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Take on a New Challenge at The Escape Game: Concord, NC

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Love a good puzzle challenge with the family? The Escape Game at Concord Mills recently opened with 5 escape room challenges for your friends and family to conquer. All five rooms differ with regard to difficulty and the number of players able to play together, so groups big and small, and beginner or more seasoned escape room players, will all find a game that’s right for their group.

The Escape Game: Concord invited us out to try a game so we could share the experience with our readers.

The Escape Game in Concord Mills

Three of my kids, aged 10-13, and I got to play the Playground Escape Game and we had a blast! It was a very cooperative game and really required us to divide and conquer and help each other to solve all the puzzles in time.

The game was full of surprises and we won’t share all the details, so you can enjoy the game yourself. But here’s how our experience went.

The Escape Game at Concord Mills

The Escape Game is located between the movie theater and Dave & Busters at Concord Mills. If you head towards the movie theater parking lot and then keep going around towards Dave and Busters, you’ll see The Escape Game, painted black and white, on the exterior of the mall. You won’t need to walk through the mall to get to The Escape Game, but there’s an entrance in the mall, too!

When you arrive you’ll check in with your name, if you’ve made reservations in advance. This is recommended, by the way. Then, if you haven’t filled out a waiver, there’s a quick form to fill out on a tablet kiosk. Then, you’re ready to go.

Your guide will walk you to your game and welcome you to the space. A movie intro will play on the screen above the door and you’re off.

Waiver kiosk and merchandise in the Escape Game lobby

The Playground

Our game, Playground, set us up as 4th-grade students on the very last day of 4th grade. But our teacher wouldn’t let us out until we had completed all the tasks on the report card. Each lit up as we completed them during the game, helping us keep track of where we were and how many more puzzles were yet to be solved.

Up to 12 players can play this game, so I was a little nervous about how the 4 of us would do. We’re not exactly expert escape room players. But our game guide helped us out from time to time with clues on the video screen and little tips to let us know if we were headed in the right direction or not. Which, was super helpful and helped keep the game enjoyable and not frustrating.

The Puzzles at The Escape Game

The puzzles we had to solve were all themed by school subject, fitting with the 4th-grade classroom experience. The way information was displayed and hidden for each problem varied greatly. Some clues had us bouncing between rooms as they were opened and some of it was hidden in plain sight and required some deduction and logic, and maybe a little math to find the solutions. Each problem worked together to get us the information we needed to escape that fourth-grade class.

There were lots of fun little surprises along the way, that I, at least, have never seen in an escape room before. My kids really enjoyed those surprises.

Celebrating our escape at The Escape Game, Concord

Mom Review: The Escape Game: Concord, NC

We had a great time playing Playground. Escape rooms are a great family activity for families, especially with hard-to-please tweens and teens and I would definitely would recommend playing a game at The Escape Game. Our game was really well done and we enjoyed working together to solve it and escape.

In my opinion, I don’t think kids much younger than 8 or 9 would be able to contribute much towards solving the puzzles and they might get bored. Although one nice thing about Playground is that there are a significant number of tasks that require collecting objects and younger kids could certainly help with that. But, suffice it to say, these are really geared toward older kids and adults.

We escaped! The Escape Game, Concord Mills

More Rooms to explore at The Escape Game

We got to peek inside a couple of the other new rooms at The Escape Game!

  • Prison Break: 60 minutes to escape prison. Difficulty 9/10, for up to 8 players
  • The Depths: A secret underwater lab? Difficulty 7/10, for up to 8 players
  • Special Ops: A mysterious market…. Difficulty 8/10, for up to 8 players
  • Gold Rush: Time to find some gold. Difficulty 7/10, for up to 8 players
  • Playground: Escape the 4th grade, can’t be that hard, right? Difficulty 6/10 for up to 12 players
The Depths, Escape Game
Sneak peek: The Depths at The Escape Game, Concord

Tickets for The Escape Game

Tickets are $34.99. Smaller groups may end up together, so if you’d like to book privately, for only your group, you can purchase the entire room beginning at $280. Of course, the other option is just to make sure you bring enough friends to fill the room.

More to Do: Concord Mills

Being located in Concord Mills, a large mall, you could easily turn your visit into a full day. Concord Mills has an aquarium, an arcade, movie theater, lots of shopping, and places to eat.

Our family went to the Lego Store and then decided to drive over to SunFlour Baking Company for lunch, which is a family favorite just about 15 minutes from the mall.

Take Your Family on a High-Speed Adventure at ZMAX Dragway in Concord, NC

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Thinking about a visit to ZMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC? When is the last time you stood up to watch something go 300 mph? Been a long time or maybe never? Then you should plan a trip to the ZMAX Dragway for an NHRA National Event.

We got a chance to visit for the NHRA Carolina Nationals and couldn’t believe all the things we got to experience. And the best part? Kids are FREE. So your 300 mph family adventure just got a lot more budget-friendly. Here’s everything you need to know.

This post contains affiliate links.

The next NHRA event at ZMAX Dragway is coming soon! Get tickets now for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals: April 28th – 30th, 2023

Thank you to Explore Cabarrus County for providing tickets so we could bring our readers this review!

entrance to ZMAX Dragwa
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Lots of Winter Family Fun at Black Bear Snow Tubing in Hendersonville, NC

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Are you thinking about snow tubing at Black Bear Snow Tubing in Hendersonville, NC? Western North Carolina has great snow tubing and Black Bear Snow Tubing is a stellar option for families! They have a huge mountain to get your winter in high gear with a fun snow tubing trip for the whole family! We took a trip up to try out that snow-tubing mountain and it was so much fun! Now we have all the details to share so you can plan your trip!

Media tickets were provided for this review and the opinions are solely those of the author.

