Last Updated on July 19, 2021
Last Updated on July 19, 2021
Interstate 40 (I-40) runs for 423 miles through the heart of North Carolina, from the Western edge of North Carolina to Wilmington on the coast. Since it crosses the state from west to east (or east to west), plenty of I-40 exits in North Carolina lead to adventure.
We’ve driven every mile of this interstate in NC and understand that this road can be frustrating and is not everyone’s favorite. However, we also acknowledge its importance in connecting the state from east to west.
We created this guide as an homage to I-40 and focused on each of the 17 counties and their towns and cities that the road cuts through. There aren’t many attractions immediately off the interstate in a few places, but there are at least a few adventures worth extending your driving time.
Because I-40 also intersects with a few major interstates, we’ll include some quick stops off them, too. But, above all, our goal for this guide is to keep these I-40 exits in North Carolina THE ones that you’ll want to stop for, no matter where you’re headed.
Here’s how we’ve broken down this guide:
- I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Western): Mile Marker 0 to Exit 138. You’ll pass through Asheville before traveling through the mountains of McDowell and Burke counties. We’ve also included one exit on the Tennessee side of the border, which leads to an excellent waterfall. Note that it is not included in the count of 63 I-40 exits in NC.
- I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Central): Exit 141 to 306. This section takes you through the cities of Winston-Salem and Greensboro in the Piedmont Triad and Durham and Raleigh in the Research Triangle.
- I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Eastern): Exit 309 to Mile Marker 423 in Wilmington. Some of these I-40 exits in North Carolina’s coastal plain lead to some fun side adventures.
This post is a part of our series on Interstates in North Carolina. We’ve also covered I-95 exits in Eastern North Carolina. If you’re looking to avoid the interstate during your travels, check out our guide to scenic roads in North Carolina.
I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Western)
Mouse Creek Falls
Tennessee Exit 451
Before you question why we’d include a Tennessee exit in this guide, hear us out first.
Mouse Creek Falls sits on both the North Carolina side of the border and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To reach it, you need to stay on I-40 and cross the border before taking the first exit (451).
From there, you’ll cross the Pigeon River and follow Waterville Rd back to the NC side of the border in Haywood County. A few turns later at you’ll arrive at the Big Creek Trailhead.
Hike a little over 2 miles to reach Mouse Creek Falls making this a 4-mile roundtrip hike.
It’s a moderate climb on the way to the falls, and about 1.4 miles into it, you’ll pass Midnight Hole, a beautiful pool that resides below a small waterfall. Continue for another 0.7 miles, and you’ll reach the left split that takes you to the 45-foot Mouse Creek Falls.
More Haywood County Exits
Exits 20, 24, 27, 31, and 33
Exits 20, 24, and 27 are pretty important I-40 exits in North Carolina’s Haywood County, which sits on the Tennessee border.
Speaking of Exit 27, it puts you on US-74, which runs east to west between the Tennessee border and our coast. County seat Waynesville is a great start to this beautiful part of the state.
It’s home to interesting historic districts, such as Frog Level. Canton (Exits 31 and 33) is the county’s second-largest town and where you’ll also find a rich historic district.
The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through Haywood County and eastbound travelers can reach it via US 276 (Exit 20). This exit also takes you by the Cataloochee Ski Area (one of our best ski resorts) and Maggie Valley.
Lake Junaluska (Exits 24 or 27) is also around the corner and a wonderful stop to stretch those legs and stare out at the mountain-surrounded water.
Asheville and Buncombe County
Exits 37, 46A, 46B, and 53B
Before (or after) Asheville, stop at Exit 37 and stay at the wonderful Engadine Inn and Cabins in Candler. We have and will definitely be back, thanks to the wonderful mix of historic accommodations, great hospitality, and even better breakfasts to start each day.
One thing to keep in mind is that this section of I-40 gets pretty busy, not just because it’s moving through Asheville. I-26 intersects with the road at Exit 46A and we’ve encountered traffic jams on congestion for many miles before and after this exit.
