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AMAZING Views: Hiking Up Crowders Mountain Near Charlotte, NC

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For incredible views of the Charlotte, NC skyline and North Carolina mountains, nothing beats a trek up Crowders Mountain. 

I always have trouble choosing between waterfalls and views when picking out my next hike but that decision comes pretty easy when choosing the trek up Crowders Mountain near Charlotte, NC because the views are incredible. 

Crowders Mountain State Park Photos
Crowders Mountain Views

About Crowders Mountain 

Crowders Mountain State Park is a North Carolina State Park that encompasses a little more than 5,300 acres and is located in Gaston County only 32 miles from Charlotte. There are two summits of Crowders Mountain State Park: Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain.

The mountain rises sharply from pretty flat land and is near Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park where a key Revolutionary War battle took place. The state park has hiking trails, a lake, lots of areas for rock climbing, paddling, fishing, and camping that is accessible only by backpacking. 

Watch! Our Visit to Crowders Mountain State Park

Hiking Crowders Mountain Trails

There are a couple of trails you can take to get in some cardio and amazing views. Both times we visited the park, we did the approximately six-mile loop that takes you to the top of Crowders Mountain. Expect to spend at least three hours on this trail and bring enough water, especially if it’s a hot day. 

I also recommend going counterclockwise when you come to the loop part. It’s certainly a decent climb but a little less strenuous than the hundreds of steps going up the other side of the mountain. If you go counterclockwise, you’ll be about 1.4 miles from the summit. The opposite direction is about 1.8 miles up. We did the entire loop so ended up going down the stairs once we reached the summit. 

The climb up is honestly a lot of fun. The rocks rise so sharply from the ground that they form many great places to climb and explore. But you need to be very careful and stay close to the trail. There are warning signs everywhere – since the rocks jut up so sharply, they are basically sheer cliffs so you cannot, and should not, get anywhere near the edges. 

Crowders Mountain Trails
Gotta choose one way to go

The climb isn’t easy but it’s also not like the Table Rock Trail to the summit or the Dismal Trail near Caesars Head in South Carolina. It’s doable for kids even (we saw lots of kids on the trail) and if you get tired, just take breaks. 

The summit is pretty amazing. On a clear day, you can see the Charlotte skyline to the south and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north. 

The other trail to the Pinnacle Summit is shorter, around four miles. I’ll be doing that trail next time. I did overhear the Ranger say at the Visitors Center that Pinnacle is the highest point at the park and has awesome views. 

Crowders Mountain State Park Visitor Center

I feel like visitor centers are always overlooked at parks. I love checking them out because I always learn something new about the history or landscape of the area. 

This Visitors Center at Crowders Mountain had interesting information about local birds and wildlife plus a little kids’ area for drawing and coloring. It’s next to the bathrooms so definitely take a look. 

Crowders Mountain Visitors Center
Crowders Mountain State Park Visitor Center

The Lake at Crowders Mountain

While there are no boat rentals inside the park, if you have your own paddleboard or kayak, you can paddle around the manmade seven-acre lake at the park. 

While you are allowed to paddle on the lake, swimming is prohibited. The entrance is at the Sparrow Springs Access road. 

Visiting Crowders Mountain State Park 

The park is totally free to visit. We parked at Sparrow Springs Access and Visitors Center. Due to this park being one of the closest for hiking with elevation, it’s very popular. The park opens daily at 8 am and I’d suggest getting there early, especially in the spring and fall, to be sure to get a spot on weekends. There is overflow parking available. 

Dogs are allowed but they must be on a leash. 

Please follow Leave No Trace principles and pack out what you pack in. Unfortunately, we saw some trash along the trail. 

There are bathrooms and a station to fill your water bottle at the Visitors Center so be sure to get what you need done there before heading out on your hike! 

Crowders Mountain State Park
522 Park Office Lane, Kings Mountain, NC 28086
Crowders Mountain State Park Website

Things to Do in Charlotte, NC

Have More Adventures!

Here’s our HUGE Guide to Things to Do in Charlotte, NC

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 an NHRA Nationals Events and couldn’t believe all the things we got to experience. And the best part? Kids are just $10. So your 300 mph family adventure just got a lot more budget-friendly. Here’s everything you need to know.

