20 Best Day Trips from Raleigh, North Carolina
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29th Jan | 14 min read

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    While the city of Raleigh has long had a reputation for being a lush green city, it acquired the nickname “The City of Oaks” due to its devotion to preserving as many parks and trees as possible. Because of this, the city provides a nice place to live, in keeping with the state's rolling forests, and is a magnet for artists and performers who appreciate the feel of the natural world in the midst of the city.

    When you leave the state capital, you'll discover North Carolina's natural wealth, consisting of several national parks, mountains, and coastline. Aside from being a bustling city with much to offer, Raleigh also has several neighboring charming towns and communities to visit and each one of these destinations offer something exciting and different that you don't want to miss. To make planning for you trip easier, we have compiled a list of the best day trips from Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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    1. Wilmington

    Drive time: 2 hours

    Rich in historical landmarks, fun breweries, speakeasies, galleries, museums, and wine bars, the downtown area of Wilmington, North Carolina, is one of the oldest cities on the East Coast. 

    The National Register Historic District is one of the many attractions in Wilmington. It contains 230 blocks of churches, ornate Victorian buildings, live oak trees draped in moss, brick-lined streets, and old residences. If you enjoy live music, theater, and art museums, mark your calendar for the North Carolina Azalea Festival in April, when the entire world sees how proud the people of the South are of their Southern culture and arts.

    You can visit Wrightsville Beach, which is known as a water sports hub and one of the top surfing destinations in the world. Another great attraction is the famous World War II Battleship  North Carolina, which is on the list of USA Today's Best North Carolina Attractions.

    Discover the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, which is nationally renowned as one of the nation's best seaside boardwalks. View exhibits, cannons, artifacts, and the ruins of the South's largest earthen fort and the site of the Civil War's largest land-sea battle at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Kure Beach. North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is also one of the most popular attractions in the state.

    2. Wrightsville Beach

    Drive time: 2 hours

    With the spectacular shoreline, relaxing beach atmosphere, surfing scene, delicious seafood, and jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets, you've got a day of paradise just waiting for you on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

    Wrightsville Beach is rated as North Carolina's top beach location because of the sheer amount of activities available. Besides shopping and water sports, Wrightsville Beach has beautiful harbor tours, opportunities for sailing the Intracoastal Waterway, and deep-sea fishing. Activities such as SCUBA diving, paddleboarding, surfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, and more are all accessible. The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History offers exhibits and self-guided walking tours that give visitors a glimpse of the island's history of 100 years. Those who value nature and scenery will enjoy birding or running the Loop fitness track.

    3. Durham

    Drive time: 30-40 minutes

    Durham is a lively city, providing a variety of sports, historical, artistic, and community-focused activities. Durham has gone through huge transformations over time. In its place, a trendy entertainment area has replaced industrial tobacco plants.

    Once at Durham, visit Duke University Chapel and explore the beautiful campus. Visit The Nasher Museum of Art, where you will find galleries of Meso-American art, pre-Columbian, classical paintings and sculptures, African masks, contemporary art, photography, and more.

    The Sarah P. Duke Gardens is also considered one of the gems of Durhem owing to its magnificent garden displays, which are regarded as some of the best in the country.

    The American Tobacco Campus is a vibrant part of downtown Durham, featuring restaurants, green space, water features, sports cages, and entertainment. The former Lucky Strike cigarette factory complex is now a popular destination for locals and tourists. Visitors may get a bite to eat and watch a baseball game or play basketball on the playing court at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, or just relax in nature and enjoy some peace and tranquility. 

    The Eno River is a popular fishing, kayaking, and sightseeing location for locals and tourists. The river runs through woods, hills, and a mill historically important to the community. For the adventure junkies, go hiking at Cox Mountain.

    Duke Homestead State Historic Site, The Carolina Theatre, Stagville State Historic Site, Museum of Life & Science and Bennett Place State Historic Site are also some of the most popular attractions of Durhem. 

    4. Asheboro

    Drive time: Around 1 hr 30 min 

    Every explorer will find something to do at Asheboro's many attractions. 

    Start off by visiting the North Carolina Zoo, which will allow you to see about 1600 kinds of animals in beautifully crafted habitats that have been created based on their natural environment. In the Africa habitat, prepare to be absolutely stunned by the presence of lions, and also be on the lookout for grizzlies in the North America habitat. 

    Richland Creek Canopy Zipline Tour is another alternative for day-trippers, which allows tourists to get their adrenaline fix while soaring over the trees of the forest. 

    It is also recommended to pay a visit to Mendenhall Falls, which has a magnificent waterfall.

    5. Greensboro

    Drive time: Around 1 hr 16 min 

    Greensboro is North Carolina's third biggest city. This city, formerly renowned for its textiles and blue-collar employees, is now one of the country's most dynamic cities, thanks to new stadiums, parks, and sports venues. Also known as the theatre capital of the state, Greensboro is a great place to enjoy shows, concerts and theatre presentations. The Barn Dinner Theatre and Triad Stage are must-visits if you are into theatre performances. 

