Day Trips, Carolinas
The following are popular day trips to destinations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. We consider any destination within 3 1/2 hours of Charlotte, a day trip. You may want to combine more than one attraction in an area for a full day experience. If you are interested in a day trip that is not listed below, please let us know. We would be happy to develop that tour for you.
Nascar Hall of Fame
A high-tech venue, designed to educate racing fans and non-fans alike, the Nascar Hall of Fame features a 278 person theatre, the NASCAR Media group-operated TV and radio broadcast studio, and numerous interactive exhibits. A field trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame offers students the ability to learn math, science, and social studies. Their team provides an educational experience that is an extension of the classroom with lesson plans that adhere to state and national learning standards.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
The “refueled” Feel the Thrill Tour offers fans a close-up look at areas that are off-limits on race days. You will see the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Garage, navigate through two infield race tracks, make your way down Pit Road and take a picture in Victory Circle. Learn the history of Charlotte Motor Speedway while enjoying a comfortable van ride around the Super speedway where you will feel the full-tilt force of the 24-degree banking. Plus, visit zMAX Dragway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte on this exciting tour!
Step into a world where science is brought to life through interactive exhibits and explosive experiments during daily programs. Connect with the past and visit the future with groundbreaking exhibitions, larger-than-life IMAX Dome films and hands on activities that let you explore more. Enjoy a day at Discovery Place and bring the world of science to life for your students. With special featured exhibitions and the first of the Museum’s new proprietary exhibits, Discovery Place is an ever-changing experience in exploration and innovation. No matter your age, they are dedicated to connecting you with science, technology and nature and making it a fun and fascinating part of your world.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, the Carolinas’ Garden for All Seasons, provides students a chance to reconnect with nature. Located within 380 acres on the banks of Lake Wylie, spectacular gardens, sparkling fountains, a visitor pavilion, two nature walks, and a gift shop await your students. Specialists are on-hand to provide a valuable learning experience.
Carolina Raptor Center
The Carolina Raptor Center provides an outstanding environmental education program for the region and beyond. Students meet live birds of prey and through engagement with these birds their awareness is heightened. The programs now meet the core curriculum standards for science education programs onsite at Carolina Raptor Center. Students meet 3 birds on the glove and visit one of the aviaries on the raptor trail. The Carolina Raptor Center has produced the only captive-hatched bald eagles and golden eagles in North. The Eagles Nesting is a highlight of the visit.
Levine Museum of the New South
The Levine Museum of the New South houses the most comprehensive exhibition of post Civil War history. Interactive exhibits such as “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers”, changing exhibits, and guided tours enhance the experience. Elementary school students explore the life of children throughout New South history from Carolina cotton farms to the Piedmont textile mills. Middle School Students focus on social, economic, and political changes in the Carolina Piedmont from 1865 through today. Emphasis is on Reconstruction, the Textile Industry, and the Civil Rights Movement. High School Students learn how change and conflict have shaped the New South from 1865 through today. Students learn and discuss challenges during Reconstruction, the rise of textile mills in the early 20th century, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The North Carolina Zoo
Discover more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants along five miles of shaded pathways. Connect with wildlife from two different continents as you explore 500 acres of exhibits carefully constructed to resemble natural habitats. Walk from Africa’s grasslands to North America’s Arctic coast. Learn how the Zoo works to conserve and protect wild things and places. Escape to the forests and streams of North Carolina’s beautiful Central Piedmont. Located at the foot of the Uwharrie Mountains, the Zoo is just outside the charming southern town of Asheboro.
Sea Life Aquarium
SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium will transport you into the amazing underwater world. Come nose to nose with sharks and prepare for astonishingly close views of everything from humble starfish and seahorses to graceful rays. To get any closer you’d have to get wet! Walk through the Amazing Underwater Ocean Tunnel. View more than 5,000 Sea Creatures. Hold a crab, or touch a starfish in the Touchpool Experience. Watch and listen to the fun talks and feed shows throughout the day.
The Capitol Experience
Often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the South,” Greater Raleigh is home to three state museums and is the center of the state government. Visit these attractions for a unique tour of the capital city area. Your full-day experience includes tours of the State Capitol, the Legislative Office Building, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the North Carolina Museum of History. Don’t miss the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame – audio, video, and interactive biographies, plus Richard Petty’s stock car, Meadowlark Lemon’s uniform, and other sports artifacts.
