Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on December 5, 2023.
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 Research Triangle’s Raleigh and Durham (don’t forget Chapel Hill!), the Triad’s Greensboro and Winston-Salem, as well as many more.
Read More: The NC Bucket List
What Makes Up Central North Carolina?
Central North Carolina sits between the mountains of Western North Carolina and the Coastal Plain of Eastern North Carolina. It borders Virginia to the north and South Carolina to the south.
There are multiple definitions of “What makes up Central North Carolina?” We’ve defined its western edges from north to south as follows:
- Surry County
- Yadkin County
- Iredell County
- Mecklenburg County
Here are the easternmost counties included from north to south:
- Warren County
- Franklin County
- Wake County
- Lee County
- Moore County
- Richmond County
Along with those border counties, here are all 30 Central North Carolina counties included in this guide:
- Alamance County (Burlington, Graham, and More)
- Anson County (Wadesboro and Lilesville)
- Cabarrus County (Concord, Kannapolis, and More)
- Caswell County (Yanceyville and Milton)
- Chatham County (Pittsboro and Siler City)
- Davidson County (Lexington)
- Davie County (Mocksville)
- Durham County (Durham and Bahama)
- Forsyth County (Winston-Salem and More)
- Franklin County (Louisburg)
- Granville County (Oxford and Butner)
- Guilford County (Greensboro and High Point)
- Iredell County (Mooresville and Statesville)
- Lee County (Sanford)
- Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, Huntersville, and More)
- Montgomery County (Troy and Star)
- Moore County (Southern Pines and Pinehurst)
- Orange County (Chapel Hill and Hillsborough)
- Person County (Roxboro and Rougemont)
- Randolph County (Asheboro and Seagrove)
- Richmond County (Rockingham and Pee Dee NWF)
- Rockingham County (Reidsville and Mayo River State Park)
- Rowan County (Salisbury and Spencer)
- Stanly County (Albemarle and Morrow Mountain)
- Stokes County (Danbury and Hanging Rock)
- Surry County (Mount Airy and Elkin)
- Union County (Monroe and Waxhaw)
- Vance County (Henderson and Kerr Lake)
- Wake County (Raleigh, Cary, and More)
- Warren County (Warrenton and Norlina)
- Yadkin County (Jonesville and Yadkinville)
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 county, followed by additional bucket list spots in the said county.
Here’s an example: Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, Huntersville, and More!)
Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map
Alamance County (Burlington, Saxapahaw, and More)
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.
Anson County (Wadesboro, Lilesville, and More)
Anson County shares Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge with Rockingham County. This area is also a hotspot for moviegoers, with many famous movies filmed here.
The Color Purple is just one movie that was 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.
Cabarrus County (Concord, Kannapolis, and More)
Attached at the hip of Charlotte are Concord and Cabarrus County, though this is a place worthy of its own identity.
While in Concord, check out Charlotte Motor Speedway throughout the year. Races are usually in prep mode between Memorial Day and mid-November.
If you’re in town during the holidays, do yourself a favor and check out Speedway Christmas.
Kannapolis is Dale Earnhardt Sr’s home and the NC Music Hall of Fame.
Caswell County (Yanceyville, Milton, and More)
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.
Chatham County (Pittsboro, Siler City, and More)
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. Carolina Brewery is also in Pittsboro and a great maker of beers and also, amazing food!
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.
Davidson County (Lexington, Barbecue, and More)
Of course, plenty of other cuisines feature in the many great restaurants in Lexington.
We can’t discuss this wonderful place without mentioning the awesome Lexington wineries that await. From prominent names like Childress to lesser-known (yet equally awesome) places like Native Wines, Lexington is the home to some of the best NC wine.
Davie County (Mocksville and More)
Davie County is largely known for Mocksville, a great community with three historic districts. About 10 minutes south of Mocksville is Riverpark at Cooleemee Falls, a wonderful place to fish, tube, bring a boat, or just have a picnic.