    Head to The Greensboro Science Center to spot animals such as pandas and fish like sharks. The American Revolution-related exhibits may be seen in the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Go for a stroll and stop and admire birds and flowers at The Bog Garden.  

    You can also visit the Greensboro History Museum, experience 17 acres of lush green gardenscape with all sorts of different plants at The Arboretum or visit the The Pig Pounder Brewery to enjoy some varieties of genuine British brews of beer.

    6. Winston-Salem

    Drive time: Around 1 hr 38 min

    Winston-Salem is an incredible day trip idea from Raleigh due to its diverse attractions such as museums, breweries, restaurants, art galleries, quirky stores and outdoor activities. While you're there, you can take some time to visit the Yadkin Valley next door, which is home to over 40 wineries.

    Winston-Salem, also called "Camel City" after the world-famous cigarette brand, is also a town that was founded on tobacco. 

    You can also visit Reynolda House and Village or stroll around the Downtown Arts District to see quirky boutiques and public art. 

    Tanglewood Park is one of the most popular locations in Winston-Salem from November through New Year's Day. Dazzling snowflakes, brilliant wreaths, and winter sceneries may be seen throughout the path through the park. There are approximately one million lights spread over nearly one mile of road you drive across on the 5-mile path.

    7. Chimney Rock State Park

    Drive time: 4 hr

    A magnificent 315-foot granite spire sits majestically in the state park, attracting visitors from all over the country to marvel at the picturesque formation. A 26-story elevator was built within the mountain for easy access for people who don't want to break a sweat but still want to enjoy the amazing views.

    The park itself has a number of moderate hiking trails that wind their way up and down the mountain and through the surrounding woodland, satisfying the adventure seeker's thirst.

    Visiting Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina gives you a chance to get close to nature. Picnicking and hiking possibilities abound at Chimney Rock Access. The trails lead to the top of Chimney Rock Mountain and the brink of Hickory Nut Falls, and range in difficulty from easy to moderate to suit all fitness levels. You can also browse through the souvenir stores on site. 

    8. Grandfather Mountain

    Drive time: Around 3 hr 45 min

    Many visitors come to Grandfather Mountain to take in the 360-degree mountain views and to marvel at the incredible feat of human engineering that is the Mile High Swinging Bridge. For others, it is a place to relax and unwind. 

    There is a bridge that connects two mountain summits, and it is a popular photo location for those who want to capture the excitement of being so high above the ground. 

    Hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty are available in the area, all of which are scenic and rewarding.

    9. Cape Hatteras

    Drive time: Around 4 hr 10 min

    Cape Hatteras, located in the Outer Banks Region, is famous for being a coastal preservation region, resulting in a flourishing natural stretch of coastline rich with wildlife and beautiful beaches that offer a great escape from the city. Go Beach Walking, Kite Flying or enjoy Beach Fires, which is allowed during certain times of the year.

    From seal and turtle viewing to climbing historic lighthouses, Cape Hatteras has something for every beach lover throughout the year. Four campsites dot the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, offering visitors an intimate experience of the barrier islands. 

    If you want to spot some wildlife, then head to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

    You can visit the Gingerbread House Bakery in Frisco, North Carolina, located 5 minutes south of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, for some mouth watering made-from-scratch baked goods and gourmet pizza on Hatteras Island. Go to Hatteras Sol Waterside Grill to enjoy breathtaking scenery. Eating on the deck with the salty sea air blowing in your face, and the occasional live music in the background is one of the great pleasures of dining here.

    10. Yadkin Valley

    Drive time: 3 hr

    With a winemaking history that dates back to the time of Sir Walter Raleigh, the Yadkin Valley has emerged as North Carolina's top winery destination. 

    The natural magnificence of the Yadkin River, combined with its unique microclimate, creates an ideal growing environment for grapes that can only be found in North Carolina. 

    Visitors to this area, including wine enthusiasts and day-trippers, may be found all year long, which is highly expected, given the variety of activities available, including hiking, musical performances, and special events.

    11. Blue Ridge Parkway

    Drive time: 4 hr 45 min

    There is no doubt that the majority of people who drive along the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway will be highly impressed with the well-deserved title of America's favorite drive.

    With numerous scenic overlooks, places for roadside picnics, spectacular mountain views, easy to difficult hiking trails, and a respite from commercialism, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders north and south from Asheville. The route is frequented by both motorists and cyclists as well as hikers who stop by  for rewarding hikes or nice picnics along the way and embrace the stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

    Visitors can look forward to discovering a host of new highlights when they visit the museum, including the The Folk Art Center and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, which presents the exciting history of minerals from the region.

    12. Chapel Hill

    Drive time: 40 mins

    Located just outside of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has a long history dating back to its establishment in 1793, which is when the university was founded. 

    While at Chapel hill, visit The North Carolina Botanical Garden, located on the University of North Carolina campus. It is a public conservation garden that is free of charge. The gardens here are spectacular. They have a diverse plant and flower palette that features plants and flowers native to the Southeast. 

