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How to Enjoy Winter in North Carolina (25+ Great Things to Do!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.

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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 many things to do during winter in NC, we created 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? (Temperatures)
  • Things to Do during Winter in NC
    • Winter Getaways
    • Celebrate Christmas in North Carolina
    • Christmas Tree Farms
    • Holiday Train Rides
    • New Year’s Eve Events
    • Outdoor Activities (Skiing, Snow Tubing, Winter Hikes, and More!)
    • Indoor Activities (Winter Sports, Museums, and More)

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

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. You’ll find crisp air, strong winds, and sunshine if you visit coastal locations, beaches, riverside towns, and lakes.
  • As you head west, you’ll gain in elevation, temperatures will drop, and the likelihood of severe winter storms will increase. When it snows in North Carolina, this usually happens in the Blue Ridge Mountains and nearby higher-elevation spots.

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!

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

Things to Do During Winter in North Carolina

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

Winter Getaways

A small child at the beach with a warm hat during 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 and things to do during winter in North Carolina. Here are a few of our favorites and the reasons why for each:

Read More: Winter Getaways in North Carolina

Celebrate Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas show at Mike's Farm
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.

  • Christmas at Biltmore is a celebration of America’s largest home with wreaths and lighted evergreens. This event, like many others, typically starts in November and remains one option in North Carolina in January.

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

Read More: Christmas Lights Displays in North Carolina

Christmas Tree Farms

a field of Christmas trees at a tree farm in NC

One big tradition during winter in NC is to go out and find 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.

Read More: Winter in Boone (20 Great Activities, Snow Tubing, and More!)

Holiday Train Rides

a steam engine train decorated for Christmas

If there’s someone in your family who loves trains, then hopefully, you’re in North Carolina in the winter when these seasonal Choo-Choos are running.

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: Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster (7 Important Tips Before You Go!)

New Year’s Eve Events

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

  • The Pickle Drop
  • The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
  • More New Year’s Events in North Carolina

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 in North Carolina 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 and one of the best things to do in North Carolina in winter.

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

A lantern from the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival

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! Speaking of “stay,” we recommend the wonderful Mayton in Cary!

Read More: The Best Things to Do in Raleigh

More New Year’s Eve Events in North Carolina

Read More: December in North Carolina

Indoor Activities to Enjoy Winter in North Carolina

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

  • Watch Winter Sports
  • Museums
  • Winter Concerts and Musical Events

Read More: 80+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (The Asheville Bucket List)

Watch Winter Sports

A Duke University basketball game in winter

Museums

The NC Museum of Natural Sciences
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:

Read More: Fun Museums in Greensboro (Kid-Friendly, Contemporary Art, and More!)

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

A celebration at the performing arts center

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 we already mentioned. This NC-based band’s longstanding tradition is to play somewhere in North Carolina on New Year’s Eve.

Read More: Bands from North Carolina

Outdoor Activities during Winter in NC

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

  • Skiing and Snow Tubing
  • Watch Bird Migrations
  • Winter Hikes

Skiing and Snow Tubing

a busy ski hill at Beech Mountain, NC
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.

a group of people taking their snow tubs back up to the top of the trail

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.

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Winter Hikes

a viewpoint in Elk Knob State Park
Elk Knob State Park.

New Year’s Day hikes are a great way to start the year, but you can enjoy hikes throughout North Carolina in the winter. 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 blues,” 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. 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

out daughter smiling in a snow tube

Ready for Winter in NC?

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 or by email. We’re always looking for new things to do in our state.

Don’t forget to share your winter in NC adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Fun Things to Do in NC!

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