6 Fantastic Day Trips from Raleigh, North Carolina

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If you’re looking for a fun place to visit in North Carolina, check out Raleigh! Even though it’s a huge city with plenty of things to do to keep you occupied for days or even weeks, there are also some fun day trips from Raleigh you can check out while in the area. 

Some of the best day trips from Raleigh include visiting nearby cities like Durham and Chapel Hill. Raleigh is also close to a few state parks where you can see some of the state’s wildlife and go hiking. 

To make the most out of visiting this fantastic city, I recommend spending about 2 to 3 days in Raleigh. This should give you enough days to see the sights and museums.

It should also give you enough nights to visit some of the bars and explore the nightlife scene if you’re interested. Then, take another three days to do a few day trips or as much time as you can manage. 

Here are my top recommendations for the best day trips from Raleigh. I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to see even more of one of my favorite states! 

day trips from raleigh nc, downtown raleigh, statue in middle of city

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Looking for a Day Trip from Raleigh? 

Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and one of the largest cities in the state. There is plenty to see and do, including attractions that bring visitors from all over the country. Raleigh is also a great destination for families and kids since there are many museums and outdoor places to explore. 

Once you’ve had your fill of Raleigh, you can explore other areas of the state with a few day trips. Here are some of the best places to visit just outside of Raleigh:

raleigh skyline view at sunset

1. Eno River State Park 

If you want one of the top day trips from Raleigh, where you can spend the day enjoying the outdoors in nature, definitely head to Eno River State Park. The park has over 17 trails, from easy to difficult, so there is one for all skill levels. 

Here are some of the most popular hikes:

  • Cox Mountain Trail: About an hour and a half hike with a place to launch canoes or sit by the river bank. 
  • Bobbitt Hole Trail: Less than an hour’s hike with nice views of the trees and the lake. 
  • Cabelands Trail: One of the more difficult trails in the area where you can get a serious workout with the elevation gain. 

You can also canoe and kayak in the park, depending on the recent rain. Some parts of the creeks and lakes get very shallow, and the canoe rental places will be closed if there hasn’t been enough rainfall. 

There is also fishing allowed in the park if you have a fishing license. You will need to bring your own rods and bait. 

One of the best parts of the park is the picnic spots. You can bring a blanket and have a picnic while hiking or eat at one of the tables near the entrance of the park. 

Eno River State Park is located at 6101 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705, United States. They’re open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The park is free to enter. 

2. Pilot Mountain State Park 

Pilot Mountain State Park is another great place to get out and experience nature. It’s about two hours from Raleigh, making it one of the popular day trips from Raleigh. So, head out in the morning so you can get to the park before it gets too crowded. 

Pilot Mountain is definitely geared toward adrenaline junkies. Here are some of the top activities in the park:

  • Rock Climbing: There are certain portions of the cliffs that allow climbing. You need to be an experienced climber and have your own gear. Check out this guide from the Carolina Mountains Coalition to learn more. 
  • Hiking: There are many trails throughout the park, but the most popular are Pilot Knob Trail, Horne Creek Trail, and the Grindstone and Ledge Spring Loop trail. 
  • Cycling: You can bring your bicycle and bike to the main park road that is paved. There are some steep elevation areas, so it’s best for bikers with experience. 
  • Horseback Riding: You can visit the visitor’s center to ride on some trails, including the Yadkin River Park Trail. The park itself does not have horse rentals, but you can plan a ride with a guided tour guide at nearby places like Bregman’s Trail Riding. 

Pilot Mountain State Park is located at 1792 Pilot Knob Park Rd, Pinnacle, NC 27043, United States. They’re open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are no entrance fees for the park. 

head of pilot mountain, pilot mountain state park, day trips from raleigh

3. Brumley Forest Nature Preserve 

This is another great place for hiking and exploring the nature of North Carolina. I also recommend this place if you are interested in environmental preservation, as they offer classes and tours on how the preserve positively impacts the community and the environment. 