Watch!: Here’s our visit in one quick video

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 26th – 28th, 2024

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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75+ Things to Do in Charlotte, NC: Fun Days Start Here

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Looking for fun things to do in Charlotte, NC? Here’s a list of just a few of the fun things in the Charlotte area. Don’t forget to let us know your favorite things to do in the comments!

Here’s just some of the fun that awaits you in the Queen City! Be sure to check back as we add more first-hand accounts of adventures we have in the Charlotte area. 

Things to Do in Charlotte, NC

Things to Do in Charlotte: Highlights

🆓Our free things to-do list is full of family fun on a budget.

🐰Easter is coming and that means fun Easter Bunny photos and Easter Egg Hunts. We have it all in our HUGE list of Easter Egg Hunts and Events: Charlotte, NC.

🍓Spring is here! It’s time for strawberry picking and we know just where to go! 9+ Strawberry Farms near Charlotte, NC.

🏎️ 4 Wide Drag Racing comes to ZMAX in April!

NEW! Our Summer Camp Guide is packed with the best summer camps near Charlotte, NC!

Free things to do in Charlotte, North Carolina for families.

Check out our HUGE list of totally FREE Things to Do in Charlotte, NC



Things to Do in Charlotte, North Carolina

Discovery Place Science Center 
Purchase advance time reserved tickets online year-round
This large kid-friendly science museum in the heart of downtown Charlotte is a great way to spend a rainy day with your family. The museum offers exhibits with live animals, STEM topics, an Imax theatre, and more. 

Reedy Creek Nature Preserve
This is an amazing nature center and preserve about 6 miles northwest of downtown Charlotte, which is located inside of the larger Reedy Creek Park. The park includes a playground, a science center, hiking trails, and more. 

US National Whitewater Center
Purchase online activity passes in advance for 30+ recreational activities

Ice skating at the Whitewater Center

If you are looking for a place full of outdoor adventure, this is it. The center offers white water activities and provides visitors with the opportunity to rock climb, hike, mountain bike, zipline, and much more. We went ice skating at the Whitewater Center and really enjoyed the experience.

Readers shared their love for the US National White Water Center on Facebook with us recently when we asked if they had been. 

Several times and loved it! The rafting is a short loop, but it’s intense depending on where the raft guide decides to go. The zip line is the best I’ve ever been on. There are events for smaller children too, like rock climbing. It’s well worth the trip.

Tina M.

Yes! Have season passes. Great for kids 6 & up, plus families. As an adult that is not crazy about being outdoors I love the white water rafting and flat water kayaking. Plenty to do for a whole day’s visit!

Virginia W.W.

Many times and we’ve done it all! Mountain biking to zip line to rafting and even experienced their live music series, River Jam…. enough to spend a full day there with the fam (10yo+)

Nikki W.

Carolina Raptor Center
Purchase advance tickets online year-round
This rehabilitation and education center is home to falcons, hawks, owls, eagles and vultures from all over the world. Guests will have the chance to learn about and meet these magnificent birds up close.

Raptor Center

Carowinds Amusement Park
Purchase online tickets in advance seasonally.
Find out what makes this park a favorite of Upstate’s families, including how your younger children can get in for free!  

The Rooftop Pool At The Omni Hotel 
Reserve your day pass online through the Coin Bar 
Do you want to live like a high-end traveler, sunning yourself next to a rooftop pool, but sleep in your own bed at night? The Omni hotel offers visitors to the Queen City day passes to use this large pool deck that overlooks the city.

Unique date ideas: Charlotte, NC

Looking for things to do for couples in Charlotte, NC? Our list of unique date ideas has some really great options!

Ninja Nation

Check out Ninja Nation or one of the many camps and classes at Ninja Nation in Huntersville. Kids (and parents) will get to live out their Ninja Warrior dreams.

14120 Statesville Road, Huntersville, NC

Arena and large foam blocks at Ninja Nation near Charlotte, North Carolina

Stay Inside!

If you’re looking for things to do indoors, you’ll want to visit our Indoor Fun Guide.

Seriously, our list has more than 50 great ideas.

Indoor things to do in Charlotte NC

Things to do in Cabarrus County, North Carolina

Plan an entire day in Concord, NC with our guide to the area

Visit Charlotte Motorspeedway
Whether you’re attending a race at the speedway, an event at ZMAX Dragway, an event at the dirt track or stopping by for a tour, there’s always a lot to see at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Look for family-friendly deals like free kids’ tickets at select events, take advantage of activities and music in the fan zone outside the track, and enjoy a race at one of the iconic tracks that make up the Charlotte Motor Speedway.


