Go Ask Mom

Heading to the State Fair with kids? Some tips

What rides can I ride for free with my young child? Can I bring my own lunch? When is the best time to go? We have the answers to those questions and much more!

Posted Updated
NC State Fair Generic Photo
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

The N.C. State Fair is nearly here!

The big event opens Thursday and runs through Oct. 21 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. While a trip to the fair can be a costly one for families if you take in all the rides and indulge in the food and souvenirs, you can save a few dollars before Thursday by buying your tickets online now. There are savings for daily admission and ride tickets. Click here for all the details.

As you can imagine, I've got all kinds of fair coverage plans over the next couple of weeks. But first, I checked in with the fair this year for some general tips and information for parents who are bringing their kids. We've got tips for parents of young children, but you'll also find details about activities for families here with older kids too. Most are free with admission.

Thanks to the folks at the State Fair for sharing these tips with me:


I'll start off with the popular question first: Can parents of young children ride for free on some rides? The answer: Yes!

Cute kids at the N.C. State Fair on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.

The minimum height requirements for children’s rides are 36 inches tall. Parents can ride on all slides and merry-go rounds for free when accompanying a paying child who is 40 inches tall or shorter.

Other kiddie rides that children can enjoy are: Chopper Hopper, Circus Train, Cobra Coaster, Crazy Chopper, Dizzy Dragon, Fire Chief, Jalopy Junction, Kite Flyer, Lolli Swing, Looney Lagoon, Monster Truck, Quadzilla, Rainbow Rock, Rally Racer, Rockin Tug Boat, Ships Ahoy, Wacky Worm and Wiggle Wurm.

Strollers and wagons

There are stroller and child's wagon vendors set up near gates 1, 8, 9 and 10. All strollers and wagons are first come, first serve. The vendor will take a deposit of collateral such as cash, a driver's license or car keys.

Of course, you can bring your own stroller or wagon. See below.

What to bring

Parents can bring their own diaper and lunch bags, wagons, strollers, umbrellas and other personal items to the fair, just be aware that all baggage is subject to being searched at the gate for weapons, glass bottles, alcohol, drugs and other prohibited materials.


If an adult plans to take a child to a concert, know that everyone age two and older, or any child who will need to occupy a seat, will need a ticket.

Early morning

Fair officials encourage families with small children and school groups to come early and come on a weekday. Gates open at 8 a.m., exhibits open at 9 a.m. and the midway opens at 10 a.m. It’s a great time to enjoy the fairgrounds without the crowds. Also, try coming on the first Friday or Monday of the fair (Oct. 12 and 15 this year). These are historically two of the lowest-attended days of the fair.

Cute kids at the N.C. State Fair on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.
Check the schedule

You can pick up a daily schedule at any of the entrances and information booths. The schedule includes times and locations for all the events, including the free grounds acts. Also, look for daily bread baking demonstrations by Neomonde Bakery at the tent near Heritage Circle, musical performances daily at the church, and daily gardening demonstrations in the Flower and Garden Show.

Step right up and weigh in

As counterintuitive as it seems, many people like to weigh themselves in public at the State Fair, and not just at the Fool the Guesser games. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Division operates an officially calibrated scale in the Education Building where you can get a printed card with your weight on it. Some people like to weigh in the morning and then again at the end of the day after a few fair foods.

Educational exhibits
Check out the State Fair Ark for information on animal agriculture, the Field of Dreams exhibit for other agricultural commodities, the Village of Yesteryear and Heritage Circle for old-time crafts and household needs and the Cultivate a Career tent, great for teens, especially, for agricultural career information. Learn about bees in the Expo Building or about the state’s Christmas tree industry in Dorton Arena. The State Fair Scavenger Hunt, which can be found online here, will help visitors navigate around to all the exhibits.
Tap your feet, clap your hands

The Folk Festival is a celebration of traditional North Carolina music and dance. Some adult participants have been competing since they were youngsters, so there is a real feeling of family here. The music is spirited and the dancing is high-energy fun. Shows are daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the tent behind the Kerr Scott Building.

Fresh from the farm

Many visitors don’t live on farms, but the State Fair offers fairgoers lots of opportunities to see farm animals up close. The State Fair Ark in the Expo Center features a display of junior livestock grand champions, along with horses, mules, mini donkeys and baby chicks. Livestock competitions are held throughout the fair in the Graham Building and the Expo Center. It’s tempting and they are cute, but please no touching. New this year is a mobile dairy classroom that will be set up near the Expo Center for daily milking demonstrations. The traveling milking parlor, operated by Southwest Dairy Farmers, will include information on the modern milking process, cow anatomy and the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.

A Boer goat at the N.C. State Fair on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.
Click here for the fair's new rules on interactions with animals at the fair. The changes were prompted after 25 visitors to the 2011 fair were sickened by E. coli. Among the recommendations to stay healthy, Wake County Community Health Director Sue Lynn Ledford recommends that parents leave strollers outside buildings with animals.
Public transportation can take the hassle out of parking at the fair. Those coming from north Raleigh will notice a new park-and-ride location this year. The new North Raleigh CAT bus will leave from the former Westinghouse Building at 2728 Capital Blvd., Raleigh. There will no longer be a park-and-ride location on Wake Forest Road. Additional park and ride locations can be found in Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Raleigh and RTP. Click here for details.
Food Lion Hunger Relief Day

Food Lion Hunger Relief Day is Thursday, Oct. 18. Four cans of Food Lion-brand food will get you free gate admission all day. All collected cans will be donated to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. This year, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has issued a challenge to fairgoers. If fairgoers break the 2010 record of 247,569 pounds of canned food, the fair will donate $1,000 to the food bank. If collections top 275,000 pounds, the fair will kick in $2,500. And if collections reach 300,000 pounds, the fair will donate $5,000 to the food bank.

Subway Youth Celebration Day

School groups and youth organizations can enjoy the expanded offerings planned for Subway Youth Celebration Day Monday, Oct. 15. With smaller crowds and less traffic, the day is ideal for school and youth groups looking to enjoy the fair at a slower pace.

Subway will pass out coupons to all attendees at the gate. In addition, kids can stop by the Field of Dreams to pick up a free GrowUms gardening kit while supplies last. Activities are planned across the fairgrounds, but will be centered on the Kitchen Craft Waterfall Stage starting at noon. The entertainment lineup includes music, FFA speakers, Zumba dancing and the Animal Olympics presented by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

And if you're there on Monday, be sure to drop by the WRAL News tent next to Dorton Arena! I'll be there from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

I hope to see you there!

Related Topics

Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.