The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has an excellent summertime deal for taking a scenic train ride out of the historic depot in North Carolina’s Bryson City. Train lovers, this is your chance to take the little ones in your family on an adventure, for much cheaper. Kids ride free on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad out of downtown Bryson City, NC this summer! The depot is only about two hours from Greenville, SC and you can stay overnight in the North Carolina mountains or do a day trip.
I always thought there was something oh-so-romantic about riding an old steam locomotive train. Maybe it’s just because it’s not something we do often in today’s modern world or that the old photos of these trains often had women with beautiful, full dresses and lace umbrellas and boots – something I always thought was pretty cool.
Do you enjoy a lovely day at the botanical gardens? Athens, GA has the perfect ones to explore! With 313 acres of gardens, trails, and even play areas, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a must-see if you’re in the Athens, Georgia area. And it’s under two hours from Greenville, SC.
As a garden, flower, and plant lover, I was excited to check out the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is part of the University of Georgia. I’ve somehow managed to convince my kids that botany is cool so they were also excited to see what was in store for us there. Turns out, there were a lot of neat things to explore here and many unexpected finds at these neat gardens in Athens, Georgia, less than two hours from the Upstate of SC.
Have you considered Athens, GA for a family getaway? Athens, GA is a small city that packs quite the punch for budget-conscious families looking to enjoy something new.
If your family is looking for a fun place to go for a getaway that is budget-friendly, fun, and entertaining for the whole family, let me introduce you to Athens, Georgia. There are a lot of reasons to love Athens – which I’ll tell you all about – but especially for families looking to stretch their dollars while on vacation, this is absolutely a fantastic destination.
Up for a FREE new adventure only a short drive from that the whole family will love? Tryon International Equestrian Center is only an hour or so from Greenville and a unique experience you will look forward to visiting again and again! We’ll fill you in on where this hidden secret is, what they offer and why you should visit!
Are you looking for a place to visit with mountain town charm? Bryson City, NC, located in Western North Carolina, fits that description perfectly. The downtown area offers unique shopping, rich history, and access to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. There are also some pretty spectacular things to do in the surrounding nature areas that will get your kids excited to explore, including hiking, river tubing, and camping. Below, you will find some of the best things to do with your family while visiting Bryson City, NC.
Things to do in Bryson City, NC
Bryson City, NC has lots to do, especially since it is situated in the WNC portion of the Great Smoky Mountains. We gathered reviews of some of the adventures we have had in Bryson City, including river tubing, hiking, and riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
Go River Tubing on Deep Creek
If you’re looking for some fun riding the river through the mountain, then rent some tubes to go tubing on Deep Creek. This popular river tubing destination in Western North Carolina is affordable, fun, and a great choice to add to your summer bucket list! You will find places to rent tubes, what to expect, how to pack, and more in our KA review of river tubing on Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains.
If you are yearning to leave the city and take a day trip to Bryson City, then the Nantahala Outdoor Center should absolutely be on the itinerary. This outdoor center has things to do with kids, whitewater rafting, riverfront dining options, hiking, ziplining, and more! Read more about the Great Smoky Mountain’s Nantahala Outdoor Center in our KA review.
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad is a historical train with its depot station located in the heart of downtown Bryson City. The train is family-friendly and offers train rides through the Great Smoky Mountains, Nantahala National Forest, along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, and is the place to be when fall foliage arrives. During the summer, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad offers deals for Kids Ride Free from May through August. Learn about the Kids Ride Free promotion in our KA review of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
There is something magical about being in a cozy mountain town during winter and the holiday season. We have some ideas of things to do that your entire family will love!
Visit Bryson City for the Holidays
The holiday season is full of magic, light displays, Christmas tree farms, and more! They even have ice skating to really bring the charm to the season. Check out our KA guide to Bryson City during the Holidays to plan your adventure into a real-life Christmas wonderful.
Ride the Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
There is almost nothing greater than creating magical memories for children. Riding the Polar Express on the Great Smoky Railroad is one of the most magical things you can do during the holidays! PJs, hot chocolate, magical bells. Sound familiar? The train leaves out of the historic Bryson City Depot and begins in early November each year. Tickets sell fast, so keep an eye out. Learn everything you need to know, including ticket information and what to expect, in our KA review of the Great Smoky Mountain’s Polar Express.
