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35+ Excellent Day Trips from Wilmington Within 2 Hours

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on July 6, 2024.

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These day trips from Wilmington NC are perfectly full of amazing attractions along the coast and further inland. All are within a reasonable drive.

Wilmington and its surroundings on the North Carolina coast are hard to escape, with tons of things to do throughout the year! But if you live here or you have a long vacation planned, we have a great collection of day trips for you.

With a mix of coastal towns, some of our largest cities, beautiful beaches, and more, this NC travel guide will aid your quick escape from Wilmington. We have organized the guide into the following sections:

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Wilmington area and are wondering, “What are the best day trips near me?” we know this NC travel guide will help you out!

Read More: Amazing Day Trips in North Carolina

NC Tripping Maps to Plan Wilmington Day Trips

Map of Day Trips from Wilmington NC

You can visually travel to these day trip destinations with the following maps:

Coastal Day Trips from Wilmington NC

These coastal Wilmington day trips start in New Hanover County but venture north and south along the amazing NC coast.

  • Wrightsville Beach
  • Masonboro Island
  • Carolina Beach State Park
  • Carolina Beach
  • Kure Beach
  • Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site
  • Southport
    • Bald Head Island from Southport via Ferry
  • Oak Island
  • Holden Beach
  • Ocean Isle Beach
  • Sunset Beach
  • Calabash
  • Topsail Island
  • Jacksonville
  • Swansboro
  • Croatan National Forest
  • Emerald Isle
  • Beaufort

Wrightsville Beach

20 Minutes from Wilmington

Wrightsville pier drone

Known for its higher-end beach houses and accommodations, Wrightsville Beach is one of the world’s best surf towns and among our favorite beaches near Wilmington.

Here, you’ll find many more boutiques, fresh seafood restaurants, water sports, and five miles of wide, sandy beaches and beautiful views. 

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Wrightsville Beach:

  • Surfing: Because it’s so well known for surfing, our number one recommendation on what to do in Wrightsville is to surf, of course!
  • Paddle-boarding: For those who have never surfed before, try paddle-boarding on the Intracoastal Waterway
  • Fishing is also a popular Wrightsville Beach activity. Cast a reel from Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, the only concrete fishing pier in North Carolina.
  • Johnnie Mercer’s Pier is also an excellent location just to kick back and enjoy a view of the water. 
  • The Wrightsville Beach Mailbox: If you’re looking to tug on your heartstrings, then you must visit the Wrightsville Beach Mailbox. The Mailbox is located on the beach in front of Shell Island Resort and contains letters, notes, and words of encouragement left by strangers.

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Masonboro Island

20 Minutes from Wilmington (Boat Required)

Masonboro Island near Wilmington NC

Masonboro Island Reserve is an isolated and protected beach and an awesome day trip from Wilmington.

You can get there via a local boat company like Wrightsville Scenic Beach Tours. We were hosted for a ride and had a wonderful time.

On Masonboro Island, there are more than 5,600 acres of unspoiled beaches, salt marshes, and tidal flats. The shelling and birdwatching at Masonboro are extraordinary, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for dolphins! 

Carolina Beach State Park

20 Minutes from Wilmington

Carolina Beach State Park NC Snows Cut

The Town of Carolina Beach is next but we think you should check out Carolina Beach State Park, which sits along the banks of the Cape Fear River.

  • Carnivorous Plants: This gorgeous state park is best known for the wild carnivorous plants native to the Wilmington area. Search for Venus Flytraps while shrouded in tall coastal pines.
  • Fishing is popular at the marina, which is also a great spot to launch a boat!
  • Hiking Trails: We enjoy hiking the 3-mile Sugarloaf Trail, which connects to some interesting offshoot trails and passes the Sugarloaf Dune. 

Read More: Visiting Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (+ 10 Things We Love!)

Carolina Beach

25 Minutes from Wilmington

Things to do in Carolina Beach Mural

Carolina Beach is one of the most popular beaches in NC. The family-friendly boardwalk is packed with great restaurants and shops.