Snow tubing at Black Bear in Hendersonville, NC

While there aren’t any places to snow tube in the Upstate, SC, there are definitely options nearby and one of them is Black Bear Snow Tubing in nearby Hendersonville, NC, just over an hour from Greenville, SC. The snow tubing family-owned operation has been in business for seven years and they really have a good thing going there, which I’m going to tell you all about in this story.

Snow Tubing at Black Bear

The slope at Black Bear Snow Tubing is 600 feet long with an 80-foot drop and it’s pretty fast. They make their own snow (unless they get a big snowstorm, which doesn’t happen too often) and the hill is well-maintained by their attentive staff.

How it works is that when you get to Black Bear, you go to a little shed to watch a short safety video, where you learn how to get out of your tube on the run and not to start snowball fights, sign a waiver, and head inside the cozy lodge to pay. Then you get your tubes and head to the hill.

They have a pulley system to get you to the top of the hill, which works by slipping the handle of your tube on a cable that takes you, while sitting inside your tube, right up the hill to the top. Once at the top, you’ll wait for a few minutes before being situated into your group by the staff and then sliding down the hill.

On the snow tube pully at Black Bear in Hendersonville, NC
Black Bear Snow Tubing Pulley System

Why Black Bear is Different

I’ve snow tubed at many places in our area and I think Black Bear Snow Tubing is pretty fantastic. Here’s why:

  • You can (and should) make a reservation ahead of time, which is crucial for us in Greenville who need to travel out of state to go snow tubing. It’s quite a bummer to get to our snow tubing place and either find out that they are sold out or having to wait hours for an open slot.
  • The staff is attentive and efficient. They were always around watching the hill to make sure things were running smoothly and safely. When there was a slight backup at the top of the hill, they figured out how to manage to get us all down the hill and back up to keep snow tubing without interruption.
  • The lodge is super cozy and warm and has reasonable concessions. I got a $2 hot chocolate and it was amazing. Plus, they have food, including apple cider donuts, that is affordable and you can get warm by the wood-burning stove inside or watch on the deck if you don’t want to go tubing.
  • The setup takes into account smaller kids. There is playground next to the place where you wait in line to go up the hill so smaller kids can get out their energy and there is a big fire pit also near the waiting area where you can warm up.
  • If you forgot a hat or gloves, they have them for sale inside the lodge. I feel like us parents can relate when our kid gets out of the car to go snow tubing and forgot his or her winter hat.
  • The check-in is fast. This is important because you want to get on the hill and start having fun as soon as possible!
  • Black Bear has excellent communication. They post daily on their Facebook page about current snow conditions, which is super helpful when you’re unsure about the weather.
  • The snow is real. They don’t have any synthetic chemicals in the snow – it’s the real deal.

My kids, ages 11 and 8, and I had such a blast snow tubing at Black Bear Snow Tubing. We went down the hill about 10 times (maybe more, I lost count honestly) and had so much fun together. I really love places where adults can carelessly be kids again. My kids are already asking to go back. The hill was super fast and seeing my kids faces light up with joy was special. I love those moments.

Tips on How to Enjoy Snow Tubing at Black Bear

Winter being winter, it’s usually cold when you go snow tubing. I’ve found that bringing hand and foot warmers is a really good trick to keeping everyone warm and comfortable. You can get them at Wal-Mart, Amazon, or most drug stores and they stay warm for hours.

Sliding down in a tube at Black Bear Tubing

It’s also really important to make a reservation when you know you want to go snow tubing. This is especially true during school breaks and holidays. Snow tubing is an awesome family activity on a day off but a lot of people also have the same thought. Don’t forget to make a reservation.

You don’t need to wear snow bibs or snow pants. I had on fleece leggings, hiking boots, and a couple layers of tops with a heavy coat (it was really cold when we went!) and I was fine. I saw people wearing all kinds of clothes that worked for them like pants, leggings, jeans, and sweatpants. The snow wasn’t wet at all when we went but if you go on a warmer day, you may want to bring a change of pants in case they get wet.

There are port-a-potties outside the lodge to use and no bathrooms indoors.

Double-check Black Bear’s Facebook page before heading out. Snow tubing is very dependent on weather, which changes often in the mountains. They will post current conditions and if they are open or closed most days.

Ticket Prices and Policies at Black Bear Snow Tubing

Tickets are $30/hour or $40/two hours for snow tubing. Kids must be 4 years old in order to go snow tubing. You can either sign a waiver when you get to Black Bear Snow Tubing or print one out online ahead of time. Either is fine.

While Black Bear Snow Tubing does take walk-ups, it is much better to make a reservation ahead of time instead of getting there and finding out they are full. Online reservations are fantastic for this very reason so definitely make use of them.

And be sure to check Black Bear Snow Tubing’s Facebook page before heading out to double check they are open and running. Winter tubing runs mid-December through February usually depending on the weather, of course.

And if you want to tube during other times of the year, you totally can! They have warm-weather tubing in the fall.

Black Bear Snow Tubing
373 Kerr Road, Hendersonville, NC
828.685.1155

Want to spend the day in Hendersonville? We’ve got lots of ideas on what to do in this fun town!

Family Vacation Time? These Vacation Rental Cabins Have Private Indoor Pools

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Looking for a vacation rental with an indoor, private pool? These mountain cabins and vacation homes are particularly perfect because they all include a private indoor pool. Your family can enjoy mountain towns and things to do, plus cozy fires, games, and swimming in your own private pool. We think these cabins and homes make a pretty perfect trip, whether you’re looking for a little vacation away from the crowds, or just some quiet family time together.

This article includes:
Vacation Rentals with Private, Indoor Pools in North Carolina
Vacation Homes to Rent with Private, Indoor Pools in Tennessee
Vacation Homes with Private, Indoor Pools in Georgia
Rent a Vacation Home With Private, Indoor Pool in Virginia
Vacation Home With Indoor Pool in Missouri

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Visit Bryson City, NC for the Holidays

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Are you searching for a family-friendly place to have a small getaway this winter? Have you ever been to Bryson City, NC? Most known for the Polar Express, there is so much more than just the train ride to do and explore in this friendly mountain town. They’ve got a drive-thru light show, outdoor ice skating, delicious food, and much more! 

