Kids driving you crazy? Take a short drive north of Charlotte to Catawba County for a daytrip back into history, forward into science, and down to the dock for laser tag and bumper cars.

If you head up on Saturday or Sunday, start your day with a visit to the Murray’s Mill Historic District, near Newton, NC. (Directions). If you have a group of 10 or more, you can call ahead – 828-465-0383 – for guided tours during the week or off season.


Murray’s Mill, sitting on the banks of Balls Creek, is the star of the show. A 28-foot waterwheel – driven by water slipping over

the mill dam – slowly turns as it has for a century. Also on the site is the Murray & Minges General Store, where you can find wooden toys, local honey, old fashioned candies, soaps and salves. The Wheathouse Exhibit Gallery showcases antique architectural elements from local historic houses, as well as a collection of miniature hand-carved buildings.

There are two covered bridges left in North Carolina, and one of them is in Catawba County, right around the corner from the mill. It’s worth a stop at Bunker Hill Covered Bridge to stretch your legs and let the kids play along the creek bank.

OK, the kids have probably had about all the history you can force feed them for one day. So, let’s take them to the Catawba Science Center, in Hickory. An exhibit that runs through February 16, 2014 is sure to be popular with blood-thirsty 8-year-olds. The Wicked Plants Exhibit details more than 100 deadly plants, and many of these evil-doers lurk in your own back yard. Here you can meet the nightshades, see weeds of mass destruction, visit stinky station, and learn about the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother.

Some of the popular permanent exhibits include the Saltwater Gallery, where the kids can see and touch several species of live sharks and stingrays, the Coastal North Carolina marine habitat, and the Amazon Basin, where rare fish, snakes, turtle and other jungle denizens – like the poison dart frog – live.

Stargazers will like the Hall of Astronomy, where you can expore the surface of Mars using a robot arm and check out live images from the Hubble Spacecraft. The Millholland Planetarium typically has two to three different shows running daily and presents laser shows set to music.

Your kids also can explore a number of other galleries including, Energy Avenue, the Inventor’s Workshop, Virtual Reality Xtreme, and Raceways.

Next, it’s off to Hickory Dickory Dock, a 33,000-square-foot family oriented entertainment attraction with activities for toddlers as well as youths and adults. There’s a soft play area to park the toddlers while the bigger kids are playing Wheel of Fortune, Guitar Hero or Bumper Cars.

Got a little extra time? Just north of Hickory is Hiddenite, the home of Emerald Hollow Mine, the only emerald mine in the US open to the public for prospecting. Or, swing south on Highway 321 back toward Charlotte and stop off at Buffalo Beals Animal Park to encounter elk, antelope, camel, giraffe, buffalo, kangaroo and monkeys.

About The Author: Harry Hoover is the author of Moving To Charlotte: The Un-Tourist Guide.