Winter in North Carolina (and 10+ Great Things to Do)

Last Updated on November 18, 2021

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Winter in North Carolina means fall‘s beautiful leaves are long gone and average temperatures continue to drop. While the winter season brings cold air to the state, this is the best time of the year for many reasons.

From December to February, you’ll find unique things to do, festive holiday and Christmas events, and more! With so much going on to close out the old year and start the new one, we came up with this guide to cover it all.

We feature seasonal celebrations, small-town fun, our favorite indoor and outdoor attractions, and amazing winter getaways. So grab a sweater (or coat, if you must) and join us as we explore these amazing events during winter in North Carolina.

Because there are so many, we’ve organized this guide into the following categories:

  • What is Winter in North Carolina like?
  • Things to Do
  • Winter Getaways
  • Celebrate Christmas in North Carolina
  • Outdoor Activities (Skiing, Snow Tubing, Winter Hikes and More!)
  • Indoor Activities (Winter Sports, Museums, and More)

You can skip ahead or keep reading about the best holiday and Christmas events during winter in North Carolina.

Read More: The NC Bucket List

What is Winter Like in North Carolina?

With a few exceptions, winter in North Carolina is milder than in other states on the East coast of the US.

Temperatures tend to fluctuate during the winter, considering cold or warm fronts that come through during this season. January is usually the coldest winter month, with December and February slightly warmer in average temperatures.

Throughout the season, typical average high temperatures are in the 40s and lows are in the 20s.

There are regional differences, though, as temperatures usually remain higher on the coast and in the coastal plain, the sandhills, and the piedmont of Eastern and Central North Carolina. If you visit coastal locations, beaches, lakes, or riverside towns, you’ll find crisp air, strong winds, and sunshine.

As you head west, you’ll gain in elevation, temperatures will drop, and the likelihood of severe winter storms increase. When it snows in North Carolina, this usually happens in the Blue Ridge Mountains and nearby higher elevation spots.

Read More: 100+ Wonderful Places to Visit in Western North Carolina

Even if it does snow, winter is a great time to visit North Carolina. Why?

Because our severe weather is milder than our northern neighbors. Hotel and rental prices here are also cheaper than at any other time.

We also have plenty of fun things to do, especially during the colder months!

Things to Do During Winter in North Carolina

Speaking of things to do, here are our favorites during winter in North Carolina!

Winter Getaways

Winter in North Carolina

As soon as Halloween passes, we start planning for a winter getaway. Prices are more reasonable, which makes beach rentals, mountain cabins, and hotels in our favorite cities more desirable to book.

There are so many places to go in North Carolina during winter. Here are a few of our favorites, and reasons why for each:

Read More: Winter Getaways in North Carolina

Celebrate Christmas in North Carolina

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

Even before we arrive at winter in North Carolina, the holiday spirit has swept through the state. Starting in November, holiday festivals kick off in cities and towns throughout North Carolina.

Biltmore Estate gets a head start with Candlelight Christmas, a decoration of America’s largest home with wreaths, lighted evergreens. This event, like many others, typically starts in November and runs through the beginning of January.

Here are some more ways to celebrate Christmas in North Carolina:

Read More: Christmas Lights Displays in North Carolina

Christmas Tree Farms

Winter in North Carolina Christmas Tree Farms

One big tradition that we all know is going out and finding a tree, just like the Griswolds did in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There are quite a few Christmas tree farms in North Carolina and we’re here for all of them.

The Ashe County Christmas Tree Farms Choose & Cut Season begins in November and we recommend you follow their Facebook Page for more updates and specific dates.

In Boone, the Choose and Cut Christmas Tree Season runs from early November through mid-December.

Read More: Wonderful Places to Visit in the High Country

Holiday Train Rides

If there’s someone in your family who loves trains, then hopefully you’re in North Carolina when these seasonal Choo-Choos are running. Grab your spot early and don’t get stuck in traffic, as Tweetsie Christmas is a really big deal in Blowing Rock.

During a typical year, Raleigh’s Holiday Express at Pullen Park sells out fast, literally minutes after going on sale. While they’ve canceled the 2021 version, Pullen Park is still open and an amazing place to visit!

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City runs the Polar Express Train Ride through New Year’s Eve and is a great way to spend a wintry mountain getaway.   

Know of any other fun Christmas things to do for kids in North Carolina? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Read More: Things to Do in Boone

New Year’s Events

There are more than a few ways to celebrate the new year. Here are two of the most unique and interesting.

Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

The Pickle Drop

That’s right. You’re reading this correctly! At the stroke of midnight on December 31, when most people are singing Auld Lang Sang, Mount Olive (near Goldsboro) comes together to watch a pickle drop!

Mount Olive’s famous pickles are a 90-year tradition in Eastern North Carolina. We think this pickle drop is kind of a big dill! I’ll be here all week.

