We were recently asked to share our favorite day trips from Raleigh and Durham (plus Chapel Hill!), plus other spots in the Research Triangle (Triangle for short). And since there are so many places within an hour or two from this part of Central North Carolina, you know we had to come up with a list!
This area has just about everything you could ever want, including legendary barbecue, awesome small filled with quaint shops, mountainous parks, and so much more.
To be clear, these day trips are within two hours of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, with a little leeway given to those that went a little over. Still, we had to make some tough choices and leave out some of our favorites that are just over two hours or closer to three away.
Hopefully, you’ll understand and find inspiration to visit the spots that made the cut on this epic list of day trips from Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and elsewhere in the Triangle!
You’ll find many of these day trips on our NC bucket list, which you can preview just below. We originally created this post on February 19, 2020.
Note: For the purposes of this article, cities and towns in each section will be grouped alphabetically. We thought about population sizes and distances but the massive headache that resulted led us back to our ABCs.
Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill
Before we get into our favorite day trips, here’s a breakdown of the main three that everyone knows. Not only are these names synonymous with the Triangle, but Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are amazing places to spend at least a day.
Here’s what we enjoy about each place in more detail.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro
- Raleigh to Chapel Hill/Carrboro: 28 miles (42 minutes)
- Durham to Chapel Hill/Carrboro: 14 miles (30 minutes)
Note: Travel times vary according to when you decide to visit these places, due to weather, traffic congestion, and other factors.
Most people know Chapel Hill as the home of America’s oldest public university, the University of North Carolina. And if you’re coming from Durham, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard of a certain basketball rivalry?
Aside from all that, we love taking a day trip to Chapel Hill, even spending a whole weekend there! You can throw a dart (don’t really) and find an awesome place to eat along Franklin Street.
TOPO, in the center of town, is an awesome place to chill with some brews and stare down at all the people walking around. Another fun find is the Ackland Museum of Art, home to 19,000 pieces.
You can also head to the outskirts with some friends and walk around Lavender Oaks in the summer or Honeysuckle Tea House in Carrboro throughout the year.
Speaking of Carrboro, I’m apologizing in advance to folks who live there by lumping them in with Chapel Hill. Sorry! Regardless, some of our favorite places to eat are there and you can learn about them while doing a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour.
Also, Carrboro is home to the Triangle’s BEST Farmer’s Market, which you can fight me over before visiting. Afterward, you’ll agree with me!
Our guide to a weekend in Chapel Hill and Orange County highlights these things and more, including what you should do in Hillsborough (see below).
- Raleigh to Durham: 25 miles (35 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Durham: 14 miles (30 minutes)
Grab a cup of joe from one of our favorite Durham coffee shops, which are diverse and all awesome in their own ways. Head downtown and browse the shops of Main Street or Ninth Street before grabbing a drink at either Alley Twenty Six or Fullsteam.
The latter is one of many awesome breweries in Durham.
If #optoutside is your jam, then you’re in luck because there are plenty of outdoor things to do in Durham! You can smell the roses at Sarah P. Duke Gardens also venture away from town into the Eno River State Park.
- Durham to Raleigh: 25 miles (35 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Raleigh: 28 miles (42 minutes)
Raleigh and its surroundings in Wake County get lumped together, but for this post, we’ll focus on our capital city, which is definitely a day trip-worthy place!
We’ve spent so many weekends here (even during winter) and love starting with a visit to either the NC Museum of Art (inside or at the Art Park) or Umstead State Park for chainsaw art and walks along Sycamore Trail.
Dorothea Dix Park rules for views of Raleigh’s skyline but in summer, it especially brightens up with the absolutely Instagram-worthy Raleigh sunflowers. Or if you’re wanting to check out some history and culture no matter when you visit, there are plenty of free events happening throughout the year.
We’ve also come here many times for day dates and always arrive hungry for all of the delicious restaurants in Raleigh! Here, you’ll find James Beard award-winning chefs and interesting international-themed places (ex. Lafayette Village).
Either way, you’ll come away thinking there just aren’t enough meals in a day!
If you’ve got a question about day trips from either Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill, please let us know. We’ll be happy to help you!
Day Trips from Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill
Note: Travel times listed are approximate and some distances include toll roads.
These are the bigger cities that you can reach within a couple of hours, with some much closer than others. These places are also featured in our guide to the coolest cities in North Carolina!
