Last Updated on December 16, 2022
Last Updated on December 16, 2022
Those of us who live in Durham, North Carolina, enjoy our funky, thriving city and all the fun things to do here! However, despite all the fun places to visit (including the free stuff!), you might want to seek day trips from Durham before committing to long weekend getaways.
For those occasions, we’ve made a list of the best day trips from Durham that will surely pique your interest! From busy cities to small towns, these quick getaways from Durham are perfect for a day trip or even longer!
To help you plan your adventures, we’ve organized these day trips from Durham by distance and within the following sections:
- 15 Outdoor Day Trips from Durham (State Parks sites nearby)
- 9 Cities
- 26 Small Towns
Read More: Day Trips in North Carolina
Outdoor Day Trips from Durham
We love visiting Eno River State Park, the often overlooked Brumley Nature Preserve, and more outdoor fun in and around Durham. Here are some outdoor day trips from Durham’s downtown, all within a two-hour drive.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
15 miles | 19 minutes
While living in the relatively flat Piedmont that makes up Durham and its surroundings, it’s easy to think that there are no mountain peaks here.
There’s a fun 2.2-mile Mountain Loop that will take you to the Overlook Trail and a view of the Eno River below. From start to finish, there’s a 350-foot change in elevation.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area
11 miles | 22 minutes
There are quite a few ways to enjoy Falls Lake, from simply admiring its beautiful water to digging into its many recreational opportunities. Of course, you can enjoy fishing, boating, and swimming here, but there are also trails to explore.
The park’s trails range from short and easy to lengthy and challenging. The Rolling View Kids TRACK Trail (0.75 miles) is a great introduction to Falls Lake for all ages and levels of hikers. The Falls Lake Trail is much more challenging, as it runs 50 miles along the shore.
Mountain biking trails also await at Falls Lake, each varying in difficulty. You’ll find a few intermediate loops (Inner, Outer, and West) while more serious riders can test their mettle on the advanced South Loop.
From the Falls Lake Dam on the other side of the park, you can start the 27.5-mile Neuse River Greenway. It’s one of the most scenic points of that trail.
Read More: Day Trips from Raleigh
William B Umstead State Park
Crabtree Access: 16 miles | 20 minutes
Glenwood Access: 13 miles | 22 minutes
Situated between I-40 and US-70, William B. Umstead State Park is the perfect place to escape the busy surroundings of Durham and Wake counties. You can do a lot inside the park, as its trails welcome hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders.
When hiking here, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed Sycamore (7.2 miles round trip) and Sal’s Branch (2.8 miles round trip), with each offering lovely, tree-covered walks.
You can also hike in search of the chainsaw art off the Multi-Use Trails. Here, a massive oak tree was transformed via chainsaws by Jerry Redi and Randy Boni of Smoky Mountain Art in October 2017.
This chainsaw art is easy to find if you’re starting the Multi-Use Trails from the Glenwood Access on a bicycle or horseback. It’s further away from the Crabtree Access, but still reachable by bike or horse.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
29 miles | 33 miles
Another of our favorite day trips from Durham is Jordan Lake. Fishing, boating, and marveling at the beautiful water are a few of the most popular things to do here.
Another great reason to visit Jordan Lake is for a look at our national bird, the bald eagle. The lake supports the largest concentration of them in the eastern US.
Along with great birding opportunities, you can hike the New Hope Trail, which is one of the most popular and challenging paths. Incredible views of Jordan Lake await along this path that runs through a shady hardwood forest.
Read More: Hiking Trails near Raleigh and Durham
Haw River State Park
64 miles | 1 hour 2 minutes
Haw River State Park once served as a retreat for the Episcopal Diocese of NC. Conferences and retreats still take place today, but visitors can access this park for hikes, fishing, picnics, and more.
If you’re into hiking, you’ll love the short boardwalk that splits off the Piedmont Loop Trail (1.4 miles). This boardwalk will take you through the park’s wetlands and to the Haw River’s headwaters.
Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro
Raven Rock State Park
60 miles | 1 hour 6 minutes
The Cape Fear River cuts through Raven Rock State Park, on its way toward the coast. This is perfect destination for all hikers as they offer both easy and difficult hiking trails.
