If you’re looking for things to do on a sunny day, what could be better than checking out all the unique and fun things to do in North Carolina?
Planning and Research
Besides researching unique things to do in North Carolina, and running into things on my own, I was also inspired by the book “Weird Carolinas” by Roger Manley. There are a few duds (like the Devil’s Stomping Ground), but overall it offers a ton of fun things to do and see.
- Planning and Research
- 1. Find the Dinosaur
- 2. Museum of Art Outdoor Park
- 3. Shangri-La Stone Village
- 4. A Twenty-Foot Retro Robot
- 5. Tweetsie Railroad Ghost Train
- 6. Land of Oz at Beech Mountain
- Tips for Finding Local Fun
1. Find the Dinosaur
Can you spot the Brontosaurus in Durham, North Carolina?
Steve, as one blogger named him, was part of a dinosaur walk created by the precursor to the Durham Museum of Life and Science in 1967.
The museum created a “pre-history trail” and Steve was built as the crowning feature at 77 feet long and 30 feet high.
Sadly, in 1996, Hurricane Fran came through and destroyed all but Steve.
Over time, the forest grew around him and the museum installed a new, more interactive exhibit, but the lonely brontosaurus remains in his original spot.
Where to Find the Brontosaurus
On the road leading to the museum, you’ll cross Ellerbee Creek Trail. Park nearby and enter the trail on the side across from the museum. You’ll first walk along in the open, then you’ll round a corner and enter the woods. Keep an eye out on your left and you’ll see Steve.
He’s actually pretty easy to find but tough to photograph due to his size and trees around him.
While there, it’s worth taking a short hike on the trail and enjoying the day.
2. Museum of Art Outdoor Park
The Museum of Art has an outdoor park adjacent to the building called the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park.
Open from dawn until dusk, the Museum Park features temporary and permanent outdoor art installations, along with gardens, sustainable landscapes, and recreational trails. The park backs up to the local Greenway.
Visitors are encouraged to bike and jog along the trails and picnic while enjoying the art and scenery.
Much of the park is out in the open with no shade. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
Exploring the Art
The most prominent artwork is Gyre, by Thomas Sayre, the three large amazing rings in the distance that are visible from anywhere in the park.
There are also two interactive pieces of art meant for children and adults to play.
First is a metal pig (SCULPT.C by Jaime Hayon). Children can climb inside and exit through the slide at the back.
Next is a colorful rooftop that seems to emerge from the ground. Children (and adults) can walk along the roof. This work is “Southern Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off,” by Heather Hart.
The Cloud Chamber
The Cloud Chamber (Officially the “Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky” by Chris Drury), is difficult to find because it’s located in a wooded area. The trail leading directly to it is closed, but there’s another way around.
This installation appears in almost every weird and unique things to do in North Carolina list you can find, and for good reason. It’s an amazing experience. As you sit inside the dark room, light from the sun comes through the holes in the top and creates designs along the walls.
This may not be a good experience for children and anyone claustrophobic. The room is pitch black before your eyes adjust and you can see the light show. There’s nothing but a dirt floor and a small bench, and the ceiling height is low.
I would also caution anyone entering to check for any snakes or other critters before closing the door behind you.
The Museum Park also boasts a small sunflower field near Gyre. It’s a smaller version than the sunflower field at Dorothea Dix park, but less crowded and a great place for photos.
3. Shangri-La Stone Village
Shangri-La stone village is located in Prospect Hill, North Carolina.
It sounds hokey, I know, but this is a surprisingly great attraction that you should stop and see. The kindness and generosity of the Warren family which hosts the village is something to experience.
Henry Warren, a retired tobacco farmer, started building the small village from the stone he blasted from his own yard in 1968. He continued until his death nine years later at the age of 84. The village was named Shangri-La and was built with the intent to welcome people.
There are 27 structures averaging around two and a half feet tall. The church is over five feet since it’s quite a bit taller than me.
Take a moment to appreciate the engraved stone at the entrance to the village: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man”.
His family lives there now and keeps up the tradition. They have a visitor book where you can log your information and thoughts.
It’s not just how tall the buildings are, or the fact he bored holes in the stone and then added another color to create a pattern or even the details in the town square. Shangri-La embodies the kindness of the man who built it.
4. A Twenty-Foot Retro Robot
If you’re heading to Greensboro check out the Burger Warfare robot.
The robot is a 20-foot tall, old-school metal bot. It looks like a barrel on two skinny legs and is holding what is either a cannon or a large laser gun.
Burger Warfare has been closed since late 2022 with no details on when it will reopen, but the robot is still out front.
What’s so interesting about this unique robot is that many locals from Greensboro aren’t aware it exists.
5. Tweetsie Railroad Ghost Train
The Tweetsie Railroad Ghost Train is quite the experience. You will need to purchase tickets for the event in advance, but it’s worth it.
The Ghost Train has a limited run, weekend evenings in October. The haunted house and other scary exhibits may be too much for small children, but there’s shopping on Main Street, plenty of fairway food, and a dance party where they can get their jam on with friendly ghouls. Some of the rides are also open and perfect for kids.
Adults and teens will enjoy the haunted exhibits. They’re tamer than what you’ll find at pop-up roadside events, but still a good time.
Of course, the main event is the Ghost Train itself. This again may be too much for small children. As you ride along, the conductor is concerned about werewolves. Events play out and the movie on the screen appears realistic. Also, when the lights are off, it’s pitch black on the train.
6. Land of Oz at Beech Mountain
Fans of the Wizard of Oz will love Autumn at Oz at Beech Mountain. There’s a theme park called Land of Oz that’s open at select times during the year. Autumn at Oz is their big event. You’ll need to purchase a ticket well in advance.
The park encourages participants to dress up and take part in the fun. Along the way are stations where you can get photos with your favorite characters.
The actors are great. They embody the characters and still have fun with a little improv.
Tips for Finding Local Fun
Think there’s nothing fun or unique to do where you live? Try a basic Google search for “weird my city”, or “weird my state”.
Every place has its own unique, fun things to do. It just takes a little ingenuity and an open mind to find them.
Be creative, and know that it may require a little driving. You can pair it with a bigger weekend trip to a great location.
You won’t know ahead of time if something is great or a bust. That’s part of the fun. Be ready to laugh at the “what IS this” moments.
Years ago, my friend and I checked out “The Devil’s Stomping Ground”. Several people talked about how great it was. When we arrived we just stared at each other. It was a not-so-perfect dirt circle used as a local campsite littered with beer cans. There was no mystical reason nothing grew in the center, just a campfire and a lot of alcohol. Still, we had to laugh and at least we can say we were there.