Great Wolf Lodge – Concord
An easy drive from the Upstate, Great Wolf Lodge is a great one-stop destination for families, and your stay includes an indoor waterpark that’s nice and warm even in the winter. The activities provided at the Lodge mean that no extra planning has to be done to make this a fun-filled trip. 

iFLY in Concord
iFLY is an indoor skydiving simulator where you enter a wind tunnel that is strong enough to allow you to float in the air. 

Escape Game: Concord Mills

The Escape Game in Concord Mills

We visited Escape Game to try out one of their new escape room games. It’s a great place to bring the family or a group of older kids and test yourselves with the puzzles needed to escape the room.

Here’s our review of the Escape Game.

8111 Concord Mills Boulevard #129b, Concord

Visit Reed Gold Mine

Explore the site of the first gold discovered in the United States, learn to pan for gold, walk through the mine and much more! This site is totally free to visit and panning for gold costs just $3. See how our visit went in our review of Reed Gold Mine.

Explore the Outdoors

Go see something beautiful!

Crowders Mountain State Park

Hike Crowders Mountain for Amazing Charlotte views!

Seasonal Fun in The Charlotte, NC Area 

Don’t miss these annual events and things to do happening seasonally in the Charlotte, NC area.

Spring

Spring in Charlotte, NC

Warmer weather arrived?

Here’s the Kidding Around Guide to Spring in Charlotte, NC

Summer

Splashpads near Charlotte

Winter

Charlotte, NC Winter Things to Do

Love Winter?

Here’s our Kidding Around Winter Guide to Charlotte!

Go Ice Skating at the Whitewater Center from mid-November to mid-February each year. We went with our family of 6, including those hard-to-please teens, and we all had such a great time! You can see our full review of skating at the Whitewater Center.

Here’s where you can go snow tubing near Charlotte, NC

Snow tubing Charlotte NC

Valentine’s Day in Charlotte, NC

Time to plan your Valentine’s Day? No problem! Here’s our big Charlotte Valentine’s Day Guide!

Christmas

Christmas Town USA – McAdenville, NC
This tiny town of just under 700 people takes the Christmas season very seriously. It all started with nine trees being decorated by the Men’s Club. The following year they did a few more, and that continued every year. By 2004 nearly 400 trees were decorated, and the town residents all decided to join in the fun. The joint effort resulted in almost half a million lights adorning the 1.3 mile stretch of road that visitors see as they pass through the town.

Christmas Lights at The Charlotte Motor Speedway
Purchase advance tickets online
Speedway Christmas is unique in that you get to drive your own car on the racetrack that is normally driven on by professional NASCAR drivers.  Unfortunately your mini-van will be going at a snail’s pace, but it’s still pretty cool in my opinion. On the 3.75 mile drive-thru course visitors get to view displays consisting of over four million lights!  

Charlotte Motor Speedway Lights

Kannapolis Village Park
Enjoy the totally free Christmas light display you can walk through at Kannapolis Park. Or, hop aboard the Winter Express train for just $2 and view the lights from the rails. The park’s double-decker carousel also operates during the lights events.

Fall in Charlotte, NC

Pick Apples! Here are all the best apple orchards near Charlotte, NC.

Apple picking at Grandad's

Carolina Renaissance Festival
Fall: Purchase advance tickets online

Fans of a time long forgotten can weave their way through huge roasted “turkey legs”, unique handcrafted item vendors, mermaids, fairies, sword jugglers, falconry demonstrations, and a jousting tournament. Your child can even be knighted by Queen Isabella while you are there!

More Seasonal Things to Do in Charlotte

The Quarry at Carrigan Farms
Summer: Purchase online tickets in advance for Open Swim all summer
Looking for a unique place to cool off this summer? The Quarry at Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, NC, might be just the place. The quarry at Carrigan Farms offers guests a full day of water activities, including several rock jump-off points, rope swings, swimming areas, and a sand beach volleyball area. Slots book up quickly, and planning is recommended. 

York County, SC: Fun Just Across The Border from Charlotte in South Carolina 

Charlotte is so close to the state border that several popular attractions straddle both states. For example, did you know that Carowinds is in both North Carolina and South Carolina? In addition, visitors to the area often zip back and forth across state lines, so we decided to include some of our favorite things in the Charlotte area, across the state line in South Carolina. 