African-American Heritage Tour
Start at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens, the only public park in the United States devoted to the civil rights movement. Here see a life-sized bronze statue of Dr. King. Spend some time exploring our historically black colleges and universities – Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s University. Shaw University is the oldest historically black university in the South. While on Shaw’s campus, tour Estey Hall, the first building constructed for the higher education of black women in the country. Visit the African American Cultural Complex and see hundreds of objects representing the contributions made by African Americans to the development of North Carolina and America. If time allows, Explore the N.C. Museum of Art’s African, African-American and Oceanic galleries.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum
The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is an archival center, collecting museum and teaching facility devoted to the international struggle for civil and human rights. The Museum celebrates the nonviolent protests of the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins that served as a catalyst in the civil rights movement. This attraction will inspire your group as they experience a moment in time that changed the nation and influenced a world of difference. The original portion of the lunch counter at Woolworth’s , and stools where the four students sat on Feb. 1, 1960, has never been moved from its original footprint. Join the knowledgeable guides as they lead you through several impressive exhibits.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1981)
The largest, most hotly-contested battle of the Revolutionary War’s Southern Campaign was fought at the small North Carolina backcountry hamlet of Guilford Courthouse. The battle proved to be the high-water mark of British military operations in the Revolutionary War. Created in 1917, it is actually the first revolutionary war battlefield in the United States protected by the Federal government. Visit the exhibit area in the Visitor Center and take a look at films presented hourly. You may even be able to participate in one of the ranger guided programs.
Grandfather Mountain is a scenic travel destination, a globally recognized nature preserve, and one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains (elev. 5,946 feet). Your visit to Grandfather mountain includes beautiful mountain scenery, a walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, environmental habitats for native wildlife (black bears, river otters, cougars, deer and bald eagles), a nature museum, and excellent exhibits about the natural history of the region. And don’t forget the homemade fudge made fresh daily and presented hourly. You may even be able to participate in one of the ranger guided programs.
Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in the Eastern United States at well over a mile high. At an elevation of 6,684 feet, the scenic landscape views from the observation deck at the summit are absolutely breathtaking. At the top you’ll find a gift shop, small cafe, and an easy walking trail to the newly built observation platform at the summit. The Mount Mitchell program introduces students to the forest types of the Blue Ridge Mountains, focusing on the potential causes for forest decline in the mountains and at Mount Mitchell. Accompanying the program is a teacher’s booklet and workshop, free of charge to educators. The exhibit hall, located near the mountain’s summit, is open May through October and offers visitors insight into the mountain’s natural, cultural and historical faces.
The 70-foot waterfall is definitely worth the trek! A short drive from Mount Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you to the Crabtree Falls Recreation area. Take the trail (mostly downhill) to the spectacular falls. Those looking for more of a challenge can take the longer trail for great photo opportunities.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Experience the 11,000-year-old Cherokee story vividly. If your idea of a museum includes dusty displays tended by a boring curator, get ready to rediscover what a museum can be. Inspired by the beauty and ingenuity of the Cherokee people, this is a cultural and historical tour without equal, one fused with interactive video, intriguing displays, and a full sensory experience. Let yourself be guided through a moving journey that illustrates who the people of Cherokee really are, where they came from, and why they’re still here.
Oconaluftee Indian Village
As you enter the soft trails of the village, it’s no longer the 21st century: you’re immediately transported to the 1760s. You won’t need your robotic-voiced GPS here. The faint tang of wood smoke wafts by as you are led by a Cherokee cultural expert on an interactive journey through Cherokee lifestyle and history. Your guide will show you the way through the winding paths, flanked with traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas, and sacred ritual sites. Delight in cultural dances amid the swaying oaks and sycamores. As you wander, interact with villagers as they hull canoes, sculpt pottery and masks, weave baskets, and fashion beadwork. Watch as a village prepares for war. Hear the sounds of an authentic stickball game. Be amazed by a blowgun demonstration.
The Biltmore Estate
The luxurious family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt is a marvel of elegance and charm, as magnificent today as it was more than a century ago. Biltmore House is the second largest home in the United States. Your self-guided house visit spans three floors and the basement. You’ll see displays of vintage clothing, accessories, art, furniture, and more that tell stories and illustrate the lives of the Vanderbilt family, their guests, and employees. Your self-guided visit is included in estate admission which entitles you to explore the grounds, gardens, trails and Antler Village. An in-depth audio guide and guided specialty tours are also available at additional cost.
