I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.


Carolina Tiger Rescue - Pittsboro


     Carolina Tiger Rescue (formerly known as Carnivore Preservation Trust) provides a home for tigers, lions, ocelots, caracals, servals, bobcats, binturongs, and kinkajous. Before going to CTR, I didn't know what many of those animals were. All of the above named animals are in the cat species except binturongs and kinkajous. The fact that most of these animals are now housed at CTR is a testament to the stupidity of the humans that thought they could keep these wild animals as pets. The animals are now housed outdoors in enclosed habitats where you can see them on a walking tour.

A caracal with its characteristic ear tufts

      In order to take the tour, you must make advance reservations. CTR is open to the public on weekends by appointment. They usually conduct weekday tours on holidays like Presidents' Day and Spring Break. The weekday tours seem to book fast. You will need to give CTR a credit card number to hold your reservation and you will be charged if you cancel with less than 24 hour notice. They ask that you arrive a few minutes before your scheduled tour so you will have time to fill out the obligatory waiver form. Don't worry, they haven't had an escaped animal in twenty years of operating and visitors are required to stay behind ropes so they don't get too close to the enclosures. Tours are conducted in all weather except thunderstorms, so if its raining on your scheduled day bring a raincoat.

A white tiger getting his treat from the guide

      There are some things you need to know about this attraction before you visit.
  1. If you're going during the hot months of the year take the early morning tour. Most of the trail is out in the sun and it gets mighty hot so bring some water.
  2. Arrive for your tour on time. Because their cancellation policy requires charging your credit card, CTR will wait to start a tour until everyone shows up. This is not fun for the people who got their on time and have to wait around for everyone else to show up, pay, and fill out waivers.
  3. Even though the website discourages people from bringing strollers, bring one if you have young children. The trail is plenty wide and composed of packed gravel and the terrain is relatively flat - if it's any indication, pickup trucks drive on this trail. The tour is two hours of staying on your feet and young kids are going to need a place to sit down or ride.

      The tour begins inside the visitor's center with an informational talk by your tour guide. You then follow the guide outdoors into the compound where the animals are kept. The tour is a half mile loop. Our tour guide was a little on the long-winded side, so it was hard to keep my toddler engaged while we were waiting to move on to the next animal enclosure. The guide brings treats to feed the animals so they will come up close to the fence. The first tiger that you come to likes to spray his audience so be careful.

      CTR is open year round except Christmas Day and New Years Day (kinkajous are only out during warm weather months). The admission is expensive - $14 per adult and $8 per child two and over - but it goes towards keeping the Rescue running.

      Although it was sometimes hard to keep my toddler from getting too close to the animals and my preschooler got tired towards the end - I didn't bring a stroller - if I had to judge from my kids' reactions I would say it was a worthwhile experience.

Did you know that male lions who've been neutered don't have manes?


Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve - Cary

Stevens Nature Center at Hemlock Bluffs

        My preschooler wanted to practice being a trail leader again, so I decided to take the kids to this wilderness park that I discovered several weeks ago by accident. The main attraction at this park are the  200 - 400 year-old hemlock trees that grow here and nowhere else in NC except in the western part of the state. Most of the park is on an elevated rise which probably provides for beautiful views in the Fall or Winter when the vegetation is not so dense. On the day we went in spring, the weather was warm, but walking the trails kept us under the forest canopy and out of direct sunlight.The preserve has a Nature Center, clean bathrooms, a classroom, and is very welcoming to leashed dogs.

       Stroller accessibility on the trails we walked was pretty good, even with my clunky stroller. The trails are wide and mulched. There were only two places where I left the stroller and carried my toddler down to the observation decks because it just made more sense than fighting the stroller down the steps only to bring it right back up again.We took the Chestnut Oak Trail which is the longest and also encompasses the West Hemlock Trail. The only trail we didn't go on was the East Hemlock trail which, it turns out, was where all the wildlife sightings were. I talked to a mom and her children who had seen a family of deer and a snake on the East Trail. The closest we got to wildlife was a quick peek at a very fast lizard and a whiff of skunk on the wind. The fact that we didn't see wildlife is not surprising given the creaking of my stroller, the wailing of my toddler, and the chatter of my preschooler. 

