Raleigh Summer Bucket List: Your Guide to Family Fun

Amy Hartle

Summer is an awesome time of year for family fun, and the Triangle area is the perfect place to have that summer fun. From splash pads to parks, lakes to farms, there is so much to fill your summer.

So why not check off your own Raleigh summer bucket list as a family? You can print the one I’ve created below, plus add your own ideas. See how many activities you can check off before Labor Day!

Our Raleigh summer guide below provides all the information you’ll need to complete this family bucket list.

Raleigh Family Summer Bucket List

Cool Off: Water Fun in Raleigh + the Triangle

Having fun in the water is a major part of summer. Fortunately there are lots of places in the region for swimming, splashing, and soaking.

Splash Pads

Does anything say summer fun more than a splash pad? The Triangle is home to roughly a dozen of these splash pads/spray grounds, and they are an ideal way to beat the heat. Check out our guide to the Triangle area’s splash pads.

Swimming Spots

Here are just a few of the best places to swim in the Triangle area:

Jordan Lake: Just a short drive from Raleigh, Jordan Lake offers expansive swimming areas with beautiful sandy beaches. It’s an ideal spot for a family day out, complete with picnic areas and scenic trails.

Falls Lake: Another great natural option, Falls Lake has several designated swimming areas. Enjoy the serene environment and clear waters, perfect for a relaxing swim or a splash-filled day with the kids.

Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center: This indoor facility features a lazy river, water slides, and a vortex pool. It’s a hit with kids and provides year-round swimming fun regardless of the weather. We love this place! Check out our video here.

Morrisville Aquatic Center: Located in Morrisville, this spot offers not just a lap pool and a play pool, but it has a terrific colorful splash ground for young kids. See more in our video here.

Fantasy Lake Adventure Park

If you want swimming combined with an epic adventure, Fantasy Lake Adventure Park is a must-do. Located in Wake Forest, this is a massive inflatable water park that any kid would love to visit. And to be honest, probably most adults!

Summer Eats

Summer foods belong on any seasonal bucket list. Hot dogs, popsicles, ice cream, BBQ, watermelon. The list goes on. While you can find these items in abundance throughout the Triangle, here are a few spots I recommend.

Ice Cream

There are a lot of great spots for ice cream in the Triangle, but I want to highlight two must-visit ice cream destinations that promise delicious treats and memorable experiences. Both have the bonus of a pretty farm setting in addition to delicious ice cream.

Howling Cow Creamery: Located on the NC State University campus in Raleigh, Howling Cow Creamery is a beloved local treasure. Known for its rich, creamy ice cream made from milk produced by the university’s own dairy cows which you can spot during your visit), Howling Cow offers a genuine farm-to-cone experience.

Maple View Farm Ice Cream: Maple View Farm Ice Cream in Hillsborough provides a picturesque setting for a family outing. This farm is renowned for its creamy, homemade ice cream crafted from fresh milk sourced directly from their dairy cows. The farm offers a wide range of flavors, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Families can enjoy their ice cream on the beautiful front porch, which overlooks the rolling hills and scenic farmland.

More popular ice cream shops to try:


I don’t claim to be a BBQ expert. In fact, I’m mostly there for the sides. But having NC BBQ is a great summer must. Some popular spots to grab BBQ in this region include The Pit in Raleigh, Picnic in Durham, and Lawrence Barbecue in Durham. Check out more NC barbecue spots in this guide from our friends Carl and Christina at NC Tripping.


I’ve become officially addicted to Sodabox, a family-owned soda shop with several locations around the Triangle. On a hot day, their soda and fruit combinations SLAY. I highly recommend adding a stop at Sodabox to your Raleigh bucket list for summertime.

Outdoor Summer Adventures

Family friendly activities around the Triangle can be found in abundance. But there’s something special about a North Carolina summer. These summer bucket list items are ones not to miss.

Dorothea Dix Sunflowers

Every summer, Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh transforms into a sea of vibrant yellow sunflowers, creating a breathtaking view that attracts families from all over. The Sunflower Field is a perfect spot for a summer day outing as well as a fantastic opportunity for family photos. The park also offers walking trails, picnic areas, and stunning views of the Raleigh skyline. The best time to visit is usually in July when the flowers are at their peak.

Boat Rental

Exploring the Triangle’s waterways by boat is a fantastic way to spend a summer day. Lake Johnson, Jordan Lake, and Falls Lake are among a few options in the area offering boat rental services where you can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and more.

Lake Crabtree offers free boat rentals on weekends and holidays. Rentals are free for 2 hours and are first-come, first-serve.


The Triangle is home to numerous hiking trails that cater to all skill levels. Umstead State Park offers miles of trails through lush forests, perfect for a family hike. The Eno River State Park in Durham features trails that wind along the river, with plenty of spots for kids to splash and explore. The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area provides more challenging hikes with rewarding views from the summit.


Fishing is a timeless summer activity that kids and adults alike can enjoy. The Triangle area offers many great fishing spots. Falls Lake and Jordan Lake are popular choices, with ample opportunities to catch bass, catfish, and crappie. Lake Crabtree County Park also offers fishing piers and plenty of shoreline access. Don’t forget to check local regulations and make sure you have a fishing license if required.