Being in the Great Smoky Mountains in Bryson City offers some unique places to lodge. With mountains, streams, and tons of trees, it’s the perfect place to stay if you love the outdoors. We have some lodging ideas below.
The map below contains Stay22 affiliate links.
Sky Ridge Yurts: Bryson City, NC
If you’re wanting a unique lodging experience outside of hotels, then Sky Ridge Yurts in Bryson City may just be it! This yurt village offers gorgeous, cozy yurts to spend the night in before you head out for a hike or adventure during your trip. You can learn all about Sky Ridge Yurts in our KA review, including rates, what it is like, and how much your kids will love it!
Studies show that interacting with animals can lower stress and anxiety so we tested that theory at Brackett Town Farms in Nebo, NC, about 90 minutes from Greenville, SC. After holding baby goats and bunnies, the studies are true! We are here to tell you all about this awesome farm.
“Hey, want to help me catch a baby chicken?” asks Nichole, the owner of Brackett Town Farms, right after we park and jump out of the car.
Obviously our answer is yes. This endeavor was harder than expected though. That chicken was fast! I wasn’t as persistent as my kids but they did end up helping Nicole to catch the adorable chick and then we could continue with introductions and a run through of the farm rules, which we had already broken. Rule #2 – no running and Rule #3 – no chasing animals. Thankfully we got a pass since our assistance was needed.
Brackett Town Farms is full of surprises and we totally fell in love with the small farm in Nebo, North Carolina. We absolutely think it’s worth a trip up there from the Upstate. We’ll tell you why plus give you ideas on how to make it a weekend or day trip.
About Brackett Town Farms
The farm is located on Brackett Town Road, hence the name, but the land is actually a family farm on about 300 acres. Not all of that is used for the farm and several family members live there together so think lots of fun family gatherings.
Nichole is the owner of Brackett Town Farms, which was started about six years ago and operates as a nonprofit. They don’t charge for entry and they have to fundraise and apply for grants for upgrades to the farm.
By the way, I’ve visited a lot of farms over the years I’ve been writing for Kidding Around and this farm was just gorgeous and so clean. I was impressed the second I drove up (and was asked to help catch the baby chicken).
Brackett Town Farms also serves special needs families, which is one of the reasons they don’t charge admission. They understand how tough it is for families with medically complex kids to make ends meet and wanted to give them something to do that had no cost associated with it.
The Animals at Brackett Town Farms
Baby goats. There are baby goats. I feel like this may be enough to say about Brackett Town Farms but for those of you who aren’t as obsessed with these tiny bundles of pure joy, I’ll tell you about the other animals that live at the farm.
There are two peacocks, a guinea hen, donkeys, a horse, a couple of cows, adult goats, two emus, a couple of pigs, escape artist chickens, a beautiful corn snake, and bunnies, including a Flemish Giant.
I’ve actually never seen a peacock in person before and the male was kind enough to be courting the female peacock at the farm, so he showed his beautiful feathers, which were just amazing. The female peacock was not as impressed as we were but the female guinea hen was definitely checking him out.
The bunnies at the farm are just adorable, as all bunnies are. We got to be temporary prisoners in the bunny cages for a bit as they let us pet them and learn about their individual breeds. Then we got to see Mouse, an enormous Flemish Giant bunny who loves digging and head scratches. She is very soft and friendly and bigger than the baby goats.
The donkeys are also so cute and friendly. They got jealous if we petted the goats or pigs for too long. Actually, most of the animals got jealous if they didn’t get enough attention, which was fine with us because we have a lot of love for adorable animals.
One of the cool things about Brackett Town Farm is that the animal interactions are all up to the animals themselves. They aren’t bribed with treats. In fact, you don’t feed the animals at all. These animals are obviously well taken care of and have learned to interact with humans in quite wonderful ways and respond to kindness and compassion (this is a great way to teach these traits to kids….and adults).
Lots of Learning
Did you know that a male emu sits on his partner’s eggs and incubates them for 60 days? A male penguin does the same thing. The eggs of an emu are huge – and almost sparkly black! Mind blown.
We learned how to tell when a corn snake is ready to shed, which the corn snake we got to see was about to do (their eyes kind of glaze over and look cloudy and their scales are a bit duller in color).
We also learned that bunnies can sense your heartbeat because they are prey animals. So if you go into their cage all hyped up, they will cower and won’t let you near them. But if you are nice and calm, they will be calm also.