Take the Raven Rock Loop Trail for views that overlook the Cape Fear River. For a look at the actual Raven Rock, walk along the riverbank after climbing down a lengthy set of stairs.
Carvers Creek State Park
Long Valley Road Access: 75 miles | 1 hour 14 minutes
Sandhills Access: 69 miles | 1 hour 29 minutes
The Long Valley Farm Access leads to a former historic retreat of the Rockefeller family. You’ll pass a 100-acre millpond along the way, too.
From the Sandhills Access, you can walk, bike, or ride a horse on the Longleaf Pine Trail. A stop at the pond is a nice break between pine-lined views.
You can access it via a short offshoot along the Longleaf Pine Trail, about a mile from the parking lot.
Medoc Mountain State Park
74 miles | 1 hour 18 minutes
It sits on roughly 3,900 acres near Hollister and is perfect for anyone seeking isolation among the trees and water. At Medoc Mountain, you’ll also find plenty of open space and tables for picnics.
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
77 miles | 1 hour 19 minutes
Weymouth Woods in Southern Pines boasts scenic trails that interweave with one another around the Weymouth Tract. This is where you’ll find the Visitor Center, one of the most impressive we’ve found in our state parks system.
We love creating a 1.5-mile loop by combining Pine Barrens with Gum Swamp, though there are more options to create longer hikes if you wish to do so.
Two additional tracts await at Weymouth Woods. Paint Hill has 1.3 miles of trails, and the Round Timber Trail at the Boyd Tract will take you by the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.
Mayo River State Park
93 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes
Mayo River State Park is a developing park but still one of the most fun day trips from Durham on this list.
Fun things to do here include fishing or kicking back at one of their nice picnic spots, including a large shelter. Among the 2.5 miles of trails here, the Mayo Mountain Loop and Mayo River TRACK trails are prominent ones.
Pilot Mountain State Park
102 miles | 1 hour 31 minutes
While driving toward Pilot Mountain State Park, you’ll realize that it’s worthy of multiple day trips from Durham. Please be sure to plan ahead, as its parking lots fill up quickly on weekends.
When you hike the short Little Pinnacle Overlook Trail (0.1 miles) and have a look at Big Pinnacle, you’ll see why.
There are longer hikes at Pilot Mountain, including the Mountain Trail (4.3 miles, Red Blaze) that connects to Grindstone Trail (3 miles, Blue Blaze). Combine the two to make a roughly 6-mile loop.
Uwharrie National Forest
100 miles | 1 hour 35 minutes
Uwharrie National Forest is the only national forest in Central North Carolina and great for day trips from Durham. It’s a great place for ATV and off-roading, but also a nice space for hiking, mountain biking, boating, camping, and much more.
The Badin Lake area is one of the prettiest and most fun to explore.
For stunning views, we also love to hit the trails at the attached Morrow Mountain State Park.
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
92 miles | 1 hour 41 minutes
The beautiful Cliffs of the Neuse State Park (near Goldsboro) offers gorgeous scenery and a rare scenic overlook of the Neuse River. Hop on the easy hiking trails, pack a picnic, and enjoy the day here.
If you’re looking to get on the water, you can rent a boat, grab a fishing pole, or swim over to the diving platform! You can stay at one of the park’s fantastic primitive cabins.
To get started with it all, stop by the family-friendly visitors center with educational tools for kids of all ages!
Hanging Rock State Park
100 miles | 1 hour 50 minutes
We try to be as transparent as possible here. Hanging Rock State Park will always our first choice of all these outdoor day trips from Durham.
Whether its seeking out beautiful views via the Hanging Rock Trail or Moore’s Wall, enjoying a day on the Dan River or near it via the Riverbluffs Trail, or scoping out the closest waterfalls near Durham (for example, Lower Cascades Falls), this park has it all.
It’s possibly most important of all at Hanging Rock to arrive as early as possible or on a weekday. Everyone else in the state knows about this park and is coming to enjoy it, too.
