Family & Pets

Best Cheap Activities To Do With Kids In Charlotte

May 23, 2014 8:00 AM

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With the arrival of summer, families are headed out looking for fun. Fortunately, Charlotte has numerous activities for kids – and not all of them will drain your wallet. For this list, we’ve selected places where admission is either inexpensive or free. In addition, each offers a combination of educational activities and opportunities to burn off energy in the outdoors. Your kids can pan for gold, meet birds of prey, learn Native American lore, discover the secrets of nuclear energy or learn to fish this summer at these attractions in the Charlotte area. Each spot has a picnic area so pack a lunch to save even more.
Carolina Raptor Center
6000 Sample Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
(704) 875-6521

Kids love visiting the unique Carolina Raptor Center where more than 25 species of hunting birds live in habitats stretched along the three-quarter-mile Raptor Trail. In addition to walking the self-guided trail, visitors can see educational exhibits such as “Raptors of the Silver Screen,” visit the Osprey Observation Deck, stroll through Owl Forest and learn about the Center’s rehabilitation work with injured birds. Admission fees support the work of this non-profit organization which treats and releases some 800 injured raptors each year. Live bird presentations and vulture feedings are held on weekends year-round. The Raptor Center is located inside Latta Plantation Park which also offers horseback riding, numerous hiking trails and a living history farm and plantation house.

Related: Best Bad Weather Activities For Kids In Charlotte

Catawba Indian Nation Reservation
996 Avenue of the Nations
Rock Hill, SC 29730
(803) 366-4792

Spend a fun day visiting the Catawba, “People of the River,” the only federally recognized Native American tribe in the state of South Carolina. The reservation is located on the banks of the Catawba River where trails that date to pre-Colonial times make for a pleasant hike. The Catawba Cultural Center, housed in the old Reservation Schoolhouse, offers exhibits on the history and culture of the tribe, including crafts, artifacts and examples of the traditional Catawba pottery still being created by tribe members. Close by, a recreated Catawba Indian Village includes a bark house, dugout trees being made into canoes and a tribal garden planted with traditional Indian crops.

13339 Hagers Ferry Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
(980) 875-5600

Located adjacent to Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station at Lake Norman, the EnergyExplorium offers visitors an experience that is both educational and fun. Inside, you’ll find a virtual tour of the nuclear power plant plus interactive games and exhibits for all ages that teach about electricity, nuclear power, radiation, the environment, weather and other science topics. A variety of videos are available to view, including “The Great Inland Sea” explaining how and why Lake Norman was built. Outside, a mile-long nature trail leads along the shore of the lake to a picnic area next to a butterfly garden.

Reed Gold Mine
9621 Reed Mine Road
Midland, NC 28107
(704) 721-4653

A visit to Reed Gold Mine is sure to bring out the prospector in any kid, young or old. Located on the site of the first gold strike in the United States back in the early 1800s, Reed includes numerous ruins from the mining days, as well as a working stamp mill and restored underground tunnels to explore. The visitor center has exhibits on gold mining and how to find gold based on geology, along with a film about gold mining in North Carolina. Trails lead throughout the site passing features such as the chimney of the 1854 mill house, placer mines and the “Talking Rocks” exhibit with stones from across the southeast. You can pan for gold ($3 per pan) from April through October, or buy your own panning equipment in the gift shop.

Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve
2900 Rocky River Road
Charlotte, NC 28215
(704) 432-6459

The Nature Center at Reedy Creek houses live animals native to the region, exhibits on the local environment, a play area and a small gift shop. Outside, the Backyard Habitat Garden includes bird feeding stations, a compost demonstration and a butterfly garden. Nearby, the James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity Studies houses a collection of flora and fauna unique to the Piedmont, and invites visitors to bring in plants and animals for identification. Backpacks full of items to help families explore the surrounding terrain can be borrowed for free at the Nature Center, or you can check out fishing equipment for free through the Tackle Loaner program (NC fishing license required for anglers 16 and over). Nearly seven miles of trails run through the surrounding nature preserve, and the adjacent Reedy Creek Park offers numerous facilities including picnic shelters, ball fields, a dog park, playground and swing garden, and an 18-hole disc golf course. A similar Nature Center is located at McDowell Nature Preserve on the shores of Lake Wylie.

Related: Best Railroad Experiences Near Charlotte For Kids

With 15 years of experience covering restaurants in Charlotte and the Carolinas, and two regional guidebooks under her belt, Renee Wright examines the dining scene with enthusiasm plus a deep knowledge of food trends and outstanding local eating ops. Her work can be found at

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