Explore North Carolina’s Rail Trails

Old rail lines become recreational, scenic pathways


Published:

American Tobacco Trail

Photo courtesy of Dave Connelly

Over the last century, more than 100,000 miles of railway tracks have closed. Many of these forgotten rail lines are enjoying a new life as rail trails.

Old rail lines are ideal for recreational trails. These already-cleared paths are wide, flat and continuous for miles — running through cities, historic districts and rural areas. The trails are perfect for biking, hiking, walking, running or horseback riding, and — when paved — are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.

These trails are great for family use, as their width allows speedier hikers to pass by, and the flatter terrain makes riding or walking on them easier for younger children. Many trails also offer amenities, such as restrooms, local business establishments, and creeks or other natural wonders to explore.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has supported rail trail development across the country for more than 30 years. The group estimates there are 200 rail trails in the U.S. — 32 of which are in North Carolina totaling 188 miles. Plus, 17 North Carolina rail trail projects are currently in development.

Rail trails are added regularly to North Carolina’s various systems of trails, and existing trails are being enhanced. One great benefit is the economic boon created by trail users frequenting nearby restaurants and stores, or visiting historic or recreational sites.

Fall is a wonderful time to get out and walk, run or ride the rails. The trails listed here represent just a few of those that are easily accessible across the state.


American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail system, located in Durham, Chatham and Wake counties, covers 22.6 miles and is the longest rail trail in North Carolina. The trail is paved from its northern entrance in Durham County, to New Hope Church Road in Wake County — about 7.7 miles — and this portion is good for cycling, hiking, running and Rollerblading, and is wheelchair accessible.

The southern portion of the trail is covered with stone dust and accommodates equestrians as well. Hunters may also use the southern section to get from one field to another, but are not permitted to carry loaded weapons on the trail.

The American Tobacco Trail ambles through city scenes, pine groves and open rural areas. Hikers frequently spot wildlife such as beavers, hawks, owls, turtles and deer while walking the trail.

Dave Connelly, a member of the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission and frequent user of the American Tobacco Trail, says the trail is popular with families. Citizens trail watch and police regularly patrol the trails to keep them safe. Car break-ins at parking areas are the most often-reported crimes. Connelly suggests parking in places offering built-in security, such as Renaissance Village located at 8200 Renaissance Parkway in Durham.

“It includes a Rise Biscuits Donuts (to carb-load before a ride), a Bruster’s Real Ice Cream parlor (to treat yourself afterwards) and a Pedego Electric Bikes Triangle rental store,” he says.

Visit triangletrails.org/american-tobacco-trail to locate additional parking options along the trail.


Photo courtesy of Katie Lloyd/Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department


Irwin Creek and Stewart Creek Greenways

The Irwin Creek and Stewart Creek Greenways in Charlotte run 2.2 miles along Irwin Creek and Stewart Creek in Charlotte’s city center. A portion of each trail runs along an old railbed. Both are paved and good for biking, walking, running and inline skating. They’re also wheelchair accessible.

The Irwin Creek Greenway begins at Ray’s Splash Planet and continues through Frazier Park and the Wesley Heights neighborhood. After crossing under Interstate 77, the trail becomes Stewart Creek Greenway and continues to the Phillip O. Berry Recreation Center.

Gwen Cook, a Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department planner, says the greenway is well-used and surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and is a safe option for families.

Both greenways are part of the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of greenways and trails that traverses 15 counties across the Carolinas. Learn more at mecknc.gov/parkandrec.


Charlotte Rail Trail

The Charlotte Rail Trail is a 4.5-mile pathway that runs parallel to Charlotte’s light rail, the LYNX Blue Line, from 7th Street Station in Uptown to New Bern Station in Sedgefield. It connects the neighborhoods of Sedgefield, Southside Park, Brookhill, Dilworth, Wilmore and South End. This paved trail is good for biking, inline skating and walking, and is wheelchair accessible. Parking is available on the street and at businesses along the path. Learn more at charlotterailtrail.org.


The Brevard Bike Path

The Brevard Bike Path is a 5-mile paved trail in Brevard, a mile of which follows the old Carr Lumber Company railway corridor and extends into the Pisgah National Forest up to the Davidson River Campground. Learn more at traillink.com/trail/brevard-bike-path.


The Winston-Salem Strollway

This popular 1.2-mile rail trail links Winston-Salem’s modern business district with historic Old Salem. The first section is paved and runs through several downtown blocks and crosses under Interstate 40. Just past this point, the trail surface changes to crushed stone and opens up to green spaces, abundant flora and historic residential neighborhoods. Street parking is available at the north end of the trail along Fourth Street or at the south end of the trail at Old Salem Museum & Gardens Visitor Center. Learn more at traillink.com/trail/winston-salem-strollway.