Many of the best things to do in Asheville are either downtown, in the River Arts District, or in West Asheville, and reachable via Exit 46B (Eastbound) or 53B (Westbound) that turns into I-240.
Our advice for first-time visitors is to jump on the Gray Line Trolley Tours from the Visitors Center. You’ll get both an in-depth tour of the city by a guide as well as a hop-on and hop-off service!
You can check out murals around town or grab a beer at one of the South Slope’s best breweries. We’re partial to Twin Leaf and Bhramari. If you do decide to stop at a brewery, please drink responsibly and arrange a designated driver.
Tour the wonderful River Arts District galleries and stop by the NC Glass Center for a demo. Then, head over to West Asheville for a relatively laid-back vibe, for Asheville’s standards at least.
Biltmore Estate (Exit 50B) rightfully deserves its own spot on this list of I-40 exits in North Carolina, even if it’s technically in Asheville.
Known as America’s Largest Home, Biltmore was completed in 1895 and the 178,926 square foot estate is one of the finest examples of the Gilded Age.
If you do plan to stop at Biltmore, make sure to plan at least half the day there.
You’ll need that to tour the home and perhaps a little more to enjoy a tasting at the on-site winery. Drink responsibly and prepare a designated driver if you’re just stopping in the middle of a long trip.
Exits 64 and 65
If you are searching for that adorable mountain town with quaint shops and deep roots in the arts, then head to Black Mountain! Located just west of Asheville at exits 64 and 65, this artsy town is one of our favorite I-40 exits in North Carolina.
Black Mountain once was home to one of the best collegiate art programs in the country, and the Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center remembers it well.
Marion and McDowell County
Exits 72, 73, 85, 86, and 90
McDowell County is a wonderful gateway to Mount Mitchell (Exit 72) near Burnsville but first, the town of Marion.
Just itching for a waterfall trek but short on time? So many of North Carolina’s waterfalls are off the beaten path, but Catawba Falls is a short and easy hike just off of I-40 in Old Fort (Exit 73).
Marion (Exits 85 and 86) is a lovely town at the base of Mount Mitchell. The wonderful Tom’s Creek Falls is about 10 minutes from downtown and reachable after a half-mile walk in the woods.
For a longer drive, you can also reach the Linville Falls Trailhead from exit 86. Eastbound travelers can reach Lake James State Park, just 15 minutes from Exit 90.
Morganton and Burke County
Exits 94, 103, 105, 112, and 113
Both Linville Falls and Lake James sit in Burke County, and there are plenty of I-40 exits in North Carolina’s gateway to the mountains to share.
Morganton (Exit 105) is the county seat and home to an adorable, dog-friendly downtown. You can walk around town and start with a walk through the General Store.
If you brought your bikes or walking shoes, the Catawba River Greenway is a wonderful waterside path.
Lake James State Park (Exit 94) is about 10 minutes from the interstate and a nice diversion if you love cycling, boating, or just hanging out by the water!
One of our favorite breweries Fonta Flora is nearby in Whipporwill! It’s a beautiful rustic farm setting with lots of outdoor space and tables. Remember to drink responsibly and bring a designated driver.
Some of our Linville Gorge hikes sit about an hour from Morganton and the interstate, in case you’re looking for a lengthy diversion. They include Table Rock Mountain (Exit 103), the epic Wiseman’s View, and the ever-popular Linville Falls.
Burke County is also home to some wonderful towns that are quick I-40 stops. The town of Valdese (Exit 112) has a lovely downtown, packed with shops and restaurants (Old World Baking Company and Myra’s for starters).
For one of the best meals near an I-40 exit, we highly recommend JD’s Smokehouse in Conelly Springs (Exit 113). South Mountain Distilling Company is nearby and one of NC’s most interesting distilleries.
Henry River Mill Village
Before leaving Burke County, you have to know about one of the coolest I-40 exits in North Carolina. The Henry River Mill Village in Hildebran (Exit 119) is a former cotton mill town that’s open for tours, weddings, and as a place to stay.