Bryson City: A Real-Life Christmas Wonderland 

Bryson City is a quaint, peaceful mountain town along the Great Smoky Mountains. Just a quick 3 to 4 hour drive from Columbia, SC, this makes for the perfect weekend getaway. During winter each year, Bryson City transforms into a real-life Christmas wonderland with beautiful decor, twinkling lights, and Christmas magic all around. My family recently took a quick 1-night trip to the mountains and we spent one of our evenings exploring Bryson City. I left wishing we would have had more time to spend and know we will definitely be returning! 

Tree farms in Bryson City, NC

Things to do in Bryson City, NC for the Holidays

Take a Ride on the Polar Express 

One of the most popular things to do in Bryson City over the holidays is the Polar Express Train Ride! My family recently got to experience this magical event and both of my kids (ages 4 and 1) absolutely loved it. Be sure to check out the Kidding Around Pplar Express review for more tips and info! 

Bryson City Polar Express

Explore the Smoky Mountain Train Museum 

The train museum sits right next to the railroad tracks and is a great place to pass the time while waiting to board a train ride! Inside the museum, there is a huge display of model trains that are so fascinating to watch! My son loved pointing out all of the detailed features he saw. With a train ticket, entrance into the museum is free! 

Along with the model train display, the museum also offers a large gift shop area with plenty of trinkets and souvenirs. 

Smoky Mountain Train Museum

Smoky Mountain Rail

Go Outdoor Ice Skating

Outdoor ice skating is such a fun, classic winter activity! Unfortunately, on the evening we were there, the ice rink was not open, but now that I know it’s there we will be sure to plan accordingly for future visits. Along with ice skating, there is also a food truck and full-time bar. For $20 per person you will get 1 hour of skating time, skate rentals (smallest size is youth size 9), and 1 hot chocolate! Hours are as follows:

  • Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm to 8 pm

The Yard Ice Skating

Drive-Thru the Smoky Mountain Christmas Light Show

If you’re looking to do something fun with the kids in the evenings, this drive-thru light show would be perfect for you! There will be several wintery, magical scenes to drive-thru and you’ll be able to listen to festive music along your route. A great way to get the whole family into the Christmas spirit! 

They will be open from 6 pm to 10 pm, daily throughout December with the exception of being closed on Christmas Day. 

Smoky Mountain Christmas Light Show

Bryson City shops

Visit the Local Shops 

With so many locally-owned shops and businesses to choose from, picking a favorite would be hard! We popped into a few and really enjoyed all of the Christmas shops. We purchased an ornament from Uncle Bunky’s Christmas Cottage where they also had tons of holiday decor, small toys, sweet treats, etc. Loose Moose is another great gift store with lots of unique items to choose from. 

Madison’s on Main and Humanite Boutique are both great options for trendy women’s clothing! There are also several antique stores around that are always fun to browse through – you never know what you might find! 

Enjoy a Tasty Sweet Treat 

If you’re anything like me, the sweet tooth is at an all-time high throughout the holidays. The good news is, Bryson City has so many opportunities for delicious treats! After our ride on the Polar Express we stopped into the Heavenly Fudge Depot and let me just say, it lived up to its name! The peanut butter fudge from here was divine. They also had several festive sweet treats for kids – chocolate “believe” tickets and trains, cookies, bite-sized sweets, and more! 

The Chocolate Shoppe, Soda Pop’s Ice Cream, and Pop-N-Jacks Gourmet Popcorn are also great options to cure the sweet tooth! The popcorn from Pop-N-Jacks can even be brought onto the Polar Express with you and smells so good. I’m a little upset we didn’t stop in and give them a try, too! 

Take Festive Pictures 

Still need a family pic for this year’s Christmas card? There are tons of great holiday photo-ops everywhere you look in Bryson City! From the large, lit-up Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza to stationary train carts, a tractor, and more, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for family photos. 

Get Your Live Christmas Tree 

While there are no Christmas tree farms in Bryson City, there are several to choose from nearby. During our trip, we chose to get our tree at Smoky Mountain Tree Farm. They had a large variety of trees to choose from and even some that you could cut down yourself. The big red barn and beautiful Smoky Mountain scenery made for great pictures as well! 

There are two other tree farms within a few minutes of Smoky Mountain Tree Farm: Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm and Mehaffey Tree Farm. Boyd Mountain Farm has several log cabins available for families to stay in as well as stocked fishing ponds, 4 miles of hiking trails, biking, and more!  

Christmas Tree Farm

Have you ever been to Bryson City during the holidays? What is your favorite thing to do?

Historic Banning Mills: Hidden Gem in N. Georgia Perfect for Adventure and Nature Lovers

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Home of the world’s largest zip line, Historic Banning Mills is a gem hidden just outside Atlanta, GA. We stayed for a weekend and have all the details on this location ideal for adventurers.

Thank you to Historic Banning Mills for hosting us!

Banning Mill is only an hour outside of Atlanta but feels a world away. And once you get there, you don’t need to leave for anything. You can have all your meals at the lodge. You can spend your entire time going from adventure to adventure or just relaxing. It’s so close to that elusive all-inclusive experience that makes time away a true getaway because you don’t need to worry about going anywhere else or meals or entertainment – it can all be booked together ahead of time. And Banning Mills is just that: a true getaway. You get to experience nature in very unique and exciting ways and have that chance to reconnect with your partner or family.

Banning Mills is also well within easy driving distance from Greenville at just over three hours (could be a bit longer depending on Atlanta traffic).

