15 Best Day Trips from Raleigh, North Carolina

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The capital of the beautiful state of North Carolina, Raleigh has long been a verdant and green city with a dedication to preserving as many parks and trees as possible, which led to the nickname “The City of Oaks”. As a result, the city is a wonderful place to live, keeping in tone with the rolling forests that populate the state and attracting artists and performers who enjoy the natural touch among the urban surroundings.

Leaving the capital, however, you’ll find the wealth of national parks, mountains and coastal getaways that North Carolina is famous for. There’s also no shortage of quaint towns and settlements, each offering something new and exciting that you won’t find in Raleigh.

Let’s explore the best day trips from Raleigh:

1. Durham

Durham, North CarolinaSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

Only an hour away from the busy capital, you’ll find the peaceful town of Durham, home to some incredibly significant American history, cuisine and culture in equal measure.

One of the highlights is the Bennett Place State Historic Site which is bursting with historic monuments and structures dedicated to memorialising the last days of the Civil War.

It’s incredibly popular with history buffs and inquisitive visitors alike, and hosts re-enactments throughout the year to give an even more immersive experience.

You’ll also find a thriving art scene in Durham, spearheaded by the Nasher Museum, which is known for having a vast collection of over 10,000 pieces along with fascinating rotating exhibits.

2. Asheboro

North Carolina Zoo, AsheboroSource: JNix / shutterstock
North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro

The city of Asheboro offers a combination of activities that are perfect for family days out that will most definitely keep everyone entertained for hours.

First, head over to North Carolina Zoo which has a menagerie of over 1600 animals housed in meticulously planned habitats based on their regions of origin.

Prepare to be blown away by lions in the Africa habitat and grizzlies in the North America space and keep an eye out for special events that occur throughout the year, such as the chance to feed the animals.

For something a little more adventurous, day-trippers can also experience a heart-stopping flight through the trees at the Richland Creek Canopy Zipline Tour.

Including a stop at the breathtakingly beautiful Mendenhall Falls, this trip is the perfect adrenaline fuelled family day out.

3. Wilmington

Wilmington, North CarolinaSource: J. Bicking / shutterstock

Conveniently located only a couple of hours away from Raleigh you’ll find the gorgeous port city of Wilmington, home to numerous beach getaways like Wrightsville and other gems along the Cape Fear Coast.

If you don’t want to spend all day at the beach, there’s also a fascinating historic district where you can find the picturesque Riverwalk, a pretty route through downtown that’s lined with shops, restaurants and galleries.

Known for the quality of their dishes, the restaurants along Riverwalk are an ideal place to grab a bite before heading back to the capital.

4. Greensboro

Greensboro, North CarolinaSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

If you want a taste of Broadway outside of New York, then head over to North Carolina’s third largest city to catch a show.

Greensboro has long been hailed as the theatre capital of the state and it’s no surprise why.

A must-see venue is the acclaimed Triad Stage, putting on performances throughout the year and recognised nationwide as being a melting pot of talent.

Be sure to grab tickets early to avoid disappointment.

For something slightly less formal, try out the Barn Dinner Theatre which puts on concerts and theatre presentations.

5. Smithfield and Selma

Selma, North CarolinaSource: duckeesue / shutterstock

A mere hour to the southeast of Raleigh lies one of the state’s most revered foodie destinations, catering specifically to diehard barbecue enthusiasts.

The stretch of road connecting the two towns of Smithfield and Selma is the place to go to familiarise yourself with the mouthwatering delights of whole roasted hogs – prepared in Eastern NC fashion, of course.

Between the small-town charm of both Smithfield and Selma respectively, and the incredible food found at both, you’ll be hard-pressed to not visit once or twice more to get another taste.

6. Yadkin Valley

Yadkin ValleySource: Konstantin L / shutterstock
Yadkin Valley

North Carolina’s very own prime destination for world class wineries and vineyards, Yadkin Valley has a rich history of wine production that was started by Sir Walter Raleigh himself.

The Yadkin River, besides being stunningly beautiful, offers a unique microclimate in which to grow special varieties of grapes found nowhere else in the country.

Crowds of connoisseurs and day trippers alike can be found here throughout the year, enjoying not only the fine wine, but the vast range of other attractions including everything from hiking and musical performances to special events.

7. Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway, NCSource: TheBigMK / shutterstock
Blue Ridge Parkway

Boasting the impressive title of “America’s Favourite Drive”, it’s easy to see why so many people are infatuated with the 469-mile stretch of landscaped road known as Blue Ridge Parkway.

With absolutely gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the route is popular with motorists and cyclists alike, not to mention hikers who stop off at any one of the numerous checkpoints for challenging hikes or relaxing picnics.

Highlights include The Folk Art Center, exhibiting galleries and demonstrations of folk arts and crafts, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals detailing the region’s exciting mineral history.

