Last Updated on September 24, 2021
Last Updated on September 24, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
Central North Carolina is a large expanse of land stretching west of the Fall Line and running up through the foothills of Western NC. Known as the Central Piedmont region or sometimes the Sandhills, this area boasts some of North Carolina’s largest cities.
This is definitely the busiest part of our state! We’re referring to the megacity of Charlotte, the Triangle’s Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and the Triad’s Greensboro and Winston-Salem, as well as many more.
Along with those cities, Central North Carolina also holds some of our most beautiful state parks.
In fact, many of the places we’ll feature are included in our NC Bucket List. However, inside this guide, our focus will remain on the best places to visit specifically in Central North Carolina.
Places to Visit in Central North Carolina
(Counting and Organization Note)
If you’re keeping count, our places to visit in Central North Carolina are organized by towns, cities, and state or national parks mentioned. For example, Morrow Mountain State Park is counted but the NC Zoo or the Greensboro Science Center are mentioned, but not a part of the count.
We’ve organized this guide alphabetically by the largest city or town in a particular county, followed by additional bucket list spots in the said county (ex, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County).
Albemarle and Stanly County
The first on our list of places to visit in Central North Carolina includes the numerous small towns and townships in Stanly County. Three cities that jump out include county seat Albemarle, Locust, and Badin.
While in Stanly County, check out Morrow Mountain State Park and hike to the top for some beautiful views.
Asheboro and Randolph County
When thinking of Randolph County, the NC Zoo and Seagrove are just a couple of things that come to mind. The world’s largest zoological park and the amazing potters at Seagrove located here all deserve recognition.
You should spend at least a weekend exploring the things to do in Asheboro and its surroundings. You’ll learn about the city of Ramseur, the home of Millstone Creek Orchards, Randleman, the home of the Petty Museum, and Trinity!
Burlington and Alamance County
The amazing towns and cities located in the growing Alamance County fall within the Piedmont Triad and Research Triangle regions. Some of our favorite places for a quick day trip (from either Raleigh, its neighbor Durham, or Greensboro) include Saxapahaw, Mebane, and Burlington.
Saxapahaw sits far away from its county neighbors, resting on the Haw River. Here, you’ll enjoy the food at the five-star Saxapahaw General Store, walks at Saxapahaw Island Park, and shows at the Haw River Ballroom.
Chapel Hill and Orange County
We love visiting Hillsborough, the county seat of Orange, and one of our favorite small towns. Mornings and afternoons at the Riverwalk or Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail are a perfect lazy day activity.
Also, don’t forget about Carrboro, the town attached to Chapel Hill’s hip and home to one of our favorite farmer’s markets in all of North Carolina!
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Central North Carolina’s largest city is full of amazing restaurants and places to visit, both indoors and outdoors. There’s an interesting collision of things familiar to both Southerners and Northerners, making any Charlotte weekend visit one that you’ll remember forever.
Charlotte is one of our favorite places to visit in Central North Carolina throughout the year. Not only is it a fun summer vacation, but it’s also among the best winter getaways in North Carolina, thanks to great hotels like the Dunhill and the Hilton Charlotte Center City that make winter trips a magical experience.
Some interesting towns nearby also worth a day trip include Huntersville, Matthews, and Davidson.
Concord and Cabarrus County
Attached at the hip of Charlotte are Concord and Cabarrus County, though this is a place worthy of its own identity.
The prison-turned-Southern Grace Distilleries in Mount Pleasant and October visits to Riverbend Farm’s pumpkin patch in Midland are two more fun ways to spend time in Cabarrus County!
Danbury and Stokes County
Stokes County is in a quirky spot. Looking at a map, you might think that this county is better categorized as Central North Carolina, but it can definitely be classified as a Western North Carolina county. We first discovered Stokes County during our many trips to Hanging Rock State Park.
Don’t sleep on the epic park’s surroundings, though, because it’s home to charming small towns like county seat Danbury and Walnut Cove.
Durham and Durham County
We are so lucky to be able to call Durham “home.” Packed with an amazing food scene and breweries, Durham promises fun things to do for everyone, especially for those with kids and also for folks seeking free fun.
We’ll usually start with walks or bike rides downtown, around the American Tobacco Campus, and along Main and 9th streets. You can also get away from the city at one of many hiking trails, but starting with Eno River State Park.