There is also a really cool spot called The Healing Labyrinth. It’s a small place in the middle of the preserve where people come to meditate or reflect on life. 

Brumley Family Nature Preserve is only a short drive to Hillsborough. I definitely recommend going there afterward since you’re in the area. Some cool things to do in Hillsborough include:

  • Pick strawberries at the Eno River Farm.
  • Have a coffee at Cup of Joe, where you can meet tons of locals and hear some live music.
  • Walk along the paved 3.1-mile Riverwalk to see the town and the river.
  • Visit the visitor’s center to learn more about the town and its history.

Brumley Forest Nature Preserve is located at 3055 New Hope Church Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, United States. It’s open every day from dawn to dusk. There is no entrance fee. 

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4. Wrightsville Beach 

While you might think of Florida and California as the top US beach destinations, North Carolina also has some beautiful beach towns worth visiting. 

One of the main reasons why I love Wrightsville Beach is because it still has that small local beach town vibe rather than swarming with tourists like the beach towns in Florida where I grew up. 

Here are my favorite things to do in Wrightsville Beach:

  • Go fishing at Johnny Mercer’s Pier. My father and brother insist on always going fishing. It’s a huge concrete pier with plenty of space for you to cast your rod. 
  • Go paddleboarding. I bring my own paddleboard, but there are places to rent them. Wrightsville SUP has friendly prices, and they also offer guided tours. 
  • For drinks, I recommend Lighthouse Beer & Wine. They have great locally-made beer as well as festivals in the summer. The garden in the back is dog-friendly. Just make sure to keep your dog on a leash! 
  • Meet some locals at SUNdays. This is a great little cafe where the locals love to hang out. You can grab some coffee or some sandwiches and then head to the beach. 
johnny mercier pier, wrightsville beach, raleigh day trips

5. Winston-Salem 

Winston-Salem is just under two hours from Raleigh. It’s a young, hip town, making it a great destination to visit solo, with friends, or with young children. 

Winston-Salem has something for everyone. With over 30 breweries, many people come here just to brewery hop and try all the local offerings. There are also plenty of art galleries, museums, and fun boutique shopping. 

Here are the top things to do in Winston-Salem, according to my friends who live there:

  • Visit the Old Salem Museum and Gardens. It’s one of the best ways to learn about the city and the surrounding areas. The tours are self-guided through both the historic building and the gardens in the back unless you request an adult group tour in advance. 
  • Have coffee at Krankies. This coffee shop is right downtown. They have a beautiful patio where you can sit and people-watch. In the evening, it becomes a popular bar spot serving alcohol and featuring live music from local bands. 
  • Drink wine in the Yadkin Valley. This is just a few miles west of Winston-Salem. It’s over 1.4 million acres and has over 45 wineries to visit. There are also hiking trails, festivals, and craft fairs throughout the area. 
  • Take a tour of the city. If you want to learn more about the history of the city and see the best parts of the town, consider taking a tour. Triad Eco is one of the best tour companies because it offers walking tours, trolley tours, and segway tours. 
winston salem, roads leading into winston salem

6. Greenville 

Greenville is about 1.5 to 2 hours from Raleigh, depending on traffic. It’s a large city with plenty to see and do. East Carolina University is located here, making it a destination for many students and young professionals. 

One of the main attractions is the Greenville Parkway. It goes through various parts of the city for over seven miles. It’s a great place to exercise, whether it be jogging, cycling, or walking your dog. 

If you feel like exploring downtown, the most popular areas are Dickinson Avenue and Uptown. They’re both full of restaurants, farmers’ markets, and craft breweries. 

