Raleigh is North Carolina’s capital city and a great home base from which to explore the rest of the state. The southern metropolis is home to a diverse cultural community, music, sports and art festivals, and a rich history. Raleigh’s central location makes exploring North Carolina, from the Atlantic coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains, easy and accessible. Take a drive to the beaches of the outer banks, explore the peaks of the Sauratown Mountains, or enjoy the North Carolina wine country to the northwest.
1. Mayberry - Mount Airy
Mayberry RFD was a fictional television show that ran from 1968 through 1971. Andy Griffith, the American actor who played the show’s beloved main character, grew up in Mount Airy, North Carolina, a town not unlike Mayberry. Stroll through Main Street and you’ll be reminded of the Andy Griffith Show, with its small town charm. Visit the Old Mayberry Jail, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Snappy Lunch, and Andy Griffith’s childhood home. The Andy Griffith Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Griffith memorabilia, and is located next door to the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Once Mount Airy’s first public school, the 1920’s building is now home to art camps, theater productions, live music and acting classes.
Mount Airy, NC
2. New Bern
Located along the Neuse River just minutes from the Atlantic coast, New Bern was North Carolina’s first state capital. Explore over 300 years of history in New Bern from Civil War battlefields and historic cemeteries, to historic homes. The Tyron Palace and Gardens is home to the 65 million dollar North Carolina History Center. Once the Governor’s palace, the living museum is now staffed by costumed guides and includes historic homes, interpretative displays, and stunning manicured gardens. New Bern has the distinction of being the birthplace of Pepsi. The drink was first mixed in 1893 at Bradham’s Drug Store. Visit the Birthplace of Pepsi Store in New Bern’s historic downtown.
New Bern, NC
3. Outer Banks
The Outer Banks of North Carolina mark the site where early Europeans first tried to settle on the New World’s shores. Today, they are home to the first stretch of National Seashore, state parks, miles of beaches, and several charming and friendly small towns. Historic attractions include the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Cape Hatteras’ brick lighthouse, and the Fort Raleigh Historic Site, home to the first English colony in the New World. Enjoy the water with fishing, boating, surfing and swimming. On land, enjoy hiking, off-road driving, and wildlife viewing in the great outdoors. Visit the many art galleries, shops, and restaurants in each town from Hatteras Island to the south, to Duck towards the north.
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Asheboro is a small town in central North Carolina. Asheboro’s charming downtown Main Street is home to several local shops and restaurants, art galleries, and the historic Sunset Theater. The theater, which first opened as a movie theater in 1930 is know owned by the city and host to plays, movies and musical performances. Area attractions include the North Carolina Zoo, a natural-habitat zoo with animals from Africa and North America. Richland Creek Zipline Tours offer 1.5 miles of rides above the Uwharrie Mountains and stop at Richland Creek’s Mendenhall Falls. At the nearby Routh Horse Ranch visitors can take trail rides or riding lessons.
Asheboro, NC 27203
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5. Bennett Place State Historic Site
Durham, North Carolina’s Bennett Place State Historic Site is where the American Civil War’s largest surrender took place between General W.T. Sherman and General J.E. Johnston. Negotiations took place and the surrender agreement was signed in the Bennett family home, which is preserved by the historic site, now a living history museum. A visitor center on site shows a 17 minute film about the site’s history and houses the museum’s library, home to over 1,000 volumes of Civil War reference material. Picnic tables are located throughout the Bennett family farm. Nature trails weave through forested areas that were once wheat and corn fields.
4409 Bennett Memorial Rd, Durham, NC 27705, Phone: 919-383-4345
6. Blue Ridge Parkway
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North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that rolls through the state’s cultural history for over 450 miles between Virginia and North Carolina. The scenic road spans the South and Central Appalachians, and is known for its diverse and rare habitat that supports local wildlife and flora. Pass by Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in the eastern United States, Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon, and the Plateau Region’s New River, North America’s oldest river. Aside from the natural beauty of the area, attractions along the road include the Bristol, Virginia’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Asheville’s Biltmore Estate, and New Market Virginia’s Museum of the Civil War.
