50 of the Best Day Trips from Raleigh (Fun Getaways!)

Last Updated on September 17, 2021

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After years of living in North Carolina, we have uncovered quite a few great day trips from Raleigh. There are so many places within an hour or two from 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 towns filled with quaint shops, mountainous parks, and so much more.

All of these day trips from Raleigh are reachable within two hours, with one exception in our “outdoors” section. We had to make some tough choices and leave out some of our favorites that are just over two hours or closer to three hours away.

To help you plan your adventures, we’ve organized these day trips from Raleigh by distance and within the following sections:

  • Wake County Day Trips
  • Outdoor Day Trips from Raleigh (Nearby State Parks Sites and Nature Preserves)
  • Cities
  • Small Towns

You’ll find many of these day trips from Raleigh in our guide covering the best things to do in North Carolina.

This post is part of our series of day trips in North Carolina, where we’ve also covered quick getaways from Raleigh’s neighbor Durham, Western NC spots such as Asheville and Boone, and more Central NC places like Greensboro in the Piedmont Triad and Charlotte.

Wake County Day Trips from Raleigh

Note: Travel times listed are approximate and some distances include toll roads.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, there are some pretty interesting day trips from Raleigh within the Wake County lines.

Umstead State Park

Crabtree Access: 10 miles | 16 minutes
Glenwood Access: 12 miles | 23 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC

William B. Umstead State Park is always the first place that comes to mind when we think about day trips from Raleigh in the county. The park sits between I-40 and US-70 and is the perfect place to escape the busy surroundings that include Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

You can do a lot inside the park, as its trails welcome hikers, mountain bikers, and even horseback riders. Some of our favorite Umstead trails include Sycamore (7.2 miles round trip) and Sal’s Branch (2.8 miles round trip), with each offering lovely, tree-covered walks.

Many people (including us) come for the chainsaw art that sits along the Multi-Use Trails. This is where you’ll see a massive oak tree that was transformed via chainsaws by Jerry Redi and Randy Boni of Smoky Mountain Art in October 2017.

You can easily find the chainsaw art by starting the Multi-Use Trails from the Glenwood Access on foot, on a bicycle, or horseback. It’s further away from the Crabtree Access, but still reachable from there by bike or horse.

We created a guide that details exactly how to find this awesome attraction and more inside Umstead State Park!

Cary

12 miles | 16 minutes

Cary is the capital city’s booming neighbor and worth countless day trips from Raleigh, 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 Koka Booth Amphitheatre for shows throughout the year and especially during the annual North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival!

Apex

15 miles | 20 minutes

Downtown Apex NC Image

“The Peak of Good Living” is more than just a motto in Apex.

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!

Falls Lake State Recreation Area

17 miles | 29 minutes

Falls Lake straddles Wake, Durham, and Granville counties but its office and accesses lie in Wake Forest. To avoid confusion, that’s why we’ve included the park in our “Wake County day trips from Raleigh” section.

There are quite a few fun things to do here, from simply admiring its beautiful water to fishing, boating, swimming, and even hiking and biking.

Trails here range from short and easy to lengthy and challenging. There’s a Rolling View Kids TRACK Trail (0.75 miles), which is a great introduction to Falls Lake for all ages and levels of hikers. Then there’s the Falls Lake Trail, a much more challenging 50 mile trail that runs along the shore.

As we mentioned, mountain biking trails also await at Falls Lake, each varying in difficulty. There are a few intermediate loops (Inner, Outer, and West) and more serious riders can test their abilities on the advanced South Loop.

Wake Forest

19 miles | 32 minutes

Speaking of Wake Forest, this town is worthy of many day trips from Raleigh because we think you’ll absolutely love this Wake County town. Walk around downtown stop by White Street Brewing Company for a pint or some wonderful NC beer to take home.

Visit the Wake Forest Historical Museum and learn about the former site of that college we know today in Winston-Salem. If you don’t have time, come back and visit E. Carroll Joyner Park, where you can tour its gardens, pecan grove, and more.

