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.


Howell Woods - Four Oaks


Hallelujah NC, our hibernation is over! It's safe to venture outside again. 

And to that end, my two boys (ages 4 and 2) and I visited Howell Woods - a preserve operated by Johnston County Community College. Honestly I mainly came to see the snakes and owls I heard lived here.

The snakes and turtles are kept in a room to the left of the main entrance of the Learning Center (pictured above). If I knew a lot about snakes and turtles I could tell you the different kinds we saw. I do know that one of the snakes had a rattle and was the biggest I've seen in a long time. There's also a Wall 'O Pelts in this room that my kids had fun identifying. Even though he was so excited to see the snakes, my four year-old quickly decided he was scared and wanted out of the room, while the 2 year-old excitedly chatted up a turtle.

Species: Serpentine maximus
The snake/turtle room

Wall 'O Pelts

Continue around the left side of the building to find the raptors - a vulture, 3 red-tailed hawks, a barn owl and a great horned owl. A certain smell told us we were interrupting the vulture's meal and a quick look to the floor of the enclosure confirmed it. The great horned owl hissed at us every time we came close to his/her cage.

The raptor area

The over-burdened stroller
Once we got our fill of the wildlife we decided to see what the hiking trails looked like. The 'best' trails are composed of packed pea gravel and riddled with potholes. The one we were on meandered through a wooded swamp and emerged into plowed fields. Not much to see, but the racket the stroller makes towing all of the ride-on toys the boys insisted on bringing provides an early warning system for the surrounding wildlife.

The trail

At the edge of one of the fields is a 10ft tall observation tower, but there's not much to see at that height. We did spot some deer tracks in the fresh mud. You can hear the nearby thunderings of a firing range and the jets from Seymour Johnson AFB.

A shelter with picnic tables can be found near the Learning Center along with a swing. Besides the woods, port-o-johns provide a place to pee.

If you're going, use your GPS, there's no signage. You could make this trip a two-for by visiting nearby Bentonville where desperate Confederates attempted to stop Sherman's destructive march through NC. Back roads provide a scenic drive to Howell and don't extend the travel time too much.

Howell Woods is fine if you want to see some raptors up close without going all the way to Sylvan Heights in Scotland Neck. If you live in the Smithfield/Garner/Fuquay area it's definitely worth the short drive for a quick wildlife experience.