Plan an entire day in York County, SC with our guide to the area.

Kings Mountain State Park 
The Kings Mountain State Park and the Kings Mountain National Military Park are right next to each other and visible from I85.  You will cross into North Carolina and then back into South Carolina to get to the park, that’s how close this historical state park is to Charlotte. 

The Sunflowers of Draper Wildlife Area
If you are looking for a magical place to take family photos or just a place to visit for fresh air and a change of scenery, we found a place just south of Rock Hill that won’t cost you a dime to enjoy. The Sunflower Fields of Draper Wildlife Area are only in bloom for few weeks over the summer, but if you plan correctly you can see them in full bloom in July.

Kings Mountain Battlefield

Anne Springs Close Greenway
The Greenway is a 2,100 nature preserve that is a continuation of the Springs’ family tradition of providing recreation options to the workers of the Springmaid Brand Mill workers. The park is a little more than a third of the land that the Springs family purchased from the Catawba Indians. The preserve includes hiking trails, lakes, creeks, wildflower gardens, and so many other things for your family to enjoy. 

Day Trips from Charlotte

Things to Do in Gastonia, NC

Plan an entire day in Gastonia, NC with our guide to the area. 

Schiele Museum of Natural History
Purchase online tickets in advance year-round
This museum makes a great day trip. We had a lot of fun visiting the museum and enjoyed exhibits on dinosaurs, minerals, animals, critters, nature, and so much more! If you haven’t been yet, you should add it to your museum bucket list.

Hickory, NC

Head up to the Catawba Science Center for lots of fun learning opportunities. We love their hands-on exhibits and aquarium space.

Catawba Science Center

Things to Do in Greenville, SC

We know a thing or two about Greenville, SC! Our sister-site, Kidding Around Greenville is the top family- fun resource in Greenville. Check out these awesome things to do in Greenville, SC.

Things to Do in Columbia, SC

We’re also covering all the family fun things to do in Columbia on our Kidding Around Columbia sister-site. Check out our huge list of things to do in Columbia for a super-fun day trip.

Places To Eat In The Charlotte Area 

Finding a spot to eat in the big city can be daunting, but luckily there’s good food to be found with a little bit of guidance. 


Kids Eat Free Charlotte, NC

Looking for kids’ meal deals? Visit our list of restaurants in Charlotte, NC where kids eat free (or cheap).


Food Halls in Charlotte

I love places where you can go and everyone can decide what they want, and it can be varied. My kids can usually only agree to disagree and this makes mealtime easier. 

Optimist Hall

A food hall in a converted warehouse that offers a kaleidoscope of options for hungry families.

  • AVA – authentic Italian and wood fired pizza
  • Bao & Broth – Bao buns and ramen bowls
  • Billy Sunday – award-winning cocktails and elevated bar menu
  • Botiwalla – Indian street food
  • Boxcar Betty’s – Fried chicken sandwiches
  • The Dumpling Lady – Szechuan street food
  • El Thrifty – Mexican inspired menu 
  • Felix Empanadas 
  • Harriett’s Hamburgers 
  • Honeysuckle Gelato
  • Mezeh Mediterranean Grill – a unique twist on the “mezze” dining experience
  • Noble Smoke – Southern barbecue
  • Papi Queso – grilled cheese kitchen
  • Suarez Bakery & Barra – Donuts and Cuban food
  • Undercurrent Coffee – coffee, tea, and light fare
  • Velvet Taco – funky tacos
  • Village Juice Co. – organic raw juice and clean food
  • Xiao Bao – Southeast Asian favorites
  • Zukku – rice bowls, sushi, burritos, poke

Camp Northend 

This multi-use venue is a 100-year-old Ford Model-T factory that now houses art exhibits, food vendors, and more. 

  • Babe & Butcher – charcuterie boxes and boards
  • La Caseta – the pocket size version of Sabor Latin Street food that we also have in Greenville
  • PopBar CLT – a handcrafted gelato pop vendor
  • Leah & Louise – (reservations recommended) Elevated deep south menu 
  • Plus vendors that serve burgers, plant-based menu items, cocktails, coffee and more! 
Gibson Mill Market in Concord

Gibson Mill

Gibson Mill has been renovated into a multi-use space with antique stores, entertainment like escape rooms and ax throwing, as well as a family-friendly food hall, the Gibson Mill Market.