Outdoor Day Trips from Raleigh

Across the Wake County line, you’ll find a variety of fun outdoor day trips from Raleigh.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

24 miles | 31 minutes

While parts of Jordan Lake are accessible from Apex in Wake County, you can also access it via the Chatham County town of Pittsboro. Some of the most popular things to do here include fishing, boating, and marveling at the beautiful water.

You should also visit Jordan Lake for a look at our national bird, the bald eagle. The largest concentration of them in the eastern US are supported by the lake.

At Jordan Lake, you can hike the New Hope Trail, one of the most fun and challenging paths. Incredible views of Jordan Lake lie along this path that runs through a shady hardwood forest.

Brumley Family Nature Preserve

South Access: 35 miles | 37 minutes
North Access: 37 miles | 39 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Brumley Forest Nature Preserve

Brumley Family Nature Preserve sits about two miles south of Hillsborough but technically in Chapel Hill. This wooded collection of 613 acres is managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy and is divided into two sections (North and South).

There are over 15 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore here! North is dedicated to hiking while South’s trails allow all visitors, but is better for mountain biking. Its trails are pretty challenging and might require two runs before you get used to them.

Eno River State Park

Main Office: 35 miles | 41 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Eno River State Park Durham Cox Mountain Trail Suspension Bridge
Cox Mountain Trail Suspension Bridge.

Not far from Brumley is Eno River State Park, which manages a big chunk of the namesake river. This park hosts some of the best hiking trails in the Triangle, if not all of North Carolina.

You’ll need more than a few day trips from Raleigh to explore the 27-plus miles of paths that run through and along the river. Our favorites include Buckquarter Creek, Cole Mill, and Cox Mountain.

The latter starts with a cable suspension bridge that crosses the Eno River. It’s easily one of the park’s most iconic places to visit.

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

38 miles | 43 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is one of few peaks in the Piedmont, with an overlook reminiscent of Western North Carolina. To reach it, you’ll need to park at the trailhead that sits just a short drive outside downtown Hillsborough.

You can hike around the peak via the 2.2-mile Mountain Loop or take the short route to the Overlook Trail that leads to a view of the Eno River below. From the parking lot to the top, there’s a 350-foot change in elevation.

Raven Rock State Park

40 miles | 1 hour

Raven Rock Day Trips from Raleigh

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.

Carvers Creek State Park

Sandhills Access: 64 miles | 1 hour 2 minutes
Long Valley Farm Access: 49 miles | 1 hour 11 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Carvers Creek State Park

One of the coolest outdoor day trips from Raleigh is Carvers Creek State Park in the Fayetteville area. The Cumberland County seat and its neighbor Spring Lake share the park and we love exploring the trails here.

Two accesses have distinct features, with Long Valley Farm leading to the former historic retreat of the Rockefeller family. A 100-acre millpond also awaits behind the home.

From the Sandhills Access, you can stroll, bike, or ride a horse along the Longleaf Pine Trail and stop off at a scenic pond, about a mile from the parking lot.

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

67 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

Not far from Goldsboro, the beautiful Cliffs of the Neuse State Park offers wonderful scenery and a rare overlook of the Neuse River. You can hop on easy hiking trails, pack a picnic, and enjoy the day at this park.

If you’re looking to get on the water, you can do so by renting a boat, bringing a fishing pole, or swimming over to the diving platform! The park’s fantastic primitive cabins are a great retreat if you’re looking to extend your day trips from Raleigh.

To get started with it all, stop by the family-friendly visitors center that offers educational tools for kids of all ages!

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

71 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

We love Weymouth Woods (near Southern Pines) for quite a few reasons, but especially its trails that interweave with one another around the Weymouth Tract. This is where many people start and where you’ll find the Visitor Center.

The building is one of the most impressive we’ve found in our state parks system.

If you’re looking to hike here, we love creating a 1.5-mile loop by combining Pine Barrens with Gum Swamp. Of course, there are more options to create longer hikes if you wish to do so.