Oh, and it served as District 12 for the first Hunger Games film. You’ll find it alongside other locations in our guide to movies filmed in North Carolina.
In total, Henry River Mill Village includes 35 houses, a company store, and a brick mill. There is also a house that has been renovated and is an excellent overnight while traveling.
Hickory and Catawba County
Exits 125 and 138
If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay or host your convention, Hickory is the perfect destination along I-40! We usually use one of the hotels at Exit 125 to break up our longer trips.
Exit 125 is also how you’ll reach the Catawba Science Center and downtown. The town has undergone intense construction and we’re excited to see how that shakes out.
Olde Hickory Brewery pumps out some of NC’s finest beer and you can also visit their three restaurant locations throughout town. Remember to drink responsibly and bring a designated driver.
Another interesting stop is the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge (Exit 138). This is one of two original remaining covered bridges in North Carolina.
I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Central)
Statesville and Iredell County
Exits 151, 152A, and 154
One of the busier sections of the interstate is around Statesville, largely because this is where I-40 and I-77 meet (152A and 152B). This conjunction of two major interstates means it is a great opportunity to stop and stay.
Head downtown (Exit 50 on I-77) for an amazing meal at Twisted Oak and a walk around town.
If you want to stay on I-40, you can also load up on delicious footlongs at JayBee’s (Exit 154). Just be prepared to wait because this place is amazing and popular.
Fort Dobbs (Exit 151) is a unique historic place to visit because, unlike our Civil War and Revolutionary War sites, this one saw action during the French and Indian War.
We can’t leave Statesville without discussing its annual Carolina BalloonFest. This is a huge attraction in October and you can see it by first parking at the Iredell County Fairgrounds (Exit 45 on I-77).
Many balloonists (including Big oh! Balloons) also offer private flights throughout the year, in case you miss the festival. Going up in a hot air balloon was a North Carolina bucket list item that we crossed off in Statesville!
Mocksville and Davie County
You’ll pass through Davie County, which has an interesting exit worth checking out.
Hop off Exit 174 and venture into Mocksville, a great community with three historic districts. About 10 minutes south of town is Riverpark at Cooleemee Falls, a great place to fish, tube, bring a boat, or just have a picnic.
After Davie County, you begin venturing into the heart of the Piedmont Triad. Some of the busiest I-40 exits in North Carolina await.
Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
Exits 182, 188, and 192
If you’re coming from the west, you’ll start noticing more cars by the time you’ve reached Exit 182 in Forsyth County.
Stop there and you’ll arrive at Tanglewood Park just a couple of minutes later. If you’re in the area during winter, see if the Tanglewood Festival of Lights is happening. This is a wonderful Christmas tradition.
One of the busier interchanges in the Triad is with US 421 (Exit 188). Many people heading north toward Boone (and the High Country) and people heading south toward downtown use this exit, so be ready for congestion around here.
Westbound travelers can head into downtown Winston-Salem via Exit 192) and we highly recommend a stop here. There are some wonderful restaurants and breweries, a great art district, excellent museums, and so much history to uncover.
Tour Old Salem, which was long home to the Moravian people, a group of German Protestants who settled in the region. You can buy a ticket and watch hands-on demonstrations from artisans.
Another era of history in Winston-Salem that is represented is that of the rise of tobacco. RJ Reynolds headquarters out of Winston-Salem and many of the hotels and buildings downtown go back to the turn of the 19th century.
And don’t forget a visit to the beautiful Reynolda, accessible via Exit 206 from the East and 188 from the West. This was briefly RJ and Katharine’s home and surrounded by immaculate gardens.
The inside showcases their wealth and serves as a wonderful art museum.
Exits 201 and 203
Just before (or after) Winston-Salem is Kernersville, reachable via Exits 201 and 203.
Plan to tour Korner’s Folly, a historic 1880 home built by Jule Gilmer Korner. The home is 6,000 square feet and electric in architecture, design, and decor.