Many of the events and activities in Wilmington will likely be found around the boardwalk. Here are a few things to do around that popular landmark:

  • The Boardwalk at Carolina Beach has endless food stands, including North Carolina institution Britt’s Donuts. Dozens of music events and festivals use the Boardwalk as a backdrop each year, drawing in large crowds to the busiest beach in North Carolina. 
  • Lake Park isn’t far from the Boardwalk and is a wonderful place to stretch your legs and enjoy beautiful scenery away from the beach.

It’s one of the busiest places near Wilmington, and if you ever hear someone not from around here talking about ‘Wilmington Beach, North Carolina,’ they are probably referring to Carolina Beach.

Read More: 15 Hoptastic Breweries in Wilmington, NC

Kure Beach

30 Minutes from Wilmington

Kure Beach fishing pier Wilmington Beaches

Kure Beach (pronounced cure-ee) maintains a much slower pace compared to Carolina Beach. The emphasis in the Kure community is to escape back to nature.

Regardless, it’s one of the best public beaches Wilmington NC has to offer and there are still some pretty fun things to do here, including the following:

  • Fishing: In addition to less crowded beaches, you’ll also find the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast in Kure.
  • The Civil War-era Fort Fisher State Historic Site includes a six-mile protected shoreline and is where the Civil War’s largest Amphibious Battle occurred. The Visitor Center features an accessible museum and leads to a scenic trail around the remains of the original fort.
  • Diving from Fort Fisher is another popular endeavor at Kure Beach. Just 700 yards off the coast are the remains of the blockade runner, Condor. The Condor was said to be one of the fastest ships but is now one of the best-preserved Civil War blockade runners in the world.
  • The Aquarium: Families vacationing in Kure Beach can enjoy sharks, otters, and stingrays at the nearby North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. With both freshwater and saltwater exhibits and a touch tank, the Aquarium is one of our favorite kid-friendly things to do in Wilmington’s surroundings

Read More: 14 Wonderful Winter Getaways in North Carolina

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site

35 Minutes from Wilmington

Brunswick Town Fort Anderson Brunswick County NC

Brunswick Town sits across the Cape Fear River from Carolina Beach, though the two are separated by about an hour’s drive.

  • The Visitor Center: There’s so much history at this site and you can learn all about it through exhibits in the Visitor Center and also, by informative displays along the trail.
    • Old Brunswick Town was the first permanent European settlement along the Cape Fear River.
    • St. Phillips Church is the only above-ground structure that is still partially intact.
    • The Confederates also built Fort Anderson here, not to be confused with the one near New Bern.
  • Walking/Hiking Trail: A 3/4-mile trail here will take you around the site. As with most Eastern NC hikes, bug spray is highly recommended here.
  • Wildlife: Also, be mindful of wildlife, including s-words (snakes, also known as “nope ropes”) and alligators.

Read More: The Best Spring Break Destinations in North Carolina!

Southport

45 minutes from Wilmington

NC Coastal Towns Southport Brunswick County

Southport is a picturesque town in Brunswick County, perched right where the Cape Fear River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. With stunning views and a sea breeze, it’s no surprise that Southport has been named “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” by some accounts.

  • The Waterfront: You can hang out by the waterfront all day long and never get tired of the views. Home to the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival, Southport is worthy of all the TV shows and films that have used it as a backdrop.
  • Fort Johnston-Southport Museum and Visitors’ Center: Southport is steeped in history, and Fort Johnston-Southport Museum and Visitors’ Center is the perfect place to begin learning all about it! Fort Johnston is a colonial-era fort that has endured major events such as the Revolution and Civil War and has shaped the town’s culture.
  • The NC Maritime Museum: Finally, you can visit one of the North Carolina Maritime Museum locations here. It’s a wonderful tribute to the town’s history.

Bald Head Island

1 Hour to the Bald Head Island Ferry Terminal

Small Towns in North Carolina Bald Head Island

Catch a ferry to Bald Head Island or Oak Island to see Old Baldy Lighthouse. Keep reading the rest of this guide, but I think you could spend the rest of your life on Bald Head Island.