Outside of Durham, you’ll find the quaint Bahama and Braggtown, as well as the lovely Falls Lake on the county’s outskirts.
If you’re looking for fun places to stay in the area, check out these cool Durham Airbnbs!
Gastonia and Gaston County
Ask anyone familiar with this area, and they’ll tell you about the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, a county mainstay since 1961. The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden over in Belmont is another big name, with 380 acres of beautiful flowers and plants.
Also in Gaston County is McAdenville, a town whose Christmas lights display properly earn its nickname of Christmas Town USA. Finally, check out Kings Mountain, parts of which are also within Gaston County’s borders.
Greensboro and Guilford County
You’ll find two of the Piedmont Triad’s three points, Greensboro and part of High Point, in Guilford County. In fact, the latter is the only city claimed by four counties!
Gate City, aka Greensboro, is the county seat and home to a great downtown, awesome restaurant scene, and so many more things to do (especially with kids). On the latter note, we especially love visiting the Greensboro Science Center and the Children’s Museum!
We also think you should know about these day trips from Greensboro in case you’re based in the area!
Henderson and Vance County
Vance and Warren counties share Kerr Lake, a very popular spot for campers and birders. Vance County’s main city and its county seat are Henderson, perfect for a stop off of I-85 before crossing the border into Virginia.
Check out the various antique shops in this quaint Central North Carolina town!
Lexington and Davidson County
Be sure to visit the huge barbecue festival that is held in Lexington every October. It’s such a delightful experience and we look forward to attending each year!
Lincolnton and Lincoln County
Just above Gaston County sits a small but fun sliver of land known as Lincoln County. Lincolnton is the largest city in this county, as well as the county seat, and home to an awesome July 4 celebration.
Of course, the Lincoln County Apple Festival in October can’t be missed either! This Apple Festival is just one of the numerous reasons why Lincolnton is among our favorite places to visit in Central North Carolina.
Louisburg and Franklin County
Franklin County is home to part of Wake Forest as well as Louisberg, its county seat. While in Louisberg, check out Perry’s Mill Pond and Laurel Mill, some of its best attractions.
Monroe and Union County
Places to visit in Union County include the towns of Waxhaw, Indian Trail, and county seat Monroe. A couple of Union County towns also spread northwest into Mecklenburg, such as Mint Hill and Weddington.
Mount Airy and Surry County
Mayberry is Mount Airy’s nickname and for good reason, since the town is Andy Griffith’s hometown and believed to be the inspiration for Mount Pilot on TV. Speaking of Pilot, Surry County is also known for Pilot Mountain. The flyer-shaped peak stands out among neighboring mountains.
Oxford and Granville County
Part of Falls Lake, found on the outskirts of Durham County, can also be found within the Granville County lines. However, there’s so much more to this county, like the beautiful towns of Butner, Oxford, and Creedmoor.
In June, take a trip to Butner for their annual Chicken Pickin’! Unfortunately, 2021’s version will not be taking place in June.
At any time of the year, stop by Oxford for some delicious pastries from Strong Arm Baking Company.
Pinehurst and Moore County
The biggest names in Moore County are Pinehurst and Southern Pines, for good reason. These two Central North Carolina towns are attached at the hip, with Pinehurst Resort bringing in resorters and golfers throughout much of the year.
Other prominent places in Moore County include Aberdeen and county seat Carthage.
Pittsboro and Chatham County
While in Chatham County, stop by Siler City and Pittsboro and stroll through their beautiful downtowns. Pittsboro is also very well known for Carolina Tiger Rescue, a rescue that houses rescued tigers, lions, cougars, bobcats, and other wild animals.
Another special spot in Chatham County is Fearrington Village where you’ll find crafts and a country inn that’s one of two AAA five-diamond facilities in North Carolina.
Raleigh and Wake County
Home to the state capital of Raleigh and dozens of growing towns, it’s no surprise that Wake County is the state’s second-most populous county. Raleigh is a great weekend getaway filled with amazing restaurants and breweries, and great parks like Dorothea Dix and Umstead State Park.
While in Raleigh, check out their numerous fun free things to do, from the amazing Yates Mill Park to the many hikes waiting in and around the city. More favorites include the parks around Shelley Lake and Lake Johnson.
We touched upon our favorite parks but also think you need to know about the amazing museums in Raleigh, including the NC Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural Sciences, and more fun things to do with kids.
