Top 10 Best Day Trips from North Carolina

Nguyen Kieu Trang 10 0 Error

North Carolina is a bucket-list-worthy vacation destination! The variety of small towns and cities, as well as scenic beaches and mountains, ensures that there ... read more...

  1. If you're looking for some of the best day trips from North Carolina during the summer or one last trip before winter, Carolina Beach is a great option. The beach offers an original kind of beach experience from the past with old-time beach charm combined with a fun, family-friendly spin for today. Visitors can experience a vintage, nationally-recognized seaside boardwalk, live music, miles of beautiful beach, world-class fishing, one-of-a-kind festivals and events, and all kinds of people united by good times that are unmistakably Carolina Beach.

    There is always something out of the ordinary to do in Carolina Beach, whether you are here for a long vacation or day trip. At Carolina Beach State Park, hike a scenic white-sand trail leading to an overlook with gorgeous views of the Cape Fear River. Watch a shark swim right in front of you – in a 235,000-gallon saltwater tank at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. For the history buffs, explore the Civil War’s largest land/sea battle site at Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Civil War Museum.

    Experience a vibrant nightlife that’s curiously entertaining by visiting local favorites from tiki bars to colorful island hot spots, including one that features a surfing cow on the roof! Groove to the tunes at area venues and festivals from North Carolina’s biggest beach music festival on the coast to blues and jazz.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.0/5
    • Admission: Free
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: Courtyard by Marriott Carolina Beach Oceanfront, Hampton Inn & Suites Carolina Beach Oceanfront, Golden Sands Motel
    • Location: North Carolina

  2. Most people visit Blowing Rock, North Carolina, for the fresh mountain air and abundance of outdoor activities. No matter the reason or the season, it’s always a great time to visit. A tourist destination for more than 120 years, Blowing Rock is the place to leave all your cares behind, relax and unwind, or get out in nature for some outdoor adventure.

    Blowing Rock is known as North Carolina’s oldest attraction, since it opened back in 1933. It is an immense cliff 4,000 feet above sea level, overhanging Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below. The phenomenon gets its name because the rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind sweeps with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. In Blowing Rock, you can enjoy the scenic views and observation tower, gardens, small garden waterfall and unique gift shop. There is a short trail to reach the rock (about 1200 feet long) and gives you views of the observation tower, overlook, waterfall, gardens, and the Blowing Rock itself!

    A year-round, high country outdoor playground right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blowing Rock is less than 2 hours from Charlotte and just over 3 hours from the capital of Raleigh. Perfect for a day trip. The attraction also hosts two annual music festival events!

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.0/5
    • Admission: $9 for adults, $8 for students, $7 for military, seniors, and veterans & $3 for children
    • Opening Hours: Daily 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM
    • Best Places to Stay: Chetola Resort, The Getaway Blowing Rock, The Manor
    • Location: Watauga County, North Carolina
  3. Offering more than 500,000 acres of land about 30 miles southwest of downtown Asheville, Pisgah National Forest is jampacked with activities and breathtaking vistas for your day trip. With hundreds of miles of trails and numerous waterfalls and swimming holes, the forest provides ample opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors.

    One of the first national forests in the country, created partially with land that once belonged to the Biltmore Estate, the park is home to the first forestry school in the United States as well as the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

    The park is divided into three ranger districts: the Pisgah Ranger District, the Appalachian Ranger District, and the Grandfather Ranger District. The Pisgah Ranger District has the best access to the park's many waterfalls, while the Grandfather Ranger District has more difficult trails. The Appalachian District, which is the furthest away from Asheville, is home to the Appalachian Trail, as the name implies. There are also horseback riding, biking, and rock climbing trails, as well as fishing holes, picnic areas, and campgrounds in the forest. Many of the best whitewater rafting tours in North Carolina take you through the forest.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 5.0/5
    • Admission: Free
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat, Pilot Cove, Smithmore Castle
    • Location: Asheville, North Carolina
  4. Lake Lure is a sleepy, quiet town nestled in the Western North Carolina mountains about an hour east of Asheville. Until several recent travel articles garnered national attention, Lake Lure’s biggest claim to fame has been that Dirty Dancing was filmed here. Lake Lure is a huge lake that approximates over 700 acres in Hickory Nut Gorge in the western part of the state. With over twenty miles of shoreline, Lake Lure is fed by the clear waters of Rocky Broad River as it makes its way through Hickory Nut Gap.