This coastal village and its surroundings are perfect for people seeking a new start or a week away from everything.

  • Old Baldy Lighthouse: Rent a golf cart or bicycle and check out Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse.
  • Bald Head Island Club challenges you to conquer one of the most beautiful golf courses on the East Coast.
  • Food: Bring your own food for the trip but don’t miss a meal at Jules’ Salty Grub & Island Pub and Horizons (part of the Bald Head Island Club), among other tasty spots.
  • The Kent Mitchell Nature Trail: Walk it all off at the Kent Mitchell Nature Trail, which will take you through the maritime forest and on boardwalk bridges above the water.

Read More: Eight Beautiful Brunswick County Beaches

Oak Island

45 Minutes from Wilmington

Oak Island Lighthouse Drone Photo by NC Tripping

Oak Island is home to some of the best beaches in Wilmington, including Caswell Beach at the east end of the island. Here are some things to do:

  • The Point: One of the most beautiful places to watch a sunset is from the Point, at the far western end of Oak Island. You can see the sun go down behind Holden Beach just across the water.
  • Oak Island Lighthouse and its surroundings in Caswell Beach offer views of the water, Bald Head Island, and Old Baldy Lighthouse across the way.
  • We also love eating in Oak Island, especially the seafood at Tranquil Harbour Restaurant and Bar and the burritos at Kai Joe’s. This town is certainly in the running for our favorite beach getaway from Wilmington.

Read More: 80+ Great Small Towns in North Carolina (+ Our Top 10 Picks)

Holden Beach

50 Minutes from Wilmington

Holden Beach North Carolina bridge

No spoilers, but we’ve been saying that Holden Beach is one of our favorites for a while. The Brunswick County town sits between Bald Head Island and Oak Island to the east and Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach to the west.

Holden is known as the “family beach of North Carolina,” largely because it’s among the least commercial and mostly a collection of homes.

Of course, there are still plenty of things to do here for everyone, including:

  • The Beach: No matter where you stay, you’ll be within a walk from the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other side.
  • The “Olden Holden” Trail: You’ll see many people (including us!) starting days with bike rides along the “Olden Holden” Trail before heading to the closest beach access.
  • Food: During the season (typically March to October), you can grab food at a few restaurants near the bridge. Surfer’s Cafe (great burgers!) is next to the Food Lion over the bridge and is open throughout the year, in case you visit during the off-season.

Read More: Unique Luxury Resorts in North Carolina

Ocean Isle Beach

55 minutes from Wilmington

Ocean Isle Beach North Carolina Drone Photo by NC Tripping

Ocean Isle Beach is always one of our favorite day trips from Wilmington. The very first sight that greets you as you drive toward thise 7-mile-wide island is the gorgeous canals under the bridge.

Life moves just a bit slower here, allowing visitors to soak in the beauty of the town and its crystal clear beaches.

  • The OIB Pier: While you’ll usually catch us at the many beaches here, the OIB Pier is a must when visiting. There is an arcade and ice cream shop welcoming people as they enter after paying the entry fee.
  • Kid-Friendly Attractions: Kids will also love the adventurous Swamp Park and the playgrounds at Ocean Isle Beach Park and Town Center Park.
  • Food: The local restaurants at Ocean Isle range from casual and outdoorsy to upscale.

Sunset Beach

1 Hour from Wilmington

Sunset Beach NC

Of our barrier islands, Sunset Beach is the southernmost beach in North Carolina. You can spend all day (or year) relaxing on the beach, but a walk on the Sunset Beach Pier is worth moving for.

  • Bird Island: The salt marsh and tidal creeks of Bird Island are a beautiful reason to visit Sunset Beach. Educational walks are offered throughout the summer, and there’s also the Kindred Spirit Mailbox—similar to the one found on Wrightsville Beach.
  • The Ingram Planetarium is another thing that makes Sunset Beach stand out, with exhibits and programs awaiting.
  • Swing Bridge & Museum: You can also learn about the history of Sunset Beach (and its future) at the Swing Bridge & Museum. This place honors the swing bridge that previously linked the barrier island to the mainland from 1958 to 2011.
  • More Things to Do: On the mainland side, there are some great golf courses to play, and we also enjoy Sunset Beach Park.