- Raleigh to Cary: 12 miles (16 minutes)
- Durham to Cary: 19 miles (22 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Cary: 23 miles (33 minutes)
While it’s technically one of Raleigh’s neighbors as part of Wake County, we Cary can feel like a day trip, depending on where you’re starting from! And it’s totally worth the journey, regardless of what you like doing.
You can find a variety of international food in Cary, including Korean barbecue at the Honey Pig or Bosphorous for Mediterranean food. You can even go back in time with a hot dog, some chips, and a drink at Ashworth Drugs.
There’s also plenty of outdoor fun to find in Cary and we love starting at the interestingly unique Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.
Also, make sure to go to Booth Amphitheatre for shows throughout the year and especially during the annual North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival!
- Raleigh to Fayetteville: 65 miles (1 hour)
- Durham to Fayetteville: 89 miles (1 hour 24 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Fayetteville: 74 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
Fayetteville is one of our favorite day trip places to go for a lot of reasons!
Downtown Fayetteville is absolutely wonderful and filled with great shops. You’ll also notice that there are plenty of outdoor things to do in Fayetteville too, including the awesome Cape Fear Botanical Garden.
Since you probably know Fort Bragg is right around the corner, you can expect there to a lot of patriotic pride in Fayetteville. That is an understatement, as you’ll find when visiting any of their veteran-owned breweries and related businesses.
As you’ll see, there are plenty of ways to support the servicemen and women of Cumberland County and in surrounding counties.
You can also learn about military history up close at the US Airborne and Special Operations Museum.
- Raleigh to Greensboro: 77 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Durham to Greensboro: 54 miles (54 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Greensboro: 50 miles (50 minutes)
From the rise of its textile industry to important civil rights history, Greensboro is an excellent place to learn about before venturing out for day trips. Making the drive is quickest from Durham and Chapel Hill, but Raleigh is still within quick reach.
You’ll want to stick around for more and can enjoy an excellent stay at Proximity Hotel or its sister property O Henry. That’ll give you a leg up on everyone else who wants to fuel up on delicious Greensboro restaurants or those seeking a day at the Greensboro Science Center.
We could go on about more and have done just that in our guide to a weekend in Greensboro.
- Raleigh to Greenville: 90 miles (1 hour 40 minutes)
- Durham to Greenville: 100 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Greenville: 113 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
Greenville is firstly known as the home of Eastern Carolina University, but there’s plenty more to do than attend school here. The Greenville Museum of Art and Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum are a couple of nice ways to start.
Hops lovers will enjoy Pitt Street Brewing Company and Uptown Brewing Company and barbecue fiends must visit B’s, plain and simple.
One thing we’re always excited to see is Pirate Fest in April. This huge event straddles the Tar River and is fun for all ages!
- Raleigh to Winston-Salem: 103 miles (1 hour 38 minutes)
- Durham to Winston-Salem: 80 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Winston-Salem: 77 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
Winston-Salem is teeming with a history that goes beyond Big Tobacco and its place as North Carolina’s economic powerhouse.
Before that, Moravians traveled from Bethlehem, PA to what is now Old Salem to establish their community. Honestly, we think you could spend a whole just learning about this community.
Definitely take a tour of the historic Reynolda House and Village and browse the funky shops and public murals of the Downtown Arts District. These are just a few of our favorite things to do in Winston-Salem.
Of course, you need to eat in Winston-Salem and you can start with a bite of soul food at Sweet Potatoes. You can also experience French food at its finest at The Katharine. As you’ll see, there are so many Winston-Salem restaurants to explore for many days out.
If you’re planning to stay for longer than a day, these historic hotels are an excellent way to spend a night.
Smaller Cities, Towns, and Parks
- Raleigh to Apex: 15 miles (20 minutes)
- Durham to Apex: 22 miles (30 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Apex: 23 miles (35 minutes)
“The Peak of Good Living” is more than just a motto in Apex. In 2015, This place was named Money Magazine’s number 1 place to live in the US and for good reason!
With a quaint historic downtown that reminds you of yesteryear, it’s easy to enjoy the shops and restaurants on Salem Street. Grab some of the best pizza ever at Anna’s and wash it down with a milkshake at FRESH.
Apex is certainly a warm and friendly place so be careful or else you’ll be calling it home!
