Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lake Norman State Park - Enjoy the View from the Porch and Beautiful Trails

Lake Norman State Park - Photo by D.W.
Lake Norman State Park, located at 759 State Park Road in Troutman, North Carolina, is actually the closest state park to my home town. It is only 30 minutes from where I grew up, and I'm ashamed to say this is the first time I have ever visited the park. I guess we all might be a bit guilty of taking our own back yard for granted.

View of the Nature Center from Lake Norman © Katrena
I had heard that folks could swim in the lake at Lake Norman State Park, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of the park. Yes, it does have a sandy beach area where swimmers can enjoy swimming for a nominal fee. There were very few swimmers when we visited on a weekday late morning. Entrance into the park and use of the trails is free. Those who wish to camp, boat, or swim can check rates at the link provided near the bottom of this article.

Welcome Center at Lake Norman State Park © Katrena
We visited Lake Norman State Park in July 2016 and decided to check out the Welcome Center first. My kids have gotten involved with the NC State Parks Passport program, so we get a stamp for each state park we visit. This year, 2016, is the centennial celebration of our state park system, so this year's stamps all include a special 100-year insignia.

Fun Free Family Activities in Iredell County NC
The folks at the Welcome Center were very nice and helpful. Although I do a good deal of online research before visiting a state park, there is nothing that can replace the helpful hints offered by someone who works there. Whenever I ask which trails they might suggest, I have always found the advice to be helpful. The state park system is creating some wonderful interactive educational centers in the various parks that highlight something pertinent to the region, so we toured the indoor displays first and then headed outside to the trails.

View of Lake Norman from Back Porch of Welcome Center © Katrena
One of our favorite spots at this park lies on the back porch of the Welcome Center. You will find a huge, welcoming back porch with rocking chairs that overlook the lake. One Facebook friend described it as  "sort of like Cracker Barrel but with a better view." Yep, that about sums it up. My mom said she could easily spend half the day out there in a rocking chair, soaking up the beauty of the scenery and sounds of nature.

Dragonfly Trail Educational Display © Katrena
We decided to try the 0.15 mile Dragonfly Trail first. The trail begins just to the left of the Welcome Center and is handicap accessible. This trail is quite educational with large, colorful interactive displays that encourage visitors to read about the various plants and animals of the area. Many of the displays asked questions and would offer answers after lifting a flap.

Close-up View of the Lake on the Alder Trail © Katrena
The Dragonfly Trail leads to the Alder Trail, which includes 0.8 mile of shaded, scenic lake views. This trail is not paved and has some tree roots and a few stairs along the way. It includes some interactive displays and a deck with stairs leading down close to the water on the left. Seeing the lake from several different directions provided lots of photo opportunities and a nice walk that was level in most areas in addition to the opportunity to see a few animals that were drawn to the water on a day with temperatures in the mid- to high-90s.

Hiking, Biking, and Swimming at Lake Norman State Park © Katrena
This state park is also known for an extensive 30.5-mile bike trail. We saw several people bringing their bikes to enjoy the day here. We didn't have bikes with us, but from what I could see, the bike trail seemed to be cleared and marked well.

Lake-side Alder Trail at Lake Norman State Park © Katrena
We also drove to another area of the park on Shortleaf Drive and found shaded picnic tables and a picnic shelter. We had our picnic lunch in this area, but I don't think it offered as good a view as the area near the Nature Center. The next time we visit Lake Norman State Park, we'll probably plan to have our picnic in that first area and will likely hang out in those rocking chairs on the back porch for a while!
Learn About Nature and Enjoy Lake Norman State Park © Katrena

Visit the Lake Norman State Park official web site for directions, swimming fees, trail maps, and more.

Hiking Trail at Lake Norman State Park © Katrena
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Easy Family Hiking Trail in North Carolina
Thanks for visiting Travel NC With Kids! I hope you find my articles and pictures to be helpful if you are planning a family outing. Have you visited Lake Norman State Park? If so, what was your favorite memory of your visit?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

North Carolina Outer Banks - Ahhhh....the Atlantic Ocean Beach!

North Carolina Outer Banks © Katrena
My family took a vacation to the Outer Banks in July 2016. We enjoyed many sites and visited a nice variety of attractions; however, one of the favorites for my group was going to the beach. This was the first time my family had been to a beach in North Carolina.