North Carolina and Virginia
7. Cape Hatteras
Cape Hatteras is a federally protected National Seashore on North Carolina’s outer banks. The barrier islands offer a rich history, wealth of wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Experience nature, visit historic lighthouses, swim, fish, surf, or beach comb. Begin the day at one of four Visitor Centers. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center includes the Museum of the Sea, which is located within the historic Hatteras lighthouse keeper’s quarters. Other historic structures include the Ocracoke Light Station and the Bodie Island Light Station. Enjoy lighthouse climbs, hiking, or water activities. Surf instruction and guided horseback tours are provided by third party vendors.
1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954, Phone: 252-473-2111
8. Carolina Tiger Rescue
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North Carolina’s Carolina Tiger Rescue protects and saves wild cats. Animals in their care include tigers, lions, cougars, and leopards, as well as smaller cats such as servals, ocelots, and bobcats. Open by appointment only, the rescue offers public tours on Fridays and weekends. Trained volunteers walk visitors through the sanctuary as they describe the hardships animals face both in the wild and in captivity. Special tours include private experiences, and twilight tours, where visitors spend after-hours with the animals in a more relaxed and quiet setting. While photographs are welcome, no tour offers physical contact with the cats.
1940 Hanks Chapel Rd., Pittsboro, NC 27312, Phone: 919-542-4684
9. Chapel Hill
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Chapel Hill is a small town surrounding the University of North Carolina, and in fact was built around the university’s founding in 1793. The charming downtown is anchored by the historic Franklin Street, where is home to over 200 restaurants and bars, and fast becoming known as a destination for “foodies.” Enjoy an event at Carolina Square or 140 West. Chapel Hill’s Southern Village was founded in 1994, the newer neighborhood’s Market Street is a walkable stretch of entertainment, dining and shopping. In addition to UNC, visit the Ackland Art Museum, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Chapel Hill, NC
10. Chimney Rock State Park
North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park surrounds the 315-foot tall Chimney Rock, a geological spire overlooking the Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. Trails within the park range from easy family friendly walks, to more strenuous hikes, including the trail to the top of Chimney Rock Mountain and the overlook at Hickory Nut Falls. Facilities at the 5,700-acre park include picnic areas, restrooms, a concessions area and interpretative center. Trout fishing is popular along the Rocky Broad River. Rock climbing is popular in the boulder fields within the park’s Rumbling Bald Access area. A visitor center is located at Lake Lure’s Morse Park.
743 Chimney Rock Park Rd., Chimney Rock, NC 28720, Phone: 800-277-9611
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Durham, North Carolina is home to Duke University, and has been a cultural destination for over 150 years. For a look at Durham’s history, visit the Historic Stagville plantation, one of the South’s largest. At Bennett Place, see the site where negotiations to end the Civil War took place. At the Duke Homestead, learn about the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Museums include the Museum of Durham History, the Hayti Heritage Center, Nasher Museum of Art, NCCU Art Museum and the Duke University Basketball Hall of Fame. Downtown Durham’s Brightleaf District is home to trendy shops and restaurants. The Golden Belt District is the place to go for art galleries, while the Rockwood District is where you’ll find antique shops and award-winning dining.
12. Eno River State Park
Durham’s Eno River State Park is scattered throughout the urban Durham and Orange County area of central North Carolina. The park’s five separate access point are an easy drive from town. Within the park, enjoy historic sites including old homes and a historic mill, mature forests and flowering shrubs. Over 30 miles of trails within the park are open for hiking, The Bobbit Hole trail follows along the scenic Eno River. The trail to the peak of Cox Mountain is among the more challenging hikes. The Backquarter Creek trail is an easy 1.5 mile loop. Facilities at the park include restrooms, picnic shelters, and campsites. Rangers regularly offer interpretative and educational programs, including 2-mile morning bird watching walks.
6101 Cole Mill Rd., Durham, NC 27705, Phone: 919-383-1686
13. Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain in northwest North Carolina is a unit of the United Nations’ Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Reserve. The 300 million year old mountain rises to almost 6,000 feet above sea level, and is an important area of biodiversity. Enjoy a scenic drive through the park, and take the paved road to the peak for views of the surrounding countryside. Enjoy hiking along 11 trails of varying terrain through a range of ecosystems. The park protects habitat for over 70 rare or endangered species. Cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge that connects Grandfather Mountain’s two peaks at one mile from ground level. A Nature Museum educates visitors on the area’s natural and cultural history. Daily programs include animal encounters and interpretative ranger talks.