We tried food from several of the vendors, and can report that the chicken sandwich from Johnny Rogers BBQ and Burgers is about as crispy as it gets. The kids really enjoyed their pizza from Livy’s Neapolitan Pizzeria.

You’ll also find vendors with tacos, cookies, ice cream, seafood, and more. For your adult beverages, there’s a cocktail bar upstairs and also a tap room downstairs.

Seating is available both indoors and outdoors.

For the kids, there is a small arcade room upstairs off the dining area.

And, for kids, families, and kids at heart, you’ll want to check out the board game cafe downstairs. Admission to the Luck Factory game cafe is $8 per person for a day pass. Stay and play games from their huge library all day long.

Gibson Mill Market
325 Mcgill Avenue NW, Concord
Hours vary by individual business

More Restaurants in Charlotte

Savory

I like to eat like the locals do when I travel, and in Charlotte that means soul food, BBQ and Fried Chicken dishes. 

Sweet

Save room for dessert, because there are too many delicious spots to skip if you don’t! 

Food from Sunflour Baking Company

One of our favorites for breakfast or lunch, stop by a Sunflour Baking Company location!

Get a delicious donut or pastry at OMG Donuts

Case of donuts and pastries at OMG Donuts & Bakery in Concord, North Carolina

Scratch-Made Breakfast & Lunch at Sunflour Baking Company in Charlotte, NC

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Are you looking for a great place for breakfast or lunch in Cabarrus County? If you’ve never visited Sunflour Baking Company you are missing out. The flakiest most delicious breakfast pastries, sandwiches, cookies, and cupcakes are waiting for you at one of Sunflour’s five locations near Charlotte, NC and we think you’ll want to pop in and enjoy their delicious offerings. We spent a weekend in Cabarrus County and we so enjoyed our breakfast that we stopped in for lunch the next day.

Counter at Sunflour Baking Company

Our breakfast was courtesy of Explore Cabarrus County, our lunch was not. Thank you to Explore Cabarrus County for introducing us to what might be our new family-favorite restaurant!

Amazing coffee, a variety of indoor and outdoor seating, with scratch-made baked goods using local ingredients makes Sunflour Baking Company the perfect place for a relaxing family breakfast, lunch, brunch, or even just a snack.

Food from Sunflour Baking Company

Breakfast at Sunflour

Sunflour has hands down the most delicious pastries we’ve ever had. And, that’s really saying something because I have a sweet tooth that’s probably a little too big. My vanilla sweet roll was somehow light and flaky and soft at the same time with just the right amount of sweetness. Even my husband who isn’t big into sweets raved about the cinnamon rolls and the kids loved their selections, too. We also enjoyed breakfast sandwiches on homemade bread that was so good we knew had to head back to this place to try their lunch options. Which, we did.

Pastries at Sunflour Baking Company

Lunch

I didn’t get any photos of lunch. I’m sorry but I was too excited to bite into that bread again. We enjoyed BLTs and turkey avocado sandwiches for lunch. But you’ll also find a variety of paninis and other sandwiches on the menu, plus soups.

Sunflour Pastry Counter

Pastries and More at Sunflour

You’ll find kid favorites like cream-filled sprinkled cookies and cupcakes, as well as all sorts of muffins, rolls, and sweet and savory pastries at Sunflour. Everything is fresh and made from scratch. We really had trouble picking just one item and opted to split a few things to try a variety. It was a good way to go and highly recommended.

Sunflour Baking Company: Review

Since our initial visit to Sunflour Baking Company, we’ve returned whenever we’re in the area. We love the pastries and sandwiches and the friendly atmosphere.

My husband loves to get his breakfast sandwiches on Sunflour’s delicious cheddar biscuit. I love the Vanilla sugar roll- so light and flaky. The kids really enjoy the cinnamon rolls. Sunflour is a place where we’ve found great food and a good cup of coffee again and again.

Sunflour Baking Company exterior

Visit Sunflour Baking Company

Sunflour Baking Company locations:

Harrisburg Sunflour Baking location: 5040 NC-49, Harrisburg, NC
Dilworth Sunflour Baking location: 220 East Boulevard, Charlotte, NC
Elizabeth Sunflour Baking location: 2001 East 7th Street, Charlotte, NC
Ballantyne Sunflour Baking location: 14021 Conlan Circle, #B-9, Charlotte, NC
Noda Sunflour Baking location: 515 Jordan Place, Charlotte, NC

Things to Do in Charlotte, NC

Looking for more delicious options in Charlotte, NC? Check out our list of places to eat out on our Things to Do in Charlotte list.