Plus, several studies point to human-animal interaction as a method to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. From personal experience, I’m at my most calm while holding a baby goat.
Visiting Brackett Town Farms
Visits to Brackett Town Farms are by appointment only. You can email Nichole to set up a time and date and the tour is about an hour long. We were there a little longer because well, I needed to hold those baby goats longer and we had to chase a chicken.
There’s no charge to visit but they do accept donations.
No pets are allowed at the farm and you must wear closed-toed shoes. Read over the farm rules before you go to be prepared.
There is plenty of space to bring a picnic and sit and eat at the farm. They have lots of places to sit under the shaded pine trees. There is a clean port-a-potty with a handwashing station as well as a very sweet Australian Shepherd named Phoenix who will love you forever if you play fetch with her.
Make it a Day Trip
There are a ton of things to do nearby if you’re looking to make your trip to Brackett Town Farms a day trip.
Lucky Strike Gold Mine is five minutes down the road. You can mine for gold and eat at the Miners Diner. They really have great food!
When we visited Brackett Town Farms, we brought our lunch and headed to the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge and the village of Chimney Rock, only about 35 minutes away. You can eat there, stroll through the town, or get ice cream after visiting the free Flowering Bridge.
The town of Flat Rock is also on your way back from Brackett Town Farms, where you can grab a bite to eat at the Village Bakery, browse The Wrinkled Egg next door, and then head over to The Park at Flat Rock to let your kids get their energy out at the amazing playground. They also have walking trails.
Lake James State Park is a wonderful excursion for the summer as they have a sandy mountain beach. It’s about 25 minutes from the farm.
Make it a Weekend Trip
Brackett Town Farms is just a few minutes down the road from Gold River Camp, a glamping campground with cabins, glamping tents, and small riverside tiny homes. We absolutely loved our stay there and we think you will, too.
Hiking around this area is endless. You can visit Crabtree Falls, an astounding waterfall that is part of a two-mile loop off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Grandfather Mountain is an hour away, where you can hike an insane trail where you scale ladders on the side of the mountain (they also have a non-threatening nature center and Mile High Bridge).
For more places to play with animals in the Upstate and Western North Carolina, see our Petting Zoos story.
If you are looking for things to do in the Myrtle Beach area, you should certainly consider a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium. Myrtle Beach reviews of the aquarium say it is an excellent choice for a family-friendly outing. Plus, it is located at Broadway at the Beach, one of Myrtle Beach’s most visited attractions. This two-story attraction includes multiple touch tanks, a shark tunnel, and lots of fish, jellies, frogs, and more to watch and learn about. There has also been a recent expansion, with the Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach now having a penguin exhibit! Here’s what you need to know for your visit.
I’ve actually been to at least 5 other aquariums, two of which were outside the US. I was pleased to find that the Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach was very clean and brightly decorated, had several significant exhibits such as the shark tunnel and tank, and that the hands-on exhibits were all in working order. The aquarium is a smaller aquarium, but still has so much to explore!
Lower Level Exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium: Myrtle Beach, SC
This tank is full of rays and sharks! The Ray Bay sting-ray exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach has a full tank where you can watch divers swimming in the tank at showtimes, hand-feeding the rays. That part is pretty neat. The touch tank in the shallow area is one of my favorite exhibits at the aquarium. This large, shallow area allows you to touch the stingrays! You can run your hand along their back as they glide past you in the tanks, feeling their smooth skin. These stingrays are really large and it’s fascinating to watch them up close. This exhibit can get pretty crowded on super busy days, so keep that in mind if you’re wanting to get to the edge of the touch tank.
Dangerous Reef at Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the coolest exhibits they have. This extra large shark tunnel and tank has a number of fish that swim above and around you. It is amazing watching the sharks swim overhead in the shark tank. There are thousands of fish, which makes for a lot of awe while you travel down the tunnel on a convey belt glide path. This is where you will find most of the large fish, including large sharks, at Ripley’s Aquarium.
Rainbow Rock, aka the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef, is a super colorful exhibit of fish and animals. These fish are from the Indo-Pacific and include Clownfish, Blue Tang, Clown Trigger-fish, and Emperor Angelfish. The reef itself is pretty neat since most of us have never or may never see a reef up close in person. The exhibit is a great way to learn about their defense mechanisms and why they have such bright coloring.