8. The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore EstateSource: dnafoto50 / shutterstock
The Biltmore Estate

Found in the city of Asheville, the Biltmore Estate is an 8000-acre compound housing the famed Vanderbilt Mansion, officially the largest private home in the United States.

Boasting 250 rooms filled to the brim with artwork, vintage antiques and clothing, the mansion is partially accessible to visitors who want to explore the stupendously large estate.

The exterior of Biltmore is no less impressive, the highlights being the Italian Garden and the Rose Garden, both complete with opulent sculptures and ornate pools that you can wander around at your leisure.

9. Morehead Planetarium

Morehead PlanetariumSource: Bryan Pollard / shutterstock
Morehead Planetarium

At the prestigious university town of Chapel Hill lies the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, opened in 1949. Packed with every type of show, demonstration and talk imaginable, the Center is incredibly popular, having seen seven million people pass through the doors since it opened.

Expect over 15 planetary shows and experiences showcased throughout the year covering everything from black holes, astronaut training exhibits and celestial navigation.

10. Linville Gorge and Falls

Linville Gorge, North CarolinaSource: anthony heflin / shutterstock
Linville Gorge

Affectionately nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the East”, you can find Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest.

It can be reached from Blue Ridge Parkway and is an unmissable place if you happen to be passing by.

The highlight, however, is the view of Linville Falls that can be reached from several trailheads, all less than a couple of miles each.

The cascading Linville River is impossibly picturesque, flanked by steep rock walls and beautiful oak forests that turn gold in the fall.

Other highlights include a short hike to Duggers Creek Falls, Crabtree Falls and some truly breathtaking views from Table Rock Mountain.

11. Outer Banks

Corrola Beach, Outer Banks, North CarolinaSource: Patricia Camerota / shutterstock
Corrola Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Though you could easily spend a few days exploring the 200 miles of islands known as the Outer Banks, they also make for a perfect day trip.

Stunningly beautiful and peppered with charming towns, the coastal destination offers a wide variety of activities, from scenic drives to learning about lost colonies.

The Outer Banks Scenic Byway is a gorgeous drive that gives rise to some truly unforgettable sunsets and is a great way to get from place to place.

Along the way, you’ll find the fascinating Outer Banks History Centre and if you venture further afield to Roanoke Island, you can visit a living history museum to learn about the lost colony that once lived there.

12. Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State ParkSource: Alexey Rotanov / shutterstock
Chimney Rock State Park

One of the most majestic sights in the entire state, Chimney Rock State Park is home to an enormous 315-foot granite spire that attracts tourists from all over the country, who marvel at the imposing geological formation.

The park itself is full of moderate hiking trails up and down the mountain through the surrounding woodland, but the highlight is the spire.

Within the mountain itself is a 26-storey elevator that was built for ease of access and is a popular way to enjoy the spectacular views without working up a sweat.

13. Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather MountainSource: Cvandyke / shutterstock
Grandfather Mountain

Home to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a visit to Grandfather Mountain gives visitors the chance to ogle at not only incredible 360-degree mountain vistas, but also marvel at the amazing feat of human ingenuity that is the bridge itself.

Connecting two peaks, it’s a popular way to grab some great photo opportunities, combined with the heart-stopping sensation of being suspended high above the ground.

Hikes in the area can range from leisurely to challenging, but all will reward you with gorgeous panoramic views.

14. Battleship North Carolina

Battleship North CarolinaSource: David Byron Keener / shutterstock
Battleship North Carolina

Located in Wilmington and moored at Cape Fear River, the battleship is a day trip for those not only interested in the nation’s military prowess, but in historical feats of human and technological ingenuity.

The USS North Carolina was one of the first battleships commissioned to the American fleet that joined World War Two and she still stands proud to this day.

Visitors have the chance to wander the bowels of the ship and have close encounters with the intimidating guns above deck, a once in a lifetime experience that gives a rare insight into a tumultuous moment in history.

15. Cape Hatteras

Cape HatterasSource: anthony heflin / shutterstock
Cape Hatteras

Found in the Outer Banks Region, Cape Hatteras is famed for being a coastal preservation area, and the result is a thriving natural stretch of coast teeming with wildlife and gorgeous beaches that make an excellent getaway from the city.

From seal and turtle watching to scaling historic lighthouses, there is something for every beach lover at Cape Hatteras, both in winter and in summer.

15 Best Day Trips from Raleigh, North Carolina:

  • Durham
  • Asheboro
  • Wilmington
  • Greensboro
  • Smithfield and Selma
  • Yadkin Valley
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • The Biltmore Estate
  • Morehead Planetarium
  • Linville Gorge and Falls
  • Outer Banks
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Grandfather Mountain
  • Battleship North Carolina
  • Cape Hatteras