River to Sea Bikeway

This 11-mile paved, on- and off-road bicycle route that follows the Historic Beach Car Line in Wilmington was once a rail line that originally carried vacationers from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach by trolley. The bikeway includes neighborhood residential streets, off-road multi-use paths and a few busy arterial roadways. This route is probably better for older children, as some portions are located alongside traffic. Learn more at traillink.com/trail/river-to-the-sea-bikeway.

 

Learn more about rail trail projects in the U.S. at railstotrails.org.

Jan Wharton is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Winston-Salem with her husband, three sons, two dogs and three cats. Never a dull moment. Visit janwharton.com to learn more about her writing.

 

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August 2020

The restaurant will open early to cater to families of children with special needs. Families can expect smaller crowds, reduced lighting and noise, food and games, and specially-trained staff....

Cost: Free admission

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Chuck E. Cheese
7701 Pineville-Matthews Road
, NC
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Classes for adaptive learning and sensory needs meet at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Cost: Free

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Sun Valley High School
5211 Old Charlotte Hwy.
Monroe, NC
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Experience age-level appropriate Sunday school classes at 9:30 and 11 a.m. that connect families with larger church programs and ministries while creating a welcoming environment for all families.

Cost: Free

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Matthews United Methodist Church
801 S. Trade St.
Matthews, NC
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On Saturdays and Sundays from noon-5pm, the arcade bar opens to all ages with a parent or guardian present.

Cost: Cost for games

Where:
Abari Game Bar
1721 N. Davidson St.
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Telephone: 980-430-4587
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Teach or play with your child in the heated pool.

Cost: $5 per swimmer, max $15 per family

Where:
Goldfish Swim School
13403 S. Ridge Drive
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Enjoy music outdoors with the family. Dates: April 28, May 3, May 17, June 7, June 14, July 4, Aug. 2, Aug. 23, Sept. 6 and Sept. 20.

Cost: Free

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Davidson Village Green
Intersection of Main Street and Concord Road
, NC
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This production pays tribute to the 1971 Billboard Album of the Year while creating a modern, theatrical world that is uniquely fresh and inspiring. Audio Description and ASL provided for the...

Cost: TBA

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Belk Theater
130 N. Tryon St.
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This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
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Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

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Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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The Things Come Apart exhibit reveals the inner workings of common, everyday items. Images explore how things are designed and how technology has evolved over time.

Cost: $6-$7, children 3 and younger free, included with admission

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Schiele Museum
1500 E. Garrison Blvd.
Gastonia, NC
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This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

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Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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Try these summer fun activities at home to keep kids busy during summer. Fee includes one live small group lesson per week with a certfied teacher, daily activities, virtual field trips and more!

Cost: $10 per week per child or $50 for all 6 weeks

Where:
712 Circle Trace Road
Monroe, NC  28110
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Sponsor: Authentic Teaching
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Drop off your little ones to explore, play and learn during Music Mondays, Theater Thursdays and Food Fridays. A small snack is provided. Register online.

Cost: $21-$31

Where:
New Hope Baptist Church
2024 Redbud Drive
Gastonia, NC
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Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
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Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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Come out to meet local law enforcement, view their equipment and enjoy free hot dogs, water and snow cones!

Cost: Free

Where:
Chestnut Square Park
320 Chestnut Pkwy.
Indian Trail, NC
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Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
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Families of children with special needs can enjoy a special jump session the first Tuesday of each month. Defy Gravity grip socks, $3, are required.

Cost: $7 per hour for each jumper with special needs and immediate family members

Where:
Defy Gravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
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This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
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Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore the Mint Museum's exhibitions without charge.

Cost: Free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph, 2730 Randolph Road
Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC
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Telephone: 704-337-2000
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More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
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Website »

More information

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Drop off your little ones to explore, play and learn during Music Mondays, Theater Thursdays and Food Fridays. A small snack is provided. Register online.

Cost: $21-$31

Where:
New Hope Baptist Church
2024 Redbud Drive
Gastonia, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
View map »


Website »

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Hear live music every Thursday, June 4 through August 13. Bring chairs, blankets, and money for food trucks, beer, wine and sodas. See website for lineup.

Cost: $5 per person (free for members); $5 per car for parking

Where:
Anne Springs Close Greenway
291 Dairy Barn Ln.
Fort Mill, SC
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River Jam brings live music outdoors, right in the middle of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. Hear music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during each of...

Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
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Sponsor: USNWC
Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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Come to the ballpark for 80’s Night with an t-shirt giveaway to the first 2,000 fans. Stick around for fireworks.

