Ray with Todd Bryant

Free and cheap stuff to do this summer in North Carolina’s Border Belt

By Sarah Nagem and Ivey Schofield



The Fourth of July is behind us, but there are still plenty of long summer days ahead. And with the high cost of gas, groceries, and just about everything else, families in North Carolina’s Border Belt are probably looking for free or cheap activities to keep kids and adults entertained. 

Here, we compiled a list of some family-friendly, local activities in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties that won’t break the bank. 

Do you have a suggestion that’s not on the list? Let us know by emailing Sarah Nagem, editor of the Border Belt Independent, at sarahnagem@borderbelt.org

Bladen County

Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest: Explore the 890-acre forest, which has picnic facilities, driving paths and much more. New classes on Saturdays include guided hikes and the art and history of papermaking. Classes and general admissions are free. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  Located at 4803 Sweet Home Church Road, Elizabethtown. 

White Lake Water Park: Beat the heat and frolic among the water features, go down a water slide and laze by the pool at White Lake Water Park. If you wait until 3 p.m., admission is half price – $9 for guests taller than 4 feet, and $6 for shorter guests. The park also features a go-kart track and tent rentals, but it will cost you. Located at 192 N.C. 53, Elizabethtown. 

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Brown’s Creek Bike Park and Nature Trail: Lace up your sneakers or grab your bicycle and hit the nearly 13 miles of trails along Browns Creek. One user on the park’s Facebook page described it as the “best trail in coastal North Carolina.” Free admission and free parking. Located at 1992 E. Broad St., Elizabethtown. 

Columbus County

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Exhibits allow visitors of all ages to learn while enjoying nature. You can check out science experiments in the Investigate Lab, study animal and plant specimens, go on a Wildlife Walk and more. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Located at 415 S. Madison St., Whiteville.

Lake Waccamaw State Park: Walk along the seven miles of trails or venture out onto the 700-foot boardwalk to fish or watch the wildlife. Step out of the heat and into the visitors’ center, where local exhibits have information about local history. Admission is free. Park hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; the visitors’ center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Located at 1866 State Park Drive, Lake Waccamaw.

Fair Bluff Watermelon Festival: The annual festival is set for Saturday, July 30. Events include a watermelon eating contest, a duck race and a parade. Vendors and food trucks will be on site. Admission is free. Located on Riverside Drive, Fair Bluff.

Robeson County

Museum of the Southeast American Indian: Located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the museum tells the story of local American Indian tribes, including the Lumbees. Exhibits include a dugout yellow pine canoe that dates back to the 10th century and the history of the Battle of Hayes Pond, in which Native Americans pushed back the Ku Klux Klan in Robeson County in 1958. Admission is free. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Located at 1369 Old Main Road, Pembroke.

Lumber River State Park: Explore the Lumber River, which is designated by the National Park Service as a National Wild and Scenic River. Wander along the trails and relax at the picnic shelter. If you have a canoe or kayak, take a trip on the water. Hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Located at 2819 Princess Ann Road, Orrum. 

Luther Britt Park: If you want to enjoy the river without leaving Lumberton, you can run, walk or ride your bike along the trail at Luther Britt Park. The park also has a disc golf course, picnic shelters, a playground and more. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Located at 671 Branch Road, Lumberton. 

Scotland County

Downtown Laurinburg concert series: It’s not too late to check out the Hasty Realty Laurinburg After 5 concert series. The band New Local will perform at 6 p.m. Friday, July 22. The Tim Clark Band will perform at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12. Free. 

Bike Laurinburg: Grab your bike and explore Scotland County along a 147-mile route. Most of the bike-route system is paved and lightly traveled. 

James L. Morgan Recreation Complex: Play disc golf on an 18-hole course, cool off in a splash pad and lounge under the picnic shelters. The 53-acre park also has baseball/softball and soccer fields. Located at 1206 Turnpike Road, Laurinburg.  

Golden Knights Practice Center: Watch soldiers parachute out of planes at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport. The Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Teams uses the airport as its training center. Admission is free. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, but call ahead at 910-432-9464. Located at 15423 Airport Road, Maxton.