Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.
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.
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!
Things to Do During Winter in North Carolina
Speaking of things to do, here are our favorites during winter in North Carolina!
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:
- Asheville (Milder Climate and events like Biltmore Estate and Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum)
- Boone and nearby mountain towns (Great Skiing, Snow Tubing, and Winter Hikes)
- Bryson City (Scenic tubs at Lakeview at Fontana and the Polar Express at Great Smoky Mountains Railroad)
- The Outer Banks (Quieter Beaches, Delicious Restaurants, 2 NC Aquarium Locations, and Lighthouses)
- Wilmington (Quieter Beaches, the Battleship North Carolina, the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Delicious Restaurants, and Great Breweries)
Read More: Winter Getaways in North Carolina
Celebrate Christmas in North Carolina
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:
- Korner’s Folly Victorian Candlelight Tours (December 2 & 16)
- Mike’s Farm Holiday Events at Mike’s Farm in Beulaville (November 16-December 23 and December 26)
- Winterlights at the NC Arboretum in Asheville (November 17-December 31)
- Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights in Clemmons (November 17-January 1)
- Enchanted Airlie at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (November 24-25 and December 1-21)
- McAdenville Christmas Town USA in Gaston County (December 1-26)
Read More: Christmas Lights Displays in North Carolina
Christmas Tree Farms
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.
- 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.
Holiday Train Rides
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.
- Grab your spot early and head to Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock for its annual Tweetsie Christmas event.
- During a typical year, Raleigh’s Holiday Express at Pullen Park sells out fast, literally minutes after going on sale.
- 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.
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
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
- The Avett Brothers at PNC Arena in Raleigh
- New Year’s Eve Apple Rise at the Hendersonville Farmers Market in Hendersonville
- Holiday Midnight Blast at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock
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
- Winter Concerts and Musical Events
Watch Winter Sports
- 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.
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:
- The Greensboro Science Center
- The Museum of Life and Science in Durham
- NC Aquariums on the coast
- The NC Museum of Art in Raleigh
- The NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh
- Discovery Place Science in Charlotte
- The Pinball Museum in Asheville
The abundance of museums spread throughout the state really makes traveling here in the winter more fun.
Winter Concerts and Musical Events
Of course, North Carolina’s awesome performing arts centers cannot be left out!
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
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.
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:
- Carolina Beach State Park in Carolina Beach
- Elk Knob State Park near Boone
- Eno River State Park in Durham
- Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury
- Lake Waccamaw State Park in Columbus County
- Max Patch in Madison County near Asheville
Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville
- Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Hillsborough
- Otter Falls Trail in Seven Devils near Banner Elk (one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfalls!)
- Roan Mountain near Bakersville and Burnsville
- Stone Mountain State Park near Elkin
- Weymouth Woods in Southern Pines
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
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!