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Top 20 North Carolina Day Trips

I know this is Weekend Wanderlust but sometimes we only have a day to spare for adventures.

I am lucky here in North Carolina, where both the beaches and the mountains are within a short drive,

leaving several options open for a day trip.

The general idea for these trips would work in any state, however.

In no certain order, these are some my favorite things to do in NC if I only have 1 day.

Find a local state park

1. Hanging Rock State Park

Location: Danbury, NC

~ 2 hours from Raleigh

~ 45 min from Winston Salem

Hanging Rock is the perfect day trip if you like hiking and waterfalls. There are several different trail and waterfall options.

You can even rent a boat (canoe/row-boat) on the lake in season.

2. Raven Rock State Park

Location: Harnett County, NC

~ 10 min outside of lillington city limits

~ an hour from Raleigh

Oh, Raven Rock. I remember visiting Raven Rock on field trips since pre-school. It is the closest State Park to my home town, so if there is nothing else to do and I’m home.. you can find me here.

There are tons of trail options.. but really only one “overlook” that peers over the Cape Fear River. Any trail that leads to a river is okay with me! “Raven Rock” hanging over my head as I listen to the water flow by is just a plus!

Raven Rock

3. Crowders Mountain State Park

About 40 minutes outside of Charlotte, Crowder’s mountain is a great place for a short afternoon (or whenever) hike. There are two options to get to the top. One of the trails is shorter (~.8 miles) but is a lot more challenging/verticle. The other trail (~1.8 miles) is less strenuous, but ummm.. a whole extra mile. Take your pick. Either way, the views from the top are pretty nice! If you look far enough, you can even see Charlotte in the distance.

several of the options below are also North Carolina State Parks. I will make note.

Canoe/Kayak your local lake

4. Lake Johnson

Right on Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, less than 10 minutes from NC State’s campus, you will find Lake Johnson - one of my favorite places to rent boat locally. They have tons of options! Peddle boats, kayaks, john boats, SUP boards, and they recently got sail boats as well.

& it’s SO cheap! I’m talking $5-$10 an hour .. cheap

There is also a trail that circles the whole lake. Perfect for exercising with a view!

Lake Johnson

5. Bass Lake

Location: Holly Springs

~ 30 minutes from Raleigh

Bass Lake, like lake Johnson, is a pretty small lake that rents boats & has a trail around the perimeter.

Again, really cheap - $5-10 / hour! (depending if the boat has a motor)

6. Jordan Lake

Location : (mostly) Apex, NC

Jordan lake is also a NC State Park. It is a great place to spend the day fishing, hammocking, or even picnicking & swimming on the “beach” area.

Jordan lake boat rentals are a little different/pricey. If you’re on a budget, just keep it simple & float out (on an air mattress) like my friend & I.

If money isn’t an issue .. you can rent a kayak, or pontoon at Jordan Lake.

There are several rental places around the lake - it is pretty big.


7. Lake Norman

Location: Cornelius, Davidson, & Huntersville

~ an hour from Uptown Charlotte (depending on what part of the lake)

Like Jordan Lake, Lake Norman has SEVERAL rental places, and many options for the types of boat/watercraft you rent.

& Again, this is if you have a bit of money to spend for the day… or friends to split the cost ;) (pontoons aren't exactly cheap)

My friends and I have rented a pontoon on lake norman the past two years for memorial day weekend and it was a blast!

Take a drive to the coast

When I want to get away to the beach for the day, I usually chose the closest one.


There are a few beaches in the Wilmington area .. I’m just going to group them all together & give you a run down.

8. Wrightsville Beach

Location: ~ 2 hours from Raleigh

The first beach you will pass / get to is Wrightsville. Depending on what you are going for, I suggest passing. This beach doesn’t have too much to offer.. well, other than the ocean and the sand. It is more for privately owned beach homes. But hey, if your not looking for anything other than a relaxing day on the beach -- it works!

If you're looking for a beach bar -- Wrightsville is your spot! But since this is about "day trips" I'll assume you're driving home ;)

(soo just one, or two , eh?)

9. Carolina Beach

Location: ~ 20 minutes past Wrightsville

If you continue straight down either 421 or I-40 E until you can’t anymore … you will reach Carolina Beach.

This is the more popular area. Here you will find all the classic beach stores (Wings, Eagles, Bert’s, etc),

and there is somewhat of a “strip” with shops and restaurants for walking around.

When you see a long line -- trust me, you’re gonna want to hop in for some famous Britt’s Donuts!

There are also a few fair type rides if you’re in the mood for all that.

10. Kure Beach

Location: ~ 5 min down the street

If you keep driving through Carolina Beach, before you realize it, you will be in Kure Beach.

This is where the gorgeous Glass House is located. So beautiful!

There are usually less crowds here (& mostly free parking).

So Kure Beach is where I'll usually set up for a simple day at the beach.

Drive down to Fort Fisher

If you've made it this far. you might as well drive a little further down to Fort Fisher.

(Also a State Park)

There are some cool places/things to explore at Fort Fisher, such as the sea wall.

11. The Outer Banks

Location : ~3.45 hours from Raleigh

A bit of a drive for a day trip .. but so worth it!