Calabash

1 Hour from Wilmington

Things to Do in North Carolina Calabash Seafood

For the state’s best seafood, you can’t beat Calabash, a small fishing village that has become a beach vacation spot.

The food here is unbeatable, earning the town the nickname of “The Seafood Capital of the World,” an accolade we wholeheartedly agree with!

Calabash is known for the Calabash-style fried seafood that actually originated here. The town has restaurants specializing in authentic Calabash cuisine, including:

  • Beck’s Restaurant (1014 River Rd, Calabash, NC)
  • Calabash Seafood Hut (1125 River Rd, Calabash, NC)

Read More: How to Explore the NC Oyster Trail (10+ Adventurous Ways!)

Topsail Island

1 Hour from Wilmington

Sunrise on Topsail

Topsail Island is a 26-mile-long barrier island that attracts thousands of visitors to its gorgeous beaches and towns throughout the year. With dozens of access points and crystal-clear waters, Topsail’s beaches are easily the best part of the island.

  • The Intracoastal Waterway runs through Topsail. The water route stretches from Boston to Florida and is always abuzz with paddlers and boaters.
  • Piers: We also love walking along Jolly Roger Pier and Surf City Ocean Pier, both staples of the island. Jolly Roger juts out 850 feet into the ocean and making it perfect for wildlife watching.
  • Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is a must. Book a reservation ahead of time to get an insider look into the sea turtle rescue center.

Read More: Best Restaurants in Topsail

Jacksonville

1 Hour 5 Minutes from Wilmington

Eastern North Carolina Jacksonville Lejeune Memorial Gardens Vietnam Memorial

Jacksonville is the county seat of Onslow County and the East Coast hub for the US Marines. Camp Lejeune is the focal point of the city, serving as the largest Marine base on the coast.

  • Memorials: The city is full of memorials and structures commemorating those who have served, including the popular Lejeune Memorial Gardens, the Freedom Fountain, Montford Point Marine Memorial, and the second-largest Vietnam Memorial in the country.
  • Food: While in Jacksonville, take your palette on a journey around the world. Jacksonville features the International Food Trail, a compilation of restaurants serving international cuisines and dishes. Try Marrakesh for a Mediterranean meal, followed by Paleteria Deya for Mexican ice pops.

Read More: Jacksonville Restaurants

Swansboro

1 hour 28 minutes from Wilmington

Sunrise in Swansboro NC

Swansboro is a small yet mighty coastal town. The downtown features over 40 shops, local restaurants, and activities for visitors to embark on.

  • Shops: The shops here sell everything from fresh seafood and sweets to antiques.
    • Clyde Phillips Seafood Market is one of the oldest shops in Swansboro, offering only the freshest seafood since 1954.
    • We also love to wander around Poor Man’s Hole, a nautical-themed bazaar with knick-knacks, vintage goods, and fun items.
  • Water Adventures: Located along the Intracoastal Waterway, Swansboro is also a popular place to get out on the water. There are tons of outfitters in town, including Pogie’s for personal kayak, boat, or paddle rentals, and Lady Swan Boat Tours for a water tour.

Read More: Amazing I-40 Exits in North Carolina (from Asheville to Wilmington)

Croatan National Forest

1 hour 30 minutes from Wilmington

Croatan National Forest in Eastern North Carolina near New Bern

Croatan National Forest is the perfect wilderness for beach lovers. It’s the only pure coastal forest on the East Coast, stretching 120,000 acres across saltwater estuaries, bogs, swamps, and thickets of pine trees.

The forest is triangulated between the coastal towns of New Bern in Craven County, Morehead City in Carteret County, and Swansboro in Onslow County (near Jacksonville). It is also bordered by water on three sides by the Neuse River, the White Oak River, and Bogue Sound.