Jones Lake State Park
118 miles | 1 hour 52 minutes
You can visit Jones Lake State Park within 2 hours, while White Lake, Lake Waccamaw, and other Carolina Bays sit just outside that time to reach. At Jones Lake, you can fish, get on the shallow water with a boat, and enjoy a scenic picnic by the water.
Hiking is also fun here, especially in the relatively warmer winter months. The Bay Trail runs around Jones Lake and through the forest. You can connect to the Salters Lake Trail via the Bay Trail and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.
Day Trips from Durham (Cities)
25 miles | 35 minutes
Raleigh is easily one of the most popular day trips from Durham. As the state’s capital, there is plenty to do, from outdoor recreation to educational museums, and delicious restaurants. It’s easy to pack a whole day of fun here!
Raleigh is well known for its outdoor parks and greenways. We enjoy biking the Art to Heart trail that begins at the NC Museum of Art. Explore miles of city greenways or check out sunflowers at Dorothea Dix Park.
19 miles | 22 minutes
Ashworth Drugs is a must-visit while in Cary, as its old-fashioned soda found vibes nicely with hot dogs, chips, and drinks.
There are also plenty of outdoor activities in Cary! You can hop on the American Tobacco Trail or one of the city’s other great greenways. Hike the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve for a true reprieve from the city.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro
15 miles | 28 minutes
Home to the Triangle’s best Farmer’s Market and America’s oldest university, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are welcome neighbors to Durham!
In the summer, make a day of picking lavender at Lavender Oaks, followed by a visit to Honeysuckle Tea House. Wherever you are in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, there are plenty of small businesses and unique specialty and gift shops to explore.
You can learn about many of them in one visit by joining a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour.
54 miles | 54 minutes
One of the best day trips from Durham is Greensboro, also known as Gate City! You can hop on a train and arrive at the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum (formerly the Greensboro Children’s Museum) if you’re looking to leave the car at home.
Many of the city’s most delicious restaurants sit near downtown, too.
69 miles | 1 hour 5 minutes
However, there’s more to the city and the John Coltrane Statue at S Hamilton St & Commerce Ave is a great way to start understanding that. The statue honors the home-grown legend who learned saxophone while living here as a child.
Another place to go is High Point City Lake Park, where you can walk around, grab a paddleboat, and go for a train ride. For seasonal fun, visit High Point between mid-April and October and check out All-A-Flutter Farm. This is a working butterfly farm and something you just have to see in person.
80 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes
Winston-Salem is close enough to Durham that it makes for the perfect day trip or weekend getaway. Packed with history around tobacco, Moravians, outdoor fun, and more, Winston-Salem is one of our favorite Central NC cities to explore.
You can easily spend an entire day just at Old Salem or Reynolda House and Village, but don’t forget about the Downtown Arts District. The arts scene warrants another visit just to browse the murals, drink some beer, and hit up the old Shell Station.
Beyond the ones we’ve mentioned, there are some truly interesting museums in Winston-Salem for all to explore.
89 miles | 1 hour 24 minutes
Of course, we think you need to visit the Cape Fear Botanical Garden and the US Airborne and Special Operations Museum while in Fayetteville. The downtown itself is a fun place to visit, too, especially if you’re searching for food and beer.
Our favorites are ever-changing, but we can attest to the year-round awesomeness at the Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop. They have a few locations around town, in case you’re not near downtown.
100 miles | 1 hour 50 minutes
Make sure to visit The Greenville Museum of Art as well as the Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum. There are also wonderful opportunities for canoeing on the Tar River providing a unique way to spend the day.
124 miles | 1 hour 51 minutes
Concord is the last city you’ll pass on I-85 when heading to and from Charlotte and there’s really something for everyone in this city. Many people don’t know that Charlotte Motor Speedway and Great Wolf Lodge Water Park are based here until they visit.
But it’s also a great spot for people like us who love the outdoors. Frank Liske Park and Irish Buffalo Creek Greenway are two wonderful public spaces and the historic Reed Gold Mine gives you some fresh air while also offering insight into the NC gold rush.
We also think you need to know about our favorite restaurants in Concord and Cabarrus County, which can handle every occasion during your time here.
Concord is a wonderful gateway into Cabarrus County, as we love exploring the town before venturing out into its neighbors like Kannapolis, which is home to the NC Music Hall of Fame and the Kannapolis Cannonballers.
