More and more families are coming to Asheville and the Western North Carolina mountains for the wide variety of unique family-friendly vacations offered. In the age of screens, more parents are seeking out hands-on activities for their children with outdoor exploration, STEM-focused learning, arts, music and more. Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, see a variety of things to do in Western NC that get kids engaged with hands-on (screens off!) experiences.

Why are hands-on activities so beneficial for kids? Hands-on learning (also called experiential learning) is the process of learning by doing. It fosters the brain’s ability to retain information through a combination of movement, exploration, touch, manipulation and engagement - often with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) based activities.

Asheville Museum of Science

There are plenty of hands-on learning experiences for kids in and around Asheville. Places like children's museums, art museums, science museums, nature centers, and more offer a variety of activities in one place. So whether your little one wants to know what a cloud is made of or how to build a robot or what color red and yellow makes - there is something for everyone to get interested.

Kids in Parks Asheville

The great outdoors offers the best hands-on experiences for kids. Western North Carolina has no shortage of outdoor activities that combine movement, communication, listening, touch and more that excite multiple parts of a child’s brain. So get outdoors and let the learning begin! For many outdoor adventure ideas, see our guides for Waterfalls for Kids, Kid-Friendly Hikes, Kids in Parks and Summer Camps.

Hands-On Education & Children's Museums

Asheville Sun Soo Martial Arts, Asheville

Unlock a summer of excitement, growth, and empowering martial arts for your child. Experience high quality martial arts instruction, engaging arts and crafts, team building games, and adventure-filled field trips. Voted #1 “Best of WNC” camp! We instill respect, perseverance, and leadership skills in our campers. Our camps are for rising K-5th grade students and are offered 9 am-4 pm with… read more

Kids in Parks: Educational Trails in the Blue Ridge

Kids in Parks is a growing network of trails with free activity guides for children and families. Together, you'll engage with the outdoors by identifying trees and birds, viewing the forest from… read more

Kids in Parks is a growing network of trails with free activity guides for children and families. Together, you'll engage with the outdoors by identifying trees and birds, viewing the forest from the perspective of animals and searching for natural features. Children can record their adventures online and receive prizes.

Chimney Rock Park for Kids

Children of all ages love the spectacular views from the famous rock formation - plus the elevator ride up. In addition to several easy hiking trails, find discovery stations on the half-mile… read more

Children of all ages love the spectacular views from the famous rock formation - plus the elevator ride up. In addition to several easy hiking trails, find discovery stations on the half-mile Great Woodland Adventure, visit live animals at Animal Discovery Den and climb a rock tower.

Mineral & Lapidary Museum, Hendersonville

Featuring many diverse underground treasures like raw minerals, meteorites, gemstones, and fossils the museum is a great place to take kids to see the many exhibits and especially highlights like… read more

Featuring many diverse underground treasures like raw minerals, meteorites, gemstones, and fossils the museum is a great place to take kids to see the many exhibits and especially highlights like a tyrannosaurus rex skull, a mastodon tusk and teeth, and a wooly mammoth leg bone. (400 N Main St)

Western NC Nature Center

Learn about the area's natural resources, see 60+ animals in their native habitats including red pandas and red wolves. Explore many exhibits on this 42-acre wildlife park in the city of Asheville… read more

Learn about the area's natural resources, see 60+ animals in their native habitats including red pandas and red wolves. Explore many exhibits on this 42-acre wildlife park in the city of Asheville. Open daily.

KidsSenses, Rutherfordton

This large, interactive space in Rutherfordton offers fun indoor and outdoor exhibits where kids can learn and stimulate imagination through hands-on playing. There are 14 different interactive… read more

This large, interactive space in Rutherfordton offers fun indoor and outdoor exhibits where kids can learn and stimulate imagination through hands-on playing. There are 14 different interactive exhibit areas geared for kids 10 and under. For kids 11 and up they offer a hands-on maker space called The Factory that offers workshops. The Factory is one block KidSenses.  