Durham County (Durham, Bahama, and More)
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 nearby hiking trails, but starting with our favorite hikes at 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.
Read More: Durham Airbnbs
Forsyth County (Winston-Salem and More)
Today, you can still learn about its history at museums like Reynolda or by staying at historic hotels such as The Cardinal and Graylyn Estate. 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.”
Read More: Outdoor Activities in Winston-Salem
Franklin County (Louisburg and More)
Franklin County is home to part of Wake Forest as well as Louisburg, its county seat. While in Louisberg, check out Perry’s Mill Pond and Laurel Mill, some of its best attractions.
Granville County (Oxford, Butner, and More)
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.
Guilford County (Greensboro, High Point, and More)
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, fun museums, and many more things to do (especially with kids). On the latter note, we especially love visiting the Greensboro Science Center and the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum (formerly the Greensboro Children’s Museum)!
Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro
Iredell County (Mooresville, Statesville, and More)
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.
Another place that harkens back to previous times is Union Grove, up in northern Iredell County. There, you’ll find Linney’s Mill, a family business that has been in the area since 1790.
Lee County (Sanford and More)
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 Rhododendrons, which are normally found in Western North Carolina.
Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, Huntersville, and More)
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. Summer is a great time, even when it’s hot outside. That’s mainly because of the thrills you’ll find at Carowinds Amusement Park, fun Minor League Baseball games at Truist Ballpark, and the start of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers season.
Some interesting towns nearby also worth a day trip include Huntersville, Matthews, and Davidson.
Montgomery County (Troy, Star, and More)
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.
Moore County (Southern Pines, Pinehurst, and More)
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.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Raleigh
Orange County (Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and More)
We love visiting Hillsborough, the county seat of Orange, and one of our favorite small towns. Mornings and afternoons at the Riverwalk, the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area 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!
Person County (Roxboro, Rougemont, and More)
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!
Randolph County (Asheboro, Seagrove, and More)
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!
Richmond County (Rockingham, Pee Dee NWF, and More)
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).
Rockingham County (Reidsville, Mayo River State Park, and More)
Rockingham County is north of Greensboro and Guilford County, and home to Eden, Reidsville, and Wentworth, the county seat.
Lake Reidsville and Mayo River State Park are two of the most beautiful places to visit in Rockingham County. Spend some time in the above towns we mentioned and you’ll see why the county is referred to as “North Carolina’s North Star.”
Rowan County (Salisbury, Spencer, and More)
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!
Stanly County (Albemarle, Morrow Mountain, and More)
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.
Read More: North Carolina’s 41 State Parks Sites
Stokes County (Danbury, Hanging Rock, and More)
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.
Surry County (Mount Airy, Elkin, and More)
Mayberry is Mount Airy’s nickname and for good reason, since the town is Andy Griffith’s hometown and is 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.
Of course, there is so much more to do here. Check out Downtown Elkin, home to the Reeves Theater, wonderful shops, and great places to eat.
The Overmountain Victory Trail and Carter Falls are perfect for some outdoor fun!
Union County (Monroe, Waxhaw, and More)
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.
The Museum of the Waxhaws is a great place to learn about the people who inhabited this area before European settlers arrived.
Vance County (Henderson, Kerr Lake, and More)
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!
Wake County (Raleigh, Cary, and More)
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 and 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, the NC Museum of History, 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.
Read More: Airbnbs in Raleigh
Warren County (Warrenton, Norlina, and More)
Warren County is the first or last spot in Central North Carolina, depending on which way you drive 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.
Yadkin County (Jonesville, Yadkinville, and More)
Home to county seat Yadkinville and towns like Boonville and Jonesville, this county is recognized by the US Government as a grape-growing region. This means… wine, wine, wine!
Yadkin County buzzes all year long with tourists coming to try a sip, but the Yadkin Valley Grape Festival in October is an especially fun-filled time to visit.
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!