My little kids absolutely loved this exhibit. The Living Gallery includes some of the ocean’s most beautiful creatures such as seahorses, jellies, and living coral. My favorite animal on the planet, the Octopus, can be found here. They also have some really cool sea dragons, which are relatives of seahorses, but look way cooler.
Upper-Level Exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, SC
I love the rainforest. The biodiversity is spectacular, and being able to see even a snippet of what lives there was really cool and fed my inner ecology nerd. The Rio Amazon exhibit at the Ripleys Aquarium has piranhas, colorful poisonous dart frogs, rainforest native fish, and more. They also have freshwater stingrays, which I honestly did not know existed until our visit.
If you’re wanting to learn even more about stingrays, you can head upstairs to the Friendship Flats exhibit, where you can touch stingrays as they glide by. You can also get an educational lesson on the rays, horseshoe crabs, and more from the Aquarium Educators. If you are super adventurous and willing to fork out the money, Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach offers a Stingray Experience where you can swin alongside the rays.
This exhibit was pretty cool, not going to lie. The way the Planet Jellies exhibit is set up, you can watch several types of jellyfish swim through the color-changing displays. The way the lighting plays off of the jellyfish’s colors really adds to the experience, making it super fun to watch. There are moon jellies, Japanese Sea Nettles, and even unique-looking jellies like the Upside Down Jelly to watch. My 3-year-old was mesmerized by the jellies floating around the tanks, so we spent a good bit of time here in awe of them gliding through the water.
New Addition: Ripley’s Penguin Playhouse
Though we didn’t get to visit this particular exhibit during our visit, this recent expansion has people talking. Ripley’s Aquarium Myrtle Beach reviews sound amazing, so we had to mention it! With over 5500 square feet added on to the aquarium, the addition offers penguins, 8 new tanks with a worldly array of fish, classrooms, and more! One of the key features of the expansion is the penguin exhibit, with 21 penguins you can observe (and potentially interact with!). The Ripley’s Aquarium website has all of the penguins’ names and information, so you can learn about their personalities. The exhibit also has a 360-degree tunnel you can crawl through as penguins swim above you. There is even a penguin nursery! How adorable.
Other features at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, SC
There was a small playground and food court available. The playground was more suited for small children and provided a nice break.
One of the exhibitsSystems Control allows you to see the pipes, pumps, and filters behind the scenes that keep all the tanks running smoothly.
You can pay an additional fee to ride the Glass Bottom Boat across a coral reef for a close look at the shark tank.
The new penguin exhibit also haspenguin encounters for a fee, where you can get up close and personal with those adorable little birds.
If you are interested in the ecology of the aquarium, you can purchase tickets for the Marine Science Research Center Tour, where you will get a behind-the-scenes look at Ripley’s Aquarium.
Be sure to check online before your visit to find out what shows are going on that day. You can even see a Mermaid show on some weekends.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach: Ticket Information
Ticket prices for the Ripley’s Aquarium are $24.99 for kids 3-11; $39.99 for 12 and older.Purchasing online also allows you to skip the long ticket booth lines. (Note: prices may change, please check the website for current deals).
You can also purchase Ripley’s bundle and save money if you want to also visit additional Ripley’s Attractions during your trip to Myrtle Beach. The aquarium also has online deals for tickets that include animal encounters, breakfast with mermaids, pancakes with penguins, and more!
Have you hiked any of the Palmetto Trail as it crosses South Carolina? Kidding Around Contributor, Liene, has hiked many sections of the Palmetto Trail with her family. Her article is broken up by passage of the Palmetto Trail and location, so you can hike the section closest to you, plan a longer-distance adventure, or travel for a weekend getaway with some hiking.
About The Palmetto Trail
South Carolina is fortunate to have not one, but two long-distance hiking trails traversing our beautiful state: the Foothills and the Palmetto Trails. While the Foothills Trail extends from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park along the foothills of the Appalachians, the Palmetto Trail traverses the entire state – from the mountains to the sea – and almost half of it is within a couple of hours’ drive of Greenville! Whether you are looking for a short stroll in the woods, a challenging multi-mile trek with the kids, or a backpacking adventure for your family, you can find it right here in the Upstate on the Palmetto Trail.
Are you looking for the perfect photo-ready swimming hole that will cool you off on even the hottest days in Florida? We found the perfect natural swimming spot at Ichetucknee Springs and Blue Hole Spring. This crystal clear spring is just a day trip from Gainsville, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville, Florida at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. This state park has two natural springs and one even has an underwater cavern that you can see with goggles.
