It’s true you can find amazing landscapes all across America, but you can also find them contained within smaller packages.
North Carolina boasts sprawling mountain ranges, lush forests and shining blue beachfront. The state also contains some amazing man-made attractions, from museums, restaurants to our very own Great Wolf Lodge.
Most of these destinations are just a drive away, so pack up the car and start exploring! Below, we bring you the best day trips in North Carolina.
Quick View: 20 Best Day Trips in North Carolina
- Great Wolf Lodge
- Pisgah National Forest
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- North Carolina Zoo
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park
- Chapel Hill
- Grandfather Mountain
- Nags Head
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Beech Mountain
- Tweetsie Railroad
- Bryson City
- Elizabethan Gardens
- Lake Lure
- The Biltmore Estate
- Wrightsville Beach
- Hickory Ridge Living History Museum
- Chimney Rock State Park
- Linville Gorge
- Lake Norman
While North Carolina is often celebrated for its palatable climate, it can get pretty chilly in the winter and uncomfortably warm during the summer.
If you’re looking to dodge the weather, think about taking the family to Great Wolf Lodge. We keep our indoor water park at a cozy 84-degrees so that families can enjoy a weather-proof good time, all year long.
Check out our amazing water slides, ropes course, laser tag arena and more. The lodge is located in Concord, North Carolina which is just over a half an hour away from Charlotte! If you haven’t secured hotel yet, think about spending a few nights with us. We have over 400 suites to chose from!
If you thought thundering waterfalls and hidden lagoons were reserved for far-away destinations, think again.
There are some amazing natural attractions to explore right here in the Tar Heel State. The Pisgah National Forest spans over 500,000 acres and is located on the western side of the state, outside the city of Asheville.
Make sure to check out Look Glass Falls and Sliding Rock, two of the most popular waterfalls in all over North Carolina. Experience the adventure of whitewater rafting down the French Broad Rive; hike up some of the amazing mountain peaks, scout out a prime picnic location and enjoy the natural beauty!
Didn’t someone say road trip? The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina.
Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the parkway takes you through stunning long-range vistas, rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes. There are also plenty of lookout points and places to stop along the way!
The North Carolina Zoo is located on 2,600 wooded acres in the heart of North Carolina, just south of the city of Asheboro.
Thanks to the 500 developed acres it contains, it counts as the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. There zoo is home over over 1,800 individual animals and more than 200 species, from polar bears to African elephants.
There’s even a recreation area for the kiddos to run around between animal exhibits!
If you want a break from the dense North Carolina forest, then you should head over to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
The region is home to the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast. Here, visitors can enjoy a range of activities, from hiking, hang gliding, picnicking and more.
There’s even a boardwalk area where you can take in views of the dunes, ephermal pools, and more.
Best known for its prestigious university, the city of Chapel Hill offers visitors a little bit of every flavor.
The town includes elements of urban life including a booming downtown area with tons of restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife entertainment, and live music venues.
At the same time, Chapel Hill carries a family-friendly atmosphere reminiscent of suburban living, from wide open green spaces, neighborhood shops to local festivals and more.
You may think being over 300 million years old is what Grandfather Mountain its name, but you’d be wrong.
The real story revolves around the early settlers, who saw the profile of an old man in the mountain silhouette. Today, it serves as one of North Carolina’s most popular tourist attractions.
The mountain, which is nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, stands just under 6,000 feet and offers visitors amazing hiking trails, wildlife viewing areas, interpretative talks, and ranger programs.
Nags Head is a beach town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Naturally, the area’s main attractions revolve around the water.
Whether you’re looking to lounge around on the beach or get into more involved water sports, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. Make sure to check out the famous Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Sea Side Art Gallery and the Wright Brothers National Memorial while you’re there!
If you’re enjoying your time in the Outer Banks, head over to its southern section.
There, you’ll find North Carolina’s “crystal coast.” The area contains over 50 miles of shoreline. Spend your days pocketing scotch bonnet and conch shells.
Hike, fish and swim your way around the island. Don’t forget to take the ferry over to Shackleford Banks, either. The barrier island that is home to over 100 wild horses!
If you thought you had to go up north to find a place to ski, think again! Standing at 5,506 above sea level, Beech Mountain is the highest town on the east coast.
The town receives an average of 42 inches of snow a year, making a perfect place to enjoy a wide range of winter activities.