History of Banning Mills

Banning Mills was a originally part of the Creek Indian tribe land, led by Chief William McIntosh, who was half Creek Indian. When the white settlers came in the early 1800s, Chief McIntosh fought alongside Andrew Jackson, dined with President Thomas Jefferson, and eventually became a wealthy businessman who owned a plantation very close to Banning Mills. In 1825, he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which infuriated the Upper Creek Native Americans, who came to his home and killed him. He is buried where he died at McIntosh Reserve, now a county park.

In the mid-1800s, a textile mill was developed along the hidden Snake Creek gorge, which operated through the Civil War. It fell into disrepair until 1878 when Arthur Hutchinson bought it and made it into a paper mill, creating the birthplace of the modern paper industry. It thrived and a town was built to accommodate all the families who worked at the mill. By 1895, Banning Mill had ten mills, including two pulp mills, a sawmill, and a grist mill – all of which were within a mile of each other. The town was also the first to produce electricity in Georgia. Historical documents state that people from Atlanta would ride down in their buggies just to see lights turn on and off!

Banning Mills ruins

On several trails throughout Banning Mills, you can see the ruins of the old mills and the crumbling chimney of one of the original homes of a family who worked at the mill. Many of the trails you walk on were old roads, now covered in years of dirt, leaves, dust, and roots, that connected the mills and the town. One of the trails, the Creekside Trail, was the trail used by the Creek Indian tribe to traverse Snake Creek. I learned that after my kids and I had walked on the trail and it was just a moment of reflection to think what that must have been like for the tribe. I get to see the same things they saw and I just felt connected to that history and those people, just for a moment.

Conservation Efforts

When Mark and Donna Holder bought the property in 1998, they were focused on conservation and didn’t really know about the history of the place. There are several unique ecosystems within the property plus wildflowers, mushrooms, and wildlife. When they started designing and building the zip lines, they were extremely conscious of working with nature rather than against it. This is entirely obvious when you walk the hiking trails and spot the zip line platforms – they are nearly invisible, which is exactly how they were meant to be when built.

Mark’s extensive military and flight career turned out to be an excellent background for designing and building zip lines and adventure courses. Both Mark and Donna run a high adventure consulting business where they help other adventure companies design and build their zip lines. They’ve helped design adventure parks all around the world with an eye on preserving nature and surrounding ecosystems.

The Birds of Prey exhibit and nature talks are also part of their conservation and education efforts as they seek to help people understand more about these birds and their habitats. In the spring, Banning Mills offers guided hikes to explore the wildflowers and other flora and fauna native to the area.

Banning Mills Lake

As the business grew, Mark and Donna’s four kids got involved in running and operating it, making Banning Mills a family-run business, which is actually a nonprofit so they can focus exclusively on conservation and adventure. Banning Mills is 300 acres but it’s right in the middle of more than 1,000 protected acres of wilderness, which I think is part of the allure of the place. As a guest, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, completely apart from the world and in my own little slice of paradise.

Adventures

There are endless adventures to be had at Historic Banning Mills. You could probably spend a week here and not get to all of them. All pricing is listed on the website. And the guides will take photos of you during your adventures so you don’t need to worry about documenting all the awesomeness. They are emailed/messaged to you for free afterwards.

Crazy Squirrel Course

There are two Crazy Squirrel rope and zip line courses: tier one can be done by someone as young as four years old and tier two is a lot more advanced and kids must be nine years old for that one. These are great for both kids and adults and are a fantastic introduction to the world of aerial adventure.

Tier 1 consisted of several bridges and obstacles and a few zip lines. After gearing up and going over safety precautions, my kids and I hit the course. Our guide, Jack, was super funny and very chill. He showed us a great time on this course as we navigated the shaky bridges and giant swinging balls. It was a lot of fun and took us about 45 minutes or so to go through the whole thing.

The safety features they have are a continuous belay system which means you are never disconnected from the cable at all. It took a bit to learn how to work them and get into our gear but once we figured it out, it was easy. I was definitely proud of my kids for learning how to do it on their own and saw it as a great confidence builder for them.

Tier 2 of the Crazy Squirrel did indeed look crazy. Jack said you are pretty much guaranteed a good three hours to go through all the obstacles on that course. We saw multiple platforms on the same trees as the level 1 course and many, many more obstacles. It looked like it would be really fun.

Eco Tour Spider ATVs

I knew my kids and I were riding spider ATVs before we went but I really had no idea what we were in for. So these spider ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) were created by a paraplegic engineer. He wanted a way to experience nature and the trails so he created the Swincar – aka spider ATV – which is controlled by your hands and where each wheel is on its own suspension system. This means one wheel could be in a ditch and other on level ground but the driver remains level. Plus, these things are powerful and can go over roots, rocks, dirt, gravel, you name it. The cars are all electric as well.

I drove one car with my youngest daughter in the seat behind me and our guide took my other daughter. After he explained how the cars worked and got us our helmets and made sure our seat belts were properly secured, it was off to the test track to make sure I could safely operate this thing. The test track was a short loop, off-road trail where I could get a feel for the car.

I was awful at driving this thing, which my daughter eagerly pointed out at every turn. Because it’s electric and controlled by just my fingers by pushing a small lever, even a little pressure makes the car go fast, which meant a lot of stopping and starting and jerking. I loved it.

Once I was comfortable driving the car, which took all of five minutes and more backseat driving from my kid, we were off to the woods. Not only did we traverse most of the 300 acres of Banning Mills but we did most of it on the trails, some of which my kids and I had hiked earlier in the day. I haven’t had that much fun in a while! And we got to go over bridges in the woods, see the three lakes that reflected the gorgeous leaves changing colors, and even rode over the 760-foot-long suspension bridge on the cars – twice. I only got stuck once and figured out how reverse worked so I think it was a win overall.

The whole tour lasted about 90 minutes, which included our guide stopping at historical points along the trail to show up the old ruins of the paper mill and town plus check out where the birds of prey are located at the property. Guided tandem spider ATV tours are $199 and single ones are $139.