After exploring the parkway and downtown, here are some other things not to miss:

  • Tour the Greenville Museum of Art. They have a ton of rotating exhibits centered on political and social issues around the world, which are worth checking out. They also host events and festivals in the spring and summer. 
  • Go canoeing in River Park North. I love canoeing and kayaking when I’m on vacation because I’m always looking for an excuse to be in the water. If you aren’t interested in canoeing, though, the park also offers boat rentals, picnic spots, and a few short hiking trails.  
  • If you’re here in April, go to the PirateFest. Make sure to wear your best pirate costume! They have live music, a beer and wine garden, fine art vendors, and pirate sword-fighting shows. 
  • Do some shopping at The Venue. I love this place. It’s an antique mall, but they also have vintage shops and small boutique vendors. The entrance to the store is fun with its super colorful paint, and there are always fresh flowers on the porch. They also refurbish old furniture with paint they make there at the shop with clay and chalk. If you are road-tripped and have your car to bring home a handmade piece of furniture, don’t miss this!
downtown greenville, day trips from raleigh

7. Fayetteville

I really recommend Fayetteville as a Christmas day trip, but you can still visit this city any time of the year. It’s just extra special during Christmas because they decorate the entire downtown area and have tons of Christmas festivals and activities.

While here, make sure to visit the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, as it’s known to be one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the southeast. They also decorate the gardens for Christmas.

There are tons of breweries in Fayetteville. Since the city has a large veteran population, many of the breweries are owned by them. Grabbing a few drinks is a great way to taste the local craft beer and support the economy.

The most popular breweries are Dirtbag Ales Brewing, Gaston Brewing Company, and Bright Light Brewing Company.

8. Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

If you want to visit a national park in North Carolina but want to avoid some of the overcrowded ones, Weymouth Woods is a nice place to go, over an hour from Raleigh.

There are many hiking trails to choose from for all different skill levels. Some hiking trails only take about 20 minutes, and others are a few hours long.

To see all the different trails and get a map of the nature preserve, I recommend starting at the visitor’s center, which is near Weymouth Tract near the entrance.

Here are the most popular trails people tend to visit and walk the most:

winter trees in weymouth woods sandhill nature preserve, autumn leaves on the ground, outdoor day trip from raleigh

9. Apex

North Carolina is full of little charming towns that seem like they’re still stuck in the past. Apex is one of them, just 20 minutes from Raleigh.

They have the cutest little downtown area with historical buildings, boutique shopping, and even an old pharmacy.

The best street for food and shopping is Salem Street. Anna’s Pizzeria is the most popular place for locals to grab a slice of pizza, so definitely head there if you want to meet locals and support a local restaurant.

The people of Apex are very friendly, and since the town is small, everyone seems to know each other. It’s definitely a different environment compared to some of the larger cities of North Carolina.

How to Get to Raleigh 

Raleigh has a large airport (RDU). It has daily flights from most domestic airlines. 

For international flights, it can be expensive to fly into RDU. Many international visitors choose to fly to a larger airport, such as Atlanta or New York, and then connect to Raleigh. 

If you’re coming from somewhere in the southeast, you can easily drive to Raleigh since it’s well-connected by major roads and interstates, including I-40 and I-85. 

When to Visit Raleigh 

Raleigh can get cold in the winter with some snow days, but most people from up north find the winter pretty mild. Summer has that typical southern humidity, which can make visiting some of the state parks very uncomfortable. 

Raleigh is incredible in the spring and fall, but especially in the fall. The leaves are always changing colors, and the weather is crisp but still sunny. 

Most of the days in the spring are in the 70s F (21° C). This is great weather to explore the outdoor attractions without getting too hot. 

You will see large crowds in Raleigh during the holidays, and hotel prices tend to get higher during this time, too. I would avoid going around Christmas time if you’re on a budget or don’t love crowds, though the city is nice during this time. 

raleigh during winter, bare trees, downtown raleigh, day trips from raleigh nc

Don’t Miss These Fantastic Day Trips From Raleigh!

There are so many Raleigh day trips less than two hours from the city, giving you plenty of options when choosing which ones you want to take! I recommend doing a mix of seeing another city as well as visiting a few parks so you can enjoy nature. 

Have you been to Raleigh and explored the surrounding areas? What was your favorite day trip? 

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