Atlantic Ocean at Kill Devil Hills © Katrena
When traveling with kids, I like to make vacations educational because the best classrooms are rarely surrounded by four walls. We talked about being on the Atlantic coast on the eastern edge of North Carolina and named other states that border our state. And how wonderful it is to live in a state that offers topography from the beach to the mountains.

Ocean Landscape on NC Outer Banks © Katrena
We talked about the barrier islands, how the various Sounds are different than the ocean, and what animals might be found in each and in both. From the vantage point of Currituck Lighthouse, we saw a big contrast in population on the ocean side versus the sound side and the north versus the south.

Educational Opportunities on NC Outer Banks © Katrena
We enjoyed sunsets and talked about what parts of the country might enjoy sunrises over the ocean water and which areas might enjoy sunsets over the ocean water. We also remembered a bit about how the moon can affect tides and how lightening and electricity can travel through water.

Enjoy Simple Pleasures on Family Vacation © Katrena
We looked for animals and shells on the sand and talked about protecting ocean animals, the land, and the fragile ecosystem on the North Carolina beach. And perhaps what might have happened to The Lost Colony many years ago.

Nature's Classroom at NC Coast © Katrena
We waded in the water and talked about riptides and remembered learning about how to safely get back to shore by swimming parallel to shore to move to a safer wave if one were pulled out by a riptide. How it is easier to walk on wet sand than on dry sand. And how shells at the beach are so unique and beautiful.

Enjoying the Beach on NC Coast © Katrena
We noticed how various people and a few dogs were enjoying the beach and noticed people often take beautiful natural areas for granted when they live near them. We went to the beach late in the evenings, which was great for our skin and also meant fewer people on the beach.

Public Access to Beach on NC Outer Banks © Katrena
We also talked about the access ramp to get to the edge of the beach and how they now make special wheelchairs that will roll on the sand and how a family we know ensured that the dad was able to make it out to the beach several times before moving to a heavenly home. And how we hope some day beaches will have access ramps all the way out to the water for those who are not able to get the special wheelchairs.

Learning About and Protecting NC Beaches © Katrena
Yet we were also quiet as we listened to the methodical ebb and flow, ebb and flow of a majestic body of water that seems timeless, a beautiful natural wonder that can calm and soothe through its shimmering metronome. What a gift to be able to dig one's toes into the sand, feel the cool water, and listen to the ocean's serenade.

Enjoy Simple Pleasures at the Beach © Katrena
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Thanks for visiting Travel NC With Kids. I hope you find my articles to be helpful and informative. Have you visited a beach in North Carolina? Feel free to share your beach story in the comment section below. If you like to listen to the beach, you might want to pull up a video on YouTube and enjoy the sounds from home.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama in Roanoke NC

The Lost Colony © Katrena
The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama written by Paul Green has been performed each summer since 1937 at Manteo's Waterside Theatre. Produced by Roanoke Island Historical Association, this play has stood the test of time over and over again as the production has persevered despite wars and conflicts, a fire, hurricanes, and many other challenges.

Roanoke Island's Waterside Theatre © Katrena
Many generations have traveled to the eastern part of North Carolina to get a glimpse of our state's oldest mystery and to imagine what might have happened to a colony that vanished from the area by the year 1590. This play is for entertainment purposes and is not necessarily historically accurate in all aspects, but I think it raises awareness of and perhaps empathy for all sides.

Learn About North Carolina History Through Performing Arts © Katrena
My family went to see The Lost Colony in July 2016. My kids are very interested in performing arts, and I thought this would not only be a good way to learn about our state's history but also an opportunity to see a first-rate outdoor drama. We weren't disappointed! All of my kids agreed this was the highlight of our trip to the Outer Banks.

Amazing Costumes at The Lost Colony Play © Katrena
I remember going to this play approximately 40 years ago. I was quite young but that memory has stayed with me. I found it interesting to learn that the director for the 2016 performances also acted in the play 40 years ago. The people who were sitting behind us were talking about going to see the play many years ago and remembering how the seats used to be long benches but are now much more comfortable. The walk from the box office to the theater is approximately 150 yards with ample parking close to the box office.