Camping is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the beauty of North Carolina’s great outdoors. There are several family-friendly camping sites in the Triangle, including William B. Umstead State Park, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, and Falls Lake Recreation Area. These sites offer a range of amenities from basic tent sites to sites with water and electric hookups. Camping gives families the chance to to unplug, bond around the campfire, and enjoy activities like hiking, fishing, and stargazing. Don’t forget the marshmallows!

Picking Fruit

Fruit picking is a delightful summer activity that combines fun with a bit of farm-to-table education. In the Triangle area, you can find several farms offering pick-your-own fruit experiences. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and peaches are typically in season during the summer months. Kids will love the hands-on experience of picking their own fruit, and you can take home fresh, delicious produce. It’s a sweet way to spend a summer day and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor.

Classic Summer Fun

Here are some more summer activities that are very traditional and fun: perfect for families.

4th of July Fireworks and Events in the Triangle

Celebrate Independence Day in the region by attending a fireworks display. There are so many of these to choose from, plus loads of other festive celebrations, including parades, festivals, and more. Check out our whole 2024 Independence Day Guide here.

Outdoor Concerts

When the sun starts to go down, families often head out of doors to listen to some live music. There are many places offering free outdoor concerts throughout the summer, usually with food trucks and other amenities, too. I share events like these every week in my Weekend Family Fun calendar, so check there for the latest.

Farmers Markets

Nearly every town in the Triangle offers a Saturday morning farmers market. These aren’t just for shopping for locally-made products, they’re also super family-friendly events.

Attend a Durham Bulls Game

Going to a baseball game is 100% classic summer fun. The Durham Bulls are a minor league team in the area that are kind of a big deal, and their games are a blast. Check their schedule to see when the next home game is, and get ready for some fun.

Indoor Explorations

Inevitably, the hottest part of the summer will arrive, and I don’t know about you, but you’ll find me and mine mostly indoors. Here are some top spots to hang out when the Carolina sunshine is just *too* intense.

Marbles Kids Museum

A Raleigh kids bucket list location. This epic museum for children offers several floors of fun and exploration. It’s also reasonably priced!

Free + Cheap Movies

In the summer, many local theatres offer free or greatly reduced movie showings. Check out this list of Summer Kids Movies in the Triangle to find what’s playing near you.

Free Museums

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Get yer learnin’ on! These museums around the Triangle offer free admission. Certain attractions, however, may have a cost.

  • Morehead Planetarium and Science Center: 250 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
  • Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University: 2001 Campus Dr, Durham, NC 27705
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: 11 W Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601
  • City of Raleigh Museum (COR Museum): 220 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Indoor Playgrounds

Cub House Playhouse in Clayton

Without a doubt, the Triangle’s indoor playgrounds are a GREAT place to be, especially on a scorching summer afternoon. There are more than 30 of these spaces in the region, so you have your pick. Where you choose to go will depend on kids’ ages, location, and more. Head to my guide to Triangle Indoor Playgrounds to pick your next destination!

PS: In the event you end up at an outdoor playground, you’re going to want a shady one. I got ya. Here’s a list of those, with more being added all the time.

Hit the Beach

Ask anyone what they love about living in the Triangle, and you’ll often hear “it’s halfway between the mountains and the beach!” While that may be stretching the truth a little bit, you truly can be at the ocean in only 2 hours.

Some of the closest beaches to Raleigh include Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Emerald Isle, and Topsail Beach. All of these are under 3 hours from Raleigh, and there are MANY more options around 3 hours away.

Summer Day Trips

Sometimes, a day trip is exactly what your family needs to shake up a summer day. You could definitely do a day trip to one of the closest beaches (see above), but here are some other excellent ideas:

Even More Summer Activities in Raleigh

If you’ve crossed off all of the above Raleigh summer bucket list ideas, here are even more possibilities.

Scavenger Hunt

Here’s something unique: go on a scavenger hunt! Triangle Treasure Hunt offers family-friendly scavenger hunts in Raleigh, Durham, Apex, and Cary. Check their calendar to see when their next event is coming up!

Head to a Family Friendly Brewery

While breweries aren’t always designed to be family friendly, some spots know that we parents sometimes want to have a drink while our kids play! We’re still checking out these spots, but members of our Facebook group have suggested the following breweries as being good for families:

  • Hi Wire Brewing – Durham
  • Blackbird Brewing – Wake Forest
  • Oak City Brewing Company – Knightdale
  • Mason Jar Lager Co – Fuquay-Varina

Summer Events and Festivals

There’s ALWAYS something going on in the Triangle! I include every family-friendly event I find in my weekend calendar, and I also share events regularly on Instagram.

Summer Camps

Finally, summer camps are a fine way for kids to keep busy in the Triangle. I am working on creating a list of these for the site, but frankly there are HUNDREDS of camps available. Your best bet is to contact spots directly, look at parks and rec websites for the local towns, and ask in Facebook groups.