Charming Hallmark Mountain Town Sparkles During the Holidays 

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For a unique and completely charming holiday experience, Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries in Western NC is the place to go for the whole family. It’s just two hours from Upstate, SC and three hours from Charlotte, NC. Go make some magical Christmas memories in Dillsboro, NC.

Thank you to Discover Jackson NC, Jackson County for inviting us to experience Lights & Luminaries. 

Taking time to slow down during the weeks leading up to Christmas can seem like an impossible task but when you make the decision to do so and really experience the joy of the magical season, that’s when those special memories happen. And those memories await you and your family in the small, mountain town of Dillsboro, North Carolina, a beautiful two-hour drive from the Upstate in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

Lights & Luminaries in Dillsboro

Lights & Luminaries in Dillsboro is the Hallmark experience you’ve been searching for. The quaint town twinkling by the light of sparkling radiance. The candles lit along the streets. The shops that carry all kinds of locally made goods that you can only find there. The kindest people you’ll ever meet who are happy to see you. 

Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries encompasses all of that and more. The festival started in 1983 as a way to celebrate the holidays and has been going strong for 40 years. 

There is a calming, magical ambiance at this festival. There are white lights Christmas lights everywhere, plus 2,500 candles in white paper bags along every street. It’s like you stepped out of your life and into a time from many years ago. 

There are carolers and horse and buggy rides. Santa & Mrs. Claus are available for timeless Dillsboro, NC Christmas photos. Nearly every shop sells only handmade goods from local artists or vintage items like cast iron cooking pans, antique furniture, and iron-wrought bed frames. There are shops that look like the North Pole exploded inside. Cookies, hot apple cider, and candy were in many of the shops and along the streets. I finally had to put a stop to my kids eating their monthly allotment of cookies all in one night. 

And for myself, I was elated to find a grown-up nativity set while browsing at one of the Christmas-themed shops. Everyone was so kind and helpful and wishing us “Merry Christmas”. 

It all felt authentic and genuine and just lovely. 

Where to Eat During Lights & Luminaries

There are a handful of restaurants in the small town that have everything from BBQ to pub grub to Greek and Italian cuisine. We chose the Quirky Birds Treehouse & Bistro because it looked really cute. We walked in to a very cozy dining room and friendly employees. We had nachos, vegetarian chili, pizza, and grilled cheese. It was great! The nachos were my favorite as they had guacamole, cheese, chili, and sour cream. I thought the prices were reasonable, around $7-$12/person. 

Dillsboro is small but mighty when it comes to food. Haywood Smokehouse is one of the Top 25 BBQ Restaurants in the country. We weren’t able to try it but it looks amazing. Next time!

Be sure to stop by the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory where you’ll be greeted by an array of handmade chocolates, fudge, and coffee. 

Where to Enjoy the Outdoors in Dillsboro

Dillsboro is close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to nearly 900 miles in hiking trails. It’s also only a 20 minute drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can get to places like Waterrock Knob, the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States. 

High Falls Lake Glenville

Cashiers, the Land of the Waterfalls, and a big favorite of us at Kidding Around, is about 40 minutes from Dillsboro. There are no shortage of gorgeous hikes and waterfalls to explore there.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

When we were pulling into our hotel, the Best Western Plus River, we saw the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad train and it was so cool! It was chugging along right in front of us, smoke billowing out from the top. It turns out the railroad is only 20 minutes away in Bryson City. 

If your family goes on the Polar Express ride during November and December, Dillsboro is the perfect spot to enjoy time together, especially if you make the trip during the Lights & Luminaries festival.

Where to Stay in Dillsboro 

Discover Jackson NC put us up in the Best Western Plus River Escape right on Tuckasegee River. Our room overlooked the river and it was so calming and peaceful. 

The hotel is beautiful and you could walk to the town of Dillsboro if you wanted to. They have a heated indoor pool and hot tub, which we made good use of after eating all those cookies at the festival. 

They also have a free, hot breakfast in the morning, which is pretty much equal to Christmas for my kids. They have eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, yogurt, oatmeal, a coffee maker that will make pretty much anything you want, juices, pastries, and our favorite: a pancake maker that looks like it came from The Jetsons. Rooms are spacious and clean and the lobby has a beautiful fireplace and cozy chairs.

