State-owned properties top list of most-visited N.C. attractions

Everett Robbins of Asheboro at the underwater touch and learn area at the Ft. Fisher Aquarium at Kure Beach, N.C. | North State Journal

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources continues to be the dominant player in museums and attractions as state-owned attractions continue to rank among the most visited in the state, according to an annual survey of N.C. museums and historic attractions released by Carolina Publishing and Associates. Four of the top five most-visited sites in 2017, and 15 of the 30 total sites in the annual ranking, are managed by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

“I am delighted to see that our department’s amazing resources continue to be among the most popular places for people to visit in North Carolina year after year,” said DNCR Secretary Susi H. Hamilton. “Many of our sites achieved record visitation numbers in 2017. This achievement shows that nature, arts and history are important to our citizens and visitors to our state, and that they are also vital economic drivers for our local communities. I’m so proud of our outstanding staff for providing the exceptional programs and exhibits that keep visitors engaged and excited.

The globe feature at the N.C. Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, N.C. | N.C. Dept. of Environment

The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh was the most visited attraction in the state, with 946,486 visitors in 2017 — marking the fourth year in a row that the Jones Street attraction has topped the list. Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach was the second most visited attraction, with 896,682 visitors. Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Kure Beach ranked third in the survey with 871,676 visitors. The N.C. Zoo in Asheboro — which is the top site on the list that requires paid tickets for most visitors — took the fourth spot with 860,148 visitors in 2017.

State-owned attractions from as far west as Chimney Rock State Park to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head were included on the list.

“I have been fortunate to visit many of these sites during my first year as secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and I never cease to be amazed at the incredible educational resources, outstanding special events, and everyday opportunities for fun and family togetherness that they each provide,” said Hamilton.

Discovery Place in Charlotte, rounded out the top-five with 715,453 visitors in 2017. Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh came in at No. 6 with 690,629 visitors. The N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh (seventh), N.C. Museum of Life and Science in Durham (eighth), N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh (ninth) and N.C. Arboretum in Asheville (10th) completed the top-10 attractions in the survey.

The 2017 survey is the 14th annual ranking. Biltmore, located in Asheville, no longer reports attendance totals, and are not included in the survey. However, the largest private home in America consistently touts having more than 1 million visitors each year, which would make it the state’s top attraction if it were included.

The remaining sites listed on the survey were: 11. Greensboro Science Center, Greensboro, 434,718. 12. Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devils Hill, 413,387. 13. North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, Pine Knoll Shoes, 390,012. 14. NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island, Manteo, 306,376. 15. Grandfather Mountain, Linville, 287,611. 16. Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington, 286,772. 17. NC Maritime Museums, Beaufort, Hatteras, Southport, 279,985. 18. NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Kure Beach, 275,166. 19. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Manteo, 274,981. 20. Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock, 253,715.

21. Tryon Palace, New Bern, 249,233. 22. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Belmont, 215,233. 23. Old Salem Museums and Gardens, Winston-Salem, 204,601. 24. Kaleideum, Winston-Salem, 189,134. 25. Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, Gastonia, 185,577. 26. Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, 179,329. 27. Linville Caverns, Marion, 177,642. 28. Cherokee Cultural Attractions, Cherokee, 161,146. 29. NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, 157,186. 30. N.C. Transportation Museum, Spencer, 143,282.