Sure, you may have visited a theme park before, but have you ever visited one exclusively dedicated to America’s Wild West? The Tweetsie Railroad is a family-oriented destination located between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
The feature attraction revolves around a 3-mile ride on a train pulled by one of the Railroad’s two historic narrow-gauge steam locomotives. Expect some live entertainment while aboard — and maybe even a few bandits!
The park also features arcade games, gold panning activities, toy shops, and places to eat.
Bryson City is a sleepy little town that doesn’t typically attract tons of tourists. It is, however, located right next to the Great Smoky National Park, which means those who visit have direct access to one of the state’s most celebrated “outdoor playgrounds.”
There are over 100 cascades and waterfalls contained within the smokies, plus 2,000 miles of streams and rivers.
White water rafting aficionados will want to check out Pigeon River, which straddles the boarder of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s been rated the third-best river for rafting by the American Outdoor Association.
The Nantahala River is another great rafting point. Come springtime, enjoy an explosion of wildflowers. More than 1,500 flowering plants can be found throughout the region!
Speaking of flowers, we’d be remiss not to mention the Elizabethan Gardens.
Originally constructed as a tribute to the first English colonists, this quiet destination is home to hundreds of species of native plants and wildlife sprawled out over 10 acres of land. The floral exhibits vary depending on what time of year you visit.
The Elizabethan Gardens are located right next to The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre and Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island near the Outer Banks.
You may recognize Lake Lure from the movies. Dirty Dancing, Firestarter and The Last of the Mohicans all incorporate scenes filmed in this popular summer vacation spot.
Of course, the standout feature here revolves around the water. The man-made lake spans 720-acres and gives tourists a place to lounge, swim, boat, tube, kneeboard, water ski and more.
The downtown area also features plenty of historic buildings, places to eat, drink, and dance.
Known as “America’s Largest Home,” the impressive Biltmore Estate boasts 250 rooms, 70-foot ceilings, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and a bowling alley.
The historic house museum, which is run by the esteemed Vanderbilt family, is situated on 8,000 acres of gardens.
Today, guests are invited to roam around the picture perfect property and partake in any one of the many activities offered, from biking, fly fishing, carriage rides, horseback riding, hiking, bird watching, river floating and more.
That’s right, we’re back on the Carolina Coast. Welcome to Wrightsville Beach, an island off of Wilmington, North Carolina. Known for its crystal blue ocean and spacious beach, this sunny getaway provides tons of on-the-water experiences like surfing, stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking and wake-boarding.
Even if the beach isn’t your thing, the town is worth exploring. Wrightsville is home to over 100 years of history. Check out some of the island’s exhibits or walking tours to get a better sense of what Wrightsville was like in the early 1900s.
Here’s a fun fact: The infamous pirate Blackbeard was killed off of the coast of North Carolina back in 1718.
That’s just one of many examples of the state’s rich and robust history. For more 18th century charm, head over to the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum.
There, you’ll be met with interpreters in period clothing, 18th century homesteads and tons of information pertaining to life as an early mountain settler. The museum is located in Daniel Boone Park in Boone, North Carolina.
Who doesn’t love a giant monolith? Venture on over Chimney Rock State Park. Navigating the 6,956-acre area can be somewhat of a challenge, but we promise, it will be worth it in the end.
Once you find your way up to “The Rock,” the park’s signature granite outcropping, you’ll be able to appreciate the 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t have the energy or ability to complete that kind of hike, there’s a state-of-the-art elevator that can also bring you close to the summit.
And we’re back in the Pisgah National Forest! Thee Linville Gorge is considered one of the most “rugged” patches in the region, which may sound intimidating for a novice, but series hikers revel in the undisturbed wilderness.
The gorge has also been celebrating for its amazing rock climbing areas, camping locations, swimming holes and dense forest.
Huntersville is just a 45-minute drive from downtown Charlotte. The town contains 34-miles of “inland sea,” otherwise known as Lake Norman.
The area is filled with things to do, from fishing to sailing, paddleboarding and more. If you’re looking to get out of the water and onto dry land, head into town. The place is filled with boutiques, art galleries, sculpture gardens, places to eat and more.
That’s about it for our list of the best day trips from North Carolina. As you can see, the Tar Heel state is packed with things to do, places to see, and good eats to enjoy.
If you happen to be heading south, think about making Great Wolf Lodge home base. To learn more about the Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte, head to our official website.
There, you can learn more about our indoor waterpark, adventure zone and all the other activities we offer on-site! Check out our selection of themed rooms too!
You’ll feel like your camping out in the Northwoods in no time. You can also sign up for our email list to sign up for our newsletters and hear about our best deals!