The Lost Colony Play at Outer Banks © Katrena
I ordered our tickets online. I really liked how the web site was set up. You can pick the date and the web site shows exactly what seats are available. I was thrilled to find second row seats on orchestra left. I took all of the pictures in this article, and I did not need to zoom. If you are particularly interested in seeing the Queen, you might want to choose seats on orchestra right. If you would like to see close-up Native American scenes, select seats on orchestra left.

Relive History Through The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama © Katrena
The theatre design by Albert Quentin "Skipper" Bell ensures that everyone can see well because the seats rise as they go farther back. If anyone in the group has trouble with stairs, you might want to choose seats in the back section. They do offer handicap seating at this theater and seats toward the back of the front section and toward the front of the back section will have the least number of stairs to climb - when you approach the theatre, simply turn to the left through the concession stand area and you will enter the theatre between the upper and lower sections. You have a nice view of the Sound and get a little more breeze off the water in the upper section. You are closer to the stage action in the lower seats.

2016 Season of The Lost Colony © Katrena
The play starts at 7:30 p.m. We arrived early, and I noticed that seats on orchestra right were in the sun while the left side was in the shade. Temperatures were in the 90s, so being in the shade was a big plus for us. The area in the back right was sunny for the longest period of time. If you have a little hand-held battery-powered fan, this would be a great place to use it before the show starts if you are visiting when temperatures are very high. Having some drinking water is also a great idea.

Fun Things to do in North Carolina © Katrena
I highly recommend bringing bug spray. Mosquitoes are fierce in this area during certain parts of the year. They sell bug spray on location in case you are not prepared. In July, the play begins in daylight and ends in darkness while the action on stage begins with lots of energy, singing, and dancing and elaborate sets. The stage production seems to almost mimic the natural lighting with the mood growing more somber and darker as the play nears the end.
Learn About The Lost Colony in NC © Katrena
The play is very well performed. I believe work on this year's play started in February. Many of the seasoned actors return to the stage many times over the years, sometimes changing roles as they age. A few actors from former productions of The Lost Colony launched public careers, including Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann, and William Ivey Long.

The Lost Colony - Excellent Production © Katrena
The play includes singing, dancing, and some fight scenes in addition to many speaking parts. The set includes quite a few props that are well-designed with minimal interruptions to the play as action tends to take place in one area while set changes occur in another area. The actors wear microphones and can be heard throughout the theater. My family loved the choreography; it seemed to capture the emotions through music and dance.

Learn About The Lost Colony Through Stage Production © Katrena
You can expect some scenes with gunfire - they did a great job with stage combat! You can also expect some scenes with fire. One actress ran across the stage with her apron on fire! This play is action-packed with some humor to balance out the serious topic. The performing area is huge as actors not only perform in front of the audience but also beside seating areas.

Tips for Taking the Family to see The Lost Colony © Katrena
Hats off to those who worked on costumes, make-up, set design, choreography, lighting, sound, marketing, web design, clean-up, and more. Many thanks to the family members and volunteers who undoubtedly interrupted many months of their family lives to provide support. I noticed that several folks who had ancillary positions also seemed to be genuinely interested in helping this program to be successful. According to the web site, over 200 people are involved in this production.

Lots of Action in The Lost Colony Play © Katrena
The Lost Colony was only meant to run for one season. Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the show on August 18, 1937, which catapulted the popularity of the show far beyond those humble first plans. I could easily see this show continuing for many years to come for future generations to enjoy.

5-Star Production of The Lost Colony © Katrena
You can easily spend a whole day in this area. An aquarium is very near this area. The Elizabethan Gardens is adjacent to the theatre. A center that is focused on the history of the area through a variety of programs and displays is also adjacent to this spot. Visit The Lost Colony web site to learn more about the production, directions, to order tickets, etc.

The Lost Colony Mystery © Katrena
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Thanks for visiting my Travel NC With Kids blog! Have you seen The Lost Colony? What did you think? Feel free to post comments in the comment section below this article.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hanging Rock Hiking Trail - No Wonder This Trail is the Most Popular!

Hanging Rock Trail at Hanging Rock State Park © Katrena
Hanging Rock State Park, located in Surry County at 1790 Hanging Rock Park Road in Danbury, North Carolina, offers a wonderful variety of hiking trails, water activities, camping, and more. Any time I have traveled to Hanging Rock State Park, I gravitate to the Hanging Rock hiking trail.