Two additional tracts await at Weymouth Woods. Paint Hill offers 1.3 miles of trails and the Round Timber Trail at the Boyd Tract is where you’ll find the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.

Medoc Mountain State Park

59 miles | 1 hour 16 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Medoc Mountain State Park

Halifax County sits near Raleigh and is home to Medoc Mountain State Park. There’s a lovely collection of trails, including an interactive TRACK trail for your little ones.

The park sits on roughly 3,900 acres near Hollister and is perfect for anyone seeking isolation among the trees and water. There’s plenty of open space and tables for picnics, but arrive early, as people are starting to learn about this sanctuary.

Haw River State Park

87 miles | 1 hour 27 minutes

The Episcopal Diocese of NC used Haw River State Park as a retreat for many years before the state acquired the land. Conferences and retreats still take place here today, but visitors can also visit this park for day trips.

Hikes, fishing, picnics, and more fun awaits here. If you’re into hiking, you’ll love the short boardwalk that splits the Piedmont Loop Trail (1.4 miles).

The boardwalk will also take you through the park’s wetlands and to the Haw River’s headwaters.

Jones Lake State Park

93 miles | 1 hour 34 minutes

Day trips from Raleigh NC Jones Lake State Park

Jones Lake State Park is the first of our Carolina Bays (or Meteor Lakes) that we’ll mention. The phenomenon of “bays” is an interesting topic on its own but for now, we’ll focus on a couple that make great day trips from Raleigh.

The Bladen County park allows fishing, swimming, and boating in its shallow waters. You can also enjoy a scenic picnic by the water.

Hiking is also fun here, especially in the warmer winter months. Follow the Bay Trail around Jones Lake and through the forest.

From there, you can connect to the Salters Lake Trail via the Bay Trail and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.

Singletary Lake State Park

100 miles | 1 hour 44 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh Singletary Lake State Park

Singletary Lake is just down the road from Jones Lake and another of Bladen County’s Carolina Bays. Large groups come here to stay and learn about the park.

The cabins are one of the first things you’ll see upon entry, but there are a few trailheads that lead to some fairly diverse terrain. The CCC Trail is a mile-long loop that’ll take you be the scenic pier, through the bay forest, and toward sandy edges of the park.

NC 242 between Elizabethtown the highway’s intersection with US 421 is also known as the Meteor Lakes Byway, one of our favorite scenic roads. The road will take you by Jones Lake, Singletary Lake, and also, White Lake.

Uwharrie National Forest

87 miles | 1 hour 50 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.

A fun challenge is their trails, which are great for hikes but ideal for mountain biking. There are more than 20 miles of trails to explore in the Wood Run Area.

During hunting season, it’s advised to wear bright orange so you’re not confused with the deer roaming the area.

Mayo River State Park

115 miles | 1 hour 50 minutes

Mayo River State Park is still developing as a park but still has enough fun to warrant multiple day trips from Raleigh.

At Mayo River, you can enjoy fishing or kicking back at one of the nice picnic spots here. There’s a large shelter to accommodate groups.

Head out one of the trails here, including the Mayo Mountain Loop and Mayo River TRACK trails.

Pilot Mountain State Park

125 miles | 1 hour 59 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Pilot Mountain

One of the most iconic mountain peaks in North Carolina is Pilot Mountain and you’ll realize why when heading toward it. Just be sure to plan ahead, as Pilot Mountain State Park’s lots fill up quickly on weekends and during busier times.

For a quick introduction, you should hike the short Little Pinnacle Overlook Trail (0.1 miles) and have a look at Big Pinnacle.

Of course, longer hikes await at Pilot Mountain, including the Mountain Trail (4.3 miles, Red Blaze). It connects to Grindstone Trail (3 miles, Blue Blaze) and you can combine the two to make a roughly 6-mile loop.

Goose Creek State Park

120 miles | 2 hours

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Goose Creek State Park

We’re happy Goose Creek State Park sits right at two hours away because we’d hate to leave it out of our day trips from Raleigh.