Mount Pleasant is also in the county and where you’ll embark on a real adventure Southern Grace, also known as Whiskey Prison.
Day Trips from Durham (Small Towns)
We possibly saved the best day trips from Durham for last, depending on how much you love these amazing small towns.
14 miles | 17 minutes
Hillsborough is one of the shortest day trips from Durham, especially if you live on the I-85 side of town. Stroll through the River Walk or Gold Park, or enjoy the views of the Eno River from above at the aforementioned Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area!
Either way, we hope you enjoy the incredible small-town charm found here. Whether you’re coming to Hillsborough to go strawberry picking or enjoying a pint at The Wooden Nickel, you might find yourself dreaming of moving here.
The Historic Occoneechee Speedway, which was once home to a NASCAR dirt track, is also located in Hillsborough. It makes for a great walking path with remnants of old cars and NASCAR history along the mile loop.
24 miles | 25 minutes
Mebane is an adorable train station town distinguished by brick buildings and friendly people. There are many exciting places to shop in Mebane, such as Melville Trading Company and the Curious Peddler.
22 miles | 30 minutes
Apex is a small town in the Research Triangle with a quaint historic downtown lined with shops and restaurants. Try pizza at Anna’s and milkshakes from FRESH, and don’t miss the Apex Farmers Market during the warmer months.
About six miles of the American Tobacco Trail is in Wake County, even ending in Apex. It’s the most scenic portion, with Beaver Creek one of our favorite spots to stop about a mile from the southern end.
23 miles | 37 minutes
The visitor center for Falls Lake sits in Wake Forest and that’s just the start of why we love this town. The downtown is lovely for a walk and if you like NC Beer, stop by White Street Brewing Company for a pint or something to take home.
You can also visit the Wake Forest Historical Museum and learn about the former site of the college that eventually moved to Winston-Salem. Before you leave, visit E. Carroll Joyner Park and tour its gardens, pecan grove, and more.
Burlington and Graham
35 miles | 38 minutes
Burlington has a nice and cozy downtown but boasts an impressive outdoor recreation scene as well. If you head downtown, make sure to grab a hotdog at Zack’s–you won’t regret it!
30 miles | 39 minutes
Visit Saxapahaw General Store (aka Saxaco) for some great local eats before moving onto the rest of our favorite town to pronounce.
Summer evening happenings include the “Saxapahaw concert series,” a great collection of outdoor shows. On your way out, stop by Left Bank Butchery for some choice cuts and charcuterie.
36 miles | 40 minutes
If you want to learn more about Pittsboro, head to the Chatham Historical Museum, which offers detailed background on the area. An exceptional place in Pittsboro is the Carolina Tiger Rescue, a rehabilitation center for wildlife and a wonderful learning experience.
We know this guide is geared to day trips from Durham, but if you are looking for a great date night away, head to Fearrington Village. This farming village turned luxury destination has amazing food and shops.
57 miles | 55 minutes
Located right off I-40, Benson makes for a good day trip, especially if you’re looking to go to Redneck BBQ Lab. Serving competition-style barbecue (not North Carolina barbecue), Redneck has some of the best flavors coming out of a gas station.
Many people come to Benson for the chance to ride a hot air balloon with Carolina High Hot Air Balloon Company. There’s plenty of fun here throughout the year, but in September, the annual Benson Mule Days tradition is the most festive time.
55 miles | 56 minutes
Home to the Ava Gardner Museum, Smithfield recognizes the iconic Johnston County native with an impressive collection and artifacts. Afterward, visit Double Barley Brewing off US-70, a hopping place.
Grab something to eat at one of the many diners and restaurants, including White Swan Bar-B-Q and Fried Chicken.
48 miles | 57 minutes
When it’s warm outside, Cape Fear River Adventures in Lillington is where you go to rent canoes, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, or river tubes. After spending some time on the beautiful Cape Fear River, grab a meal at the on-site Lost Paddle Tavern.
While Lillington is near Raven Rock State Park, there are some additional outdoor experiences to warrant multiple day trips from Durham just to Lillington. You can either hop on the Botanical Trail or take the kids (and your dog) to Anderson Creek County Park.