- Raleigh to Asheboro: 72 miles (1 hour 25 minutes)
- Durham to Asheboro: 79 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Asheboro: 53 miles (1 hour 10 minutes)
Asheboro and its Randolph County surroundings are easily one of our favorite spots for a getaway. For starters, Asheboro is probably one of the most unique small towns on this list.
Whether you’re making the day trip to explore the NC Zoo, which is the world’s largest natural habitat zoological park, or exploring some of North Carolina’s racing history at the Petty Museum in Randleman, there is something to do for everyone here!
Asheboro also sits at the end of the Uwharrie Scenic Road, which we featured in our guide to scenic North Carolina road trips!
- Raleigh to Ayden: 92 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Durham to Ayden: 114 miles (1 hour 44 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Ayden: 118 miles (2 hours)
If you’re talking barbecue, then you absolutely must include Ayden in the discussion. While there isn’t much else to do in Ayden beyond filling up on legendary barbecue, we could argue that to be plenty worth a trip!
Skylight Inn Barbecue is recognized as being one of the most iconic Eastern North Carolina Barbecue joints and is worth a day trip for. And if you want a second lunch, Bum’s in downtown is also incredible.
Just make sure to save room for their banana pudding!
- Raleigh to Benson: 33 miles (35 minutes)
- Durham to Benson: 57 miles (55 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Benson: 61 miles (1 hour 5 minutes)
Celebrate some of North Carolina’s once illicit history at Broadslab Distillery in Benson. It’s home to North Carolina’s first spirits that go from farm-to-distillery and owned by a family that’s steeped in the history of moonshining.
You can also learn more about the area at the Benson Museum of Local History and also, take a ride in the sky with Carolina High Hot Air Balloon Company.
If there’s one time of year you MUST visit, Benson Mule Days in September is an annual tradition that even my husband once visited as a child.
- Raleigh to Burlington: 58 miles (1 hour)
- Durham to Burlington: 35 miles (38 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Burlington: 32 miles (35 minutes)
Burlington has a nice and cozy downtown (grab a hot dog at Zack’s!) and also a few lakes that are perfect if you’re into kayaking or canoeing. Their Animal Park at the Conservators Center hosts events throughout the year, definitely something worth keeping an eye out for!
You can also pop over to Graham and grab a bite at the Soda Shop before enjoying some time at the Children’s Museum of Alamance County. Our little one loves this place and if you’ve got a young child, this is the next place for you to go!
- Raleigh to Goldsboro: 54 miles (1 hour)
- Durham to Goldsboro: 78 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Goldsboro: 82 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
Goldsboro is home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, but also a hotbed of culture, so much food, and tons of things to do! The city and its Wayne County surroundings are especially known for their “Four Ps,” which include planes, pigs, poultry, and one more thing we mention in this post!
If you’re in downtown Goldsboro make a trip to Well Travelled Beer to browse their unique selection. On your way home, make sure to stop in Mt Olive at R&R Brewing and say “hello!” to our friend and owner, Ryan!
As we mentioned, you’ll find plenty of delicious restaurants in Goldsboro and adorable locally-owned shops all around. Those are just a few reasons we think this place is worth multiple day trips from Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill.
Hanging Rock State Park
- Raleigh to Hanging Rock State Park: 125 miles (2 hours 15 minutes)
- Durham to Hanging Rock State Park: 100 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Hanging Rock State Park: 97 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
At just around 2 hours away, we view Hanging Rock State Park as our “mountains away from the mountains.” If you’ve ever visited, you’ll know what we’re talking about here.
In a word, this place is awesome! It’s filled with fun trails, including the ever-popular Hanging Rock and our favorite, Moore’s Knob. Inside and just outside the park, there are also some beautiful waterfalls worth exploring.
We absolutely love this park and have spent so much time at Hanging Rock, that we just had to create a guide to it. Read more about it here.
- Raleigh to Hillsborough: 38 miles (43 minutes)
- Durham to Hillsborough: 14 miles (17 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Hillsborough: 12 miles (19 minutes)
Hillsborough is one of our favorite outings because it’s not only close by, but there are so many family-friendly ways to enjoy this small town! This day trip spot almost feels attached at the hip with Durham but is also within a short drive of Chapel Hill and a slightly longer one from Raleigh.
When you arrive, you can park at Weaver Street, grab a coffee and a biscuit, and then head down the River Walk. Stroll leisurely to Gold Park, take in some beautiful scenes along the Eno River, and enjoy the playground at the end if you brought kids. You can also enjoy walks at the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, which was once a NASCAR dirt track.
