When movie producers were looking for the perfect lake resort shooting location for Dirty Dancing, they chose Lake Lure, North Carolina. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this charming town hugs a serenely beautiful man-made lake and is just a few minutes away from the world-famous Chimney Rock State Park. It’s a perfect destination for a spring, summer or autumn family vacation.
There’s so much to do in and around Lake Lure that we couldn’t possibly do everything we wanted to during our recent three-day visit– but as you’ll see, we certainly crammed in as much as we could! Here’s our carefully curated list of 30 things to do with your kids in Lake Lure and the Blue Ridge Foothills.
Take a beautiful guided boat tour of Lake Lure.
There’s no better way to get to know Lake Lure than on an hour-long pontoon boat tour of the area with Lake Lure Tours. On this relaxing ride, you’ll be treated to memorable views of Chimney Rock and Rumbling Bald Mountain, see where some of Dirty Dancing’s most memorable scenes were filmed, and learn about Lake Lure’s history, luxury lakeside homes, and local gossip. Tours are $15 per person and leave every hour on the hour. As long as your children are old enough to sit relatively still and stay quiet (there’s no PA system for the tour guide and most on the tour will want to hear what he’s saying), the tour is short enough to hold their attention.
Soar through the trees on a zipline adventure tour at Canopy Ridge Farm.
Canopy Ridge Farm’s zipline tour is the number one-ranked attraction in Lake Lure on Trip Advisor– Visitors rave about this 1-1/2 hour guided adventure tour through 60 acres of beautiful forest, designed for families and adventure-seekers alike. Reserve your tour in advance and you’ll have two guides, no ladders to climb and no hand brakes to worry about. The pinnacle of the experience is the 1000-foot Zipzilla line. Sounds like fun to me!
Dig into a Hubba Bubba Brownie at Larkin’s on the Lake.
Larkin’s probably has the best lakeside view of any restaurant in Lake Lure – That and the sizable dock that allows for pontoon boat parking (the Lake Lure transportation of choice) make this a popular spot for lunch or dinner and a great place to people watch. Most opt to sit downstairs, where the bar dominates the room and the walls are papered with dollar bills, or outside on the deck overlooking the lake. ‘Upscale dining’ is available upstairs – The menu is the same, but the atmosphere is quieter and better suited for those looking for privacy or peace.
As for the food, you can’t beat the Hubba Bubba Brownie. It’s plenty big enough for a party of four and will have your kids begging to come back. Another plus for parents is the video game area in the back of the room downstairs. It’s a kid magnet and while we were there, every child in the place played happily on the machines until their meals arrived, which made for some very pleased parents. *Ahem*
Ride horses through the forests of the foothills.
The family-run Cedar Creek Stables draws visitors from across the country — Trail rides are available for all skill levels, including young children who can ride ponies around the lake for just $10. Rides on full-size horses range from one hour to two hours in length; the most popular ride takes you to the top of a scenic mountain overlook!
Wade in the waters of the Rocky Broad Riverwalk.
Just behind the kitschy souvenir shops of Chimney Rock Village, you’ll find the Rocky Broad Riverwalk, offering a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with the stunning Rocky Broad River. The 1/8-mile natural walkway has several well-marked entrance points in between the shops – Stay on the bridges, boulders and dirt paths and enjoy the river from a distance or take off your shoes and wade in the clear, cool river water – The river is usually very shallow here and safe for even the smallest children to enjoy with adult supervision.
You won’t find a Starbucks in Lake Lure, but that’s exactly what allows a coffee shop like Carolina Moon to thrive. Located beside the Town Hall and Marina, this cozy café with a scenic deck is the perfect spot for lattes, hot chocolates for the kids, and sweet treats– Regulars rave about the carrot cake here and we found the coffee cake to be moist and delicious as well. Carolina Moon also offers free wi-fi, and that means something in this mountainous area where wi-fi and cell phone service can be spotty at best.
Learn and play at KidSenses Interactive Children’s Museum in Rutherfordton.
