Central North Carolina
Central North Carolina starts west of the Fall Line and runs until we get to the foothills of Western NC. Many know parts of it as the Central Piedmont region and others as the Sandhills. However, Eastern North Carolina claims most of the latter area’s counties.
With so many of North Carolina’s largest cities, this is definitely the busiest part of our state. We’re talking about the megacity of Charlotte, the Triangle’s Raleigh and Durham (don’t forget Chapel Hill), and the Triad’s Greensboro and Winston-Salem, to name a few.
With so many busy spots in this part of North Carolina, there are more than a few included in our NC Bucket List.
Of course, there are small towns and less-populated counties in this part of the state. You’ll be able to find them below and also via these awesome scenic roads. Before that, let’s take a look at our posts dedicated to places to visit in Central North Carolina.
Central North Carolina-Focused Posts
Popular Places to Visit in Central NC
Here are some of the most popular places people visit in Central North Carolina.
Including these busy spots, we’ve included all the smaller cities and towns, natural spots, and more that you should see when exploring this area of North Carolina:
Albemarle to Burlington
- Albemarle and Stanly County: There are quite a few small towns and townships in Stanly County. Three that jump out include county seat Albemarle, Locust, and Badin. Morrow Mountain State Park is also here and a fun place to visit for views from the top.
- Asheboro and Randolph County: The NC Zoo and Seagrove are just a couple of things that come to mind when thinking of Randolph County. Sure, the world’s largest zoological park and amazing potters deserve recognition. But we think you should spend at least a weekend in this area. You’ll definitely come away with names like Ramseur, Randleman, and Trinity will forever remaining on your mind.
- Burlington and Alamance County: This growing county’s amazing towns and cities fall within both the Piedmont Triad and Research Triangle regions. Some of our favorite places for a quick day trip include Saxapahaw, Mebane, and definitely Burlington.
Carthage to Charlotte
- Chapel Hill and Orange County: We love visiting Hillsborough, the county seat and one of our favorite small towns. Mornings and afternoons at the Riverwalk or at Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail are perfect. Of course, Chapel Hill is the biggest and loudest town in Orange County, thanks to a certain university (Go Heels!) being here. Stick around for a weekend and you might be the next resident here.
- Charlotte and Mecklenburg County: North Carolina’s largest city is full of amazing (even healthy) eats and places to visit. There’s an interesting collision of things familiar to both Southerners and Northerners, which makes any weekend visit one that you’ll have something to share upon return. Some interesting towns nearby that are worth a day trip include Huntersville, Matthews, and Davidson for starters.
- Concord and Cabarrus County: Attached at the hip of Charlotte is Cabarrus County, though this is a place worthy of its own identity. Sure, Concord is where you’ll find Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dale Earnhardt Sr’s home of Rowan County-shared Kannapolis. The prison-turned-Southern Grace Distilleries in Mount Pleasant and October visits to Riverbend Farm’s pumpkin patch are two more fun ways to spend time in Cabarrus County!
Durham to Greensboro
- Durham and Durham County: We call Durham “home” and couldn’t be happier. It’s packed with an amazing food scene, amazing breweries, fun for any weekend of the year, and tons of free things to do. Outside of Durham, you’ll find Bahama, Braggtown, and small parts of big names (Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Falls Lake) on the county’s outskirts.
- Gastonia and Gaston County: Belmont, Dallas, Mount Holly, and Gastonia are the big names in Gaston County. However, there’s much more to this county, especially with Crowders Mountain State Park being here. Parts of Kings Mountain (Cleveland County to the west) 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, the county seat and home to a great downtown, awesome restaurant scene, and much more. More reasons to visit this county include the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett.
Henderson to Lincolnton
- Henderson and Vance County: Vance and Warren Counties share Kerr Lake, which is a very popular spot for campers and birders. Vance County’s main city and its county seat is Henderson. It’s great for a stop off I-85 before crossing the border into Virginia. Various antique shops and the Vance County Historical Museum sit within a short drive of each other.
- Lexington and Davidson County: Parts of High Point sit within the Davidson County lines, but Lexington is an even bigger name here. It’s mainly known for the style of barbecue that’s named for the city. There’s also a huge barbecue festival held here each October and we can’t wait to go each year!
- Lincolnton and Lincoln County: Just above Gaston County sits a small but fun sliver that’s also known as Lincoln County. Lincolnton is the largest city and county seat, home to an awesome July 4 celebration and of course, the Lincoln County Apple Festival in October.
Louisburg to Oxford
- Louisburg and Franklin County: A part of Wake Forest crosses over from Wake County into Franklin. Perry’s Mill Pond and Laurel Mill are a couple of great reasons to visit Louisburg, the county seat.