Section of Hanging Rock Trail after Pavement Ends © Katrena
The Hanging Rock trail offers a 1.3 mile one-way hike to the summit of Hanging Rock, the iconic overhang that gives this state park its name. The trail starts at the parking lot near where the welcome center is located and begins with stairs. The first section of the trail is paved sidewalk, but after a short distance, the paved area gives way to a natural walking surface.

Kung Fu Panda Steps on Hanging Rock Trail in Danbury © Katrena
Those who work at Hanging Rock State Park do an excellent job maintaining the trails. I have hiked at this park numerous times and have always found them to be clean and well marked. Whenever hiking at a park, it is always a good idea to pick up a trail map and ensure that everyone has appropriate clothing, footwear, and water. The nearest restrooms are located at the Welcome Center.

Hiking Trail to Hanging Rock in Surry County © Katrena
The Hanging Rock trail is nicely shaded, wide in most areas, and includes numerous benches along the way. There are also several rock walls and large rocks lining the trail that a person could sit on if needing to rest. After walking down the stairs, the trail begins downhill. Do not let this fool you...you can be rest assured that the majority of this hike is generally uphill. As you begin to walk downhill, you can see an observation deck on the right toward the parking lot. That deck offers a great view of Hanging Rock.

Under the Overhang on Hanging Rock Trail © Katrena
As the trail turns into a dirt path, you'll begin ascending the mountain. The grade is fairly steady for the majority of the trail until a little way past the sign for Wolf Rock trail on the right. Shortly after that point, you'll walk along a fairly flat ridge and get a pretty good view from this vantage point after the leaves drop in Autumn. Enjoy the flat ground. Savor it. Kung Fu Panda steps will be next.

Hanging Rock Trail - Moderate Climb © Katrena
My kids nicknamed the steps. Yes, there are quite a few of them. Some of the stairs are wider and steeper than others. As you climb, you will eventually see the large overhanging rock above you. As you pass an area that has a fence around it, you will begin the final ascent to the summit.

The End of Hanging Rock Trail - Keep Going Until You Can Go No Farther! © Katrena
This next area of the trail is a bit more natural as you step over and around large rocks. You will be going up and around to the back of the mountaintop. As you get to the top, you'll see a large rock on the right. You have a pretty nice view from the top of the rock and beyond it, but this is not the best view. The trail does not end here.

View from Hanging Rock © Katrena
We met some hikers at that big rock on the back side of the summit who looked a bit disappointed because they thought they had reached the end of the trail...just keep going as far as you can go on the trail. There will be no question when you reach the end of this trail because it ends at the edge of a large cliff.

View Looking Down from Hanging Rock © Katrena
If you have kids hiking with you, make sure they understand to stay with you and ensure that they are in safe areas at the end of the trail. There are no safety rails. It is a long way to the ground at the edge of Hanging Rock. You can see different terrain and scenery from various places along the edges of Hanging Rock. Those who have hiked here before often have their favorite rock where they like to sit and enjoy the view.

Spectacular View at Hanging Rock State Park © Katrena
I love to see the reaction of folks who are hiking this trail for the first time. I remember taking my nephews up here, and one of them exclaimed, "I'm on top of the world!" The view is spectacular. Many birds soar below this point. Depending on the weather, you can see for many miles. When there is a mixture of clouds and sun as there was when we hiked here in July, 2016, you can watch the clouds cast shadows on the patchwork quilt of colors and textures below. My photos cannot do this hiking trial justice, but I tried to give you a taste for this beautiful place and the trail that leads to it.

Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina - Hanging Rock State Park © Katrena
I like to pack a picnic for this hike and simply enjoy the serenity of the mountain and its majestic view for a while. We've met quite a few other hikers on the mountain and a few furry friends too. If you are fit enough to tackle a moderate 2.6 mile round trip hike, I highly recommend Hanging Rock trail. This is the park's most popular hiking trail with good reason.

Enjoy the Serenity of Nature on Hanging Rock © Katrena
Additional articles by Katrena
Visit the Hanging Rock State Park official web site for a detailed map, programs, directions, additional activities, camping, and more.

Amazing View Atop Hanging Rock © Katrena
I hope you enjoy my articles on Travel NC With Kids! Have you been on this hiking trail? Feel free to share your story in the comment section below.