Croatan National Forest has the best of both land and water activities. The large expanse of forests provides ample hiking (including the 20.4-mile Neusiok Trail), camping, and hunting opportunities, while the multiple bodies of water allow for water-based activities.

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Emerald Isle

2 hours from Wilmington

Emerald Isle The Point North Carolina

Emerald Isle is a perfect day trip from Wimlington, sitting at the opposite end of Bogue Banks from Atlantic Beach.

  • The Beach: We love kicking back at our vacation rental and enjoying days on the beach.
  • The Point: Of course, we always take time to walk down to The Point, which is located on the western end of the Bogue Banks. Of all the sunsets in North Carolina we’ve seen, it’s hard to beat The Point.
  • Emerald Isle Woods is another great place to visit when we’re not at the beach. This largely shaded nature preserve has 41 acres to explore, including a disc golf course, trails, and a kayak launch.
  • Food: Eating out in Emerald Isle is also fun, but you have to bring something fresh back from Cap’n Willis Seafood Market to Wilmington!

Read More: 25 Wonderful Weekend Getaways in North Carolina (For Families, Couples, or Just Yourself!)

Beaufort

2 hours 15 minutes from Wilmington

Beaufort Water front

Beaufort is a lovely town, with a rich history dating back three centuries.

  • Beaufort Historic Site: The town has historic plaques and commemorations, but the Beaufort Historic Site is the most comprehensive. It’s a collection of nine buildings that tell the story of the town’s history and culture.
  • The Waterfront: When entering Beaufort, we always like to stop at Front Street, a road that cuts through the waterfront. After stopping, we usually move on to Moonrakers, thanks to its tasty Caribbean-fusion menu and outdoor deck overlooking the water.
  • The Rachel Carson Reserve: Across Taylor’s Creek from the Waterfront is the Rachel Carson Reserve. The Reserve is a state-owned collection of four islands with abundant life that includes birds, diverse landforms, the wild horses.

Read More: Cape Lookout National Seashore (How to Get There + the 10 Best Things to Do!)

Inland Day Trips from Wilmington NC

There are also some wonderful Wilmington day trips that are just a bit further inland. Here are our picks, starting with the home of the NC Blueberry Festival:

  • Burgaw
  • Moores Creek Battlefield
  • Lake Waccamaw State Park
  • Duplin County
  • Mike’s Farm
  • Singletary Lake State Park
  • Jones Lake State Park
  • White Lake
  • Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site
  • Benson
  • Lumberton
  • Goldsboro
  • Smithfield
  • Fayetteville
  • Wilson
  • Raleigh
  • Rocky Mount

Burgaw

35 minutes from Wilmington

Things to do in Pender County Burgaw

Burgaw is the county seat of Pender County and an adorable small town with a charming historic district. Trees dot the historic streets, making it an excellent walkable downtown.

  • The North Carolina Blueberry Festival: Home of the North Carolina Blueberry Festival in June, you can find some of the juiciest blueberries in Burgaw!
  • More Blueberries: If you can’t make the festival, buy or pick blueberries during the summer months at Carol Sue Farms (20000 US-17, Hampstead) and Shaken Creek Farm in Maple Hill. If you’re in a hurry, there are plenty of local blueberry stands that offer excellent and delicious blueberries. 
  • Bannerman Vineyard and Winery: Blueberries aren’t the only fruit in town, as Burgaw’s Bannerman Vineyard and Winery will demonstrate to you. Their six varieties of NC muscadine grapes are available for u-pick during September and October. The traditional grape harvest is also boiled peanut time in the south! Cajun or regular – a must have for locals and a must try for newbies. Make sure to stop in the tasting room and sample some of the delicious wines too! 
  • The Burgaw Train Depot is believed to be the oldest train station in North Carolina. Home to the Chamber of Commerce, step inside and take a tour of the Railroad Museum. 
  • Movie Locations: Visit Pender County has curated this list of filming locations, including addresses to each site. We were lucky enough to be allowed upstairs of the Pender County Visitor Center (106 E Wilmington St, Burgaw), which used to be the county jail. This historic building in Burgaw has been used for many major motion films, and we can definitely see why!