- Monroe and Union County: A couple of Union County towns (Mint Hill and Weddington) spread northwest into Mecklenburg. Other interesting places to visit in Union County include Waxhaw, Indian Trail, and county seat Monroe.
- Oxford and Granville County: Parts of Falls Lake are within the Granville County lines. However, there’s more to this awesome county. It’s home to Oxford, Butner, and Creedmoor. In June, you should head up to Butner for the annual Chicken Pickin’. Any time of year, stop by Oxford for some delicious pastries at Strong Arm Baking Company.
Pinehurst to Raleigh
- Pinehurst and Moore County: The biggest names that stand out in Moore County are Pinehurst and Southern Pines and for good reason. The two 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: Siler City and Pittsboro are two great stops in Chatham County. Both offer nice downtowns worth strolling through. Pittsboro’s Carolina Tiger Rescue 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. Sure, Raleigh is a great weekend getaway, filled with amazing food and breweries. There are also tons of fun free things to do. There are also tons of hikes here. But step outside the big city and prepare for an awesome time in Cary, Apex, Morrisville, and anywhere else you decide to explore in Wake County.
Rockingham to Salisbury
- Rockingham and Richmond County: Hamlet (birthplace of John Coltrane) and Rockingham are the two main towns in Richmond County. Until 2015, the Rockingham Speedway hosted NASCAR-sanctioned events. While we wait for it to resume business, the Rockingham Dragway 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 shared by Durham County and Person County. The abandoned Castle Mont Rouge is there and you can still see it from a distance. Just respect the protective fence that’s been placed around it. Of all the seasonal events in Person County, the August-held Personality in county seat Roxboro is the biggest name and most fun!
- Salisbury and Rowan County: The senior Dale Earnhardt footprint is felt throughout Cabarrus County-shared Kannapolis. A few examples include a statue of him downtown, a trail that bears his name running through town, and the Kannapolis Intimidators Minor League Baseball team. Salisbury is the county seat and home of Cheerwine, Food Lion, and Rack Room Shoes. Each May, the Cheerwine Festival takes over Salisbury with tons of fun. Spencer is also in Rowan County and home to the NC Transportation Museum.
Sanford to Troy
- Sanford and Lee County: US-1 runs through Sanford and Lee County. The Sanford Antique Mall and Ole Gilliam Mill Park are a couple of interesting spots in Sanford. White Pines Nature Preserve is an interesting place to visit, sitting at the confluence of the Deep and Rocky Rivers. There’s hiking here and a collection of plants and flowers (including Catawba Rhododendron) that are normally found in Western North Carolina.
- Statesville and Iredell County: This is a pretty big junction county, as I-40 and I-77 meet here. Many folks use the southern portion of Iredell County as a stopping point, thanks to the amazing Lake Norman. Explore the rest of Iredell County and you’ll find tons of fun in Statesville, Mooresville, and elsewhere. Each October, Carolina BalloonFest colors the skies around Statesville with hot air balloon rides and more excitement.
- Troy and Montgomery County: Part of Uwharrie National Forest sits in Montgomery County. It’s the smallest of North Carolina’s National Forests but inside, you’ll find plenty to explore. Many parts of Troy (county seat) sit within Uwharrie and Badin Lake is a truly beautiful spot inside it, too. Elsewhere in Montgomery County, STARworks in Star is an awesome arts-centered community. They provide local artists with educational and business opportunities. We love stopping by their glass-heavy Pumpkin Patch each fall.
Wadesboro to Yanceyville
- Wadesboro and Anson County: Along with Rockingham County, Anson County shares Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge. This area has also hosts some familiar scenes for moviegoers. For The Color Purple, many scenes were filmed in Lilesville and Marshville The Color Purple. 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: This is the first county or last place you see in 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. You’ll find many historic buildings in the latter. That’s attributed to Warrenton’s prominence as one of the state’s wealthiest towns from 1840 to 1860.
- Winston-Salem and Forsyth County: Winston-Salem is the biggest name in Forsyth County. It’s remained a fantastic city even if historic relics remain from the height of its Big Tobacco era. Today, you can still learn about its history at places like Reynolda or while staying at the Cardinal Hotel. It’s an excellent place to visit for a weekend and based on data trends, an awesome city to call “home.”
- Yanceyville and Caswell County: Each September, Yanceyville (county seat) hosts its Bright Leaf Hoedown. It’s a fun one-day festival that brings together local food and crafts vendors, non-profit organizations, and folks from nearby counties to enjoy. If you’re driving up Highway 57 toward the Virginia border, you’ll pass through Milton before leaving North Carolina. This town is known as a “museum without walls” and is definitely worth a stop, no matter which way you’re coming from.
The Latest Central North Carolina Travel Guides and Mentions
Here are some of the most recent posts that include spots throughout this area.
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