Some of the spider ATVs are wheelchair accessible and are a wonderful option for those with lesser mobility. You must have a valid drivers license to operate the spider ATV and be at least 16 years old for the single car and 18 years old for the tandem car.  

Hiking Trails

Historic Banning Mills is known for its amazing bridges and whoa, we can confirm that these bridges are amazing. The longest one on the property – 760 feet long – spans the Snake River where the original dam at the mill was placed. It’s a swinging bridge and quite the adventure crossing it. It definitely sways and is really high but we never felt unsafe. We really enjoyed the bridges plus they make for amazing photos. There are more than 100 of them on the property although most are on the zip line courses. But the longest ones you can cross without any equipment. On the long swinging bridge closest to the Main Lodge, you can see the Flight of the Falcon zip line, which is the longest zip line. We could see where it started on the big tower way above the gorge but we couldn’t see where it ended!

Banning Mills Bridge

There are 15 miles of hiking trails and three ponds to visit at Historic Banning Mills. You can hike all over the property as a guest and while the trails are open to the public, it is $7/person to hike them.

We especially enjoyed the Creekside Trail as it was directly next to Snake Creek. We saw some people zip-lining above and had great views of some of the bridges.

World’s Longest Zip Line & World’s Highest Climbing Wall

Banning Mills is home to the world’s longest zip line at nearly 3,400 feet long (that’s about three-quarters of a mile!). It’s called Flight of the Falcon and you are in a horizontal position and can reach speeds up to 55 mph. I so wanted to do this but my youngest was too small so now we have to go back when she grows a bit. It looks so amazing. The zip line was so long when Banning Mills was installing it that they had to use a helicopter.

One of the other zip lines is about a half mile long and is called the Screaming Eagle. Guests go crazy fast on this one, about 75 mph. Again, on my list!

Banning Mills is also home to another record-setter: the world’s highest climbing wall. It’s 140 feet high with nine climbing lanes and two rappel walls. It’s part of the Adventure Wall and where guests will start their Screaming Eagle zip as well. My fearless 8-year-old was really hoping to do this one but she didn’t make the weight requirement (60 pounds). It costs $35/hour to climb this monster.

Adventure Wall at Banning Mills

There are four levels of zip line adventures you can do at Banning Mills and if you decide you want to add on more things, you can do that as well. Each level increases in speed and height so you may not want to the fun to end. There are multiple packages and add-ons for zipline tours, which you can read through on their website. Be sure to take note of the height, age, and weight restrictions before you go so you know what to expect. Given this kind of high adventure experience, safety is the first priority, and the staff and guides are expertly trained. All of the policies are for the safety of the guests and guides.

Other Activities at Banning Mills

Horseback Riding

Banning Mills has stables on their property where they offer horseback riding through their trails. Kids have to be at least 10 years old to do this activity.

Birds of Prey

Banning Mills hosts Birds of Prey talks throughout the year where they have a Master Falconer come and give a talk and demonstration about the falcons, eagles, and owls they have right there on site hidden amongst the trees. I was so hoping we would have been able to see this since I have a fascination with all of those animals. You can see the owls and the bald eagle, whose name is Liberty when they aren’t doing shows. Shows are $7/person and kids 4 and under are free.

Kayaking

Banning Mills is very close to the Chattahoochee River and runs kayak trips over the summer. The trips are great for beginners since they only have Class I and II rapids (smaller rapids).

Night Zip Lining

These tours are only available a few nights a year and they look amazing. The lodge had one of these happening on one of the nights we stayed and it was so cool to see the guides with glow sticks on their helmets and hear the people whooping on the zip lines in the dark. All we could see were lights moving and zip line towers lit up with lights. I definitely want to do this also!

Accommodations

Stay in a Tree House

There are several tree houses at Banning Mills all over the property. Ours was a two-story tree house with a tub, king-size bed, and bathroom on the lower floor and up the spiral staircase was a room with a bunk bed. There was a microwave, a small table, and a balcony as well. It was just beautiful and really, who doesn’t want to stay in a tree house and fulfill that childhood dream?

We loved the gas fire stove and balcony especially. The leaves were putting on quite the show so we felt like we were, well, in the trees, as close as possible to the leaves and glory of nature. It was super cool and relaxing. Our tree house also had an awesome rope bridge as an entrance. My kids thought this was the neatest thing ever. I mean, I did too.

The entire place was well-thought out to provide for that getaway and relaxation that we seek when we go on vacation plus very comfortable to provide for ample rest so you have all the energy you need for your adventures. The tree houses also have a jetted tub, which would probably feel really great after a long day of adventuring.

Banning Mills has brand new tree houses as well that are a bit more spacious than the one we stayed in but just as relaxing and comfortable. There are truly plenty of options for you to enjoy a unique experience at this place.

Cabins & The Lodge

Other accommodations at Banning Mills are lodge rooms, which are more like typical hotel rooms and are usually booked when groups come in for retreats.

There are also pine log cabins and larger family cabins available for rent. Just remember these are not luxury accommodations. It’s not the Ritz. These are modern cabins and tree houses in the woods.

Dining at Banning Mills

All rooms except the family cabins, which can fit up to nine guests, include breakfast in the morning. The breakfasts we had were awesome – bacon, eggs, biscuits, fruit, coffee, oatmeal, waffles, sausage, and orange juice. There is a beautiful terrace room at the Main Lodge that overlooks the creek with some zip lines overhead so the view is perfect. Since we went in late October, the colors of the leaves were incredible. I could have stared out those windows all day.

For lunch and dinner, guests can reserve meals at the lodge but they must do so when they check-in or before.

There is a sit-down gourmet meal served nightly by reservation, which my kids and I did one of the nights we stayed at Banning Mills. We had to make our meal choices when we got there, which included an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. They prepare these to be shared by two people but the kitchen can do single dishes. Kids’ meals of chicken fingers, pizza, spaghetti, and other items are also available.  