For lunch, hang out at The Wooden Nickel and dig into delicious pub food and beer. Don’t forget to save room for something decadent from Matthew’s Chocolates!
Over many visits, we’ve found Hillsborough’s downtown extremely walkable and a great way to enjoy a nice small-town day.
- Raleigh to Kinston: 82 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Durham to Kinston: 106 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Kinston: 110 miles (2 hours)
Many of you who think of Kinston might associate it with Vivian Howard and Mother Earth Brewing. Sure, come here and you’ll find an amazing food scene (including Chef and the Farmer) and, of course, one of our favorite breweries in Mother Earth.
Kinston’s longtime claim to fame, though, is in its art community. Luckily, that continues to thrive with today’s smART Kingston City Project, and the installations found all over town will give you a glimpse into that.
This town is fun to visit throughout the year, especially in May when BBQ Fest on the Neuse takes over. And from spring through the end of summer, Down East Wood Ducks games bring folks from all over the community together to take in Single-A Baseball.
We’re hooked on Kinston and will keep coming back to explore more. For now, check out our guide covering what we’ve found so far.
- Raleigh to Lexington: 106 miles (1 hour 44 minutes)
- Durham to Lexington: 84 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Lexington: 80 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
Visit the home of Lexington-style NC barbecue at the source! With deep roots in smoked pork, Lexington is the place to be for hushpuppies and tomato-based pig!
But beyond the historic pits, this is also where you can pick up some legendary pimento cheese at Conrad & Hinkle or sip delicious wines at Childress Vineyards.
Regardless of what brings you, come hungry and ready to get some eating done! Our guide covers that and more fun things to do in the Barbecue Capital.
- Raleigh to Mebane: 47 miles (50 minutes)
- Durham to Mebane: 24 miles (25 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Mebane: 20 miles (25 minutes)
Mebane’s motto is “Positively Charming” and if you get a chance to stroll down Clay St, you’ll see exactly why! We love eating at the Downtown Table and grabbing coffee at Filament to start things off.
There are also some interesting places to shop downtown, including Melville Trading Company and the Curious Peddler. You can get here via I-85/I-40 but I like the more relaxed approach of running into Mebane along US-70.
Give both a try and let us know what you think!
- Raleigh to Pinehurst: 70 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Durham to Pinehurst: 77 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Pinehurst: 65 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
Pinehurst is a short 12-minute drive from downtown Southern Pines and is worthy of day trips from Raleigh and the rest of the Triangle! At Pinehurst Resort, you can tee off on the same greens as many PGA winners.
You can also browse and shop at unique boutiques and galleries at Pinehurst Village. This place will make you feel like you’ve stumbled onto the ultimate Southern luxury retreat.
- Raleigh to Pittsboro: 34 miles (43 minutes)
- Durham to Pittsboro: 36 miles (40 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Pittsboro: 17 miles (28 minutes)
Pittsboro is an unassuming small town filled with unique shops and must-eat barbecue (Allen & Son is one of a few)!
For background on the area, the first floor of the courthouse is home to the Chatham Historical Museum, which offers a nice and quick lesson on the county.
One of the best things to do in this entire guide—Carolina Tiger Rescue—is in this town, too. This nonprofit provides treatment and, in many cases, a new life to rescued wildcats.
Fearrington Village is also nearby and an ideal wedding destination. You’ll find amazing food, shopping, and a place to watch the beautiful farm animals run around!
Raven Rock State Park
- Raleigh to Raven Rock State Park: 40 miles (1 hour)
- Durham to Raven Rock State Park: 60 miles (1 hour 6 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Raven Rock State Park: 56 miles (1 hour 7 minutes)
Located near Lillington, the Cape Fear River cuts through the middle of Raven Rock State Park’s 4,684 acres. Here, you’ll find easy flat loops and longer, more difficult hikes. Raven Rock sits along a fall zone making its geological landscape unique.
If you want THE view here, start with the Raven Rock Loop Trail. It’s about 2-1/2 miles long and will lead you to an overlook that stands atop the mighty Cape Fear River. However, you must head down to the riverbank for a look at the actual Raven Rock that towers above.
- Raleigh to Rocky Mount: 59 miles (56 minutes)
- Durham to Rocky Mount: 84 miles (1 hour 18 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Rocky Mount: 88 miles (1 hour 25 minutes)
This Nash County town has everything from delicious local beer to a beautiful outdoor park! Start at Rocky Mount Mills and choose a restaurant and brewery in the restored mill district.