Afterward, go down the road to the Paul J Ciener Botanical Gardens for their year-round blooms.
Exits 212B, 218B, and 227
Greensboro is the next series of I-40 exits in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad. It’s also where I-40 intersects with I-85 and even where the two interstates join together before splitting off again.
There are plenty of fun things to do here and the Greensboro Science Center is one of the best places to take kids. You’ll reach it via Exit 227 from the east and via Exit 212B that turns into I-73 North.
Downtown Greensboro (Exit 218B) is also a hub of activity. Find more family-friendly things to do at the Greensboro Children’s Museum or LeBauer Park or learn important Black history at the International Civil Rights Museum.
Of course, you could make it a romantic getaway with a stay at the eco-friendly and unique Proximity Hotel.
Guilford County (I-85 Overlap Begins)
Exits 135 and 138
After exit 227, I-40 merges with I-85 and exit numbers change to reflect I-85 mile markers. This will continue until I-40 and I-85 split at exit 163.
Burlington and Alamance County
Exits 143, 147, and 153
Alamance County is growing, thanks to its location between the Piedmont Triad and Research Triangle. This is also one of the busiest sections of I-40 and one where you should plan your exits in advance.
No matter which route you go, these are some amazing places to eat.
Chapel Hill and Hillsborough
Exits 261, 263, 266, 270, and 273
Chapel Hill is a fun college town packed with great restaurants and towering oak tree-lined paths. UNC-Chapel Hill is a beautiful campus and located in the center of town.
Grab a bite and a drink at Top of the Hill (aka TOPO), walk the historic campus, and then head into Carrboro (also via Exit 273A) for the best farmer’s market in North Carolina! It’s also home to some excellent restaurants, including Mercato and Oakleaf.
Another exit worth mentioning in 270, which will take you to Chapel Hill but is technically in Durham. There are a lot of chains here but the locally owned Namu and Sister Liu’s sit next to each other.
At Namu, you can enjoy Korean food with yummy coffee or beer. Sister Liu’s wins for best Chinese dumplings, noodles, and “burgers” made up of tasty minced pork or beef.
Exits 270, 276, and 279B
Much of Durham sits between I-40 and I-85, with the southern half just off I-40.
You can follow NC 147 (Exit 279B), also known as the Durham Freeway if you’d like a diversion into downtown.
If you stick to I-40, the area around Fayetteville Rd (Exit 276) gets busy because that leads to Southpoint Mall. You can park in this area and hop on the American Tobacco Trail for a walk or a bike ride. The bridge that crosses over I-40 is just before or after the ATT’s toughest hill for bikes.
No matter which way you’re coming from, the trail is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors in this bustling area.
Morrisville and Cary
Exits 280, 284, 285, and 287
Morrisville and Cary are grouped together because if you blink, you could miss them. That’s because the I-40 exits in North Carolina’s Wake County get pretty busy, with traffic from the Durham Freeway (NC 147) joining eastbound traffic and Wade Avenue (Exit 289) merging with westbound travelers.
The Morrisville exit (284) and first Cary exit (285) will take you to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which we all know as the only place named “Raleigh-Durham.” Remember that, national media!
Reservations are typically required for the latter because this is a very popular place.
Raleigh and Wake County
Exits 289, 295, and 297
The most congested part of I-40 will be through and around Raleigh, especially the Wade Avenue Exit (289). If you’re coming from the west, this is the exit you’ll take to reach many of the city’s best things to do.
Many fellow travelers will be doing the same, likely en route to eat at one of Raleigh’s incredible restaurants and breweries or stop by the NC Museum of Art. This is one of our absolute favorite of all the museums in Raleigh).
Wye Hill Brewing offers amazing skyline views and Morgan Street Food Hall brings together a wonderful mix of kitchens in one space. At Fiction Kitchen, you’ll find the best vegan eats and do yourself a favor and eat the mac and cheese at Poole’s Diner.