Read More: Great I-95 Exits in North Carolina

The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival

Winter in North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festivals Cary NC

Looking for something unique? The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary (November to January) is a really cool event. This is where the work of 25 visiting artisans is put on display for all to see. 

As the sun goes down, Booth Amphitheatre lights up with over 20 hand-crafted LED lanterns, seasonal concessions, and traditional Chinese performances such as foot and vase juggling, Wushu/Kung Fu, and Chinese dance.

It’s a really special event and one that will hopefully stay in Cary for many years to come!

Read More: The Best Things to Do in Raleigh

More New Year’s Events in North Carolina

Read More: December in North Carolina

Indoor Activities to Enjoy Winter in North Carolina

Whether or not the weather is cooperating, there are some great indoor ways to enjoy winter in North Carolina.

Watch Winter Sports

Winter in North Carolina Duke Basketball Cameron Indoor Stadium

The Carolina Panthers are hopefully still going strong outside at the beginning of winter, as are many of the state’s college football teams.

But for any sports fan during winter in North Carolina, our focus turns to college basketball and names like Duke, UNC, NC State, and Wake Forest. You can also watch the Charlotte Hornets battle a tough NBA schedule.

Hockey is also growing in North Carolina, starting with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. There are Minor League clubs, too, including Charlotte Checkers, the Fayetteville Marksmen, and Carolina Thunderbirds in Winston-Salem regularly play throughout the winter.  

Museums

Winter in North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

North Carolina has a ton of awesome (and interactive) museums to check out, especially when it’s cold and wet outside.

Some of our favorites include NC Aquariums on the coast, the Greensboro Science Center, and Raleigh’s NC Museum of Art—one of the city’s best!

We’re also big fans of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham and, back to Raleigh, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. We also can’t leave out Discovery Place Science in Charlotte and the Pinball Museum in Asheville.

The abundance of museums spread throughout the state really makes traveling here in the winter more fun. 

Read More: Our Favorite Children’s Museums in North Carolina

Winter Concerts and Musical Events

Winter in North Carolina Avett Brothers NYE Concert

Of course, North Carolina’s awesome performing arts centers cannot be left out!

A few awesome spots to catch a show in North Carolina include DPAC in Durham (especially during the Christmas season!), Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, and Triad Stage in Greensboro.

As far as events go, there are tons of Christmas- and winter holiday-themed shows going on. They include A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and more!

New Year’s Eve is a popular time for concerts and shows, too. One example is The Avett Brothers, who have a longstanding tradition of playing somewhere in North Carolina on New Year’s Eve.

For 2021, Greensboro is where they’ll be.  

Read More: Bands from North Carolina

Outdoor Activities during Winter in North Carolina

We saved these outdoor activities for last but certainly don’t think of them least among our favorite things to do during winter in North Carolina.

Skiing and Snow Tubing

Winter in North Carolina Skiing at Beech Mountain
Beech Mountain.

Western North Carolina and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains fill with snow, manmade and natural, and become perfect for skiing and snow tubing!

You’ll find some great skiing at Sugar Mountain Resort and Beech Mountain in the High Country, with Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley another big name.

Hawksnest in Seven Devils (near Banner Elk) and Jonas Ridge in Burke County are two of the best snow tube parks in the mountains.  

Read More: Ski Resorts in North Carolina

Watch Bird Migrations

Waterfowl hunting seasons open up throughout Eastern and Central North Carolina during the colder months, but you don’t have to hunt to enjoy the birds passing through the area.

In fact, one of the best things to do during winter in North Carolina is to travel to the coast and watch the flocks of birds having a pit stop as they move further south.

Tundra swans are one example and you can likely find them flying through Lake Mattamuskeet, Pea Island on the Outer Banks, and other locations close to the Atlantic Ocean.

Winter Hikes

Winter in North Carolina Elk Knob State Park Summit Trail view of Sugar Mountain
Elk Knob State Park.

New Year’s Day hikes are a great way to start the year, but you can enjoy hikes throughout winter in North Carolina. In fact, winter is a prime time of year to go hiking in North Carolina, especially on warmer days.

Sure, the leaves may have fallen and some people may call it the “winter blahs,” but there are many things in your favor during this time. The skies are usually clearer, you can often see things usually covered by trees, and waterfalls may be surrounded by beautiful ice or snow.

Trails are also less crowded and here are some of our favorite places for winter hikes in North Carolina:

Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville

Note that some parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed during winter. Please check here before planning any BRP hikes.

Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Ready for Winter in North Carolina?

We created this after pondering so many times about what to do during winter in North Carolina. Being such a big state, finding fun stuff to do can get overwhelming, so we hope you find this guide helpful when trying to pin down your weekends and free time. 

Also, if there’s something that should be added, please feel free to let us know in the comments section. We’re always on the lookout for new things to do in our state.

More Things to Do (Beyond Winter in North Carolina)

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