If you’d rather enjoy a meal in your tree house or other accommodations at Banning Mills, you can order a souvenir backpack that you get to keep, two large sandwiches, chefs’ choice salad, cookies, crackers, and bottled water.

If you’d rather eat out, Banning Mills lists several location restaurants in their guidebook in your room that you can choose from that are 15-20 minutes away by car.

Packages

I did say in the beginning of this story that Banning Mills is so close to that elusive all-inclusive experience. And it is. You just have to be sure to add on everything you want when you book or when you arrive for your trip. Once you arrive, you don’t need to leave the property for the entirety of your trip if you choose to book all your meals and adventures there (I recommend you do because they are all amazing).

There are several adventure packages to choose from depending on what you want to do. There are a couple of getaways, adventure, and room packages which include meals, zip lining, eco-tour spider ATV tours, and lots more. Most are for two people but just call Banning Mills and they will help you to put together a package for your family or to fit your needs and desires. They are very accommodating and just a wonderful group of people who want guests to have an amazing stay

Best Ages to Experience Banning Mills

This is always something to consider when planning family getaways, right? You want something that is fantastic for everyone. My kids are 8 and 11 and my youngest could do limited activities because of her age and weight. She wanted to do the Flight of the Falcon but we’ll have to wait a few years. That said, we were able to do the Crazy Squirrel Tier 1, hiking trails, and the Eco Spider ATV Tours, which kept us quite busy. If we had gone in the summer, we would have been able to enjoy the swimming pool as well. So there were definitely enough activities to keep us active but also provide that downtime to just relax.

I think if you have teenagers and are looking for adventure, book this place. If you and your partner are always on the lookout for the next thrill, book this place. I’m already thinking of coming back when my kids are a bit older because wow, the options are endless for the super cool and unique experiences you can have together.

And the memories you could make here with your kids would just be so priceless. This is the opportunity to really connect with your kids/partner, to get away from technology for a bit, and to just be together while doing something super fun.

My Honest Mom Review

For myself, relaxation involves hiking or kayaking, or something outdoors. This was a relaxing weekend for me because I captured that elusive feeling of really getting away from my normal, everyday work, from deadlines I have coming up, and whatever else had been on my mind the previous week. Staying in a tree house, wandering around the hiking trails, learning the history of the property, and enjoying those amazing views from the swinging bridges was very special.

Banning Mils Crazy Squirrel course

Connecting with my daughters, even while one was telling me how awful of a driver I was for an hour, was fantastic. Our time is short with our kids and intentionally making the most of the time we have together is of utmost importance. This is a truly amazing place to make that happen.

I also want to give a shoutout to the staff at Banning Mills. Everyone was so kind, considerate, and accommodating. I know working in hospitality can be hard but everyone we met was wonderful and friendly.

Also, be sure to check their website for current deals when planning your trip!

Historic Banning Mills
205 Horseshoe Dam Road, Whitesburg, GA
770.834.9149

Things to Do for Kids Who Love Cars Across the Carolinas

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Got a kid who loves cars and looking for activities to do around North and South Carolina? Because we’re located in an area where there are many car lovers, there are plenty of things to do and see. From museums to events to drag ways and speedways, your little car enthusiast will have so much oohing and aahing over classic cars, concept cars, race cars, and so much more. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the best things to do across the Carolinas for the kid who loves cars.

Things to Do for Kids Who Love Cars

BMW Zentrum Museum

The BMW Zentrum Museum in Greer is a one-of-a-kind experience for any car enthusiast. Visitors get to experience BMW from its beginnings in aviation and motorsports to where it is now on a global scale. You’ll see BMW’s milestones, rare vehicles from the past such as the famous Isetta “Bubblecar”, and restored classics. You’ll also be able to explore current BMW vehicles through modern-day exhibits and displays. For safety purposes, vehicle doors remain locked in the museum. The museum itself is self-guided, but you can book guided tours of the plant and factory if you prefer that. 

BMW Zentrum Museum Visit Details:

  • Hours: Monday – Friday from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm
  • Museum, Plant, and Factory close during major holidays. Please refer to the BMW Zentrum website for details.
  • Cost: Free
  • Groups in the same family are limited to 10 or less people.
  • Social Distancing and limited guest capacity are enforced.
  • Masks are optional.
  • The Isetta Café is open and operating at full-service.

1400 Highway 101 S, Greer
864.802.6000

Cars and Coffee Greenville

Cars and Coffee is an Upstate SC gathering for car enthusiasts that takes place on the 4th Saturday of each month. Visitors have the opportunity to see sports cars, exotic cars, classic cars, and more. The gathering takes place in a Michelin parking lot, so the Michelin cafeteria is open for visitors to grab a coffee and various pastries. 

Cars and Coffee Details:

  • When: Every 4th Saturday of the month
  • Hours: 8:00 am – 11:00 am
  • Cost: Free

298 North America Way, Greenville

Read our review of Cars and Coffee.

Things to See at Cars & Coffee

More Car Shows

Local car groups and organizations frequently organize car shows at local venues. They are often free and sometimes include other fun things to do like trunk or treats at Halloween or benefit charities, like toy drives around Christmas.

To find car shows near you, check online and on Facebook. In Upstate, SC, you’ll find a list of some of the upcoming car shows at Upstate Car Shows.

Greer Dragway

The Greer Dragway, established in 1957,  features a 1/8th mile concrete and asphalt strip and has Grudge Racing every Thursday and Bracket Racing every Saturday. There’s a weather radar, a concession stand, and clean restrooms on the premises. 