North Carolina Arboretum
Nestled in one of the most botanically diverse and beautiful natural settings in America, the Arboretum offers 65 acres of cultivated gardens that delight the senses, pay tribute to the region’s rich cultural heritage, and reinforce the importance of plants to our world. Strolling through the gardens is a perfect way to reconnect with nature in a peaceful setting. The welcome desk at The Baker Exhibit Center offers more information about the beauty and history that awaits. Visitors from across the world enjoy exploring the Arboretum’s exhibits and huge cultivated gardens, including one of the finest, most unique bonsai collections in the United States. Private guided tours can also be arranged.
Chimney Rock / Lake Lure
Chimney Rock State Park
Only minutes from Asheville and Lake Lure, Chimney Rock offers the best of the mountains in one place – spectacular 75-mile views, hiking trails for all ages, a 404-foot waterfall, a variety of events and more. It’s well worth the effort to get to the foot of Hickory Nut Falls, the second highest waterfall of its kind east of the Mississippi River. Climb to the top of this towering 315-foot monolith located on the very edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains high above beautiful Hickory Nut Gorge, a soaring elevation of 2,280 feet with its 75-mile views.
The lake is approximately 720 acres, with about twenty-one miles of shoreline. Located in Western North Carolina, Lake Lure sits in the heart of Hickory Nut Gorge. East of Asheville, the Rocky Broad River tears its way in a series of rapids down through Hickory Nut Gap. This crystal clear water flows through a valley shaped roughly in the form of a Maltese cross to make Lake Lure. Discover the beauty and charm of Lake Lure while relaxing on one of our covered tour boats while your skipper guides you past local attractions and landmarks such as the locations used in filming the popular Dirty Dancing and the recently restored historic 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa. Listen to the legends, and learn about the natural and cultural history of Hickory Nut Gorge, home to Lake Lure, North Carolina.
Old Salem Village
Two types of tours are offered to meet your students and your curriculum needs. The hands-on, museum educator led Experience Tours are 2 1/2 hours in length and are for grades 1–8. The Self-Guided Historic Salem Town Visit provides students the opportunity to interact with costumed interpretive staff while touring the historic district. A Salem Town Visit is an excellent way to see all the buildings in Salem and can be added on to a morning or afternoon Experience Tour to complete your day at Old Salem Museums & Gardens. We also offer the Salem Day video that provides an introduction to the history of the Moravians, the founding of Salem and a glimpse into the daily lives of the early settlers.
River Banks Zoo
Want to feed a giraffe or get cozy with a flamingo? The 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 2,000 creatures, with even more fun in a three-story ropes course, four zip-lines, nature trails, pony rides, and one of the nation’s most beautiful and inspiring botanical gardens. The lush 170-acre site features dynamic natural habitat exhibits, scenic river views, spectacular valley overlooks and significant historic landmarks. Riverbanks has twice been awarded the Governor’s Cup for South Carolina’s Most Outstanding Tourist Attraction. South Carolina State Museum The South Carolina State Museum is a comprehensive museum, with extensive exhibits in the disciplines of art, science and technology, cultural history and natural history. In one stop it encompasses all that South Carolina was, is and can be. It is South Carolina’s largest museum and one of the largest in the Southeast. Highlights include a reproduction of Fort Moultrie, site of the battle of Sullivan’s Island. Because the fort was made of palmetto trees, and repelled British cannonballs, palmettos became the state’s symbol and its nickname became the Palmetto State. There is a life-size reproduction of the Confederate submarine, Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle. Don’t forget to see the Clemson 372, probably the first college student-built airplane in the United States.
EdVenture Children’s Museum
The South’s largest children’s museum is the home of Eddie, the world’s largest child, along with 300 exhibits to inspire children to experience the joy of learning. Where else but EdVenture can children talk to a skeleton, drive a real fire truck, anchor the news or visit another country. Experience the joy of learning at EdVenture, the South’s largest children’s museum with 92,000 square feet of interactive, hands-on fun for kids 12 and younger. Crawl through 40-foot tall EDDIE, the world’s largest child weighing in at 35,000 pounds, about half the size of an adult humpback whale. Explore world-class galleries including Wags & Whiskers, Body Detectives, My Backyard, the Great Outdoors, Critter Garden, World of Work, Over the Horizon and Mission Imagination. Visit EdVenture’s seasonal exhibits Blooming Butterflies in the spring/summer and Snowville in the winter.
Catawba Cultural Center
“Tanake”(tah-NAH-ke) means hello in the language of the Catawba Indians. You’re invited to share the Native American way firsthand with Ye Iswa (EES-wah) “The People of the River.” Housed in the only remaining Reservation Schoolhouse, the Cultural Center includes a crafts store, featuring unique hand crafted Catawba pottery. New and improved exhibits offer an educational glimpse into the Catawba past. Experience the picturesque half mile walking trail along an 18th century wagon trail to end at the scenic banks of the Catawba River.
