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I was born and raised in Durham and never realized just how cool this area is. I love living in the triangle because not only is Durham wonderful but there are so many amazing places to explore nearby, too! Even though I’ve lived here my whole life (with the exception of a couple years in Columbia, SC), I still feel like there’s plenty I haven’t seen. And one of my biggest secrets to traveling more with a full time job is to explore your own backyard! Living in a place like Durham where I have a variety of new places at my doorstep makes that easy.
While North Carolina has tons of great cities to explore for a full weekend, sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of leaving home for a few days. But just for the day? Easy peasy! Find a free day on your calendar and start exploring!
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Day trips from Durham
Durham, North Carolina is located in the center of the state. It is part of the “triangle” which is created by Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. I may be a little biased but Durham is an awesome city with so much to do just right here. And North Carolina is equally as awesome with a beautiful coast on one side and amazing mountains on the other! Being in the center of the state means you are just a few short hours from a myriad of different adventures. Whether you’re looking for a mountain peak or craft beer or amazing shopping, Durham has you not far from any of these.
In this list of day trips from Durham you’ll find the best places to explore within 3 hours or less.
Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington, NC
Need a quick beach day? Look no further than Wrightsville Beach! Located towards the southern end of the NC coast, Wrightsville is one of the easier beaches to reach from the triangle. Hop in the car and just under 2.5 hours later, you’re soaking up the sun and enjoying the lapping waves. What I love about Wrightsville is that while it is very popular, you can always find a little space for your chair. It also has its own cute little town to grab lunch or dinner before heading back home.
On the flipside, you can spend all your time in Wilmington. Wilmington is one of North Carolina’s biggest coastal towns. You’ll find historic downtown with beautiful houses that will make you feel like you’re in Charleston, the river walk, breweries, shopping, and rivers to explore.
I recommend Wilmington as a weekend trip (be on the lookout for that guide coming soon!) but you can easily take a quick day trip here, as well.
If you went to school in the triangle or anywhere east of it, there’s a good chance you took a field trip to New Bern at some point! Located near the NC coast, New Bern is perched on the Neuse River and holds a boatload of history. It’s one of the oldest cities in NC and actually used to be our state capital. You can find Tryon Palace, a replica of the state capital, and several old plantations. If you’re a Pepsi fan, you’ll want to stop here as it’s the birthplace of Pepsi Cola!
Winston-Salem was a very important city for tobacco production a few decades ago. Today, it’s a cute little city with tons of good eats and coffee shops. Be sure to check out Reynolda Gardens and walk around the West End Historic District.
Hanging Rock State Park
Not too far outside Winston-Salem lives Hanging Rock State Park. This park is awesome for hikers and adventure lovers! It’s located along the Dan River so you can get your water fix in with paddling or kayaking. But the best part of Hanging Rock? All the waterfalls! There are so many amazing trails that will take you to some beautiful waterfalls like Hidden Falls, Looking Glass Falls, and Upper Cascades and Lower Cascades.
In the warmer months, pack your suit and take a dip in the lake, too! Located less than 2 hours from Durham, Hanging Rock makes the perfect day trip to do some great hiking.
Raven Rock State Park
Raven Rock State Park is located in Harnett County about an hour outside of Durham. The park is named for its interesting rock formation and the Raven Rock Loop Trail will take you right to it! Enjoy a nice, mostly flat trail to see the Raven Rock and walk along the Cape Fear River. This would make a great day trip in nice weather and it’s dog friendly!
Ah, my alma mater! Chapel Hill is 100% a college town but I promise it’s worth visiting! Stroll the gorgeous campus (I’m only a little biased) and then grab something to eat on Franklin Street. Merritt’s on Columbia Street also makes the best BLT in the whole world… if you know, you know. Take some time to visit the planetarium or stroll through the arboretum. Chapel Hill is also home to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. Even better if you’re able to visit on a game day and snag tickets to a football or basketball game. Go Heels!
There is so much hiking to be done within a 3 hour radius of Durham, NC and Crowder’s Mountain is a great one! Just outside of Charlotte is Crowder’s Mountain State Park. There are several different trails to choose from but The Pinnacle or Crowder’s Mountain trails will take you to this park’s namesake. Enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Read also: Best hikes in NC for leaf peeping
I’m sure you’ve heard of and maybe even visited Charlotte if you’re from or living in the triangle. Charlotte is North Carolina’s financial capital and its biggest city. Even though its a “bigger” city, it’s still very quaint and easily explored! Check out one of the many amazing breweries and restaurants or enjoy strolling around the beautiful and clean downtown. For our adventure loving friends, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the US Whitewater Rafting Center.
Believe it or not, Durham is only a couple hours away from some great Virginia hot spots. Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, is less than 2 and a half hours away! Richmond is a lively city with plenty to offer. Like any great city, Richmond has breweries and awesome restaurants. Richmond has two popular trails… the Capital Trail which is great for actually walking or biking and the Beer Trail which is great for enjoying all the local brews. It’s located along the James River and floating down the river in the summer is a popular activity.
If you’re from North Carolina, you most likely know the draw of Asheboro. It’s the North Carolina Zoo! The NC Zoo is one of the biggest zoos by acreage in the United States and trust me… it doesn’t disappoint! Take a day and explore this amazing zoo. It’s fun with a family but also fun for just adults, too!
Less than an hour from Durham, Greensboro is a small city in Guilford County. Here, you can enjoy the Greensboro Science Center, a walk through the Bog Garden, as well as the International Civil Rights Center. Greensboro was the heart of many important civil rights movements so you’re sure to learn a ton!
Another Virginia gem in the southwest corner of the state, visit Wytheville to spend the day doing some awesome hiking. Visit Crystal Springs Recreation Area, Big Walker Mountain Trail, and the High Rocks Trail for some epic views of the Appalachian Mountains.
There are SO many great day trips from Durham, NC. Whether you want to go for a hike or do some shopping or anything in between there is a town or trail nearby for you to explore. Within 3 hours of Durham, you’ll be able to hike mountains or take a walk on the beach. Pretty magical, right? Even if you don’t have time to take a full weekend trip, just one empty day can lead you to some incredible gems around North Carolina and even Virginia.
My best tip is to pull out your calendar right now and pick a few weekends in the coming months to start exploring. I often find I’m not exploring as much as I want because I don’t plan ahead and then just want to veg on the couch all day. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that! But if your goal is to truly travel and adventure more, you’ve got to put in on the calendar! Don’t let your weekends pass you by without getting out there and adventuring more. If you look closely, there’s always something new to do.
I hope this list has sparked your interest in exploring more of the surrounding area around Durham!
What are your favorite day trips from Durham or your hometown?