exclusive RED OUT...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center
2611 Cates Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27695
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Preschoolers (ages 3-5 with an adult) learn what wild animals do in winter by pretending to be animals that hibernate, migrate or just stay warm in the cold, winter woods! Take a hike, do a craft,...

Cost: $3

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
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Explore nature through play!  The Main Library is partnering with local Tinkergarten leaders Heather Murphy and Kate MacCartney to bring the fun of nature indoors.  Join us as we investigate...

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
Website »

More information

January Story Time, Puppet Show & Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic Aesop fable The Lion and the Mouse. Activities include a story time,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carrboro Library
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Inside McDougle Middle School
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Carrboro Branch Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
Website »

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Want a wild start to your new year?When you’re facing the after-holiday blues after packing up the decorations and taking down the tree, never fear. Come celebrate the new year in a thrilling,...

Cost: $20 - $26

Where:
Animal Park at the Conservators Center
676 E Hughes Mill Rd
Burlington, NC  27217
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Sponsor: Animal Park at the Conservators Center
Telephone: 336-421-0883
Contact Name: Taylor Sharp

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
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Website »

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Family Wildlife Series: Owl Prowl Saturday, January 18, 6-7:15 p.m. Venture into the night on a Blue Jay hike.  Learn about owl habits and adaptations as we listen for these nocturnal birds....

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.