Cost: $13+

Where:
BB&T Stadium
324 S. Mint St.
, NC
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Drop off your little ones to explore, play and learn during Music Mondays, Theater Thursdays and Food Fridays. A small snack is provided. Register online.

Cost: $21-$31

Where:
New Hope Baptist Church
2024 Redbud Drive
Gastonia, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Toddlers can enjoy a special jump session every weekday morning. With each child age 6 and younger, an adult may jump for free, not including DefyGravity socks for $3.

Cost: $11 for one hour

Where:
DefyGravity Trampoline Park
8116 University City Blvd.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Caregivers and their littles learn new yoga poses with songs and games. Multiple class rates available.

Cost: $20

Where:
Tiny Blooms Yoga
15905 Brookway Drive
Suite 4106
Huntersville, NC
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rab dinner from a variety of local food trucks at this weekly rally. Visit the website for a list of participating trucks.

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Resident Culture Brewing Company
2101 Central Ave.
, NC
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This family-friendly event features craft brews, wine, cider, live music and the best food trucks in Charlotte. Bring the whole family, including your dogs. Along...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sycamore Brewing
2161 Hawkins St.
, NC
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Treat the kids and yourself to a fun night out! Drop kids off to run, play and dance. Pizza dinner is included.

Cost: $25

Where:
Romp n' Roll NW Charlotte
3611 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road
207
, NC
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The businesses at the Warehouses on White are pleased to host each first Friday for a night of fun and food!

Cost: Free

Where:
Warehouse on White
130 W. White St.
Rock Hill, SC
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Live the story of Stephen and the Apostles. Experience the rousing power of ANNO DOMINI: the year of our Lord while enjoying a Greek dinner.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theater
3327 Highway 51
Fort Mill, SC  29715
View map »


Website »

More information

River Jam brings live music outdoors, right in the middle of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. Hear music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during each of...

Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

See the original, Broadway-style dinner show, and experience the story of Stephen and the Apostles. See website for showtimes.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theatre
3327 Hwy 51
Fort Mill, SC
View map »


Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
Telephone: 803-802-2300
Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

See this collection of Chevys, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs in car show. 

Cost: $4-$12

Where:
North Carolina Transportation Museum
1 Samuel Spencer Drive
Spencer, NC
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Website »

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Toss the training wheels, and learn to glide, balance, peddle, pump and ride.

Cost: Free

Where:
Marion Diehl Rec Center
2219 Tyvola Road
, NC
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This craft beer festival will feature local beer for purchase, a train ride with specialty brews, food trucks and family games.

Cost: $4-$12

Where:
North Carolina Transportation Museum
1 Samuel Spencer Drive
Spencer, NC
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Website »

More information

Explore amazing science news and stories happening in your local area. Participate in this special live performance with scientists.

Cost: $35+

Where:
Knight Theater
430 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Telephone: 704-372-1000
Website »

More information

On Saturdays and Sundays from noon-5pm, the arcade bar opens to all ages with a parent or guardian present.

Cost: Cost for games

Where:
Abari Game Bar
1721 N. Davidson St.
, NC
View map »


Telephone: 980-430-4587
Website »

More information

Live the story of Stephen and the Apostles. Experience the rousing power of ANNO DOMINI: the year of our Lord while enjoying a Greek dinner.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theater
3327 Highway 51
Fort Mill, SC  29715
View map »


Website »

More information

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library presents monthly story times at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. every second Saturday of the month.

Cost: Free

Where:
Northlake Mall Live 360° Games Court
6801 Northlake Mall Drive
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: Northlake Mall
Website »

More information

River Jam brings live music outdoors, right in the middle of the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. Hear music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during each of...

Cost: $6 for parking

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
, NC
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Website »

More information

Bring chairs and blankets to watch movies in the park. Concessions will be available for purchase. The second Saturday of the month, May through September with a Halloween special on Oct. 17. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Stowe Park
24 S. Main St.
Belmont, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on the black basalt sculpture made by Josiah Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potters in late eighteenth-century England. 

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free

Where:
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Multiplied: Edition MAT and the Transformable Work of Art examines the rise of three-dimensional objects issued in editions, which emerged as an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cost: $5-$9, children younger than 10 free

Where:
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

See the original, Broadway-style dinner show, and experience the story of Stephen and the Apostles. See website for showtimes.

Cost: $10-$40

Where:
NarroWay Theatre
3327 Hwy 51
Fort Mill, SC
View map »


Sponsor: NarroWay Productions
Telephone: 803-802-2300
Website »

More information

This exhibit explores the various aspects of walls, which includes the artistic, social, political and historical aspects, as well as the physical barriers like fences or sand berms. The space is...

Cost: $6-$15, children 4 and younger free, included with admission

Where:
Mint Museum Uptown
500 S. Tryon St.
, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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