Last Updated on July 19, 2021
Last Updated on July 19, 2021
With so many amazing things to do in Charlotte, it’s understandable to love the Queen City so much that you’d never leave. But if you’re looking for a little adventure outside its limits, there are so many fun and adorable North Carolina small towns and cities that make for the best day trips from Charlotte.
And whether you’re looking to head to wine country, soak up the mountain air with a hike, or gobble up some livermush, you’ll be visiting many places that can be found on our NC Bucket List. So load up the car and tag along as we share our favorite getaways within and away from the Charlotte Metro.
Looking to extend your day trip in style? Check out our guide to the coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina. Many are in the spots we’re about to mention!
This post is part of our series on day trips in North Carolina, where we’ve also covered quick getaways from Asheville, the Research Triangle (Raleigh and Durham), and Greensboro in the Piedmont Triad.
Mecklenburg County Surroundings
Huntersville is known for its annual Carolina Renaissance Festival in October and November. Any time of year, you can visit the Carolina Raptor Center and learn about birds of prey that include eagles, vultures, hawks, and falcons.
Huntersville and neighboring towns like Davidson are also popular because of their proximity to Lake Norman. The latter is also home to Davidson College, where Steph Curry famously played during his NCAA days.
Day Trips from Charlotte NC
Note: For the purposes of this article, cities and towns in each section will be grouped by the time it takes to reach from Charlotte, from closest to farthest away. If two or more places take the same amount of time to reach, we will use distance in miles as a tiebreaker before then utilizing our ABC skills.
1 hour 15 minutes | 80 miles
Winston-Salem is the first of the Piedmont Triad’s big three that we’ll mention here. There are tons of things to do here, including various outdoor activities. You may even want to start by exploring the historic Moravian town of Old Salem.
You’ll also want to come hungry because Winston-Salem’s got the goods when it comes to food. The city’s breweries are also worth noting, with an innovative mix from smaller-scale to the big names (like Foothills).
And if you’re traveling with kids, a trip to either of the Kaledieum locations is definitely worthwhile. They’re both among our favorite museums in the city.
Of course, there are also plenty of beautiful parks in Winston-Salem too.
We could go on and think you’ll want to spend more than a day in Winston-Salem.
1 hour 16 minutes | 77 miles
High Point is the smallest of the Triad’s three main cities but there’s plenty to do here. It’s a really fun place to make a day trip from Charlotte. High Point is also known as the “Furniture Capital of the World” but there are plenty of interesting places to explore beyond the renowned Furniture Market.
1 hour 25 minutes | 93 miles
Greensboro is the farthest big city included here and one you’ll want to make multiple day trips for. We love starting with interactive Greensboro Children’s Museum to Greensboro Science Center, both among our favorite things to do with kids.
There’s also a wealth of history here, and you can investigate further at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (one of our favorite national parks sites).
And if you’re hungry, there are plenty of amazing restaurants in Greensboro that include upscale and international flavors.
There is so much to do here that you might want to book a night or more at Proximity Hotel and stay longer.
These are among the best things to do in Greensboro for all ages, so come on down!
Smaller Cities, Towns, and Parks
These towns are in order of closest proximity to Uptown Charlotte. Time and distance were determined by Google Maps and are just an approximate number.
Gastonia and Gaston County
28 minutes | 24 miles
You can also find thrills in Gastonia and Gaston County, just next door to Mecklenburg! Gastonia is home to quaint antique stores and the Carolina Speedway, one of the oldest dirt racetracks in the South. The latter was built in 1962 and remains open every March to October.
George Poston Park also makes a great getaway from Charlotte for bikers. Its fantastic biking trails are perfect for riders of all levels and snakes through North Carolina’s beautiful mountains.
Belmont also sits in Gaston County and is where you’ll find the 450-acre Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This town has rich roots, which you’ll notice while strolling around the massive Downtown Belmont Historic District.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden and McAdenville’s production are a couple of our favorite ways to enjoy Christmas lights in North Carolina.
Concord and Cabarrus County
31 minutes | 27 miles
Concord sits in the heart of Cabarrus County, and is also the place where racing lives! Throughout the year, you can catch a race within Charlotte Motor Speedway, either at ROVAL, zMax, or do it yourself at K1 Speed.
While Charlotte might have the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Concord is where you go to get up close and personal with racing. Don’t forget about Kannapolis, too, which Cabarrus County shares with Rowan County. It’s where you’ll find the NC Music Hall of Fame, the Dale Trail, and also a statue dedicated to Earnhardt Sr.
If racing isn’t your thing, then don’t worry! There are still plenty of things to do in Concord and Cabarrus County to fill up more than a few day trips from Charlotte! Pan for gold at Reed Gold Mine, shop till you drop at Concord Mills, or get locked up at Southern Grace Distilleries in Mount Pleasant.
There are also some pretty awesome restaurants in Concord and Cabarrus County that you need to explore!