This 10,000 square foot children’s museum is located in the heart of downtown Rutherfordton and includes 12 different interactive exhibit areas, special programming for children, and a 7,500 square foot Children’s Garden out back. Your children will find plenty to do here– Be sure and check the website’s calendar for special programs scheduled during your visit.
Lake Lure Beach includes 100 yards of sand, two water slides, picnic pavilions and volleyball nets, right in the center of town! It’s a great spot for families to cool off on a hot summer day. The beach is managed by Lake Lure Tours and admission is charged — $8 for adults, $6 for kids ages 4-12.
The elevator to the top of Chimney Rock hasn’t worked in over a year and admission to this state park is unexpectedly high at $13 per person — but trust me when I tell you that the cost and the climb to the top of this 315-foot granite monolith are both totally worth it.
We climbed 499 steps to reach Chimney Rock’s flagpole and it was a great family bonding experience, plus the kids loved the points of interest along the way up, which included a small cave and a natural tunnel through the rock. Safety rails make this trail do-able for even small children, and once you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge and fantastic photo opportunities. After taking in the scenery, keep climbing the trail and you’ll eventually be rewarded with an even more spectacular view at Exclamation Point. With an elevation of 2,480 feet, this is the park’s highest peak.
For added fun, ask for a TRACK Trails brochure before your hike. These brochures were designed for kids and highlight points of interest along each trail in the park. Once your child completes a TRACK Trail Adventure, they can log onto the TRACK website and register to earn prizes.
Want a delicious meal or snack inside the park? The day we visited, vendors in a tent at the base of the rock were selling locally-made Hickory Nut Gap bratwursts nestled in hot, crusty rolls. We split one between us at the end of our Chimney Rock climb and it was Ah. Maz. Ing. If your kids like hotdogs, they’ll LOVE this treat.
Munch on delicious Bison Sliders at the historic Esmeralda Inn.
The Esmeralda Inn is a beautiful and historic place to stay in the Lake Lure area, but its restaurant is also special — It’s where we had the best meal of our entire trip! Lunch is a great way to experience the Inn with kids. My children had the bison sliders (which can be prepared three different ways) and they LOVED these flavorful burgers. They also heartily approved our sandwiches after trying them. Mine was a Three Little Pigs sandwich—Hickory Nut Gap sausage grilled with pulled beer bbq pork and crispy bacon on a hoagie roll, while my husband had the Hot Turkey – a pressed sourdough sandwich with slow roasted turkey, bacon, spinach, muenster cheese and roasted garlic aioli. Another kid-friendly treat are the house-made potato chips and home fries. Both were absolutely delicious.
Since the Inn is just a couple of minutes from Chimney Rock State Park, it’s a great place to recover after a hike! And B keep your camera handy when you go—The grounds outside behind the restaurant are truly stunning and provide a beautiful backdrop for family pictures.
Learn to water ski with Lake Lure Adventure Company.
If you’ve always wanted to try water skiing, now’s your opportunity! Lake Lure Adventure Company offers ski trips with USA Waterski certified staff trained to get you up on skis in no time. Guided fishing trips, wakeboarding trips, and boat rentals are also available.
La Strada always seems to be busy– Have lunch or dinner here and you’ll understand why. Choose from hearty portions of Italian staples like pizza, lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, as well as traditional American fare like burgers, steaks and grilled fish. The garlic rolls are a La Strada staple and we were crazy about the four cheese crab and spinach dip. The restaurant’s cozy ambiance and friendly, attentive service from the waitstaff, manager and owner helped make our meal at La Strada a night to remember and it’s large enough to accommodate both big, noisy families and couples enjoying a romantic meal together– and keep them comfortably apart!
Pan for gold or gems.
Under the waters of the man-made Lake Lure is a gold rush town from the 1800s called Buffalo — Remnants of that gold fever remain in the form of several area gold and gem mines. The most authentic can be found in nearby Union Mills at the Thermal City Gold Mine, an actual working mine where, with the help of experienced staff, you can pan for gold for $10 or rent a trommel or high banker (for considerably more money) and seek out actual nuggets. Broad River Gems & Mining Company in Rutherfordton offers gem mining beside the river, but the biggest draw here is the museum-like gift shop, which features many incredible fossils and other curiosities from the owner’s personal collection, including meteorites and a 95,000 year old cave bear skeleton.
