Triangle Places for Family Fun in Winter
The Triangle offers lots of play escapes where kids can create and learn — and many outings are free
Winter may seem like a tough time to find play escapes with your kids, but not in the Triangle. Here are suggestions for fun outings with kids during the colder weather months.
Play and Learn at a Museum
Many museums in the Triangle are designed to inspire children’s imagination and learning with hands-on exploration. Here’s a look at some current exhibits at a few local museums.
The Museum of Life and Science, in Durham, has indoor and outdoor exhibits that bring science to life for kids. Head to the insectarium, where an “insect-cam” lets you watch and hear as caterpillar eats food. Climb to the top of a treehouse at Hideway Woods, a 2-acre, forested escape featuring eight interconnected treehouses. Venture into the tropical paradise of the Butterfly House, where 1,000 butterflies flit among exotic plants. Explore the wild to see black bears, red wolves and exotic lemurs up close. Step back in time millions of years ago with your little ones for a walk along the Dinosaur Trail. (Visitors 5 and up currently have to wear masks at all times.) The Life and Science at Home program is also available, an option for those wanting to learn from a distance.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh has four floors of exhibits featuring different parts of North Carolina (free admission) and special traveling exhibits (for a fee). The Nature Research Center, an 80,000-square-foot free-admission wing, makes scientific research accessible with hands-on activities. Visit the center’s SECU Daily Planet, a three-story multimedia space that links virtual to real nature and offers live programming on breaking science news. The center houses a 40 x 40 foot-high definition screen, where scientists present their work, offering impressive views of the universe. Read about the upcoming, groundbreaking “Dueling Dinosaurs” exhibit here.
In downtown Raleigh, Marbles Kids Museum’s exhibits encourage imaginative play and creativity. In Around Town, children have a chance to slip into the lives of grown-ups, from bus drivers to firefighters and farmers. They can shop at a grocery store, be a chef or act on Broadway, all in pretend settings. Other areas of the museum include Splash! offering hands-on experiences with water, and IdeaWorks, where children can design, create and build structures, vehicles, simple machines and everyday products. Learn about more exhibits here. The museum also offers an IMAX theater. (Marbles is closed temporarily but will reopen on Jan. 22.)
The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh offers special programming for children, from crafts to tours, and a museum park that covers 160 acres of fields, woodlands, and creeks, with trails that feature outdoor art on a grand scale. Admission to the Museum’s permanent collection of art from around the world and access to the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park is free. There is a charge for some special exhibitions and programs, such as concerts, films, classes, and performances. From the museum: “The Museum is open with updated hours, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm, required free timed tickets to encourage social distancing, and increased health and safety procedures including required cloth masks.”
Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill offers creative play for with exhibits that invite them to engage in real-life activities, from gardening and construction to painting and puppetry. You can check out their Reopening Plan by heading here.
Splash in a Public Swimming Pool
What better way to escape on a cold and dark day than to jump into a sparkling light-filled pool? If your family likes to swim, head to a pool for inexpensive exercise. Some facilities offer special equipment for kids. In 2012, The Buffalo Road Aquatic Center opened with a three-story waterslide, lazy river, water vortex, water basketball, water volleyball, and three lap lanes. The zero-depth entry has a tot-size play area including water tumble buckets, a water curtain, and tot-size slide. A reservation may be required for many of the lap pools below.
Find a public pool that’s open year-round near your home:
- City of Raleigh Pools & Aquatic Facilities
- Durham Parks & Recreation Aquatics
- Town of Chapel Hill Aquatics
Venture Out on a Nature Hike or Bike Ride
Outdoor activities offer a way to get moving if it’s not too cold or rainy out. Check out one of these nearby hiking trails kids will enjoy you can see things you normally can’t because many of the trees are bare.
If you like to go on outdoor excursions with just your family, check out the growing Capital Area Greenway Trail in the Triangle. Winding through the woods, the Capital Area Greenway Trail offers a network of public open spaces and recreational trails, where any day you’ll find families walking, jogging, skating, hiking, bird watching, studying nature and fishing. Take a picnic for more outdoor fun. The trails connect many of Raleigh’s parks.
Head to a Storytime
Local public libraries and bookstores feature lots of story times each week, some with crafts, music and discussion. Story times help children make new friends, and provide a chance for parents to meet each other. They’re usually free! Search “storytime” in our Daily Calendar to pull up a slew of options.
Step Back in Time at a North Carolina Historic Site
Visit the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources website to learn more about state historic sites that host activities and living history events for kids. In Durham, you’ll find these three fascinating places:
- Bennett Place in Durham, which is home to a simple farmhouse that was the site of the largest troop surrender of the American Civil War.
- Duke Homestead in Durham, where you can see the early home, factories, and farm where Washington Duke first grew and processed tobacco. (Pictured at right, photo courtesy of N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)
- Historic Stagville in Durham, where you’ll find the late 18th-century Bennehan House, four rare slave houses, a pre-Revolutionary War farmer’s house, a huge timber framed barn, and the Bennehan Family cemetery.
Get Out of Town
One-year-old chimpanzees Genie (left) and Gigi (right) press their faces to the glass in the N.C. Zoo’s chimp exhibit during their first day on exhibit.
Photo courtesy of Tom Gillespie/North Carolina Zoo
Visit the North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro offers 500 acres of exhibits with more than 1,100 different animals from North America and Africa. The zoo is home to one of the largest chimpanzee troops in U.S. zoos, and has recently added four new chimps. Check out our guide to zoos and aquariums across the state here.
Find Out Where to Ski, Tube and Snowboard
One of the best things about living in the Triangle is our proximity to the mountains. In less than five hours, snow lovers can find skiing, snowboarding and snow-tubing fun. Browse this roundup of different ski and/or tubing resorts in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia within a six-hour drive of the Triangle. Many seasonal hours changed this year due to COVID-19.
Check Out 15 Must-Visit Small Towns in North Carolina
North Carolina is home to many quaint towns rich in history and natural beauty that provide an opportunity for relaxation and family togetherness, without the noise and traffic of larger cities. If you love the small-town vibe, pack a suitcase to discover the irresistible charm of these road-trip worthy destinations.
Updated Jan. 13, 2021