2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646, Phone: 800-468-7325
Greensboro, North Carolina is located just west of Raleigh. The town is teeming with attractions, restaurants and nightlife, offering something for all types of travelers. Museums include the Center for Visual Arts, Greensboro Children’s Museum, History Museum, American Discovery Zoological Park, the Atlantic Coast Conference Hall of Champions, and the Greensboro Science Center, home to red pandas and sharks. Visit the Bog Garden wetlands area for a dose of natural scenery. Dining options range from local Southern BBQ classics, to national chain restaurants. A lively nightlife scene includes the sports bars, nightclubs, barn dances, and jazz houses.
15. Hanging Rock State Park
North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park was founded in 1930 as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Historic CCC facilities within the 7,000 acre park include the lake’s dam, a bathhouse, sandy beach area and diving tower. A 73-acre campground offers picnic facilities, canoe rentals, over 20 miles of hiking trails, and lakes suitable for swimming and stocked with fish. Paddle the Dan River, or enjoy close to 9 miles of mountain bike trails. An exhibit hall in the visitor’s center offers displays on the area’s cultural and natural history. Learn about the Sauratown Mountains and the Saura Native Americans. Ranger led programs include guided hikes and ranger talks.
1790 Hanging Rock Park Road, Danbury, NC 27016, Phone: 336-593-8480
16. Linville Gorge and Falls
Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the East, the Linville Gorge is the deepest in the eastern United States. It’s surrounded by the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. The 12,000 acre preserve was among the first to be protected by the 1964 National Wilderness Act. At the base of the gorge is the Linville River, which winds for 12 miles through the gorge’s steep walls before descending into Lake James. The 90-foot tall Linville Falls waterfall can be seen from an overlook on the Erwins View Trail, accessible from the visitor’s center. Enjoy hiking, backpacking, and climbing along a 39-mile trail system. View the wildlife, and the natural beauty in this unique geological area and the oldest forests of the southern Appalachians.
Warrior Lane, Marion, NC 28752, Phone: 828-298-0398
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17. North Carolina Botanical Garden
The North Carolina Botanical Garden emphasizes conservation. The garden’s mission is to nourish native plants and improve the relationship between people and nature. Over 1,100 acres of gardens are home to North Carolina’s unique botanical legacy. Rare and endangered plant species are well cared for and educational programs cultivate awareness and new generations of garden lovers. Display gardens include wildflowers, carnivorous plants, and gardens for pollinators. Close to 90 acres of North Carolina Forest are preserved by the botanical gardens, and accessed by 3 miles of hiking trails. A library, art gallery, and garden shop are located at the Garden’s Educational Center, the first LEED platinum building owned by the state of North Carolina.
100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517, Phone: 919-962-0522
18. Old Salem
Winston-Salem, North Carolina is home to the Old Salem Museum and Gardens. The history attraction includes the historic town of Salem, the Gardens at Old Salem, and MESDA, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Originally settled in 1753 by the Moravian community, the town is now a living history museum that educates the public on the history of the Moravians. Merchants within the community include booksellers, souvenir shops, cafes, bakeries, and a chocolatier. A farmer’s market takes place Saturdays during the growing and harvest season. Daily workshops include bread baking, quilt making, hearth cooking meals and children’s scavenger hunts. Sunday visitors get to experience the Moravian Day of Rest and may attend worship services.
900 Old Salem Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27101, Phone: 336-721-7300
19. Pilot Mountain
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Pilot Mountain is located in north central North Carolina. The small town surrounds Pilot Mountain, a unique geological landmark. The 2,000 foot tall summit offers views of the Blue Ridge and Sauratown Mountains. Visit the state park surrounding the mountain to enjoy hiking, picnicking at the campgrounds, and canoeing, kayaking, or swimming along the Yadkin River. Outdoor recreation in the area includes tubing, fishing, and hiking at Jessup Mill, zip line adventures at the Carolina Ziplines, trail riding at the Bregman stables, or golfing at Pilot Knob Park. Enjoy shopping and dining in downtown Pilot Mountain, or visit the Jolo Winery and Vineyards.