The park spans 1,672 acres in a beautiful stretch of Eastern North Carolina land between Washington and Bath. It sits a couple of turns off US-264 and quickly takes you far away from its surroundings.

The land that is today’s Goose Creek State Park was once occupied by Tuscorara Indians and also frequented by the infamous Blackbeard. A historical marker commemorates the latter pirate in nearby Bath.

Among the many fun things to do at Goose Creek, you can get out onto the mighty Pamlico River or hike around the ecosystems that embody our coast.

Hanging Rock State Park

125 miles | 2 hours 15 minutes

At just over 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 Trail and our favorite, Moore’s Knob. Inside the park, there are also some beautiful waterfalls worth exploring. Lower Cascade Falls is one of the best in North Carolina and sits just outside the park gates.

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.

Day Trips from Raleigh (Cities)

These day trips from Raleigh are the cities that you can reach within a couple of hours, with some much closer than others.

Durham

25 miles | 35 minutes

Durham NC Saltbox Seafood Joint Image
Saltbox Seafood Joint is one of our favorite restaurants in Durham!

Durham is a no-brainer when thinking of day trips from Raleigh, but you may be new to the area and we hope to fill you in on our Bull City.

For starters, it’s packed with amazing food (especially pizza!), incredible events and free things to do, the awesome Museum of Life and Science (lemurs and bears!), and tons more for a day trip.

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.

Duke Gardens Durham NC

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 aforementioned Eno River State Park.   

Want to call it a night? The Durham Hotel has you covered!

Chapel Hill and Carrboro

28 miles | 42 minutes

UNC Chapel Hill Campus Image
UNC-Chapel Hill’s beautiful campus!

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?

Even if you’re a State fan, we think you’ll love taking day trips from Raleigh to Chapel Hill! For starters, 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. It’s one of the best lavender farms in North Carolina and you’ll see why after visiting.

Honeysuckle Tea House in Carrboro is a great spot to chill throughout the year.

Carrboro Farmers Market near Chapel Hill NC Image

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!

Fayetteville

65 miles | 1 hour

Day Trips from the Triangle Cape Fear Botanical Garden Fayetteville NC Image

Fayetteville is one of our favorite day trips from Raleigh 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. CFBG is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens you’ll find in North Carolina.

We often go to enjoy a meal at one of the many delicious Fayetteville restaurants, but you can guarantee we’ll make an excuse to stop at the family-friendly Dirtbag Ales.

Day Trips from Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill Dirtbag Ales Fayetteville NC image

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.

Learn about more things to do in Fayetteville all year long (for kids, too!) or inside this guide to Christmas and winter there!

Greensboro

77 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes

Day Trips from Durham Raleigh Chapel Hill Greensboro Science Center Image

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 day trips from Raleigh to Greensboro are still doable.

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 covering the best things to do in Greensboro, also with kids.

High Point

92 miles | 1 hour 28 minutes

Visit High Point and you’ll be in the “Furniture Capital of the World.” The World’s Largest Chest of Drawers is an excellent reminder of that.

You’ll quickly realize 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 fact. This statue honors a former resident/musical legend who learned saxophone while living in High Point as a child.

Another place to visit is High Point City Lake Park, where you can walk around, grab a paddleboat, and go for a train ride.

For even more fun, visit High Point between mid-April and October to check out All-A-Flutter Farm. This working butterfly farm is something you just have to see in person.

Winston-Salem

103 miles | 1 hour 38 minutes

Day Trips from the Triangle Old Salem Winston Salem NC Image

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 historic community.

Speaking of amazing museums, definitely take a tour of Reynolda House and Village. You should also 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. There are also some fun outdoor activities worth exploring in the city!

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. Don’t forget about the city’s innovative breweries, as they’re plenty in number and pack quite the punch!

If you’re planning to stay for longer than a day, these historic hotels are an excellent way to spend a night.

Greenville

90 miles | 1 hour 40 minutes

Day Trips Near Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill NC Greenville Bs Barbecue Image

Greenville is firstly known as the home of East 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.