Crowders Mountain State Park
33 minutes | 30 miles
While Crowders Mountain State Park is also in Gaston County, it’s one of the best things to do in Gastonia. That’s why it’s worthy of its own spot among our favorite day trips from Charlotte. It’s also the first of many mountains nearby. The park sits on the outskirts of Gastonia, with 5,210-acres and 16 different hiking trails waiting to be explored.
The fun includes a hike around a lake and along a creek. However, the park’s two peaks (Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle) are where you’ll find its best views.
You can see Charlotte’s skyline on clear days by following Crowders Trail for 2-1/2 miles to the top of Crowders Mountain. The highest peak is reachable via Pinnacle Trail (2 miles). At 1,705 feet, it’s also the highest point in Gaston County.
33 minutes | 30 miles
Mooresville is just one of the beautiful towns situated on Lake Norman. A short drive from Charlotte, Mooresville is a racing hub and home to plenty of family-friendly attractions and other fun things to do.
Carrigan Farms is family-owned for five generations and where you can pick in-season fruits and vegetables. There’s also a natural rock quarry swimming hole, which is perfect for cooling off on hot days.
Racing fans can tour many of the top NASCAR team shops while in Mooresville. JR Motorsports, Team Penske, and Kyle Busch Motorsports are all based here and filled with cars, trophies, memorabilia, and special swag to take home.
44 minutes | 38 miles
Lake Norman is surrounded by some fun small towns worth visiting, but the lake itself is among the best day trips from Charlotte. It’s North Carolina’s largest man-made lake, with 500 miles of shoreline to explore.
Start with Lake Norman State Park and rent pedal boats, kayaks, or paddleboards for a nice day out.
Of course, you can’t forget about the delicious restaurants in the Lake Norman area! Get your bellies ready for fresh and whimsical dishes from the fish camp-style restaurant Hello, Sailor or twirl homemade pasta around your fork at Kindred.
A meal at Lake Norman is a perfect getaway from Charlotte in itself!
Lincolnton and Lincoln County
45 minutes | 38 miles
Lincolnton and its surroundings in Lincoln County are definitely deserving of a spot among the best day trips from Charlotte. You’ll enjoy yourself here nearly any time of year, but the annual Apple Festival in October is probably the most popular time to be here.
That’s when more than 80,000 visitors come to Main Street for music on two stages, a farmer’s market, tons of apple-focused food, and much more!
45 minutes | 42 miles
Many folks drive through Statesville either on I-40 or I-77, but this junction town is worth a stop. Fort Dobbs is perfect for folks who love history and the Statesville Greenway is one of many ways to enjoy the outdoors.
And then there’s Carolina Balloon Fest in October, which is a huge event that colors the skies and fills the streets of Statesville with fun all around.
We shared this fun and more in our guide covering things to do in Statesville.
45 Minutes | 43 miles
Salisbury is a growing small town but still full of charm and enough things to do for all. Many know it as the home of Cheerwine and Food Lion. For the former, you can celebrate all things cherry-flavored during the annual Cheerwine Festival, typically held each May.
The town’s five historic districts are worth a visit throughout the year if you’re not able to make the festival. You can also venture a few miles down the road and visit the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Shelby and Cleveland County
50 minutes | 46 miles
Shelby and Cleveland County is where you can not only feel welcome but also get your fill of livermush, mutts, and music all at the same time. Make a day trip to learn about the history of bluegrass music and three-finger picking at the Earl Scruggs Center and then wander around for some of their delicious restaurants in Shelby.
Of course, you can start in Shelby but don’t forget about its surroundings, where you’ll find wonderful small towns with shops, art galleries, and much more. And if you’re seeking the outdoors, Cleveland County has some beautiful trails that are worth exploring as well!
If you’re looking to extend your day trip from Charlotte into a weekend, check out our guide that covers all the fun things to do in Shelby and Cleveland County.
56 minutes | 59 miles
Lexington is known as the barbecue capital and we are most definitely not arguing with that! With over 20 North Carolina barbecue joints within a small area, it’s not hard to find a smoking pork shoulder somewhere!
However, there’s more that lands Lexington on our list of day trips from Charlotte.
Some are even kid-friendly and each one offers something different, from the French vines of Rhone to sweet fruit wines.
And if you’re looking for lunch over the vineyard, make sure to have a meal at the bistro at Childress Vineyards! Of course, you can visit them and all area wineries via one of these NC wine trails.
Another interesting place to visit in Lexington is The Candy Factory. This vintage candy store carries candies, homemade fudge, and antiques of yesteryear.
1 hour | 59 miles
Hickory sits just at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is an ideal road trip spot. It’s just an hour away and known for much more than its furniture and friendly people.
If you aren’t hitting the Hickory Furniture Mart for their beautiful handcrafted works, then perhaps roaming the six miles of trails at Baker’s Mountain would suit you! Pack a picnic or pick up some sandwiches from the Hatch Sandwich Bar and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Don’t forget to stop by Olde Hickory for a pint or flight at their taproom. The food at their restaurant is pretty popular, too, so why not go all in?