    There are plenty of fun, active things to do in Lake Lure, but the vibe is that put-your-phone-down, get-away-from-it-all, and be-present family vacation of yore. This spot has an activity for everyone in the family, from grandma to adventure-seeking teens to toddlers. Hiking among wildflowers in the spring is a beautiful experience. Water sports, boating, fishing, and swimming are just a few of the activities available at Lake Lure. Summer is considered "peak season" because the water temperature is warm enough for swimming, kayaking, and tubing. And autumn brings spectacular foliage as well as charming seasonal activities like apple picking.

    Morse Park has many walking and biking trails, as well as scenic views of the lake and the mountains of Hickory Nut Gorge. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is a community garden bridge that is maintained by locals and is worth a visit during your trip for its seasonal beauty.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.5/5
    • Admission: Adults $10; Kids (4 to 12) $8, Under 4 free. Price of Admission includes the water park and beach access.
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa, Willowbrook Inn of Lake Lure, The Lodge on Lake Lure
    • Location: North Carolina
  5. From active lifestyles with plenty of watersports and outdoor healthy and wellness activities to friendly community gatherings, there's never a shortage of something happening year-round in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina's most accessible beach located just 8.5 miles from Wilmington.

    Visitors to Wrightsville Beach can unwind on the white sands and sparkling blue waters, which are ideal for swimming, fishing, surfing, and other activities. Sailboat races on the Intracoastal Waterway, jogging "The Loop" fitness trail, and wildlife viewing on nearby undeveloped Masonboro Island are all options. After fishing on Johnnie Mercers Pier, take a fishing charter or a scenic cruise to explore further afield.

    This lively beach town and walkable island provide excellent shopping opportunities at beach boutiques, surf shops, and nearby open-air villages. Every day on the island is an exceptional day, thanks to resort amenities, spa outings, and fresh-to-table dining options. A historic square with a waterbird sanctuary, a marathon, internationally recognized surfing competitions and SUP events, an annual holiday flotilla, and a variety of seasonal activities all contribute to an unforgettable coastal experience.

    There's plenty of nightlife to keep you entertained long after the sun goes down. There are numerous places to unwind, ranging from beach taverns and oceanfront grills serving fresh seafood to live music on the pier or marina.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.5/5
    • Admission: Free
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: One South Lumina Suites, Blockade Runner Beach Resort, Silver Gull Motel
    • Location: New Hanover, North Carolina
  6. The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is the world's largest natural habitat zoo with 2,600 acres. Connect with wildlife from two different continents as you explore exhibits carefully constructed to resemble natural habitats.

    Conservation is at the heart of everything for the North Carolina Zoo. From vultures to gorillas in Africa to endangered plants and amphibians in the state, the North Carolina Zoo has been involved with the conservation of animals in the wild for over two decades.

    With over five miles of trails winding through two habitat regions, you can easily spend five or six hours just visiting with the animals at the zoo. You’ll see elephants, lions, giraffes and zebras from the African plain, more than 3,000 tropical plants and birds in the Aviary, and everything from grizzly bears to honeybees in the North American exhibit. But there’s so much more to see here besides just the animals. In addition to providing encounters with wild animals living in natural settings, the North Carolina Zoo offers authentic and memorable ways for families to play and stay together along with a variety of nature-based, educational programs and camps.

    Art in the Park is the zoo’s art collection that includes over 40 handmade pieces including bronze statues, painted murals and unique sculptures made from recycled materials. You can also try your skill on a ropes course, take a ride in a paddle boat, or listen to some live music.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.5/5
    • Admission: adults $15 (13-61), seniors $13 (62+) and children $11 (2-12). Children under the age of 2 are free.
    • Opening Hours: April - October 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM; November - March 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
    • Best Places to Stay: Getaway Asheboro Cabins, The Duck Smith House Bed & Breakfast, Zooland Family Campground
    • Location: Asheboro, North Carolina
  7. For those who love being outdoors and staying active, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is like a giant playground, considered one of the city’s most popular attractions. Spread out over 1,300 acres, the center has a variety of activities for visitors of all ages and abilities.

    The main attraction, of course, is the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, where guests can take on the class II-IV rapids by kayak or whitewater raft. Choose between a more relaxed family experience or a more exciting adventure raft experience on the man-made river, or take a more scenic ride in a flatwater kayak tour along the Catawba River.

    For those that would rather stay on land, there’s a rock climbing wall, several rope courses, a zipline experience, hiking and biking trails, and for the truly adventurous, high jumps that go as high as 100 feet. Plus, you will find a variety of delicious food and beverage options right on site, including the Pump House Biergarten with made-to-order food and sixty craft beers on tap.