Historic Brattonsville exists today as a 775-acre, internationally known historical site, and is one of the most important and heavily visited cultural attractions in South Carolina. It stands as a testament to the pioneering spirit and industry of the Bratton family, and to the hard work and sacrifice of their descendants and slaves. Historic Brattonsville is one of the few living history sites with African-American interpretation. The Bratton family arrived in York County, South Carolina with the wave of Scotch-Irish migration in the 1760s. It is not documented when William Bratton, who settled the land that is now Brattonsville, acquired his first slave, but it is clear that he owned some by the time of the American Revolution. During the American Revolution, one of his slaves became legendary in local history. Find out what role this slave played during the American Revolution and visit sites used during the filming of the movie “The Patriot”, starring Mel Gibson.
South Carolina Aquarium
Be entertained by an intimate look at many of South Carolina’s native animals and plants as your journey through the Aquarium takes you from the mountains to the sea. You’ll encounter surprises around every corner and an experience straight from the island of Madagascar is closer than you imagine. From the sea turtles that call our oceans home to the seafood your family enjoys, they are working to advance conservation awareness in the community and across the state. The ocean is more than just part of South Carolina’s landscape; it is a vital resource needs protection. Learn more about the Aquarium’s ocean and freshwater conservation programs here. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit South Carolina’s only hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. Learn about our current patients and discover the extraordinary care that is provided to these endangered creatures.
Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum
The 888-foot aircraft carrier Yorktown is the flagship of the Patriots Point battle group. Destroyer Laffey, the Coast Guard cutter Ingham and the submarine Clamagore are also on display along with 25 aircraft, Congressional Medal of Honor Museum and Cold War Submarine Memorial. Give your school group an awe-inspiring, hands-on lesson in astronomy, aviation, history, journalism, oceanography, math, technology and reading aboard the USS YORKTOWN. Their unique curriculum is designed to bring history to life for students of all ages.
Fort Sumter National Monument
Historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a must see. Ferries depart from either Patriots Point or Liberty Square where the National Park Service offers an impressive overview at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center. The significance of Fort Sumter and the events leading to the Civil War are presented by exhibits and interpretation by National Park Service Rangers. Enjoy breathtaking views of Charleston Harbor as you cruise to Fort Sumter.
Drayton Hall is different. It’s the real thing, and they are bound by their mission to preserve the property—that is, to keep it in near-original condition just as the National Trust received it from the Drayton family in 1974. Drayton Hall is America’s oldest unrestored plantation house open to the public. Following seven generations of Drayton family ownership, the house remains in nearly original condition and has never been modernized, providing an unmatched look at colonial living and its builders’ creative craftsmanship. Surrounded by live oaks, and bordered by the historic Ashley River, this architectural masterpiece offers focused tours on architecture, African-American history, preservation, women’s history, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.
This 17th century-style estate, acquired in 1676 by the Drayton family, whose heirs still own it, features the year-round bloom, America’s oldest gardens. Magnolia Plantation has survived the centuries and witnessed the history of our nation unfold before it from the American Revolution through the Civil War and beyond. It is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, and the oldest public gardens in America, opening its doors to visitors in 1870 to view the thousands of beautiful flowers and plants in its famous gardens. Guided tours, the Barbados Tropical Garden, the Biblical Garden, the antebellum cabin, and the observation tower are some of the highlights of the visit.
Charleston Tea Plantation
Experience the beauty and charm of America’s only tea garden. View acres of breathtaking tea plants, and learn how tea is made during an informative factory tour. Take a trolley ride through the tea fields and drink American Classic Tea. Its grounds include 127 acres of Camellia Sinensis tea plants, a working Tea Factory, and a charming Plantation Gift Shoppe.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall is one of America’s oldest working, living plantations. They have been continuously growing and producing crops for over 320 years. Known for cotton and pecans, they no longer produce these crops. They are still actively producing tomatoes, strawberries, and pumpkins and have U-Pick fields open in season. In 1743, the son of Major John Boone planted live oak trees, arranging them in two evenly spaced rows. This spectacular approach to his home symbolizes southern heritage and will take root in your memory for many years to come. It would take two centuries for the massive, moss-draped branches to meet overhead, forming today’s natural corridor and a scene that is “a must see stop on any trip to Charleston, S.C.” Enjoy guided tours of the plantation house, take a guided plantation tram tour and visit the new “Black History In America” exhibit featuring original slave cabins.