Uwharrie National Forest
1 hour 3 minutes | 49 miles
Extending through both Randolph and Davidson counties, Uwharrie National Forest is one of the easiest day trips from Charlotte for nature lovers. With over 50,000 acres of wooded land to explore, it is a true treasure.
This park is well-marked and well-maintained, there are trails for those looking for a stroll to even trails for those looking for a long challenge. People flock here for four-wheeling, horseback riding, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and camping.
Uwharrie National Forest can also be found along the Sandhills Scenic Drive, which we mentioned in our guide to the best scenic road trips in North Carolina!
1 hour 6 minutes | 70 miles
Thomasville is the answer for those seeking rustic farmhouse and vintage stores, fun annual events, and farm to table restaurants.
Trains are an important part of Thomasville’s history and one still runs right through town. Events such as Trackside Train Day (typically in April) are very popular for both locals and visitors.
No matter what you do, wander around the town for unique murals and be sure to stop by the Big Chair for a photo. If historic homes pique your interest, enjoy a self-guided tour of the Salem Street Historic District.
Morrow Mountain State Park
1 hour 10 minutes | 50 miles
Morrow Mountain State Park is a relatively quick drive all the way to the top. Besides the awesome views that are within a drive, there are 15 miles of hiking that you can enjoy.
Fall Mountain Trail (4 miles) and the Mountain Loop Trail (.8 miles) are a couple of the most popular, but there’s more to explore here. Morrow Mountain is one of those mountain trips in North Carolina that many people don’t think about since it’s so far east from the Blue Ridge.
Just keep that in mind when you’re thinking about a trip out west and need an alternative option.
1 hour 15 minutes | 75 miles
You can also enjoy walks through Elkin Municipal Park, races at Friendship Motor Speedway, and friendly alpaca fun at Ridenour Ranch in nearby Thurmond.
South Mountains State Park
1 hour 20 minutes | 62 miles
For some reason, South Mountains State Park doesn’t get as much press as its colleagues out west. And you’ll wonder why when exploring its trails, whether you’re hiking them and when riding on your horse or bike.
There’s also an 80-foot waterfall, plenty of streams to stroll by, and hordes of picnic spots along the way.
Morganton and Burke County
1 hour 20 minutes | 77 miles
Morganton‘s shop-lined streets are a wonderful start to exploring this mountain town. The Morganton General Store is one great example, with everything you’ll need, plus tasty food upstairs at Swede’s Cafe.
Morganton is also home to Silver Fork Winery and Catawba Brewing, in case you’re searching for some of North Carolina’s finest wine and beer.
Additional fun spots within arm’s reach of Morganton include Lake James State Park, Linville Falls, and the epic Wiseman’s View. Closer to town is the Catawba River Greenway, one of our favorites for a bike ride or walk.
Forest City and Rutherford County
1 hour 22 minutes | 73 miles
Rutherford County might be known for a couple of places we’ll mention shortly. Just don’t forget about Forest City around Christmas time, when their beautiful lights display is unveiled. Rutherfordton’s InterACTIVE Museum is a great place to bring your kids, too.
And of course, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure are the two biggest draws to Rutherford County, and rightfully so.
1 hour 22 minutes | 85 miles
Wilkesboro and Wilkes County are also known as the Moonshine Capital of the World. This area is also great if you want to connect the dots with some NASCAR history that you learned at the Hall of Fame in Charlotte. That’s because the area is where you’ll find the first-ever NASCAR track.
However, you’ll quickly learn that Wilkesboro is especially known for Merlefest. This always-growing music festival brings in huge acts and crowds the area around Wilkesboro Community College every April.
Asheboro and Randolph County
1 hour 25 minutes | 85 miles
Asheboro and its Randolph County surroundings are easily one of our favorite day trips from Charlotte, even if it’s the last place we’ll mention here.
To start things off, Asheboro is home to the North Carolina Zoo, where you can spend at least an entire day. Inside, there are over five miles of trails that weave you in and out of various animals’ natural habitats.
Randolph County is also home to the famous Seagrove potters! This is where you’ll find the highest concentration of potters living and working in one area. As you’ll notice when visiting the many workshops and studios, are so many different styles and mediums used.
When tours are being held, you can see many of them at work before taking home some of their work!
Whether you’re searching for small-town pride and local handcrafted shops or to learn more about a racing legend at the Petty Museum, Randolph County is packed with fun for all.
Ready for Day Trips from Charlotte Now?
If you live in Charlotte or in a nearby city or town, we think these day trips will be perfect for your next time out. As you can see, there are so many wonderful places to visit that are just a short day trip from the city.
And if you’ve visited any of these places, we’d love to know how much you enjoyed them. Let us know in the comments and for those of you who haven’t gotten out there yet, we’d love to know which of these towns and cities you want to explore first!