North Carolina is full of places for family fun. Take your children to stand on the gusty hillside where the Wright Brothers first took flight, soar in a hot air balloon into the cool dawn air or quietly paddle a kayak along Alligator River.
Near Blowing Rock, you'll find the Tweetsie Railroad, a favorite day trip of kids and adults. The coal-fired steam train makes a three-mile loop, and the Wild West show and other attractions make for a full day's fun in the cool Blue Ridge Mountain air.
The visitors center at the Wright Brothers National Memorial has full-scale replicas of the 1902 glider and 1903 flying machine that set the world on a path to air travel. Climb Kill Devil Hill for a sweeping view and stand in the wind on the spot where history was made. Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the famed lighthouse there are only a few miles south.
A favorite spot of locals, Discovery Place is a sprawling, hands-on science museum that allows children to reach out and touch the science of the world around them. Catch a film in the IMAX domed theater, explore the nature museum or let the tots loose in KidsPlace, for children 6 and younger. Discovery Place also features major traveling exhibits.
Tour some of the 250 rooms in the largest privately owned home in the U.S., an 1895 castle that was originally the home of George and Edith Vanderbilt and is still owned by the family. It features an art collection that includes Renoir, Napoleon's chess set, a 10,000-volume library, banquet hall with 70-foot ceilings, 65 fireplaces, and indoor pool and bowling alley.
North Carolina is a great place to kayak -- get some exercise and a water-level view of the state's natural beauty. Kayaks are available for rent at numerous parks, lakes and along rivers, including in the Outer Banks, in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and at Lake Rim Park (Fayetteville), which offers wildlife tours by kayak (pre-registration required).
Hot-Air Balloons Climb aboard a gondola and rise slowly in the crisp morning air and see the state from 500 to 2,000 feet. At least 15 outfitters will set you soaring toward the clouds -- often with champagne included. Asheville Hot Air Balloons takes visitors high above the Pisgah National Forest for a perfect view of the fall foliage. Balloon rides might be recommended for children 10 or older.
Explore the rich history of the state among historic downtown Wilmington's antebellum homes. Wrightsville Beach is perfect for a beach getaway, with surfing, fishing, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking and sailing. Carolina Beach, with an old-fashioned boardwalk, and Kure Beach are popular spots on Pleasure Island, south of Wilmington. Explore the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Besides the usual attractions you would expect to find at an aquarium, visitors to the aquarium at Fort Fisher can learn to surf fish with experienced instructors for $12. For ages 10 and older. Bait is provided and advance registration is required.