Pitt Street Brewing Company and Uptown Brewing Company are two of a few great breweries in Greenville and its surroundings. Barbecue fiends must visit B’s, plain and simple. There are plenty of awesome restaurants in Greenville that involve ‘cue and go beyond it.

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!

Wilmington

129 miles | 1 hour 58 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Wilmington Riverwalk

We love visiting Wilmington for its riverfront but also for its beaches nearby. This is easily one of the most popular day trips from Raleigh since you can just hop on I-40 and ride to its eastern end in Wilmington.

Among the many fun things to do in Wilmington, we love the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the nearby Fort Fisher State Historic Site. Beyond the aquarium, the Wilmington Railroad Museum is one of our favorite kid-friendly activities in the area!

There are so many delicious places to eat and also, breweries in Wilmington! Delicious experiences include Flaming Amy’s (either Wilmington or Carolina Beach) and Elijah’s by the river, but there are so many more ready to serve.

For the hops, we definitely recommend Wrightsville Beach Brewery and Flying Machine. Our picks change after each visit, though.

Jacksonville

119 miles | 2 hours

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Jacksonville Lejeune Memorial Gardens

Jacksonville is the gateway into Onslow County and also well-known for its military presence at Camp Lejeune.

You can visit Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville. Inside, you’ll find powerful representations of those who’ve served and many who died while serving our nation.

There are some great restaurants in the area, including Jeff’s Burgers, Dogs, and Shakes in Jacksonville.

You’ll also find some wonderful eats in Swansboro, a delightful small town by the coast. Its downtown may be small, it sure is mighty!

From Swansboro or Hammocks Beach State Park nearby, you can take a boat over to Bear Island. It’s one of the best places to go shelling and enjoy a relaxing day by the water.

We also recommend a trip into Beulaville (shared but Onslow and Duplin counties) for a meal at Mike’s Farm, on the other side of Jacksonville from Swansboro. The farm is an excellent seasonal destination (especially Christmas), but the food is certainly worth writing home about!

Day Trips from Raleigh (Small Towns)

Most of these day trips from Raleigh were included in our guides to small towns in North Carolina and even those found in the Triangle.

Benson

33 miles | 35 minutes

NC Day Trips Broadslab Distillery Benson NC Image

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.

On the way to Benson off I-40 (Exit 319) is Redneck BBQ Lab. This Johnston County treasure is an absolute must-stop whenever we’re heading to or from the coast.

Smithfield

31 miles | 36 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Smithfield White Swan Bar B Q and Fried Chicken
White Swan.

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 on fried chicken and barbecue at one of White Swan Bar-B-Q’s multiple locations.

Hillsborough

38 miles | 43 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Hillsborough Occoneechee Speedway
Occoneechee Speedway.

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.

Pittsboro

34 miles | 43 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!

Lillington

31 miles | 48 minutes

Lillington is near Raven Rock State Park and home to some additional outdoor experiences that’ll make you want to take multiple day trips from Raleigh. Hop on the Botanical Trail’s paths or take the kids (and your dog) to Anderson Creek County Park for some fun.

Of course, 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. Spend time on the beautiful Cape Fear River and afterward, grab a meal at the on-site Lost Paddle Tavern.

Mebane

47 miles | 50 minutes

Downtown Mebane NC Image

Mebane’s motto is “Positively Charming” and if you get a chance to stroll down Clay St, you’ll see exactly why! We love 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!

Wilson

50 miles | 52 minutes

NC Day Trips Wilson Whirligigs Image

One of the easiest day trips from Raleigh, within an hour, is Wilson. This wonderful small town is known for its kinetic sculptures, also known as Whirligigs, which are quite a sight to see!

However, we’ve found a lot of other things to do! Walks at Lake Wilson are a must, specifically after enjoying amazingly delicious (and historic) Eastern NC barbecue at Parker’s.

We can’t wait to keep coming back and enjoying Wilson for day trips and even weekend getaways!

Rocky Mount

59 miles | 56 minutes

Rocky Mount Mills Day Trips from Raleigh NC

This Nash County town has tons of fun things to do, from delicious local beer to beautiful outdoor parks and more! 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 among the most adorable in North Carolina!