    The Ackland Art Museum, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and the North Carolina Botanical Garden are only some of the numerous attractions in this beautiful area. 

    Head to Franklin Street, a historic neighborhood that has become known as a destination for foodies, and explore  shops, restaurants and bars.There are approximately 200 restaurants and bars located here. 

    13. Hanging Rock State Park

    Drive time: 2 hrs

    The Hanging Rock State Park dates back to the 1930s and has a variety of facilities including 73 site campsites, picnic areas, a lake with swimming and canoe rental facilities, and over 20 miles of hiking trails that connect the majestic views on top of the Rock with a scenic river and waterfall down below. 

    You can also go boating, biking, and rock climbing. However, keep in mind that permits are required. An extensive selection of rental cottages are also available for longer stays. 

    Gain an educational experience by participating in an interpretive program and discover something new about the wonders of nature. Tucked into the highlands of the mountains, a mountain lake tempts swimmers and fishermen, which is something you may want to visit.

    14. Linville Gorge and Falls

    Drive time: 4 hrs

    The Linville Gorge, located in the eastern U.S., is known as the Grand Canyon of the East. The surrounding Linville Gorge Wilderness Area lends it its scenic backdrop. Also called the Saguaro National Park Preserve, the 12,000 acre preserve was one of the first protected by the 1964 National Wilderness Act. The Linville River originates at the base of the gorge and runs for 12 miles along the canyon's narrow walls before flowing into Lake James. Linville Falls, a 90-foot waterfall, can be seen from the overlook at the visitor center on the Erwins View Trail, which is a short distance from the parking lot. Whether you prefer hiking, backpacking, or climbing, there are many miles of trails here for you to enjoy. Look around and be awed by the gorgeous scenery of this ancient, forested mountain range that is tucked away in the southern Appalachians.

    15. Outer Banks

    Drive Time: Around  3 hr 36 min

    Outer Banks is an excellent choice for a beach day trip from Raleigh. In addition to visiting the Outer Banks to see the wild horses, you can do a two-hour tour of the Outer Banks and learn more about the area's history while you're there. Magnificent horses run free in this breathtaking location. You can also explore the Outer Banks by renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle and experiencing highlights such as Carova Beach and Currituck Beach. You might even be able to spot some dolphins at the beach. 

    16. Biltmore Estate

    Drive Time: Around 3 hr 43 min

    While being only four hours away, Biltmore Estate is a great day trip option from Raleigh. The Biltmore Estate, with over 250 rooms, provides a luxurious retreat for all. Choose from a variety of fun activities while you're here. Immerse yourself in the lush greenery of the 8000-acre backyard, while taking in the impressive mountain and tree views. Try some of the handcrafted wines made in their own winery.  Be spellbound by the vivid colors of their magnificent flower garden. 

    17. Pilot mountain

    Drive Time: 2 hours

    Pilot Mountain is a 2,000-foot summit in North Carolina that offers views of the Blue Ridge and Sauratown Mountains. Hiking, picnicking at the campgrounds, and canoeing, kayaking, or swimming along the Yadkin River are all available in the state park that surrounds the mountain. Tubing, fishing, and hiking at Jessup Mill, zipline adventures at Carolina Ziplines, trail riding at the Bregman stables, and golfing at Pilot Knob Park are all options for outdoor recreation in the area. Visit the Jolo Winery and Vineyards, or go shopping and dining in downtown Pilot Mountain.

    18. North Carolina Botanical Garden

    Drive Time: Around 35 mins

    When it comes to environmental protection, the North Carolina Botanical Garden doesn't hold back. The garden's goal is to improve the relationship between people and nature by nourishing native plants. North Carolina's unique botanical legacy houses over 1,100 acres of gardens.Endangered and rare plant species are protected, and programs designed to raise awareness and inspire future generations of garden enthusiasts help in conserving these species. Wildflowers, carnivorous plants, and pollinator gardens are among the display gardens. The botanical gardens protect nearly 90 acres of North Carolina forest, which can be accessed via three miles of hiking trails.  The Garden's Educational Center contains a library, an art gallery, and a garden shop, and happens to be the state's first LEED platinum building, and it is located on the grounds of the Garden.

    19. Pinehurst

    Drive Time: 1 hr 16 min

    The village of Pinehurst was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1996 for its significant role in the development of American golf and its landscape architecture plan.

    Visit the Given Memorial Library & Tufts Archives for one of the most comprehensive looks back at the history of Pinehurst, NC. Drop by the old golf shop to learn some history of Pinehurst, as well as lots of golf history.

    20. Lake Norman 

    Drive Time: Around 2 hr 32 min

    Lake Norman is a beautiful destination to visit at any time of the year, whether it's for a short vacation or a longer stay. Travel the area's popular main streets, where you will find a collection of unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, or enjoy beautiful surroundings by participating in recreational activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, or biking. Lake Norman is North Carolina's largest man-made lake, and whether you're seeking a tranquil retreat or an adventure in the great outdoors, there is something for everyone to enjoy here.

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