Moores Creek Battlefield

40 minutes from Wilmington

Moores Creek National Battlefield Pender County Eastern North Carolina

History thrives in Pender County and Moores Creek National Battlefield in Currie is a testament to the area’s significance. Moores Creek was one of the first battles fought in the South during the Revolutionary War.

You can learn all about it at the Visitor Center and walk the 0.7-mile trail through the battlefield and across a historic bridge along Moores Creek.

This National Parks Site is also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail, extending 1175 miles from Clingmans Dome to Jockeys Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks

Lake Waccamaw State Park

50 minutes from Wilmington

Lake Waccamaw State Park in Southeastern NC

Lake Waccamaw is a day trip with three destinations in one: the town, lake, and state park, all with the same name!

Lake Waccamaw is the largest Carolina Bay lake at 9,000 acres and is estimated to be between 15,000 and 30,000 years old.

Carolina Bays stretch along the east coast and are believed to have formed when permafrost thawed. From above, they almost look like thumbprints dotting the landscape.

There are seven official trails at Lake Waccamaw State Park, including two boardwalks and shorter loop trails.

The longest trail is the Lakeshore Trail, which winds four miles one-way through diverse environments, including the overlook and dam. It’s a gem of a state park and one of our most recommended inland day trips from Wilmington.

Read More: Battleship North Carolina (Visiting Our Namesake Ship and How She Arrived at Wilmington)

Duplin County

1 hour from Wilmington

Things to do in North Carolina Duplin Winery Duplin County

Duplin County plays a key role in North Carolina’s agriculture, as the county possesses acres of rolling farmland that supplies much of the state’s food.

  • Duplin Winery: It’s probably best known, however, for being the heart of the state’s coastal wine region. The county is home to Duplin Winery NC, the largest wine producer in the Southern US, and many other wineries as well.
  • Kenansville: The county seat is Kenansville, an idyllic small town named for James Kenan, a member of the NC Senate. Kenan’s historic home is the town’s biggest attraction; Liberty Hall Plantation is massive, with a main house and twelve outlying structures open for public tours.
  • The World’s Largest Frying Pan: Finally, as if the county wasn’t quirky enough, Duplin is also the site of the World’s Largest Frying Pan. The roadside attraction, in Rose Hill, is so large that it’s rumored to be able to cook 365 chickens at once.

Mike’s Farm

Address: 1600 Haw Branch Rd, Beulaville, NC
1 hour from Wilmington

Winter in North Carolina Mikes Farm Ho Ho Christmas Show
Mike’s Farm.

Mike’s Farm is one of the few specific attractions on this list, which will tell you how much we love this place.

The farm embodies agri-tourism, offering activities for every season, with mainstays including their family-style restaurant, shopping, a bakery, and more.

As many will tell you, Mike’s is a special place.

There are seasonal events such as hayrides and Christmas lights, and special event dinners. Seats sell fast, so book yours as soon as they go on sale!)

If you have a free day, we cannot stress enough the wonder of this place.

Singletary Lake State Park

1 hour from Wilmington

Day Trips from Raleigh Singletary Lake State Park

Singletary Lake is down the road from Jones Lake (see next) and is another beautiful Carolina Bay.

The state park is a popular retreat for large groups, who 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 also a few trails to explore.

The CCC Trail is a mile-long loop that’ll take you by the scenic pier, through the bay forest, and toward the sandy edges of the park.

NC 242 between Elizabethtown and 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 to Jones Lake, Singletary Lake, and White Lake.

Jones Lake State Park

1 hour 10 minutes from Wilmington

NC State Parks Jones Lake

Speaking of Jones Lake State Park, it protects Jones State Lake and Salters State Lake.

The Bay Lake Trail traverses Jones Lake and is a lengthy five miles. However, you can hike four miles of the Bay Lake Trail, connect to the Salters Lake Trail (1 mile), and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.

There’s also a swimming beach at Jones Lake with 50 picnic tables, grills, and a pavilion.