Walk the beautiful Flowering Bridge of Lake Lure.
When a new bridge was built connecting Lake Lure and nearby Chimney Rock in 2011, Lake Lure residents came up with an innovative plan for the original 1925 one – They turned it into a free public garden! Today, the historic bridge is overflowing with flowers, herbs, succulents and exotic and native plants. It only takes a few minutes to walk through it, but if your kids are anything like ours, they’ll want to stop and rest for a few minutes to enjoy this unusually beautiful bridge.
Explore the Great Woodland Adventure Trail at Chimney Rock State Park.
Don’t worry if your kids are too small to make it to the top of Chimney Rock — There’s a special trail at the park designed just for them. The Great Woodland Adventure Trail includes 12 Discovery Stations with locally-made sculptures that entertain and educate the park’s youngest guests. At the end of the trail, you’ll find Grady’s Animal Discovery Den, with animal educators, live park animals, the latest TRACK Trails brochures that help kids learn more about the Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and outdoor enclosures that Greta the Groundhog and Fionna the Virginia Opossum call home.
Let the kids play and help a great cause at The Right Track Toy Train Museum.
Peggy Keyes lost her husband, Larry, to pancreatic cancer in 2007. Wanting to honor his memory, raise money for pancreatic cancer research, and put his large collection of toy train memorabilia on display, she opened this charming museum in 2011 with the help of the Asheville Train Club. She’s been donating 100% of the proceeds from the museum to pancreatic cancer research ever since.
The museum is small but fascinating to children and adults alike — One room holds Larry’s amazing collection of working trains, another was created especially for small children and includes all kinds of train toys that allow them to get in on the action.
Our kids loved operating the trains with the help of a volunteer and we loved hearing Peggy’s story from her friends, who were operating the museum while she was away on vacation. No matter your age or interest, you’ll enjoy stopping in to meet Peggy and helping in the effort to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. The suggested admission price is $5 per person.
Your children may get more out of this museum than trains– After hearing the story behind the museum, my son proudly pinned this pancreatic cancer awareness ribbon onto his shirt. He has quietly worn it several times since we’ve returned home.
Sip on the best shakes you’ve ever had at The Shake Shop in nearby Spindale.
We knew by the full parking lot at 11am on a Monday that we needed to stop for lunch at The Shake Shack in Spindale. This hole-in-the-wall diner bills itself as ‘Rutherford County’s Oldest Eatery,’ and from the looks of things, I tend to believe them. Once you take a sip of their rich, creamy chocolate peanut butter milkshake, though, you’ll instantly become a Shake Shop convert. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this was the best I’ve ever had. The cheeseburger special is impressive as well—For just $6.10, you’ll get a thick, juicy cheeseburger with all the toppings, your choice of side, and a drink. No wonder this place was filled with locals.
Visit Washburn’s General Store, one of the oldest continuously-operated general stores in the country.
This five-generation family business has been operated by descendants of founder Benjamin Washburn ever since the business was established back in 1831. The charming general store is definitely worth a visit on any driving tour of the area (See the Cherry Bounce Trail info below for a great driving loop through the foothills). And check out this website for a fascinating detailed description of the store’s history, written by one of the Washburn descendants.
Brunch is the time to go to Lake Lure’s Point of View if you have kids. We were treated to the best Croque Madame sandwich we’ve ever eaten and the French Toast was a HUGE hit with our kids. ‘Nuff said.
The main road in Chimney Rock Village is lined with souvenir shops filled with all kinds of kitschy knick knacks — It might not suit your tastes, but your kids will definitely love the shopportunities. Give them a little spending money and let them choose from the many inexpensive souvenirs all the stores have to offer. And be sure to stop in Bubba O’Learys while you’re here — It was my favorite of the Chimney Rock shops.
Get an all-you-can-drink homemade soda pop to share at Bayou Billy’s.
There’s no better way to quench your thirst while shopping in Chimney Rock and playing on the Riverwalk than with an all-you-can-drink mug of homemade soda pop from Bayou Billy’s. We balked at the $7 price tag for the tin mug, but it ended up being worth the money spent– The sodas were all fantastic, we refilled five times while we were in town (and tried a new flavor each time), and the kids loved pouring their own sodas from the tap.
