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Ready for some action? North Carolina has dozens of amusement parks ready to soak you on a hot summer day or make you scream as you fly down a rollicking roller coaster. In between you’ll find historic attractions perfect for the whole family and one-of-a-kind destinations.
Likely the state’s biggest amusement park is Carowinds in Charlotte. This 400-acre park just off Interstate 77 and a stone’s throw from South Carolina was originally inspired by Disneyland but today is completely North Carolinian. The park has nine themed areas, each with rides and attractions. Celebration Plaza has the Carolina Skytower, a 262-foot tall tower which affords a great view of the surrounding countryside, as well as Nighthawk, a Flying Dutchman coaster. Crossroads has a 3-D action theater and an interactive dark ride where riders shoot at targets and collect points. There are also steel roller coasters, a stand-up coaster, a drop tower, and a “giga” coaster which reaches speeds of 95 mph – hold on!
Hot days ahead? Then plan to visit Carolina Harbor. This park is next door to Carowinds and a ticket there includes admission here. This 20-acre site has six kids’ areas, 31 water slides, and six pools. Get wet on Blackbeard’s Revenge, put the whole family on a raft headed down Hurricane Falls, slide through Storm Surge, get a feel for the ocean at Surfer’s Swell, and enjoy waves up to six feet tall at Surf Club Harbor. Kids love Seaside Splashworks and Myrtle Turtle Beach. Make sure to hop on the newest ride – Dorsal Fin Drop.
Splash Planet, also in Charlotte, keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter – it’s one of the state’s biggest indoor water parks. The complex keeps water at a bathtub-warm 87 degrees year-round. Play basketball in the Sea of Tranquility or prepare to get sucked in a circle in The Vortex. Moon Beach is perfect for kids and Saturation Station has four slides, tumble buckets, and interactive water play. Naturally, there’s a lazy river, too.
Tweetsie Railroad is a mountain institution – located near Blowing Rock, the park’s centerpiece is a three-mile ride on a train pulled by a historic narrow-gauge steam locomotive. The train winds through the hills for a relaxing ride and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Open mainly during the summer, the railroad also hosts special Halloween and Christmas events.
Wet ‘n Wile Emerald Pointe in Greensboro is a massive water park with 14 slides, five pools, and two children’s areas. Hop on Raging Rapids or the Daredevil Drop, which is a freefall body slide. Twin Twisters is an enclosed body slide and Happy Harbor is where the young swimmers are kept amused.
In Raleigh, Pullen Park is a 66-acre park west of downtown popular with families. Hop on a paddle boat and venture on to the pond or jump on one of the rides – the carousel was recently renovated but was originally built in 1900. A miniature train ventures though the park and there are great spots for a picnic.
Headed to the beach? Carolina Beach is home to Carolina Beach Boardwalk, with has mini-golf, a classic seaside boardwalk, a Ferris wheel, and carnival-style games. In Raleigh, Frankie’s Fun Park has go-karts, an arcade, bumper boats, the spinning WindStarz, Sidewinder – a pendulum ride – and a Fun House, laser tag, and batting cages. Also, in Raleigh, Galaxy Fun Park is family-centered fun with go-karts, laser tag, trampolines, and a ropes course.
Take a break from the road in Murphy and swing by Wagonmaster Adventure Ranch, a small family fun park with wagon rides, gold panning, a small zoo, a bouncy house, and mini-golf. Maggie Valley has tons of small fun parks – you can easily spend an afternoon at Fantasy Golf, Maggie Valley Carpet Golf, or – when the snow files – at Tube World.
Even when the snow melts from North Carolina’s ski slopes, many chairlifts keep operating to take you to remote mountaintops. At Beech Mountain you can ride the chairlift to the resort’s mile-high summit for memorable views across the Smokies. In Cherokee, take a ride on the 18-minute Skylift, which gives you a great view of the town and the surrounding mountains. At Sugar Mountain you can hop on the Summit Express lift – you can buy one-time or all-day ride tickets.
Perhaps the state’s biggest thrills can be found at the North Carolina State Fair. This event, held each fall, features food, live music, vendor booths, arts and crafts competitions, and tons of rides. You’ll find all the standard midway and carnival rides here – perfect for kids heading to a fair for their first time or adults ready to reminisce about olden days. There are fun houses, terror houses, slide rides, carousels, drop towers, coasters, pendulum swings, flying boats, starships, and tilt-a-whirls!
Set in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Fields of the Wood Bible Park is a family theme park located in Murphy in the southwestern North Carolina Mountains. Home to the World's Largest Ten Commandments, the Bible Park is free of charge. Fields of the Wood Bible Park is a massive park open daily in the Nantahala National Forest. Other features include the world’s largest altar, cross, and New Testament – plus a 30-foot-tall bible and a replica of Christ’s tomb.
Halloween brings its own brand of thrills to North Carolina. Woods of Terror near Greensboro has a monster midway, a monster parade, the homes of horror movie icons, and something designed to scare you silly – bugs, spiders, dark places, and close quarters. It’s just one of many haunted woods in North Carolina – you can also check out Kersey Valley Spookywoods in Archdale, Haunted Forest at Panic Point in Youngsville, Darkside Haunted Estates, Boogerwoods, and Lake Hickory Haunts.
Whether you are seeking big thrills or just a relaxing place to take the family, North Carolina has an amusement or thrill park perfect for you. Come join in the fun!
Christmas is celebrated year-round at Santa’s Land in Cherokee. This small park has a zoo, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and the Rudicoaster. Even though it may be summer, Santa is always on hand to greet kids and hear their holiday wishes.