1792 Dragway Road, Greer
864.879.4634

Greenville-Pickens Speedway

Located in Easley, the Greenville-Pickens Speedway features a half-mile of asphalt to give your entire family an experience they won’t forget. The track hosts weekly NASCAR-sanctioned races, which is bound to give any car enthusiast starry-eyes. In addition to racing, the Speedway offers events throughout the year, including the Upstate Holiday Lights Show.

Greenville-Pickens Speedway Visit Details:

800 Calhoun Memorial Hwy, Easley
864.295.5764

Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Charlotte Motor Speedway, located in Concord, NC, is a motorsport complex featuring a 1.5 mile quad oval track that hosts NASCAR racing. Events include the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, The Bank of America Roval 400 in October, and more. Ticket prices range from event to event, so it’s best to see the Charlotte Motor Speedway website for ticket details.

5555 Concord Pkwy S, Concord
800.455.3267

There’s more to explore in Cabarrus County.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

zMAX Dragway

Affectionately known as “The Bellagio of Race Tracks,” the zMAX Dragway in Concord, NC is a venue at Charlotte Motor Speedway featuring the world’s first 4-lane drag strip for NHRA races and other events. Ticket prices range from event to event, so it’s best to see the Charlotte Motor Speedway website for ticket details.

Here’s our review of zMAX Dragway.

6570 Bruton Smith Blvd, Concord, NC
704.455.3200

AutoBarn Classic Cars 

AutoBarn Classic Cars is a 60,000-square-foot indoor showroom located at the Gibson Mill community gathering spot in Concord. It’s just a 10-minute drive away from Charlotte Motor Speedway and is a great place to browse classic and concept cars. And for an added bonus, race cars and classic memorabilia are up for sale.

325 McGill Ave NW, Concord, NC
800.650.1055

Morrison Motor Car Museum 

Morrison Motor Car Musem is full of sports and muscle cars. There are more than 50 cars featured in this exhibit, all from the past century. There’s also a gift shop and opportunities to buy a collector car such as a Mustang or Camaro on the property’s lot.

Morrison Motor Car Museum Details:

  • Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9:30 am – 4 pm // Saturday 9:30 am – 3:00 pm
  • Ticket Cost: General Admission $8 // Seniors and Children under age 5 $6

4545 Concord Parkway South, Concord, NC
704.788.9500

Streetside Classics

This showroom carries an impressive collection of street classics. Guests can view street rods, muscle cars, vintage cars, and more. The 70,000-square-foot showroom has over 300 classic cars that are up for sale.

Streetside Classics Visit Details:

  • Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9 am – 6 pm // Saturday 9 am – 5 pm

800 Derita Road Suite A, Concord, NC
704.598.2130

Mustang Owner’s Museum

The perfect place for Mustang lovers! Mustangs grace the museum’s displays, with various modified vehicles displayed throughout the year. The museum also hosts car shows and cruise events like the “Best of the Best Car Show’ and the “Mustang Chili & Cornbread Cook-Off.”

Mustang Owner’s Museum Visit Details:

  • Hours: Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm // Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm *Closed major holidays
  • Ticket Cost: Adults $10 // Children 12 & under Free

4005 Dearborn Place NW, Concord, NC
980.439.5653

Curb Motorsports Museum

Dale Earnhardt’s No. 2 car can be seen at Curb Motorsports Museum! The Curb Museum features a collection of NASCAR and Indy cars. The museum also holds cars that wrote pages in the motorsport history book including the car that Dale Earnhardt drove when he won his first Winston Cup Championship.

600 Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, Kannapolis, NC
704.938.6121

There more to explore in Kannapolis, NC.

NC Transportation Museum

The NC Transportation Museum, located in the former Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops, is a transportation lover’s dream. The museum features history about all types of transportation: railroads, automotives, aviation, and more. Visitors will see the Barber Junction Depot  (a train station built in 1898), the Bob Julian Roundhouse (the largest remaining roundhouse in North America featuring locomotives, passenger railcars, and a replica of the Wright Flyer), and so much more. The museum offers several seasonal and holiday events, including The Polar Express Train Ride.

NC Transportation Museum Details:

  • Museum Hours:
    • Tuesday – Saturday 9 am – 5 pm
    • Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm
    • Beginning November 11, museum hours change to accommodate The Polar Express Train Rides. Please refer to the museum’s website for details.
  • Train Hours:
    • Regular museum train rides do not operate November 7 – December 26 for The Polar Express Train Rides..
    • Please refer to the museum’s website for details.
  • Museum Visit Tickets: Adults: $6 // Seniors and Military: $5 // Children 3-12: $4 // Members and Children Under 3: FREE
  • Museum Visit + Train Ride Tickets: Adults: $12 // Seniors and Military: $10 // Children 3-12: $8 // Members and Children Under 3: FREE

1 Samuel Spencer Drive, Spencer, NC
704.636.2889

Did we miss any other car-related activities to do around the Carolinas? Tell us below.

See Minerals Glow in the Dark at the Emerald Village Mine in Little Switzerland, NC

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Did you know Emerald Village Mine has a cave where you can see minerals glow in the dark? If you’re looking for a bucket list adventure in Western North Carolina, the Black Light Tour at the Emerald Village mine near Little Switzerland, NC is it. Kidding Around’s Kristina took her kids for this unique experience and tells us about it. 

I thought Geology was a pretty boring subject until we studied it for a homeschool science unit. I was completely taken with the cool rocks, how the cycle of minerals, magma, and sedimentary rocks form. I loved learning about the chemical makeup of minerals. And when I took my kids to the Geology Museum at Clemson, the fluorescent black light room was a favorite. So when I heard that the Emerald Village Mine near Little Switzerland, North Carolina, was offering a very limited Black Light Mine Tour, I was in. I didn’t hesitate to get tickets when they went on sale back in the early spring and good thing, because they immediately sold out. 

So start planning your 2023 adventure right now! As of January 29, 2023, tickets are now on sale for the 2023 season.