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.

Saxapahaw

45 miles | 57 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh Saxapahaw Island Park
Saxapahaw Island Park.

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!

Goldsboro

54 miles | 1 hour

Goldsboro Day Trips from Raleigh NC

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.

Burlington and Graham

58 miles | 1 hour

Zacks Burlington Day Trips from Raleigh NC

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 spend 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!

Southern Pines

69 miles | 1 hour 9 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Southern Pines the Ice Cream Parlour
The Ice Cream Parlour!

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!

Pinehurst

70 miles | 1 hour 15 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.

Roanoke Rapids

90 miles | 1 hour 24 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Roanoke Rapids Roanoke Canal Trail

Roanoke Rapids is where you’ll find the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail. The nearly 8-mile trail welcomes visitors to explore it from the lake to River Falls Park in Weldon.

Markers and signs along the trail demonstrate the Roanoke River’s importance to this area. Don’t forget to 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.

We mentioned Roanoke Rapids Lake and want to give it another shout, as it’s a nice spot for swimming, fishing, and for hanging out by the water. Roanoke Rapids is also home to a variety of historic buildings, including the original Roanoke Rapids High School.

Before you leave Halifax County, we think you should 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.

Asheboro

72 miles | 1 hour 25 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Zoo Asheboro Image

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!

Kinston

82 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill Kinston Art Image

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.

Seagrove

85 miles | 1 hour 30 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 100 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.

Ayden

92 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes

Day Trips in North Carolina Skylight Inn Ayden NC Image

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!

Washington

108 miles | 1 hour 42 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC Washington Waterfront

We think Washington is a wonderful riverside getaway in Eastern North Carolina. The waterfront boardwalk is one of our favorite scenes in North Carolina and you’ll find the NC Estuarium along the way.

Speaking of the water, you can take a sailing class at The Little Washington Sailing School and make memories that you’ll never forget!

The volunteer-led Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad is also here and worthy of a stop. It’s an important place to learn about Black history in North Carolina.

We mentioned Goose Creek State Park earlier and highly recommend it. Keep driving from Washington, pass the park, and you’ll end up at North Carolina’s oldest town, Bath.

Lexington

106 miles | 1 hour 44 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. The latter is one of the best North Carolina wineries and vineyards for good reason.

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.

New Bern

115 miles | 1 hour 56 minutes

Day Trips from Raleigh NC New Bern Tryon Palace Outside

New Bern is the last of our day trips from Raleigh that sits off US-70. We love this riverside town, also known as the birthplace of Pepsi. You can learn all about the town’s relationship with that iconic beverage at the Pepsi Museum!

Other than walks around New Bern’s scenic streets, we also suggest you learn about North Carolina history at Tryon Palace. It’s one of the state’s best-known historic homes and was built to serve as the first permanent capitol of the then colony.

Start your day with some breakfast at Baker’s Kitchen and enjoy a waterfront meal at Persimmons.

Drive out to Croatan National Forest for a hike on the Neusiok Trail, to hang out by the water at Flanners Beach, or to extend your day trip into a full weekend of camping.

Salisbury

127 miles | 1 hour 58 minutes

Salisbury is a wonderful town in Rowan County that sits off I-85 between Greensboro and Charlotte. Frequent visitors may know it as the home of Cheerwine and Food Lion but there’s more to it than those famous NC brands.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to visit during May, you can celebrate all things cherry-flavored during the annual Cheerwine Festival. However, throughout the year, Salisbury’s five historic districts are full of fun things to do.

While you’re in Rowan County, head a few miles away to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer. We think the entire family (not just the kids!) will love this place!

Ready to Explore these Amazing Day Trips from Raleigh?

We hope you’re able to get out and enjoy these awesome cities and towns that are perfect for day trips from Raleigh. They’re perfect no matter where you’re coming from in the Research Triangle, including Chapel Hill and Durham.

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!

More Things to Do in Raleigh

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