Chimney Rock State Park’s Hickory Nut Falls Trail is an easy .75-mile trail that will take you to a 404-foot waterfall– the second highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River! You might even recognize it from the film, The Last of the Mohicans. On the day we visited, the falls weren’t much more than a trickle, but this allowed us to scramble over the rocks and stand right in front of the waterfall itself without getting completely soaked. A 404-foot waterfall is incredible under any conditions- You and your kids will be glad you made the effort to see it.
As we drove home from dinner on our first night in Lake Lure, one of the kids looked up outside our rolled-down windows and squealed for us to pull over. We pulled off the road, got out of the car, and were treated to a night sky filled with hundreds of thousands of stars – far more than we ever get a chance to see in our hometown of Nashville. It was a rare treat, and we took advantage of this ‘star show’ every night during our stay. I encourage you to do the same.
Enjoy the best view in Chimney Rock at the Riverwatch Bar & Grill.
The deck of this unassuming bar and grill has one of the most amazing views of any restaurant in the area. The Rocky Broad River tumbles along the boulders below, while 315 feet overhead, Chimney Rock is so close that on a clear day, you can see visitors standing on top. Visit at an ‘off’ time for the best shot at a table along the deck railing – We went an hour before the restaurant closed on a Sunday night and scored just the seats we wanted. The menu is very kid-friendly– The burgers are delicious and the onion rings truly divine.
Take a hike on one of the area’s many scenic hiking trails.
We felt we only scratched the surface of all the hiking trails Lake Lure and the surrounding area have to offer. The helpful website Around Lake Lure has a list of 12 favorite trails in and around Lake Lure– Several include waterfalls! We are looking very forward to a return visit and a chance to explore some of these trails!
Try and solve a 250-year-old mystery at the Bostic Lincoln Center.
The tiny town of Bostic has built its entire reputation on the belief by some historians that Abraham Lincoln was actually born here on Puzzle Creek. An entire museum here is devoted to proving that Bostic is the birthplace of our 16th president. Admission is free at the Bostic Lincoln Center and it makes for a fun and quirky stop on a driving tour of the charming smaller towns of the Blue Ridge Foothills.
Let the kids shake their sillies out at Bubba’s Fun Park in Forest City.
If the rain, heat or cold have gotten you down during your vacation, consider taking the family to Bubba’s Fun Park in nearby Forest City. This 1200 square foot indoor playcenter includes a ball pit, roller slide, glide track, tumbler, web crawl and spiral slide, as well as eight outdoor batting cages, Lazer Runner, an interactive game for ages 8 and up, and an indoor Toddler Play Area for children four and under. Once you’re done, have lunch in charming downtown Forest City, where you’ll find plenty of interesting looking shops and restaurants.
One of several driving trails in the Blue Ridge Foothills, the Cherry Bounce Driving Trail gives you a chance to explore some of the Blue Ridge Foothills’ charming small towns as well as a number of interesting historic sites, some of which predate the Revolutionary War. Stop to see the sights and you could easily make a day trip out of this scenic driving loop. Towns you’ll drive through include Rutherfordton, Spindale, Forest City and Bostic. We drove an abbreviated version of this trail, stopping through these four towns (which are right next to each other) and then heading back and had a blast! Check out this Cherry Bounce Trail brochure for complete directions and descriptions of all you can expect to see along the way.
Catch a gargantuan catfish at the Fly-n-Hook Fishing Club in Rutherfordton.
Here, you can rent everything you need to catch a gigantic catfish in the Fishing Club’s fully-stocked lake. On Saturday nights, there’s even a competition for diehard fishermen and women. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon and teach the kids a thing or two about fishing.
I’d love to hear your ideas! Share them in the comments!
Want a foolproof plan on how to spend two amazing days in Lake Lure (with or without the kids)? Check out my guide on Style Blueprint!
Thanks to Rutherford County NC Tourism for hosting us. Check out their website for many more fun things to do in the area!