Glowing minerals
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10+ Things to Do with Kids Near Concord, NC in Cabarrus County

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Have you visited Cabarrus County in North Carolina? Just a short two-hour drive from the Upstate, Cabarrus County offers tons of fun for kids from a historic gold mine you can tour, to a famous NASCAR speedway and NHRA dragway. In this article, we’ll share more than 10 places you can take your kids near Concord plus all the tips you need to make it a family memory you will never forget.

Thank you to Explore Cabarrus for providing lodging and some of these experiences.

This article includes:
Charlotte Motor Speedway
ZMAX Dragway
Reed Gold Mine
Great Wolf Lodge
Concord Mills
SEA LIFE Aquarium
The Speedpark
Lionel Retail Store
The Percantile & Creamery
iFly Concord
Hendrick Motorsports Museum and Team Store
K1 Speed Indoor Karting
Kannapolis, NC: Village Park and More
Sunflour Baking Company

(more…)

Cabarrus County Trails: Hiking, Biking, and Paved Walking Trails

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Are you looking to explore some hiking and biking trails in Cabarrus County, NC? Cabarrus is home to dozens of trail systems, and explorers are rewarded any time of year with the naturally beautiful landscapes the trails carve their way through.  From family-friendly hiking and mountain biking to leisurely strolls and water recreation, Cabarrus County has a nature trail for you to fall in love with!

Located just Northeast of Charlotte, Cabarrus County may be synonymous to some as the hub for NASCAR enthusiasts. However, the natural beauty of the rolling countryside throughout the county balances out nicely against the backdrop of major cities like Concord and Harrisburg. Many of the trail systems listed below highlight the ability of nature and civilization to combine positively, in a way that is beneficial to the natural system while keeping the growth and expansion of nearby cities in mind. So, lace up those boots and check out some of the top trail systems to hike or bike throughout Cabarrus County in the list below!

Natural Trails to Hike and Bike in Cabarrus County

Carolina Thread Trail

Length: 12.6 miles of completed land trails in Cabarrus County
105.1 miles planned for construction
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous 
Offers: Running, walking, mountain biking, and hiking

The Thread is a multi-county, regional trail system that offers 11 segments in Cabarrus County alone! There are over 300 miles of land trails to explore and 170 miles of water trails, with stunning views. The public can access launch points throughout the system to kayak, canoe, and participate in other watersports that connect to other land trails across North and South Carolina. The Carolina Thread Trail is expanding, with a master plan to eventually join the current 11 segments in Cabarrus for a total of 105.1 miles of trail in Cabarrus County. 

The Buffalo Creek Preserve Trail

Length: 2.1 miles one way
Difficulty: Moderate
Offers: Hiking, walking, mountain biking, running

The Buffalo Creek Preserve Trail is one of The Thread’s featured trails. The trailhead is particularly interesting due to conservation efforts by the Catawba Lands Conservatory, being made up of a restored Piedmont Oak Savannah. The trail continues past streams and wetlands, through working farmland, into serene habitats, and finally through young forests. The trail is also part of the Butterfly Highway, a conservation initiative to create networks of pollinator-supportive plants and habitats. 

Trails for Mountain Biking in Cabarrus County

Brown Mill Mountain Bike Trail

Length: 4.25 trail miles
Difficulty: All skill levels 
Offers: Mountain Biking

Located just a few miles from Downtown Concord, NC, the Brown Mill Mountain Bike Trail has something for all skill levels to enjoy. There are multiple dips, flow sections, jumps, switchbacks, rock features, and a gravity cavity that make it a premier spot for mountain biking. The trail is suitable for most riders and is perfect for biking multiple laps to hone your skills.

Rob Wallace Park

Length: 3.5 trail miles total
Difficulty: All skill levels
Offers: Mountain biking, walking trails, playground, picnics, fishing

Rob Wallace Park is located in Midland and offers a skills area for beginner to expert mountain bikers to perfect their skills along with balance features and berms. Within the park is the Powder House Trail, a one-mile-long riding trail, as well as the 0.7-mile Quarry Loop. 

Village Park Paved Trails

Paved Trails in Cabarrus County

Hector Henry Greenway

Length: 5.7 miles total
Difficulty: Easy
Offers: Walking, hiking, biking

The Hector Henry Greenway runs along the Rocky River and connects three segments, The Mills at Rocky River, Riverwalk, and Moss Creek. The trails are primarily paved and are considered easy for biking and walking. The Greenway is part of The Thread trail system and offers wildlife viewings, boardwalks, educational displays, and gorgeous views of the surrounding wetlands. 

Village Park

Length: Multiple paved trails throughout the 16-acre park
Difficulty:
Easy
Offers:
Paved walking paths throughout the park

Located in Kannapolis, Village Park offers over 16 acres to explore. There are paved walking paths throughout the park through green space, perfect for picnics and outdoor recreation. The park also offers a splash pad and a ride-on train, the Rotary Express Train, which is a g-24 scale replica. The cost for the train is $1.50 per person and it is open on weekends from April until September. In addition, there are picnic shelters, a carousel, music concert series, and special events at this park to enjoy during your walk or bike trip.

Harrisburg Park

Length: 2.5 miles of trails for hiking and biking
Difficulty: Easy, Moderate, and Difficult trail offerings
Offers: Hiking, biking, playground, amphitheater, splash pad (summer)

Harrisburg Park has over 2.5 miles of both paved and natural trails to explore for both hiking and biking. The Ball Field Loop is considered easy and is approximately 0.5 miles long, perfect for strolling or letting your kids join you on your walk. If you’re looking for something more difficult, the Harrisburg Extension Loop offers 1.5 miles of trails with some moderate to difficult hills to climb as you venture through the forest and across three creek crossings. In addition, the park offers a large playground, a splash pad in summer, and special events at the amphitheater.

Are you ready to explore the outdoors in Cabarrus County?

Charlotte Guides