If you’re heading to Raven Rock State Park from places to the south or east, like Fayetteville, you will pass through Lillington. It’s a great spot if you still need to load up on food and supplies.
75 miles | 1 hour 13 minutes
Home to a wonderful downtown and the nearby Weymouth Woods (already mentioned above), Southern Pines also boasts a thriving arts community. You can catch a film at Sunrise Theatre or stroll through the gardens of Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities.
75 miles | 1 hour 13 minutes
79 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes
Asheboro and its surroundings in Randolph County are known as the “heart of North Carolina,” not just because of geographic location. While the town does sit directly in the center of the state, Asheboro is home to the North Carolina Zoo and plenty of other fun things to do.
As the largest zoological park in the world, you can easily spend an entire day at the NC Zoo. A few other fun reasons to take day trips from Durham to Asheboro include a visit to the Petty Museum in Randleman and Millstone Family Orchards in Ramseur.
84 miles | 1 hour 18 minutes
Start your day trip to Rocky Mount with a visit to Rocky Mount Mills, and you won’t be disappointed! This restored mill district now serves as a beer incubator and hosts some of the best restaurants in Rocky Mount.
You should walk around or ride past Sunset and other parks, Rocky Mount Mills, and more Rocky Mount attractions via the Tar River Trail. It’s a 4-mile greenway that runs along the river and offers a nice mix of scenery.
Speaking of the river, you can also paddle along the Tar River Paddle Trail.
77 miles | 1 hour 20 minutes
We can’t mention Moore County (see Weymouth Woods and Southern Pines) without discussing Pinehurst. You can make innumerable day trips from Durham to Pinehurst, where you can browse and shop at unique boutiques and galleries!
Spend some time at Pinehurst Resort, where you can tee off on the same greens that many PGA winners have played on. The course and its accompanying resort will make you feel like you’ve stumbled onto the ultimate Southern luxury retreat.
78 miles | 1 hour 20 minutes
Browse the locally owned shops and make sure to drive out to Dudley for some amazing barbecue at Grady’s.
84 miles | 1 hour 20 minutes
Sip sip sip and follow it up with traditional Lexington-style barbecue! With pork shoulder cooked low and slow, served with tomato vinegar and red slaw, eating in Lexington is a culinary must.
Beyond barbecue and wine, Lexington is also home to some fun local shops, including Conrad & Hinkle, makers of some legendary pimento cheese.
85 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes
One of the most unique day trips from Durham is a visit to the “Handmade Pottery Capital of the United States!” Seagrove is home to over 100 potters within a 20-mile radius.
Many of them will open their studios for visitors like you (and us) to get a close look at the pottery process.
Start at the North Carolina Pottery Center and let them help you make a plan of studios to visit!
87 miles | 1 hour 31 minutes
Markers and signs along the way will demonstrate the Roanoke River’s importance to this area. Stop and walk inside the museum, where you’ll find plenty of information about the people who helped make the river a prominent trade route.
Speaking of Roanoke Rapids Lake, that’s a nice spot for swimming, fishing, and for hanging out by the water. Elsewhere in Roanoke Rapids, you’ll find a series of historic buildings, including the original Roanoke Rapids High School.
Before you leave Halifax County, check out Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck. This wonderful park is home to the world’s biggest collection of endangered and rare waterfowl.
104 miles | 1 hour 34 minutes
However, if you’re lucky enough to visit during May, you can celebrate all things cherry-flavored during the annual Cheerwine Festival. Throughout the year, Salisbury’s five historic districts are one of the hottest tourist spots.
While you’re in Rowan County, head a few miles down the road to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer. The entire family (not just the kids!) is guaranteed to love this place!
114 miles | 1 hour 44 minutes
Located in Pitt County near Greenville, Ayden might be a pretty small town, but it is bursting with flavor. Some of the most iconic North Carolina barbecue restaurants are in Ayden, and we often make day trips from Durham to Ayden just for them.
116 miles | 1 hour 46 minutes
While sometimes associated with Pilot Mountain, you’ll need extra day trips from Durham to fully explore Mount Airy. The Surry County town is known for its great food options, including old-school ones like The Snappy Lunch and Walker’s Soda Fountain.