Additional I-40 exits in North Carolina’s capital city include Lake Wheeler Rd (Exit 297), which will take you to the State Farmers Market, the lovely Lake Johnson Park, and the spacious Dorothea Dix Park.
If you’re coming from the east, the iconic Yates Mill is accessible via Exit 297, or Exit 295 if you’re coming from Durham, from Greensboro, or elsewhere from the west.
I-40 Exits in North Carolina (Eastern)
Exit 309, 319, and 334
Johnston County is just east of Raleigh and the interstate is still pretty busy here. A fork will split I-40 and I-440/I-87/US-64 if you’re coming from the west. At Exit 328, I-40 intersects with I-95, which runs north toward Rocky Mount and south toward Fayetteville.
Travelers coming from the east will notice traffic begin to pick up here, and there’s often a traffic jam before and after Exit 309. This exit is for US-70, which takes a lot of commuters from nearby towns to and from Raleigh.
Smithfield is also known as the home of Carolina Packers, which makes the red Bright Leaf Hot Dog, a very famous North Carolina food. Quite a few diners in the area serve Bright Leaf and you can even purchase them in grocery stores throughout much of Eastern and Central North Carolina.
A great place to stop before and after Exit 309 is Exit 319, also known as McGee’s Crossroads. There are a lot of chain restaurants here, but The Redneck Barbecue Lab is locally owned and sits in a gas station just off the interstate.
They serve up competition-style barbecue and even have a drive-through. Burnt ends are served up Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday—you’re welcome and please let us know if this changes!
About 12 minutes from Exit 334 is the Bentonville Battlefield. Here, you can learn about the site’s crucial role in the Civil War.
Sampson County hosts four I-40 exits, with each leading to really fun, longer adventures.
One example is Exit 343, which puts you on US-701. That’s a cool route that connects to the section of US-421 known as the Meteor Lakes Byway. This amazing scenic road intersects with NC-242 to take you down toward Bladen Lakes State Forest.
Before you do that, we suggest you stop in Garland. Some of the best barbecue in North Carolina awaits here at Southern Smoke, open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11:30 am to whenever they run out of food.
Exits 373, 380, and 385
Before (or after) Sampson County is a stretch of agricultural communities that make up Duplin County. The Kenansville Exit (373) is where many people will hop off to head one of our best beaches, Emerald Isle.
If you are a fan of muscadine wines, Duplin Winery is right off I-40 in Rose Hill (Exit 380).
While there you’ll drive past the World’s Largest Frying Pan! We promise… it’s cool and worth a stop!
Exits 390 and 398
When heading east, Pender County is the last collection of I-40 exits in North Carolina before Wilmington and the road’s end.
The town of Burgaw is a few minutes from Exit 398 and Moores Creek Battlefield (Exit 390) is about 25 minutes from the interstate.
At the latter, you’ll visit the site of our first significant victory against the British in the American Revolution.
Wilmington and New Hanover County
Exit 416 and I-40’s End (or Beginning)
I-40 ends (or begins) in Wilmington. Exit 416 is where I-140/NC-140 will take travelers east toward Topsail and Jacksonville or west toward Brunswick County.
At mile marker 423, the road becomes US 117/NC 132.
Check out Battleship North Carolina and climb the gun turret and descend into the belly of the boat. Tour officer’s quarters, the mess hall, and learn more about life aboard this War War II relic.
Beyond the river, you’ll continue toward the beaches of Pleasure Island, which are popular all year round. Walk the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, take in the waves in Wrightsville, and then relax in peace in Kure.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is another popular attraction on Pleasure Island!
Ready to Explore These I-40 Exits in North Carolina?
With the exceptions of US 64 and US 74, there are few NC roads that offer such diverse landscapes as this one. Sure, it is pretty busy and chaotic at times but we still appreciate having an interstate that can take us just about everywhere in the state.
Whatever I-40 exits in North Carolina you decide to follow, we hope you can enjoy a bit of the journey before hopping off.
Do you have any favorite I-40 exits in North Carolina, beyond just the end of your journey? We’d love to know about them.