Hands On! Children's Museum, Hendersonville

This children's museum in historic Downtown Hendersonville has interactive exhibits with focus on science, nature, engineering, motor skills, and more. Exhibits include pet vet hospital, grocery… read more

This children's museum in historic Downtown Hendersonville has interactive exhibits with focus on science, nature, engineering, motor skills, and more. Exhibits include pet vet hospital, grocery store, lego raceway, puppet theatre, stage, and many more! (318 N Main St)

Safari Edventure, Marshall

This non-profit organization is committed to providing hands-on quality encounters with wildlife, plants and the environment. Kids can interact with kangaroos, sloth, lemurs, porcupines, sugar… read more

This non-profit organization is committed to providing hands-on quality encounters with wildlife, plants and the environment. Kids can interact with kangaroos, sloth, lemurs, porcupines, sugar gliders, chinchillas, hedgehogs, marmosets and more.

NC Arboretum, Asheville

The Arboretum offers a variety of unique experiences while children discover the wonders of nature in a safe, enriching environment. Rent Discovery Backpacks, available for kids to use with tools… read more

The Arboretum offers a variety of unique experiences while children discover the wonders of nature in a safe, enriching environment. Rent Discovery Backpacks, available for kids to use with tools to aid in their exploration of trees, insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Programs like Week Naturalist, ecoExplore, Discovery Camp and more engage kids in hands-on experiences with nature.

Bricks4Kidz, Asheville

Ideal for kids 6 and up, this hands-on program uses Legos to help kids develop problem solving and critical thinking skills as they build machines and other constructions, utilizing engineering,… read more

Ideal for kids 6 and up, this hands-on program uses Legos to help kids develop problem solving and critical thinking skills as they build machines and other constructions, utilizing engineering, architecture and physics. Their mobile program can be found at local schools, events, camps, parties and more.

The Learning Center at PARI

This former NASA campus in Pisgah National Forest is now a fascinating space and science center open for camps, events and occasional tours. See exhibit galleries, a gem and meteorite collection,… read more

This former NASA campus in Pisgah National Forest is now a fascinating space and science center open for camps, events and occasional tours. See exhibit galleries, a gem and meteorite collection, hands-on research and star gazing nights. Previously called Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute. 

Cradle of Forestry for Kids

Located in Pisgah National Forest near Sliding Rock, learn all about our forests and environment at the location of the nation's first forestry school. Watch a movie, explore 15 hands-on exhibits… read more

Located in Pisgah National Forest near Sliding Rock, learn all about our forests and environment at the location of the nation's first forestry school. Watch a movie, explore 15 hands-on exhibits, ride the fire fighting helicopter simulator and go underground to see animals. Paved hiking trails take you by a locomotive and historic buildings. The Adventure Zone is especially designed for…

Oconaluftee Indian Village

This living history outdoor village portrays eighteenth-century Cherokee life on the mountainside above the town. Interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and masks, weave baskets… read more

This living history outdoor village portrays eighteenth-century Cherokee life on the mountainside above the town. Interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and masks, weave baskets and beadwork, dance and participate in their daily activities. Open late April through early November.

Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS)

This fully interactive science museum in downtown Asheville is a must visit for the whole family! Exhibits include elements of forestry, minerals, planetary exploration, dinosaurs and more. Check… read more

This fully interactive science museum in downtown Asheville is a must visit for the whole family! Exhibits include elements of forestry, minerals, planetary exploration, dinosaurs and more. Check out the STEM laboratory and hurricane simulator- they even have a “toddler nest,” for the littlest ones to experience hands-on learning. 

Gem Mining Top Spots

Gem mining has been a favorite activity for visitors to the mountains of North Carolina for many years. Most gem mines in the Asheville and Franklin areas are open from spring through autumn. Also… read more

Gem mining has been a favorite activity for visitors to the mountains of North Carolina for many years. Most gem mines in the Asheville and Franklin areas are open from spring through autumn. Also tour several gem and mineral museums.

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