If you do decide to stay for longer than a day trip, River and Twine is the world’s largest tiny house hotel and is absolutely adorable!
Head to Sunset Park in the summer for some outdoor water fun, a train, playground, and even a skate park! There’s also a ninja course for older kids at Ultimate Backyard Warrior.
You can also stretch your legs on the Tar River Trail from Sunset Park or join a canoe excursion on the Tar River Paddle Trail.
- Raleigh to Saxapahaw: 45 miles (57 minutes)
- Durham to Saxapahaw: 30 miles (39 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Saxapahaw: 16 miles (25 minutes)
There’s simply not another word to describe Saxapahaw other than adorable. It’s also our favorite place to say out loud.
Anyway, this small, quaint, and awesome day trip spot is bursting with its own unique vibe. One way to start is with lunch at the five-star gourmet gas station also known as the Saxapahaw General Store.
A brew at Haw River Farmhouse and Ales is a must and don’t go back home without stopping at Left Bank Butchery. You’ll certainly find something to take home among their incredible meat selections!
And if you can stick around for an evening, summer is perfect here, thanks to the “Saturdays in Saxapahaw” concert series! Another fun thing to enjoy here is a full moon paddle on the Haw!
- Raleigh to Seagrove: 85 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Durham to Seagrove: 85 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Seagrove: 60 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
Just when you thought we were done mentioning Randolph County, we couldn’t leave out Seagrove. After all, it’s the “Handmade Pottery Capital of the United States.”
Home to more than 80 potters within a 20-mile radius who open their studios for visitors, you’ll want to explore this area. Each studio is unique in its own way except the fact that you’ll always find something to bring home with you.
- Raleigh to Smithfield: 31 miles (36 minutes)
- Durham to Smithfield: 55 miles (56 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Smithfield: 59 miles (1 hour 4 minutes)
Just off I-95, Smithfield is closest for day trips from Raleigh but easily accessible from the other two. It’s an interesting town that’s home to the Ava Gardner Museum, which recognizes the iconic Johnston County native.
If you’ve come in search of hops, a pint or two at Double Barley Brewing will definitely do the trick. Of course, you can fill your belly at the Rat Pack-decorated Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q, too.
- Raleigh to Southern Pines: 69 miles (1 hour 9 minutes)
- Durham to Southern Pines: 75 miles (1 hour 13 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Southern Pines: 63 miles (1 hour 13 minutes)
Sitting in the heart of the Sandhills, Southern Pines was originally founded as a health resort for Northerners. Today, it’s home to some of America’s top golf courses. But beyond golf, there’s a thriving arts community and even more in Southern Pines.
Whether it’s catching a film at the Sunrise Theater or strolling through the gardens at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, there are some wonderful ways to enjoy this place.
Of course, you can’t leave without stopping at Southern Pines Brewing Company for a pint or a 6-pack to take home!
Uwharrie National Forest
- Raleigh to Uwharrie National Forest: 87 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
- Durham to Uwharrie National Forest: 100 miles (1 hour 35 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Uwharrie National Forest: 73 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
Uwharrie National Forest is perfect for anyone seeking some nature time, whether it’s for walks in the woods, four-wheeling, boating, or all of the above.
For bonus outdoor fun with a view, pop over to Morrow Mountain State Park. It’s about 15 minutes from Uwharrie and home to some of our favorite hikes. On clear days, you can see all the way to Charlotte from the top.
- Raleigh to Wilson: 50 miles (52 minutes)
- Durham to Wilson: 75 miles (1 hour 13 minutes)
- Chapel Hill to Wilson: 79 miles (1 hour 21 minutes)
The final awesome place we’ll chat about is probably one of the easiest day trips from Raleigh, and not too tough to reach from Durham and Chapel Hill. Wilson is known for its kinetic sculptures, also known as Whirligigs, which is quite a sight to see!
We can’t wait to keep coming back and enjoying Wilson for day trips and even weekend getaways!
We hope you’re able to get out and enjoy these awesome cities and towns that are perfect for day trips, whether you’re coming from Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or elsewhere in the Triangle.
As you can see, there’s plenty of history, culture, legendary food, and beautiful landscapes, and all within a relatively short drive!
If you’ve been to any of these spots, we’d love to know which is your favorite and also, which is next on your list!