Step outside the big city and prepare for an awesome time in any of the suburban municipalities located in Wake. Check out the NC Chinese Lantern Festival and Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary, “Peaktown,” more commonly known as Apex, and Morrisville, home to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these uniquely cool Airbnbs in Raleigh!
Rockingham and Richmond County
While waiting for the Speedway to resume business, try visiting the Rockingham Dragway, which hosts weekend events from March to December. Richmond County also shares part of Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge with Anson county (see below).
Roxboro and Person County
Rougemont is a community shared by both Durham County and Person County. Here, glimpse the abandoned Castle Mont Rouge from a distance, respecting the protective fence that’s been placed around it.
Of all the seasonal events in Person County, the Personality Festival held in August in county seat Roxboro is the biggest name and the most fun!
Salisbury and Rowan County
The Dale Earnhardt Senior footprint is also felt throughout Kannapolis, a city shared by Cabarrus. Statues of him are found in large numbers downtown, and there is a trail bearing his name running through town.
Spencer is also in Rowan County and home to the NC Transportation Museum, one of our favorites!
Sanford and Lee County
US-1 runs through Sanford and Lee County, making it an easily accessible vacation destination. Some of the more interesting spots in Sanford include the Sanford Antique Mall and Ole Gilliam Mill Park.
White Pines Nature Preserve is another intriguing place to visit, sitting at the confluence of the Deep and Rocky Rivers. Here, partake in some hiking and learn about the unique collection of plants and flowers, including Catawba Rhododendron, which are normally found in Western North Carolina.
Statesville and Iredell County
Explore the rest of Iredell County and you’ll find tons of fun in county seat Statesville and its neighbors Mooresville, Troutman, and nearby towns. The Carolina BalloonFest colors the skies around Statesville each October with hot air balloon rides and more excitement.
Speaking of excitement, check out Love Valley, known as the “Cowboy Capital” due to the abundance of horseback riders here. At Love Valley, reminisce on a time when life moved a little slower.
Troy and Montgomery County
Part of Uwharrie National Forest sits in Montgomery County, the smallest of North Carolina National Forests–but it is not without its adventures! Many parts of county seat Troy sit within Uwharrie, as well as the spectacular Badin Lake.
Elsewhere in Montgomery County, STARworks in Star is a creative arts-centered community. They provide local artists with educational and business opportunities. We love stopping by their glass-heavy Pumpkin Patch each fall.
Wadesboro and Anson County
Anson County shares Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge with Rockingham County. This area is also a hotspot for moviegoers, with many famous movies having filmed here.
The Color Purple is just one movie that filmed here, with many of the movie’s scenes filmed in Lilesville and Marshville. County seat Wadesboro’s Huntley House, its surrounding woods, and JR Faison Junior High School served as the setting for Evil Dead II.
Warrenton and Warren County
Warren County is either the first or last spot in Central North Carolina, depending on which way you’re driving along I-85 or US-1. More than a few towns and unincorporated communities dot Warren County.
Norlina and county seat Warrenton are the two largest, with many historic buildings to be explored in the latter. This can be attributed to Warrenton’s prominence as one of the state’s wealthiest towns from 1840 to 1860.
Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
Today, you can still learn about its history at museums like Reynolda or by staying at historic hotels such as The Cardinal. The city’s restaurant scene is also worthy of a trip alone, and don’t forget about their awesome and innovative breweries, either!
Winston-Salem is perfect for a weekend trip and, based on data trends, an awesome city to call “home.”
Yanceyville and Caswell County
Each September, Yanceyville, the county seat, hosts its Bright Leaf Hoedown, a fun one-day festival that brings together local food, crafts vendors, non-profit organizations, and folks from nearby counties.
If you’re driving up Highway 57 toward the Virginia border, you’ll pass through Milton before leaving Central North Carolina. This Caswell County town is known as a “museum without walls” and worth a stop, no matter which way you’re coming from.
Ready to Explore these Places to Visit in Central North Carolina?
Central North Carolina is such a busy place but home to some of our favorite quiet spots like wonderful small towns, natural spots, and parks. We love exploring this part of the state and would love to know about your experience with it!
If you know the area and think something is missing, please feel free to contact us or reach out to our Facebook Group. In the meantime, enjoy our collection of guides that cover specific places to visit in Central North Carolina!