White Lake

1 hour 10 minutes from Wilmington

Eastern North Carolina White Lake

White Lake is a small 1,200-acre body of water surrounded by the resort town of the same name. The town was founded in 1951 and has a permanent population of 857, but they welcome over 200,000 tourists and day trippers each summer.

As the name suggests, White Lake is crystal clear with a view of the sandy white bottom. The lake has no currents or tides, making it one of the safest lakes in the state, if not the country.

It’s a beautiful resort destination for swimming, boating, jet-skiing, and more. Surrounding the lake are amusement parks, golf courses, cottages, and more. White Lake is more than just a lake; it’s an entire experience.

Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site

Address: 5466 Harper House Rd, Four Oaks, NC
1 hour 25 minutes from Wilmington

Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site NC

Wilmington has quite a bit of Civil War history thanks to Fort Fisher and other nearby spots. If you drive west to Johnston County, you’ll reach the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site.

It commemorates The Battle of Bentonville, fought from March 19-21, 1865, which was the largest battle ever fought in North Carolina. It was also the last full-scale action of the Civil War and remains a piece of history today.

The Confederate defeat during this battle convinced General Ulysses S. Grant to leave General William T. Sherman in North Carolina and focus on Confederate armies elsewhere. 

A visit to Bentonville Battlefield includes a tour of the restored Harper House, which was used as a field hospital. The visitor center has interactive exhibits that focus on the battle.

There are 5 miles of trails that follow along the original trenches built during the battle. 

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Benson

1 hour 30 minutes from Wilmington

Meadow Lights in Benson

Benson is also in Johnston County (aka JoCo) and is home to one of North Carolina’s finest distilleries, known as Broadslab.

  • Benson Museum of Local History: Spend some more time in Benson and you can learn about this area at the Benson Museum of Local History.
  • And if you’d like to go up, hitch a ride with Carolina High Hot Air Balloon Company.
  • Mule Days: As a child, I once visited Benson for its annual Mule Days, held on the fourth Saturday weekend in September. The parade alone is a great introduction to this awesome town, with hundreds of horses, mules, buggies, and more.

Read More: Great I-95 Exits in North Carolina That Lead to Adventures

Lumberton

1 hour 30 minutes from Wilmington

Lumberton is an underrated Wilmington day trip for a few reasons.

  • Lumber River State Park: It’s named for the Lumber River, which today is a popular state park for fishing and paddling.
  • Exploration Station: People traveling with kids will enjoy a stop at Exploration Station, where various hands-on activities await.
  • The Lumbee: Another interesting thing about Lumberton and Robeson County is its minority-majority population. The nearby town of Pembroke is the seat of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. They are one of our state’s seven recognized tribal communities.
  • The Lumbee Powwow: Each September, stop by the Southeastern Agricultural Center for the Lumbee Powwow. There, you’ll see music, dancing, and more Native American culture up close.

Goldsboro

1 hour 35 minutes from Wilmington

Goldsboro Restaurants Adams Roadside

Goldsboro is the county seat of Wayne County, an area famous for Four P’s: pigs, pickles, planes, and poultry. The town hosts multiple events celebrating each of the Four P’s, warranting a day trip to enjoy the festivities.

  • Downtown Goldsboro is lined with local shops and boutiques and decorated with murals and art installations.
  • Goldsboro is another town to visit for Civil War history. It was once an important railroad junction during the Civil War and has war-era history on display. One major event was the Battle Of Goldsborough Bridge, an intense conflict between the two sides.
  • Cliffs of the Neuse State Park: The nearby 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.

Read More: Restaurants in Wayne County

Smithfield

1 hour 40 minutes from Wilmington

Smithfield NC

Smithfield is convenient for day trips from Raleigh and also the capital city’s neighbor, Durham. It’s also a great day trip from Wilmington and here’s why:

  • The Ava Gardner Museum: Stop in Smithfield, and you can learn more about Ava Gardner, the famous actress who hailed from JoCo. The museum also offers a Heritage Tour, which will take you to important places in Ava’s life, including her birthplace and gravesite in Sunset Memorial Park.
  • And if you’ve ever enjoyed a red Bright Leaf Hot Dog, then you might want to stop by Carolina Packers. That is the Smithfield-based company that makes this famous North Carolina food.