Harbor and Island Tours
All aboard a catamaran for a personalized tour of Charleston Harbor and the low country. Choose from historical tours or nature tours. Experience Charleston. Discover her tideland treasures. Hunt for shells and shark teeth. Your naturalist will conduct a tour of one of the barrier islands and prepare a cookout on the beach.
Clippity-clop your way back to Colonial times, where a horse-drawn carriage tour will reveal over 300 years of history, including antebellum mansions, churches, and gardens. There is no better way to see Charleston’s historic district and the waterfront than a horse drawn carriage tour. Completely narrated, the tour covers 2 ½ miles of Charleston and lasts between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes.
Birthplace of Country Music
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, explores the history of the 1927 Bristol Sessions and their lasting impact on our music heritage. From the Bristol Sessions and beyond, the region continues to influence music around the world. The 24,000-square foot museum is in Historic Downtown Bristol. Through text and artifacts, multiple theater experiences, film and sound, and interactive, technology-infused displays – along with a variety of educational programs, music programs, and community events — the exciting story of this music and its far-reaching influence comes alive! Rotating exhibitions from guest curators and other institutions, including the Smithsonian, will be featured throughout the year in the Special Exhibits Gallery. Guided tours are 45 minutes with ample time allowed to explore the many multimedia aspects of the museum.
Far below the earth’s surface, in the timeless beauty of Bristol Caverns, a strange and exciting experience awaits you. Paved, well lighted walkways wind through the vaulted chambers and along the banks of the ancient Underground River that carved these remarkable caverns from the hard core of the earth 200 to 400 million years ago. In the frontier days, Indians used the Underground River as an attack and escape route in their raids on settlers. Stealing into the area by way of the Underground River and the caverns, they swooped down on unsuspecting families, then disappeared as if swallowed up by the earth. You will be retracing the same warrior paths while exploring the vast rooms and arches, columns, and natural stone formations of varying size and kinds. These formations, millions of years old, display rich veins of minerals which give the formations beautiful colors of red, blue, gray, brown and sparkling white. Stalactites and stalagmites, some larger than tree trunks and others smaller than straws, fascinate and give play to the imagination. Where some of these formation have grown together, massive columns have been formed reaching from the floor to the ceiling of the lofty rooms. With every view, nature’s artistry is at its best and can be seen in the remarkable tumbling cascades and billowing draperies – all of solid stone.
Exhibition Coal Mine
The hands-on exhibitions and underground coal mining tour offer wonderful opportunities for our visitors to learn, explore, interact and share. As the focal points of the City’s lovely New River Park, the Exhibition Coal Mine and the Youth Museum draw thousands of people to the area annually. The unique underground mine, the recreated coal camp, the Youth Museum and the Mountain Homestead are surrounded by inviting lawns, colorful flowers, picnic areas, an imposing coal miner statue and a whimsical 20 ft. “Peace Totem”. At the Exhibition Coal Mine, one can ride through the dark passages of a vintage coal mine. The guides are veteran miners and provide firsthand accounts of the daily responsibilities and travail of past and present day miners. In addition to the Mine, one can tour the period coal camp buildings situated throughout the grounds. Lovingly restored, the Coal Company House, Superintendent’s Home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School, give visitors a true representation of early 20th century coal camp life.
Bedford / Forest
Mr. Jefferson’s Country (Poplar Forest/National D-Day Memorial)
Experience what it is like to be there at the beginning. Witness an undiscovered gem as it emerges. New insight into Thomas Jefferson is coming to light as archaeologists uncover the unknown story of his personal retreat (Poplar Forest) and his most personal architecture is unfolding through step-by-step restoration. This is a unique time to experience Thomas Jefferson’s retreat. A visit to Poplar Forest will deepen your understanding of Thomas Jefferson. It is at this getaway that he focused on his personal pursuit of happiness—and created a distinctly personal place. Explore the house (guided tour) and grounds on your own at Thomas Jefferson’s retreat. Twenty minutes on your way home brings you to the National D-Day Memorial. The National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s mission is to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day. Group tours can be arranged in advance.
Booker T.Washington National Monument
On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-acre farm of James Burroughs. After the Civil War, Washington became the first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. Later as an adviser, author and orator, his past would influence his philosophies as the most influential African American of his era. Come explore his birthplace. Begin your visit to the Booker T. Washington National Monument at the Visitor’s Center where Exhibits and an audio-visual presentation orient you to the life of Booker T. Washington. While at the park, hands on, experiential learning connects students with real examples and relevant curriculum. Ranger guided walking tours are available with advance reservations.