     If I lived close to this park I would probably stop by every once-in-awhile for a quick outing, but if Hemlock Bluffs isn't close to you, come see it once in the Fall or Winter when you can take advantage of the views provided by bare trees. If I want to show my kids wildlife I need a bit more of a sure thing - like an animal kept in a cage.

taxidermy deer inside the Stevens Center - the only wildlife we saw


Observation Park - RDU International Airport


       This trip actually started a month or so ago when my preschooler told me that she really wanted to go to the airport. With today's security restrictions, I didn't know how much, if any, of the airport we'd be able to see without buying an airline ticket. So I went online to the RDU website and found out about this park near RDU's longest runway.

       The Park consists of an observation deck, picnic tables, a sandbox, a small play structure shaped like a spider, and two paved 'runways' for kids to practice their own takeoffs. There are also bathrooms that are rustic (concrete walls and steel fixtures) but clean. There is a water fountain as well. The observation deck is accessible by stroller and wheelchair via a ramp. Communication between planes and the control tower is broadcast from speakers on the observation deck, but on a windy day like the day we visited you can't really make out the chatter.

      From anywhere in the Park - although the best view is from the observation deck - you can watch planes landing and taking off. You can watch both commercial jets and small, private aircraft - my preschooler calls these "baby planes" - get in line for their turn to takeoff. It's exciting every time to see each plane liftoff from the ground and travel upward into the air. My kids and I started a tradition of cheering every time one of the planes took off into the great blue yonder. Now my toddler thinks putting his arms in the air and shouting "Woohoo" is the appropriate response every time he sees a plane takeoff.

Baby planes
       From the Park, you can go across the street to the General Aviation Terminal. Take the stroller if you're going - it's a bit of a walk. There's really not a whole lot to see in the Terminal. The Terminal has an indoor observation deck that overlooks the private aviation lot, but you can't see any takeoffs or landings from there. There is an eatery in the Terminal called the Crosswinds Cafe, but I didn't check it out because I knew if I went over there my preschooler would throw a fit until I bought her something.

       The Park can be a bit tricky to find. If you enter on Airport Blvd., you need to follow the signs to Park and Ride Lots 4 & 5. Once you head towards these lots you will see signs for the Observation Park that you can follow. There is a free parking lot at the Observation Park that closes at sunset. There is probably an easier way to get to the Observation Park by taking Lumley Rd. (exit 3) off of 540 and following the signs for 'General Aviation.'

According to my preschooler, a "mama plane" getting in line for takeoff


International Civil Rights Museum - Greensboro


        The Museum is housed in the original Woolworth's Store Building where the "Greensboro Four" began their sit-in on February 1st, 1960. The content of the Museum is largely viewed through the lens of this February 1st event. You must buy a ticket for the tour to see the Museum. Tickets are $10 for adults and sold in the Museum Store (my kids were free). There is no photography allowed in the Museum. You can bring in a stroller for your kids - there is an elevator to get down to the basement and our tour guide helped us get the stroller up the escalator to the lunch counter.         

        The tour starts in the basement of the building with a very short introductory video. The Civil Rights Museum belongs to a new age of museums. Most of the Museum is presented visually through pictures and short videos. Instead of reading placards on walls, the pictures are interpreted through your tour guide. If you have young children you may want to skip the "Hall of Shame" - a collection of photographs depicting the atrocities inflicted upon African Americans during slavery and Jim Crow. Instead of exposing my kids to some of the violent imagery (hangings, persons disfigured by violence), I waited with the kids in the next room for the tour guide to rejoin us.

         In the next room, there was a video reenactment of the 'Greensboro Four' making plans in their A&T dorm room the night before the sit-in. We could also see a replica of the interior of the A&T dorm room where the plans were made.