Planning Your Own Trip to Dillsboro

Lights & Luminaries takes place the first two weekends of December every year, each Friday and Saturday from 5-8 pm. The last two dates for 2023 are December 8th and 9th. There’s still time to plan a last-minute getaway!

For next year, we will update this story with those dates and anything new that the festival has going on. There is no cost to attend Lights & Luminaries either, which makes it a wonderful, low-cost Christmastime adventure with your family. 

I think the biggest thing I loved about Lights & Luminaries was that it was the perfect opportunity to slow down, to enjoy the magical season, and to spend that quality time with my kids that I strive and long for. As I’m sure many parents can relate, the time we have with them goes quickly. I want to make the most of that time and this was a weekend well-spent.

Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries 
December 1, 2, 8, and 9, 2023 from 5-8 pm each night 
Dillsboro, NC

10 Fabulous Things to Do in Gastonia, North Carolina

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Looking for a town to explore on a day trip? Just an hour from the Upstate is Gastonia, NC. We discovered this town is full of things to do. There is a fabulous museum, parks, and some of the best milkshakes in the country according to USA Today. Since Gastonia is so close to the Upstate it makes a great day trip!

Looking for more fun in the area? Check Out The Ultimate Guide To Fun With Kids in Charlotte, North Carolina

Mile high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Looking for more day trip ideas near Greenville, SC? We have your Ultimate Guide to Day Trips Near the Upstate.

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See Dinosaurs, Critters, Minerals, and More At The Schiele Museum of Natural History In Gastonia, North Carolina

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Have you visited the Schiele Museum of Natural History & Planetarium? Located in Gastonia, North Carolina the museum makes a great day trip. Expect to have a spectacular time exploring exhibits on dinosaurs, minerals, animals, critters, nature and so much more! If you haven’t been yet, you should definitely add it to your museum bucket list.

Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium near Gastonia, North Carolina

Thank you to the Schiele Museum for providing admission to the museum so we could bring this review to our readers! The words and opinions in this article are those of the writer.

Read our Guide to Fun in Gastonia, NC for more fun you can have while visiting the museum.

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Get into the Fall Spirit with a Visit to Sky Top Orchard

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Fall is just about here! Time for corn mazes, fall festivals, and apple picking! One of the local favorites is Sky Top Orchard near Flat Rock, NC. Read on for local mom Jackie Vest’s tips and things to expect when you visit Sky Top Orchard, so you can make the most of your visit!

See our full list of Apple Orchards Near the Upstate. For more fall fun check out our Pumpkin Patch Guide and our Corn Maze Guide!

Guide to Fall in Greenville, SC

Looking for more fall fun? Here are over 30 things to do this fall near Greenville.

Experience Sky Top Orchard

The Sky Top apple season starts in August and runs through the Sunday after Thanksgiving, giving families plenty of opportunities to seek out their favorite varieties of apples. This orchard has over 22 different kinds of apples to choose from! They also churn out a regional sensation: apple cider donuts!

As soon as you pull up to the orchard and open your car door, you are drawn in with the delicious fried cidery-sugary smell wafting through the air. Plan on buying at LEAST a dozen. If you come on a busy weekend, you’ll need to wait in line for them, but don’t let that stop you!

Apple picking is an enjoyable activity for kids of all ages. While you may need to walk a bit to the row of choice, the picking is quick and easy work. Many apples are available low to the ground, easy picking for even the smallest kiddos. My boys (ages 5 & 7) hopped off the hayride, took off down a row, and filled up their bags before I even caught up with the little stinkers!

The orchard also offers plenty of play structures, Bee Train, a Gold Rush Gem Mine, a honeybee hive (in which kids can usually spot the queen bee behind the glass), a bamboo forest, some farm animals like sheep, chickens, goats, and peacocks, and plenty of delectable goodies in addition to the apples and cider donuts.

Pies, jellies, hot cider, fudges, and frozen apple cider slushies, to name a few! Outside food is acceptable and there are plenty of picnic tables or areas to spread a blanket – just be mindful of bees and limit sugary foods.

The orchard also does a great job accommodating large groups with hayride tours, apple picking, and educational programs which teach kiddos everything they could want to know about how apples grow through the seasons. This is a favorite field trip destination!

apple picking at Sky Top Orchard

Tips for visiting Sky Top

Be sure to check out Skytop’s FAQs for tips before you visit.

