25 Ideas Under $5 for Summer Fun With Kids in Charlotte
Banish summer boredom without draining your bank account with these hot-weather activities.
1. Hit the beach!
Grab the sunscreen and head to Ramsey Creek Park at Lake Norman. Monday through Thursday, it’s just $5 per car for Mecklenburg County residents to enjoy the lake and swim. The park is open dawn to dusk, with lifeguards on duty, through Labor Day. Pro tip: Skip the $10 parking on the weekends, and head to the Northcross Park and Ride lot in Huntersville, where a free shuttle picks up beachgoers every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
2. Go fishing.
The nature centers at Latta Plantation, McDowell, and Reedy Creek parks let you check out a rod and reel for free. Bait can be purchased if they aren’t sold out, but consider bringing your own just in case. (Anyone over age 16 needs to have a N.C. fishing license).
3. Splash at one of the city’s stellar spraygrounds.
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation spraygrounds include Cordelia Park, Latta Park, Nevin Park and Veterans Park.
4. Terrific Tuesdays at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and ImaginOn.
Each Tuesday at 1 and 3 p.m., enjoy magic, music, stories and more. The shows are free to attend with an advance online registration. See the entertainment schedule at ctcharlotte.org.
5. Spend a morning at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market.
Kids love the free samples and donuts any time of day, but get there early if you want the most options for garden-fresh veggies and locally raised meats. Located on Yorkmont Road. Find special happenings posted on the market’s Facebook page.
6. Take a daytrip in the city.
Head to ImaginOn for the Mr. Potato Head's Adventures exhibit before hopping on the LYNX Blue Line. Ride to the East/West stop. Cap off the day with a cup or cone at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, just a couple blocks away from the East/West LYNX stop in South End.
7. Play the 12-hole disc golf course at Squirrel Lake Park.
Bring your bikes or scooters, too, for a quick ride on Four-Mile Creek Greenway, also accessible from the park, which is located on Pleasant Plains Road in Matthews.
8. Visit Anne Springs Close Greenway.
It’s $5 per car to enter and hike or bike the more than 40 miles or trails at the greenway in Fort Mill. Canoeing, horseback riding and other programs are available. Most are free or less than $5.
9. Sign up for Kids Skate Free that lets children 10 and under roller skate for free all summer.
Kids Skate Free lets children age 10 and under rollerskate for free all summer. Sign up at kidsskatefree.com, then head to Kate’s Skating Rink in Indian Trail or in Gaston County and lace up your skates.
10. Head uptown to Romare Bearden Park and First Ward Park.
Located across from BB&T Ballpark on Church Street, you can splash in the waterfall and run through the mist at Romare Bearden Park. Bonus points if you bring a blanket and a picnic lunch or a ball to toss—there’s plenty of space to spread out. And just across from ImaginOn on Seventh Street is First Ward Park complete with splash pad and green space. Both parks host live music on various dates throughout the summer.
11. Watch planes take off and land.
Gates are open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Overlook. Bring sunscreen as there’s not much shade, camping chairs or a blanket (bench space is at a premium), and noise-reducing headphones (it gets loud!). Located at 4355 Airport Overlook Drive, Charlotte.
12. Sit in the stagecoach at the Wells Fargo History Museum uptown.
You can also learn about gold mining in North Carolina and take a ride in a stagecoach. Admission is free and it's only a block away from The Green where you can splash in the Fish Fountains.
13. Hike at Crowders Mountain State Park.
The hike to the summit of Crowders Mountain is challenging — and views are stellar — but families with younger children may want to choose one of the easier trails. The park, located in Gaston County, is about a 40-minute drive south on I-85 from uptown Charlotte.
14. Earn a Junior Ranger Badge at Kings Mountain National Military Park.
It takes about two hours of adventuring for kids 5 and older to earn their Junior Ranger Badge while learning about one of the most important battles in the Revolutionary War.
15. Challenge yourself to complete the ASC Scavenger Hunt.
It starts at the McColl Center for Visual Art, but you’ll have to complete the list to see where it ends. (Hint: It’s a very glittery destination.)
16. Catch one of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Pops concerts.
Happening throughout the month of June at Symphony Park and Belk Theater uptown, and wrapping up with the Fourth of July extravaganza July 3. Tickets are $5 for ages 13 to 18 when purchased in advance; children 12 and under admitted free. Adult tickets are $14 in advance, $16 at the door.
17. Take a flower-filled stroll through the UNCC Botanical Gardens.
Be sure to check out the Dinosaur Garden and look for the resident dinosaur (sculpture). Parking is free on the weekends and in the visitor spots on weekdays, or $2 in the parking deck.
19. Go on an ARTventure.
Entrance to The Mint Museum uptown and Randolph is free from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. Let the kids go on a search for unusual elements in gallery art using the ARTventure cards available at the lobby desk. The Never Abandon Imagination exhibit, featuring works by illustrator and author Tony DiTerlizzi, is one not to miss and includes interactive opportunities for children. The exhibit opens June 22 at the Mint Museum Randolph.
20. Explore the Robinson Rock House ruins at Reedy Creek Park.
Built during the 18th century, just a few crumbling walls remain—a fun reward in the middle of an easy, shady hike. And if you like to fish, cast a line in Dragonfly and Slider ponds. Fishing gear and bait is available at the nature center.
21. Rainy day bowling!
Register at kidsbowlfree.com to get two free games of bowling every day all summer long. Ten Park Lanes and Strike City at the EpiCentre are participating.
24. Take stroll and look at the quirky public art along the Charlotte Rail Trail.
The trail runs from uptown to South End alongside the LYNX Blue Line tracks. Cool off running through the sprayground, located across the street from Carson Station or make some noise at the Rail Trail Symphony. Walk one way, and then take the LYNX back to your original destination.
25. Make a day trip to Gastonia’s Lineberger Park.
Lineberger Park Pool in Gastonia features a zero-depth entry with fountain geysers, a lazy river, a two-story waterslide, three lanes for lap swimming and colorful splash features. The park also has a miniature train ride and sprayground. The lazy river and mini-waterpark are open daily through Aug. 18. Open for post-season swim Aug. 24, 25 and 31 and Sept. 1 and 2. Sessions are from 12:30 to 3 p.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. Cost: $3 per 2.5-hour session for children age 1 and older.
Aleigh Acerni is a local writer and a mom who goes on uptown adventures with her preschooler.