Jacksonville is located on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina in Onslow County, just north of the major port of Wilmington. The city has a large military presence as it is home to the United States Marine Corps' Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. These two bases also help make Jacksonville the youngest city in the U.S., with residents having an average age of just 22.9 years, according to the 2008 census. You and your family can take advantage of this young population, as Jacksonville and the surrounding area boasts many outdoor activities and attractions that sporting families will enjoy.
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Lynwood Park Zoo
The Lynwood Park Zoo opened in 1994 and is open Friday to Monday every week, as of 2010, though you can schedule visits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday if you call ahead. Walk around yourself, enjoying the animals, or reserve a guided safari tour with one of the experienced zoo staff. Animals at the zoo include birds, such as emu and parrots; alligators; and mammals;from wild cats and prairie dogs to domesticated species like donkeys and goats. The zoo is five miles from downtown Jacksonville on Highway 24/258 heading towards Richlands.
The Jacskonville City to Sea cycling route is a bike trail popular with families and experienced cyclists alike. The trail is 21 miles long, which is too far for younger children, but the route is flat and teenagers will enjoy the sense of achievement in making it to Hammocks Beach State Park. Maps are available online from the Onslow County Parks & Recreation Department. The journey stays away from major roads, making it a safe trip too, though children under 16 must wear bike helmets in Onslow County and adults should wear them, too, for their own safety. If you haven't brought your bicycles, you can rent.
Horseback riding is a great outdoor pastime for the whole family and one that children of all ages can enjoy. Equine Country USA is an equestrian center located four miles outside of Jacksonville on the way to Richlands. You can take a trail ride through the North Carolina woods with one of their guides, either on your own horse or one from the center, or take a lesson at their facility. Very young children or anyone who is nervous about riding might prefer to take a carriage ride on the same trail. Most weekends, Equine Country holds events with displays of dressage and showjumping, including competitions that are open for anyone to enter.
Onslow Pines Park
Onslow Pines Park near downtown Jacksonville has attractions for everyone, from the youngest toddlers to their grandparents. Children can enjoy games on the baseball fields and basketball courts or try out new sports like beach volleyball. Take along a picnic to eat in one of the designated areas or find your own spot in the forest. The whole family can follow the short nature trail around the park while the youngest children can burn off some energy on the play park which features swings, slides and roundabouts. As of fall 2010, Onslow Pines Park is open all year round, until 10 p.m. in summer, and parking for 300 vehicles is available.
Teenagers and older children will enjoy spending an afternoon at Southwest Paintball in Jacksonville. The center is open at weekends for group or individual bookings. Anyone over 8 can play, though if you are under 16 you will need a parent's permission. You can choose from one of three courses: urban combat, woods or one constructed from inflatables. Staff at the center will enforce rules for everyone's safety, so follow their instructions closely rather than risk having your session ended early. Southwest Paintball will provide all equipment needed, including safety goggles.