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the 200 beautiful miles of Barrier Islands along the cost in this post.

I will do a seperate, elaborate post in the future. (hint, hint)

There are several light houses on the Islands that make up the North Carolina Outer Banks.

So much to learn and explore! & SO many kite surfers!

Head West

If like John Muir, the mountains are calling you, rather than the beaches..

you're lucky to be in North Carolina where there is access to both!

12. Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: ~ 3 hours from Raleigh

~ 1 hour from Asheville

(location depending on which part of the parkway)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is National Highway named "America's favorite drive" that twines 469 miles through the mountains, connecting The Great Smokey Mountains in NC to The Shenandoah National Forest in VA. There are about 280 beautiful overlooks to stop at, and SO many different hikes.

Since we only have a day is this case, we don't have hours to drive up & down the parkway searching for hikes.

(The overlooks will be easy to spot.. & there are SO MANY perfect ones)

A few short hikes that I recommend:

13. Craggy Gardens

Location: ~ 20 miles from Asheville

Milepost 364.1

I found the Craggy Gardens trail by accident. There way a road closing, and I noticed a lot of people getting out & walking, so I wanted to see what the hype was about. Now, one of my favorite spots!

A short (less than a mile) super easy to walk trail throughthe Rhododendrons will bring you to one of the most beautiful views in the NC mountains. IMO

plus- ITS FREE ! All of these hikes are ;)

14. Black Balsam

Location: Milepost 420.1

~26 miles from Asheville

Start at the Art Loeb Trail & walk as much or as little as you'd like.

Black Balsam Knob is only about a mile from the trailhead.

This is where my sister and I camped when I took her to the mountains.

15. Mount Mitchell

Location: ~ Milepost 350

Noth Carolina's first State Park EVER, Mount Mitchell, is the highest point east of the Mississippi river .. but probably the shortest hike haha. No, literally, 1/4 mile from the parking lot. The observation deck is also wheelchair accesible!

I'm sure it is a beautiful view. I would tell you more about it, but the day I visited was so foggy that you couldn't see a thing.

Mount Mitchell

This is what we DIDN'T see. Photo by @danielweissventures

16. Rough Ridge

Location: Milepost 302.8

I have yet to visit Rough Ridge, but it is up soon on my list.

I will update this post with more information after I check it out.

From research: The Rough Ridge summit is a moderate .8 mile hike from the parking lot with incredible views!

It seems as though there are several great spots to stop and enjoy/sit alng the way as well.

Rough Ridge

There is SO much to do and see in the North Carolina Mountains. The reason I only mention the parkway (as a whole) is … well, because I could write a whole separate blog post on things to do in the NC mountains. Would you be interested? Let me know in the comments.

link to mountain blogs

Spend the day exploring your local city

I’m not much of a city slicker, but if you don’t like all that nature stuff there is always TONS to do in the cities of NC.

Always check google for local festivals and events!

If I’m in a town or city exploring for the day I might:

  • Grab a local craft beer

  • Find a pretty park or botanical garden

  • Visit a thrift shop or consignment store

  • Check out a museum

  • Find vegan food ;)

… Just to give you some options. I have also listed a few things to do in some of the larger cities below.

(disclaimer: All photos in this section are not mine & were found on google)

17. Raleigh

There is always SOMETHING going on in Raleigh. I mean, it is the State Capital.

From a visitors perspective, I suppose you could check out some of the many museums and parks.

Isn't that what people do in the city? *shrugs*

The NC Museum of Art , and William B Umstead Park are pretty cool.

18. Charlotte

To me, Charlotte seems even bigger and busier than Raleigh. & is growing quick!

There are tons of shops, parks, malls, and restaurants. The Epicentre is always poppin'.

You could also hit up Carowinds for the day for some roller coasters and fun!

I also enjoy Romare Bearden Park for an afternoon picnic.

19. Asheville

You can’t go to Asheville without stopping by a brewery.

& I promise the next tme I go I will find the awesome spot (& all the good vibes) below!

I've never been... but there's also The Biltmore Estate - America's largest private residence.

If you see from the "skyline" photo below, Asheville is near the mountains. So that's where you'll find me ;)

20. Winston-Salem

The only part of Winston-Salem I know much about is "Old Salem." Which is an old, restored (not rebuilt) part of town, that will make you feel right back in the 18th century. It's pretty neat to explore, honestly. And God's Acre, a Moravian graveyard, which is very well the biggest, most organized cemetery I have ever seen.

Oh! and this delicious breakfast/brunch spot - Krankies Coffee.

I've stopped there on the way to hanging rock.

So, again, I'll let TripAdvisor treat you to some more info regarding things to do in Winston-Salem until further notice.

Again, the cities aren't really my thing.. but I gave you guys some resources anyways. You're welcome! ;)

Although I grew up mostly resenting where I’m from, I have grown to know and love this place. Not the kind of love for a place that makes you want to settle down, buy a house and start a family … More like a kind of love/respect - Knowing these country roots made me who I am. Knowing that all of my family was never too far down the street.

Knowing that I will one day (soon) miss this place.

There’s honestly quite a bit to do in NC. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the country has to offer.

What is your favorite day trip in your state (or North Carolina if you've been)?!

♥ Haley Jane

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