Last Updated on May 5, 2023
Last Updated on May 5, 2023
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 in 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, hiking opportunities, and so much more.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
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)
- Small Towns
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Raleigh area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Read More: The Best Day Trips in North Carolina
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
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.
There aren’t a lot of mountains near Raleigh NC, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors. 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 on horseback. It’s further away from the Crabtree Access, but still reachable from there by bike or horse.
Read More: All North Carolina State Parks Sites
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!
Read More: The Mayton in Cary (+ 7 Things We Love About Staying Here!)
15 miles | 20 minutes
“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!
Read More: Day Trips from Durham
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.
Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)
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.
Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)
Outdoor Day Trips from Raleigh
Across the Wake County line, you’ll find a variety of fun outdoor day trips from Raleigh.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Asheville
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.
Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina
Brumley Family Nature Preserve
South Access: 35 miles | 37 minutes
North Access: 37 miles | 39 minutes
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
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 30-plus miles of trails 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 near Raleigh.
Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
38 miles | 43 minutes
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
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.
Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
Carvers Creek State Park
Sandhills Access: 64 miles | 1 hour 2 minutes
Long Valley Farm Access: 49 miles | 1 hour 11 minutes
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.
Read More: Outstanding Things to Do in Fayetteville
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
67 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes
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!
Read More: The Best Things to Do in Goldsboro
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
71 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes
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.
Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)
Medoc Mountain State Park
59 miles | 1 hour 16 minutes
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
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.
Read More: Winter in North Carolina
Singletary Lake State Park
100 miles | 1 hour 44 minutes
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.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Charlotte
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.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Greensboro
Pilot Mountain State Park
125 miles | 1 hour 59 minutes
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.
Read More: 25+ of the Best Things to Do in Elkin
Goose Creek State Park
120 miles | 2 hours
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! They are the closest mountains to Raleigh NC, 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.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Boone
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.
25 miles | 35 minutes
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.
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 and venture away from town into Eno River State Park.
Want to call it a night? The Durham Hotel has you covered!
Chapel Hill and Carrboro
28 miles | 42 minutes
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.
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!
Read More: Why and How to Support Amazing Local Businesses
65 miles | 1 hour
Fayetteville is one of our favorite places to visit near 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.
Read More: Christmas in Fayetteville
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.
Since you probably know Fort Bragg is right around the corner, you can expect there to be 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 Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum.
Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Fayetteville
77 miles | 1 hour 15 minutes
From the rise of its textile industry to important civil rights history, Greensboro is an excellent city to visit throughout the year.
Making the drive is quickest from Durham and Chapel Hill, but day trips from Raleigh to Greensboro are still doable.
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.
The Science Center and the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum (formerly the Greensboro Children’s Museum) are a couple of our first recommendations for things to do with kids in Gate City.
You will likely want to stick around for more and can enjoy an excellent stay at Proximity Hotel or its sister property O Henry.
Read More: The Best Things to Do in Greensboro
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.
Read More: Fun Museums in Greensboro (Kid-Friendly, Contemporary Art, and More!)
103 miles | 1 hour 38 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 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.
Read More: The Best Children’s Museums in North Carolina
90 miles | 1 hour 40 minutes
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!
Read More: Spring in North Carolina
129 miles | 1 hour 58 minutes
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, the nearby Fort Fisher State Historic Site, and also Carolina Beach State Park. 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.
Read More: The Best Beaches in North Carolina
119 miles | 2 hours
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!
Read More: Christmas in North Carolina
Day Trips from Raleigh (Small Towns)
Most of these places to visit near Raleigh were included in our guides to small towns in North Carolina and even those found in the Triangle.
33 miles | 35 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.
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.
Read More: I-95 Exits in North Carolina
31 miles | 36 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 on fried chicken and barbecue at one of White Swan Bar-B-Q’s multiple locations.
38 miles | 43 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.
34 miles | 43 minutes
Pittsboro is an unassuming small town with unique shops and must-eat barbecue (Allen & Son is one of a few)!
For background on the area, the courthouse’s first floor 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 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!
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.
47 miles | 50 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 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!
50 miles | 52 minutes
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.
Read More: November in North Carolina
59 miles | 56 minutes
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.
45 miles | 57 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!
54 miles | 1 hour
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
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!
69 miles | 1 hour 9 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 things to do 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!
56 miles | 1 hour 10 minutes
Warrenton is one of the most overlooked Raleigh day trips. The historic town is experiencing a renaissance and we want to help you enjoy all the wonderful things to do in Warrenton and nearby.
Spend time exploring the historic downtown, eating at local restaurants, and venturing out to Warrenton’s surroundings in Warren County, and you’ll see why we love this area.
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 eat at locally owned boutiques, shops, and restaurants at Pinehurst Village. This place will make you feel like you’ve stumbled onto the ultimate Southern luxury retreat.
90 miles | 1 hour 24 minutes
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, a nice spot for swimming, fishing, and 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.
72 miles | 1 hour 25 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!
Read More: The Most Scenic North Carolina Road Trips
82 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes
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 Minor League Baseball.
Read More: Essential North Carolina Cookbooks
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.
Read More: North Carolina Gifts
92 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes
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!
108 miles | 1 hour 42 minutes
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 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.
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, there are some great restaurants in Lexington.
This town is also where you can pick up some legendary pimento cheese at Conrad & Hinkle or sip delicious wines at Childress Vineyards. The latter is among the best North Carolina wineries and vineyards, especially in the Yadkin Valley!
Regardless of what brings you, come hungry and ready to get some eating done!
Read More: Lexington NC Map of 20+ Attractions (+ 7 Surrounding Counties!)
115 miles | 1 hour 56 minutes
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 capital of the then colony.
Start your day with some breakfast at Baker’s Kitchen and enjoy a waterfront meal at Persimmons. There are plenty more New Bern restaurants to try, so come hungry!
Drive out to Croatan National Forest for a hike on the Neusiok Trail, hang out by the water at Flanners Beach, or extend your day trip into a full weekend of camping.
Read More: 15+ Awesome Things to Do in New Bern
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!
Read More: The Best Things to Do in Mooresville
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!