Bring cash or check – while they do accept credit cards, their wifi can be spotty so their credit card processing system isn’t always working.

Try to go on a Monday or early week. The weekends can get pretty busy.

Wear sneakers or other walking shoes that are okay to get dirty.

Bring quarters for feeding the farm animals.

Sky Top has real bathrooms now. No more having to use a port-a-potty.

Apple varieties are planted in accordance of when they are in season. They plant the earliest apples closest to the entrance and it progresses further away as the season goes on. In other words, the later in the season you visit the orchard, the further you will need to plan on walking to pick apples.

There are plenty of already-picked apples to choose from if you want all the fresh flavor without the work.

You must pre-pay for apples and you are required to pay for at least one peck per 6 people (around 10 pounds). A basket is provided.

Here is their picking schedule (which lists available varieties).

Sky Top Orchard is open 7 days a week from 9 am – 6 pm.

The orchard is located above Flat Rock, NC and here are directions to Sky Top Orchard.

We love this place and like so many others, we have made it an annual Mecca. I hope this has been helpful, see you at the orchard! Find our tips on picking apples with kids here.

When visiting Flat Rock, NC, consider our day trip guide to Flat Rock for more suggestions on activities in the area, including all that there is to do in very near Hendersonville, NC. Nearby attractions include the Team Ecco Aquarium, the Carl Sandburg House, and the Western NC Nature Center.

Has your family experienced Sky Top Orchard yet?

You Can Fly Like a Bird (but without wings) in Concord, NC

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Have you heard of iFly in Concord, NC? If you’re looking for something totally amazing to do with your family, and you’ve ever thought that it would be cool to fly (not in a plane) but like a bird, this is a place you’ll want to check out.

Your flight dreams can be a reality now at iFLY Indoor Skydiving in Concord, NC. Not only will we give you all the details, but we tried it ourselves so we also have the inside scoop on what to expect and how to prepare your kids.

Thank you to Explore Cabarrus for hosting us and iFLY for providing us with this experience.

iFly

What is iFLY?

iFLY is an indoor skydiving simulator where you enter a wind tunnel that is strong enough to allow you to float in the air. In fact, experienced flyers can even perform tricks such as flips.

How does iFLY work?

To fly, you reserve a time online and sign a waiver. Kids 3 and up with a parent are allowed to fly, but it may be a little frightening for some children (more on that later).

Once it’s your turn, you will be suited up in a protective suit, protective eyewear, and helmet. Be prepared to remove all jewelry (including rings) and anything that could come off of your person. You also will not be able to take your phone or camera into the wind tunnel area (this is a safety precaution).

Your flight instructor will then go over basic safety instructions with you and you will watch a short orientation video followed by a review with your instructor. This time mostly focuses on teaching you how to position your body and what hand signals your instructor will use to communicate with you.

After you are ready, you will be escorted into the wind tunnel lobby. This area is sealed off for safety and has a bench where your group can watch the flight. Your instructor will then demonstrate how to enter and exit the tunnel.

Your instructor then allows you to go in the tunnel one at a time. He will hold you and keep you in position until you are steady enough to float. The first flight is often focused on helping you figure out how to position your body. Many people fly more than once in order to gain confidence and the ability to move around in the chamber.

We each had one minute in the tunnel. It did seem really short but it was a neat experience.

iFly kids

Will kids enjoy iFLY?

Our children were 11 and 8. Our 11-year-old really enjoyed it but our 8-year-old became frightened during the experience. The instructor noticed that she was distressed and removed her from the tunnel.

The air does blow extremely hard, and my 8-year-old felt like she couldn’t breathe. It was just the sensation of the air but it was frightening for her.

The instructor did convince her to go back in after our family had finished. They turned down the fans so that she could walk around the chamber and so that she wasn’t frightened. I was glad that they did this so that she could finish with a positive experience.

Pricing and Location

iFLY is not cheap, but it is an interesting and unique experience and we were impressed by the knowledge and care of the staff.

We only had one flight each, and I would recommend purchasing at least two so that you have a chance to get familiar with the process first and then can utilize those skills.

You can find pricing on the iFLY website. There are a number of packages that allow you to get more flights for a discounted cost.

7840 Lyles Lane NW
Concord, NC 28027

704.851.4359

Have you ever visited iFLY before? What was your opinion?