Are you looking for a camping experience that allows you to enjoy the great outdoors while still maintaining comfort? With a variety of lodging options to choose from, including vintage campers, tiny homes, RV/campsites, and safari tents, Emberglow Outdoor Resort in Mill Spring, NC offers every type of family the perfect place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Our family (including our dog) had tons of fun staying at the Carolina Cottage Tiny Home at Emberglow over spring break and we can’t wait to share with you everything you need to know for your visit. Our kids are already begging to go back!
Emberglow Outdoor Resort is only about an hour from Greenville, SC, near Hendersonville, NC.
About Emberglow Outdoor Resort
Located just 15 minutes from Lake Lure in the hills of Western NC, Emberglow Outdoor Resort is conveniently situated between Greenville, Asheville, Charlotte, and Columbia. The resort’s 72 acres are nestled in a beautiful, private valley complete with spring-fed creeks. This resort truly offers something for every camping preference and every size group with a variety of comfortable lodging options including:
Primitive Tent Sites
One larger house
Not only does Emberglow offer a wide range of accommodations but they also offer extremely unique stays. Choose to stay in Big Ben, a vintage double-decker bus, or stay in a special tree house resort home that even includes a slide coming out of the house plus two lofts connected by a cargo net.
We stayed in the Carolina Cottage Tiny Home during our stay which despite being a tiny house had a full kitchen and bath, a loft bedroom for the kids, and even a screened-in porch. Our unit even came with towels, linens, a gas grill, and a fire pit. It was also right next to the creek and the playground.
What is there to do at Emberglow Outdoor Resort?
Emberglow is conveniently located in Western NC where it’s just a short drive to a number of fun attractions at Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, and the Hendersonville/Flat Rock region. We were delighted to find plenty of fun activities right on the campground and ended up spending all of our time within the resort.
Emberglow Explorers Day Camp: From mid-June-August, Emberglow offers a day camp for just $25 a day for kids 5-12 each Tuesday-Thursday. This camp is each morning from 8:30-12:30, so that kids can enjoy adventures while their parents have a little extra time to drink that morning coffee. One of the best part of Explorers Day Camp is the kids come back to the campsite with the inside scoop on where to have fun at Emberglow which often leads to fun afternoon family adventures.
Pool: Emberglow has a large outdoor ADA-compliant resort pool that opens in the summer season.
Playground: Even my 12-year-old had fun playing on the playground at Emberglow. I especially thought the camper play structure was an imaginative twist. I also loved how the playground was within an easy visibility distance of multiple campsites. I could actually see the playground from my screened-in porch making it easy to let older kids play while still keeping an eye on them.
Jumping Pillow: If your kids need to get their energy out, you can just walk them over to the jumping pillow which is open for jumping at no additional cost.
Yes, while not every accommodation is pet-friendly, many are, including the Carolina Cottage Tiny Home. We brought our dog Izzy Bee with us on her first vacation away from home.
The Carolina Cottage Tiny Home had plenty of space for the four of us and our puppy including her crate. Izzy spent most of her time while we were in the cabin on the screened-in porch where she could watch other families walk by.
The dog park was only a couple-minute walk from our house. It was spacious and had plenty of room to run around. When we visited, there were only a couple of other dogs at the resort so we had plenty of space to ourselves, but I noticed that there was a smaller area fenced off in the dog park so that there would be space to spread out if needed.
Is Parking Available at Emberglow Outdoor Resort?
There is plenty of parking space at each unit as well as near all of the major areas of the resort.
Should you bring your own food to Emberglow Outdoor Resort?
Yes, while a food truck is open during some seasons, Emberglow is around 15 minutes from grocery stores and restaurants. We personally found it easier to bring easy-to-prepare meals and snacks. Our particular unit did have a small kitchen with basic kitchen items and even had a coffee pot with coffee pods.
Family Review of Emberglow Outdoor Resort
Our kids had such a great time at Emberglow that they are already asking us when they can go back. We thought that the campground offered a great mix of quiet relaxation and fun. I also thought the easy one-hour driving distance from Greenville made the trip even more relaxing. Whether you are looking for a quiet week or just a weekend getaway, Emberglow Outdoor Resort is a great option for the perfect, relaxing family vacation.