         We made it upstairs to the lunch counter - still in its original footprint - before my toddler completely melted down. Behind the counter, is a seamlessly integrated video screen that plays another reenactment of what happened as the four students sat down at the lunch counter. Unfortunately, this is as far as we got before I decided it was pointless to continue with a screaming toddler. I have been trying to get to this Museum since it opened. I finally get there and what does my toddler do? Throw a royal fit in the middle of the tour, forcing me to leave so that the rest of the people in our group could actually hear the tour guide. I was so frustrated with the toddler that I wanted to scream. On the other hand, my preschooler was great and seemed to take in everything.

        Our exceptional tour guide let us out one of the exits and suggested we talk to the ticket seller to ask if I could come back another time at no extra charge.

       Parking can be tricky at the Museum. You'll have to look for parallel spots on the street, some are metered and some are not. I was lucky to get a spot, less than a block away, on the same street as the Museum, but it took a few minutes of driving around to find this spot.

      I am very intrigued by what I was able to see of the Museum and I plan to go back as soon as I can manage it. My preschooler was engaged by all of the video displays, but if you have a toddler like mine you might want to bring some extra adult help or leave the toddler at home. I would definitely recommend the Civil Rights Museum for school-age kids.


Marbles Kids' Museum - Raleigh


          Marbles is absolutely one of the best places to take your kids. It is a little pricey - $5 a person for everyone over a year-old  – so I can’t afford to take the kids too often.  On this occasion, I got us all in for free.  I ‘m a little ashamed of how I got in for free. There was an event being held at the Museum that provided free admission for attendees. It was painfully obvious – due to my gender -  to everyone at the event that I was only there for the free Marbles’ admission. Parking was surprisingly easy on this Friday afternoon; I found a 2 hour space on Blount near Morgan for a dollar an hour. But the Museum itself was packed. According to one of the staff, the best times to go to avoid the crowds are weekdays after 1:30pm and Sunday afternoons.

         The last time I came to Marbles, my wife was with me which really helped because one of us could follow one child while the other one could follow our other child. When there is only one of you and you have two small children that like to wander it gets tricky. I had to have ‘the stranger talk’ with my preschooler and remind her to stay where I could see her. The kids were very excited to come back to Marbles and they remembered a lot about the last time we visited the Museum.

        Because everything at the Museum is geared towards all ages of children, I could fill a whole blog post just listing the activities at Marbles. So, I’m going to try and just hit some of the highlights.

        On the first floor you’ll find a play area that includes all kinds of vehicles, a veterinary clinic, a performance stage with costumes, a grocery store, and my toddler’s favorite – the Thomas train tables. There is also a water area where kids can play in water filled basins (aprons and gloves are provided) and they can go inside a research submarine and climb on a pirate ship.
         On the second floor, kids can pretend to cook in a restaurant kitchen, play ice hockey, climb a climbing wall, pretend to surf, make arts and crafts, and jump on a small trampoline. There is also a building area on the second floor where kids can build cars to race, build with life-size Legos, and use real woodworking tools like a hand drill and a handsaw. My preschooler took her first stab at using a handsaw.

The Piggy

      The biggest exhibit on the second floor is also the one my kids remember the best, and the one they wanted to go to first when we arrived. It is a play area structured around the idea of an economy. I know it sounds like a bore, but it really is cool. Kids can work at pretend jobs like a lemonade stand, a pet shop, and a pizza place; or they can start their own business like dog-walking. They get currency that they can deposit in the bank – a huge structure in the middle of the room with two levels, a slide, and vacuum tubes that take the currency and deliver it to a very large piggy bank suspended from the ceiling. The best part is when the piggy bank fills to capacity and all of the currency (small lightweight balls) cascades down through the trapdoor in the piggy’s stomach onto unsuspecting bystanders below.

         From my perspective, the second floor is more fun for adults because there are things to occupy us like giant Legos. The Raleigh IMAX Theater is also housed at Marbles. You can spend from two to four hours at the Museum letting your kids set the pace as they move from one exhibit to another. If you need lunch while there, I recommend Roly Poly Sandwich Shop next to the IMAX Theater. The Cuban Sandwich is heavenly.

Who knew there was a Gandhi statue behind the IMAX Theater?