Since Mount Airy is within the wonderful Yadkin Valley, you’ll be sure to find excellent wineries here. The Surry County Wine Trail is a fun one to follow and Round Peak Vineyards is the northernmost winery in the Yadkin Valley.
It’s also one of our absolute favorites. You can sip on their tasty wines or drink Skull Camp beer, which is also owned by these wonderful people.
Spirits are also produced here, with Mayberry Spirits Distillery’s sorghum-based whiskey and whiskey-infused products leading the charge.
106 miles | 1 hour 50 minutes
Kinston is one of our favorite day trips from Durham along US-70. You may know it from chef Vivian Howard’s PBS show “A Chef’s Life.”
In the series, she highlighted local farmers and ways to cook with various ingredients. While in Kinston, you can’t miss out on a meal at her restaurant, Chef and the Farmer.
There’s also plenty of history to explore in Kinston, including the CSS Neuse Museum and the CSS Neuse II. You can mix food and history with a meal at Hawk’s Nest, also the site of sit-ins between 1961 and 1963.
Kinston is also known for its art scene; the smART Kinston City Project has art installations all over the town. Kids will love the playground options in town, and also the Neuseway Nature Park & Campground.
Stay an extra day to explore all the art at Mother Earth Motor Lodge.
124 miles | 1 hour 51 minutes
Statesville brings back many memories of childhood stops while driving I-77 to and from Charlotte. Beyond its convenient location along one of our busiest interstates, there’s a wonderful community that begs to be explored. The biggest event here is Carolina Balloon Fest, which takes place in October.
If you’re in town on the third weekend of October, just look up and you’ll likely see a sky filled with colorful balloons. In case you didn’t know already, an operator like Big Oh! Balloons can take you up throughout the year.
Beyond balloons, there’s an interesting mix of outdoor and historic fun to explore in Statesville. Dig into some unique French and Indian War history at Fort Dobbs. The Statesville Greenway is another fun way to enjoy the outdoors in the area, too.
Spirits connoisseurs should pay respects to Southern Distilling Company, which honors Statesville’s distilling history and future with some of the best straight bourbon whiskey.
Read More: 30+ Awesome Things to Do in Statesville
123 miles | 1 hour 52 minutes
Luckily, you can explore more of the Yadkin Valley within 2 hours from Durham. Elkin is where you’ll find the heart of this region, with so many wineries in and around the town. We could go on about our favorites but will leave you with Adagio and Slightly Askew for starters.
Speaking of the town, we highly recommend a stroll through Downtown Elkin. It’s home to great shops, even better restaurants, and the iconic Reeves Theater.
You won’t be sorry!
We mentioned Skull Camp beer being served at Round Peak in Mount Airy but think you should also check out their Taproom and Smokehouse in Elkin. Come for the beer and wine but don’t leave without trying some smoked wings or any of their other food. We always have to stop here when we’re in the area.
The Carter Falls Trailhead (0.4 miles round trip) is our favorite because you can reach a beautiful waterfall within a short, half-mile hike.
127 miles | 1 hour 59 minutes
Mooresville is one of Statesville’s neighbors in Iredell County and a wonderful gateway to Lake Norman. There’s a nice downtown to explore and because of auto racing’s huge presence here, you can tour many of the top NASCAR team shops while in Mooresville.
JR Motorsports, Team Penske, and Kyle Busch Motorsports are all based here. Inside each of their shops, you’ll find cars, trophies, memorabilia, and special swag to take home.
Before we leave Mooresville, we think you should know about Carrigan Farms. This fifth-generation farm offers U-pick fruits and vegetables and during hot summer days, their natural rock quarry swimming hole is perfect for cooling off.
Ready to Explore these Day Trips from Durham?
In case you live in the area or plan to visit for an extended period of time, we think you’ll enjoy these getaways in the form of fun outdoor spots, small towns, and nearby cities.
Do you have any day trips from Durham that you’d like to share with us? Let us know about your favorite places to visit nearby in Central North Carolina, but also drivable spots in Western and Eastern NC.