Fayetteville

1 hour 50 minutes from Wilmington

US Army Airborne and Special Ops Museum in Fayetteville NC

Fayetteville is a mighty Eastern NC city with tons of history, things to do, and places to eat.

  • The Fayetteville Woodpeckers: From April to September, The Fayetteville Woodpeckers host games at Segra Stadium, with picnic-style seating and even a section of rocking chairs for those who really want to chill out in the outfield.
  • Babe Ruth’s First Homer: Avid baseball fans will know that Fayetteville is the site of Babe Ruth’s historic first home run, which is commemorated with a sign.
  • Cape Fear Botanical Garden: It sits just two miles from downtown between the Cape Fear River and Cross Creek. At this wonderful space, you have 80 acres of greenery to explore.
  • Carvers Creek State Park: Carvers Creek State Park near Fayetteville is one of our favorite outdoor spaces! It’s full of sand and pine trees and offers a unique kind of hiking experience.

We’ve created many guides to Fayetteville, including things to do with kids and the best restaurants to visit!

Wilson

1 hour 50 minutes from Wilmington

Eastern North Carolina Wilson Whirligig Park

Wilson is the county seat of Wilson County, with a history rooted in the cotton and tobacco trades. More recently, the city has been diversifying its industrial base and revitalizing its downtown.

  • Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park: Whirligigs are an innovative folk art style native to Wilson and created by Vollis Simpson. Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson contains 30 of the original metal whirligig structures.
  • Whirligig Festival: If you’re planning a trip up in November, you can’t miss the annual Whirligig Festival, the town’s largest event.
  • Niche Museums: Beyond the Whirligig Park, Wilson is also home to a number of niche museums. Visit the North Carolina Baseball Museum, the Round House Museum, which preserves African American art, the Imagination Station, a science museum for children, and the Country Doctor Museum in nearby Bailey, the oldest museum illustrating rural healthcare.

Raleigh

1 hour 55 minutes from Wilmington

Downtown Raleigh Drone Image by NC Tripping

Raleigh is the biggest city in this guide and a fitting next-to-last addition. Throughout the year, we love digging into all the fun things to do in Raleigh, especially outside.

Read More: Historic Yates Mill County Park in Raleigh (Our Capital City’s Picturesque Escape)

Rocky Mount

2 hours 15 minutes from Wilmington

Things to Do in North Carolina Rocky Mount Mills NC

Last but not least is Rocky Mount, a relatively moderately sized city with indoor and outdoor day trip destinations alike.

  • Rocky Mount Mills: If you’ve never heard of it, Rocky Mount Mills should be the first stop of your day. The 82-acre campus is a burgeoning business district along the Tar River with dozens of restaurants, breweries cafés, bookstores, boutiques, and more. The campus hosts many events, including the Farmer’s Market, Run Club, book readings, and more.
  • Outdoor Recreation: The Tar River flows through Rocky Mount, providing ample outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors and locals alike. Rent kayaks or canoes to spend a day on the water, explore the 7-mile Tar River Trail, or go fishing at one of the several fishing points.

Read More: Restaurants in Rocky Mount

Which of These Places Will Be Your First Day Trip from Wilmington?

We don’t like leaving Wilmington when we’re in the area, but it’s good to know that there are so many day trip opportunities ready and waiting.

Whether you’re a regular visitor or a local, we’d love to know about your favorite Wilmington day trips. Let us know in the comments.

Remember to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group no matter where you go!

More Wilmington NC Area Travel Guides

We hope you enjoy these awesome Wilmington day trips and guarantee these additional NC travel guides will give you even more ideas!

1 thought on “35+ Excellent Day Trips from Wilmington Within 2 Hours”

  1. Thank you for the great information. North Carolina has so many unique things to offer it’s often hard to take in the amount of information you can gather from Google. I appreciate that you took the time out to create blogs like this. Is there any advice you could give that would allow someone to find these unique places and stories that make these places so special?

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