    Past travelers said the center is a great place to take your family for a day trip – though visitors admit tickets can get pricey. Along with admission fees, you should also budget for the cost of food. The center does not allow outside food anywhere on the premises, meaning you'll need to refuel at one of the eateries available on site.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.5/5
    • Admission: Anyone 10 and older $59; children 9 years old or younger $49.
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: The Duke Mansion
    • Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
  8. Carowinds, a 398-acre amusement park located in Charlotte, is one of the largest theme parks in the Southeast and is home to two of the tallest steel roller coasters in North America. If roller coasters and thrill rides are more your speed, you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Carowinds.

    You’ll find plenty of fun for both children and adults in one of the best family-friendly attractions in Charlotte. Visitors can enjoy 14 rollercoasters, including Fury 325, an enormous giga coaster, and the Intimidator, one of the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest hyper coasters, along with a range of other rides and attractions, and live entertainment. The park also hosts special and seasonal events, such as SCarowinds and WinterFest.

    Camp Snoopy is the place to go if you're visiting Carowinds with small children. Younger children can enjoy a variety of rides designed specifically for them at Camp Snoopy! The Woodstock Express and Lucy's Crabbie Cabbie are ideal for children's first roller coaster rides. For the more daring child, the Flying Ace Aerial Chase coaster dangles riders beneath the track for a one-of-a-kind but still kid-friendly thrill.

    Carowinds also has its own water park, Carolina Harbor, if you need to cool off. Among the park's attractions are a 27,000 square-foot wave pool, a 3-acre kids pool, and a lazy river. In addition, admission to Carolina Harbor is included with your Carowinds admission.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.0/5
    • Admission: Carowinds Camp Wilderness, Comfort Suites Northlake,
    • Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 AM - 10:00 PM
    • Best Places to Stay: Carowinds Camp Wilderness, Sleep Inn Fort Mill near Carowinds Blvd.
    • Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
  9. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a premier destination for outdoor activities and natural beauty in the area. It is the most visited national park in the United States, and visitors will find lush green trees, abundant wildlife, and, of course, some truly breathtaking mountains.

    The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs through the center of the 522,427-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From prehistoric Paleo Indians to 19th-century European settlers, the mountains have a long history of human settlement. Today, more than 10 million people visit the park each year, it's one of the few national parks in America to enjoy scenic drives to Cades Cove or along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and outdoor activities like hiking, biking and fishing.

    The hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are vast and numerous and even include a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail. Hikers will wind their way up mountainsides and across rivers to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

    Unlike most national parks, the Smokies have no entrance fee or lottery reservations system, making it an affordable way to get into the woods with a short lead time. Day hikers make the 11-mile round-trip to Gregory Bald's summit in June to see flame azaleas, flowering shrubs that range from deep orange-reds to candy pinks and yellows on the same blossom. Visitors gather in camping chairs on the Little River Trail near Elkmont Campground at night to watch the fireflies. By 10 P.M., the insects rise up from damp creek valleys and, in unison, flash seven or eight times, and then, just as uniformly, go dark.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 5.0/5
    • Admission: Free
    • Opening Hours: Daily
    • Best Places to Stay: Under Canvas Smoky Mountains, Smoky Falls Lodge, Scenic Cabin in the Smoky Mountains
    • Location: North Carolina
  10. Grandfather Mountain is the tallest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and this state park offers visitors the opportunity to see the towering mountain up close. Near the summit at exactly one mile above sea level is the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a suspension bridge that extends for over 220 feet over a chasm that drops beneath.

    A walk across this bridge is sure to get the adrenaline pumping, and you’ll see some pretty spectacular views along the way. For a more rustic, backcountry view of Grandfather Mountain, visitors can use one of the many nature trails or hiking trails that lead around the park and to the summit. Hikes in the area can range from leisurely to challenging, but all will reward you with gorgeous panoramic views.

    The Wildlife Habitats at Grandfather are where you can see wild animals close up in their native settings without worrying about them coming after you! Grandfather is not a zoo, it is a place where rescued animals have found forever homes. You’ll find a few black bears, two beautiful bald eagles, majestic elk, and playful otters.

    The park offers animal enrichment times during the day when you can observe them feeding and playing. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn a little more about these special animals. Either before or after visiting the animals in their habitats, take a walk through the Nature Museum. Here you’ll find educational exhibits about the history of Grandfather Mountain. The exhibits include gems and minerals found in the area, birds and plants of North Carolina, Native American relics, a model of the mountain, and photographs. If you have time, don’t miss the 30-minute documentary video inside the Auditorium.

    • Tripadvisor Rating: 4.5/5
    • Admission: Adult: $24 · Senior (age 60+): $22 · Child (ages 4-12): $10
    • Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM
    • Best Places to Stay: Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast, The Getaway Blowing Rock
    • Location: North Carolina

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