Pilot Mountain, NC
Located just southwest of Raleigh, the North Carolina town of Pittsboro offers outdoor recreation, wineries, shopping and dining. The Chatham County town is located along the American Tobacco Trail, A nearly 23-mile long rails to trail project which has converted an old railway trail into a hiking and cycling route from Durham to Wake County. Visit the Jordan Lake Project, a 47,000 acre wildlife and outdoor recreation park. The visitor’s center offers displays on the park and area wildlife. Three rivers converge in the area, namely the Rocky, Haw, and Deep. A National Historic Landmark, the 1908 Camelback Truss Bridge spans the Deep River. Pittsboro’s Fearrington House Inn is an historic farmstead which offers a restaurant and day spa.
Smithfield, North Carolina is the birthplace of Hollywood icon Ava Gardner. At the Ava Gardner Museum, you’ll find authentic memorabilia including movie scripts, photographs, costumes, and her personal belongings. The museum plays a 15 minute movie on the life of the actress, and displays 16 permanent exhibits. Tours include the Ava Gardner Heritage Tour which visits her birthplace, favorite haunts around town, and her gravesite. Today, Smithfield is equally known for its outlet shops, which include some of the world’s best known brands. Smithfield is just one stop on the Johnston County Beer, Wine and Shine Trail, which highlights some of the area’s best known wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
22. The Biltmore Estate
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Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is America’s largest home, built by George Vanderbilt II. Building began on the 250-room French Renaissance home in 1889. Completion took a team of the country’s finest craftsmen over 6 years. By 1900, George and his new wife, Edith Dresser, began construction on a dairy and horse barn, which served the families that farmed the land. In response to a request to help increase tourism during the depression, the home was opened to the public in 1930. A winery was founded on the property in the 1970’s by Vanderbilt’s grandsons, with an inn and hotels to follow in the 2000’s. Several tours of the home, gardens, and winery are available to the public. Funds earned help preserve the estate and grounds.
1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC 28803, Phone: 800-411-3812
23. Virginia International Raceway
Alton’s Virginia International Raceway first opened in 1957. Founded by a group of North Carolina car enthusiasts, the raceway was one of America’s first permanent road racing tracks. By 1974 the track was suffering from the fuel crisis and a drop in attendance and closed in 1974. 25 years later, in 1998, it was resurrected and is now a world class racing venue holding sports care and motorcycle racing events. The track is home to MotoAmerica, the SVRA Gold Cup Historic Races, HyperFest and the Michelin GT Challenge, among other events. Onsite dining options include the Pagoda Grill or the Oak tree Tavern. Visitors can take place in driving activities such as the Jane Bond Experience, the Formula Experience, or have fun on the 5/8 mile Kart track.
1245 Pine Tree Road, Alton, VA 24520, Phone: 434-822-7700
Wilmington, North Carolina is located on the Atlantic coast, along the Cape Fear River. The city is known as the gateway to Cape Fear Beaches, which include Carolina beach and its beloved boardwalk, or Wrightsville beach, known for its strong surf. The Battleship North Carolina is moored on the Cape Fear River, and includes exhibits and artifacts related to World War II history. Additional museums include the Cape Fear Museum of History & Science, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, and the Cameron Art Museum. Wilmington’s downtown historic district offers a walkable area full of art galleries, restaurants, and shops. Visit the Airlie Gardens, which offer 67 acres of formal gardens, walking trails, and North Carolina’s largest and oldest oak tree, which dates back to the 1500’s.
25. Yadkin Valley
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North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley is located in the state’s northwest corner and is the first region in America to have been federally recognized as an American Viticulture Area, or AVA. The wine growing region is home to more than 35 vineyards and wineries. Annual events include May’s Yadkin Valley Wine Festival, and the Pumpkin Festival each fall. Visit downtown Elkin, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for small town charm, breweries and distilleries, historic landmarks, farm to table dining and shopping at independently owned boutiques. Elkin, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is also the gateway to northwest North Carolina’s great outdoors. Enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking in the area’s many parks and rivers.
What are the 25 Best Day Trips from Raleigh?
The 25 Best Day Trips from Raleigh according to local experts are: