Known for being one of the most popular cities in North Carolina, Winston-Salem is a tourism hotspot – and there’s plenty to do that’ll keep you busy for weeks. As beautiful and exciting as the city might be, travelers often enjoy a change of scenery – and that’s where the beauty of day trips comes into play.
It just so happens that Winston-Salem’s convenient location makes it a perfect starting point for a variety of popular destinations in the area, so when you need a break from its bustling streets or are just curious to see what is out there, check out this list of the 14 best day trips that’ll be sure to keep things interesting.
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Easily the number one day trip destination from Winston-Salem, Raleigh is one of the most popular destinations in North Carolina with its impressive skyline and colorful culture.
Even though you’ll find yourself on bustling city streets, there’s no shortage of Southern hospitality in Raleigh – so you’re guaranteed to enjoy your time here.
There’s something for all kinds of travelers, as you’ll find a combination of historic landmarks, modern buildings, picturesque parks, and iconic hiking trails.
If you love to read, check out the James B. Hunt Library – which is considered to be the most technologically advanced library in the world with its many book bots and interactive book displays.
Known as one of the oldest amusement parks in the country, Pullen Park still maintains a carousel and train ride that dates date back to 1887, while also providing recreation activities like paddle boats on Lake Howell.
Take your museum time outside by visiting North Carolina’s Museum of Art where you can wander amongst two buildings and an outdoor park all filled with some of the finest pieces of art in the world.
Spend some time in the great outdoors at the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, and admire the natural giants that are the Eastern Hemlock trees, as you walk amongst its 140-acre park.
While in town, you should definitely step foot on the longest hiking trail in the state known as the Mountains to Sea Trail which spans out over 1,000 miles from Tennessee to the edge of the Outer Banks.
2. Yadkin Valley
You don’t have to be a wine enthusiast to enjoy your time at the Yadkin Valley, but it’s safe to say that there’s nothing quite like the rolling vineyards you’ll find here.
Start your day off on the right foot by grabbing a tasty breakfast sandwich and freshly brewed cup of coffee from the charming little Squeeze Box, located at the base of Pilot Mountain – but be prepared to take your meal to go, as the shop is extremely small.
Do you prefer sweets in the morning? You can’t go wrong with grabbing one of the freshly made doughnuts at Creamy Dayz, but chances are you’ll end walking out with half the store (they’re that good!).
While in the area, head over to Pilot Mountain State Park to enjoy your breakfast picnic style, before hopping on one of the many hiking trails that lead you to panoramic views of the surrounding area.
If you’re looking to sip on vineyard fresh wine while eating your lunch, Old North State is the place to be – and its casual setting paired with its fine dining menu is hard to beat.
Consider signing up for the Frog Holler Wine Tours so that you won’t need to assign a designated driver. The wine tour will take you to some of the finest wineries in the area and will even stop for lunch along the way to make sure you can keep the good times rolling.
Do some window shopping in Downtown Mt. Airy and enjoy the large selection of locally owned boutique shops, cafes, gift stores, antique malls, and so much more.
After a busy day, make your way over to Thirsty Souls Community Brewing for endless choices of locally brewed beers and some of the best pizza you’ll find in the state.
The city of Durham may not be large in size, but it’s overflowing with attractions – so you never have to go too far to get from one awesome activity to another.
Once a leading distributor of tobacco, Durham has managed to stick with the times and has now become one of the most active technology and medicine researchers in the country. This only adds to the city’s charm, as you walk through streets made up of ancient brick buildings that have been internally modernized – with restaurants, venues, and more.
You don’t have to be a student at Duke University to enjoy some of its many features – and many are considered to be some of the most beautiful attractions in town. For example, the university’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens stretches out over 50 acres with picturesque gardens, unlike anything you’d find in the country. You can explore the area on your own, on a walking tour, or with a trolley ride.
The most lively district in Durham is easily The American Tobacco Campus, with its abundance of trendy restaurants, active entertainment venues, and beautiful outdoor space.
Catch a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center and admire the modern architecture that makes up the building with its glass walls and unique shape.
History buffs will enjoy a visit to Bennett Place Historic Site, where you can walk amongst the grounds of one of the most significant battles that lead to the end of the Civil War.
4. Grandfather Mountain
Named by pioneers nearly one hundred years ago because of the resemblance of an old man’s face on one of its cliff sides, Grandfather Mountain is one of the best places in the state to enjoy outdoor recreation. Towering at nearly 6,000 feet, the views at the top of the mountain are unmatched – and on a good day, you can see 90-miles out to the skyline of Charlotte.
What’s even better, is that you don’t have to hike extreme lengths to marvel at its beauty – and a short drive up its summit will provide a plethora of fun activities to indulge in.
The best attraction atop the mountain is easily the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which is known for being the tallest suspension bridge in the country – and provides out-of-this-world views as it leads you over to Linville Peak.
You don’t have to go searching for wildlife sightings, as there are a large variety of exhibits that were built around the natural habitats of the mountain’s native animals including black bears, otters, and bald eagles.
There’s even a Nature Museum on the mountain for visitors hoping to learn more about its rich history and observe an interesting collection of artifacts that have been found there.
Just because you have everything at your fingertips doesn’t mean that you can’t partake in a bit of hiking – and the mountain actually has 11 hiking trails to choose from.
More experienced hikers will love the challenge of climbing the Grandfather Trail, which is made up of ladders and cables that take you along the strenuous trail to the top of Calloway Peak.
5. Bryson City
The drive to Bryson City may be on the longer side when it comes to taking a day trip, but it’s more than worth the journey with its abundance of outdoor activity surrounded by picturesque lakes, rivers, national forests, and parks.
You’ll probably spend most of your time in either the Nantahala National Forest or on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but regardless of which way you go, you’ll be overwhelmed by the endless list of things to do.
The Nantahala National Forest is the place to be for those who like to get out on the water, with the iconic Nantahala River at its center offering exciting activities like kayaking and white water rafting.
However, if you’re looking to spend your time relaxing on the water, then head over to Fontana Lake – where you can take your time paddling amongst its 17 miles.
Another option is taking the short drive into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where you can explore the Deep Creek area, partake in some fishing, enjoy a scenic picnic, and go for a hike along the popular Three Waterfalls Loop.
After you’ve enjoyed some outdoor fun, head back into town for locally brewed beer, amazing pizza, and lively entertainment at the Nantahala Brewing Company, which is popular amongst locals and tourists alike.
Why settle for a day trip when there’s so much to explore? If you’re considering extending your stay in the area, check out the 30 Best Hotels Near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
6. Cataloochee Valley
The Cataloochee Valley is another somewhat lengthy day trip that offers great rewards like its stellar wildlife sightings. Located along the northeastern part of the Great Smokey Mountains national park, the valley is one of the most remote locations within its limits – and it’s an amazing feeling to have this place to yourself in a park that sees the most visitors than any other in the country.
If you aren’t able to get an early start to catch the iconic Cataloochee Valley elk at dawn, you’ll have an equally great chance of seeing them at dusk, so no need to worry. Elk aren’t the only wildlife you’ll spot along your journey. Other animals like black bears, white-tailed deers, and wild turkey are also extremely common in the area.
Go for a drive along the narrow, winding Cove Creek Road, which was established by settlers in the early 19th century, for the most scenic way to enter the valley. You’ll know you’ve reached the valley when the road opens up to a wide-sweeping plain with beautiful mountains as a backdrop and wildflowers blooming wherever you look.
This isn’t the place you want to visit in the wintertime – as many of the animals will be hidden away, and flowers will be nonexistent.
However, every season has its own attributes – like the appearance of calves in spring, herds of grazing elk in the summer, and witnessing mating rituals in fall.
Considering Asheville’s close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the scene here is a lot more modern than you may think with an art scene that won’t stop growing.
Dive into some of the city’s history by planning a visit to the Biltmore Estate, where you can walk amongst 250 rooms that sit on its 4 acres and admire the unique French Renaissance architecture dating back to the late 19th century.
For the best example of Asheville’s flourishing art scene, head over to the River Arts District, and walk through a variety of historic buildings boasting local art galleries and shops.
If you have a thing for motorcycles, you don’t want to miss a chance to visit the Maggie Valley Museum and its 300+ rare motorcycles while learning a thing or two along the way.
You’ll find antique shops all throughout the city – but the absolute best place to hunt for hidden treasure is the Antique Tobacco Barn, which is located in a massive warehouse.
Lake Lure may look familiar, as it’s used in a few scenes of the famous movie Dirty Dancing – but you probably didn’t know that it also has a sandy beach to relax on and hiking trails to explore.
Pamper yourself at the luxurious Omni Grove Park Inn and Spa – which is considered to be one of the most amazing spas in the country, thanks to its many waterfalls, star-like ceilings, calming underwater music, and mountain views.
Labeled as a college town, you’d be surprised by the abundance of attractions, festivals, and outdoor activities that are waiting for you in Greenville.
Let’s talk about the festivals first: The largest of them all, Piratefest, is held in April – and spans eight blocks filled with pirate-themed music, food stalls, rides, and more. Other festivals include the Farmville Dogwood Festival, Oktoberfest, and the Festival of Trees.
One of the most popular things to do in Greenville is taking a self-guided tour on the Brews and Cues Trail, where you can spend the day enjoying the city’s pride and joy: beer and barbecue.
If you prefer spending your time in the great outdoors, make your way over to the Tar River for a day filled with kayaking, wildlife sightings, and breathtaking views.
Just a stone’s throw away from the river is the South Tar River Greenway, where you can enjoy a large variety of hiking trails in a serene environment.
The adventurous mountain biker will get their kicks at Jaycee Park, which is solely dedicated to bikers looking to practice their jumps along its many ramps.
Get a refresher on your Greenville history by visiting the 6-acre farm at the Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum, where you can take a tour of the historic rooms like the milk house, country store, and school.
Go digging for treasures at Dapper Dan’s Antiques, check out the funky inventory at the Farmville Furniture Company, pick your own fresh produce at Strawberries on 903, admire local college students’ artwork at Wonderbox Gallery, and so much more!
9. Chimney Rock
Tucked away amongst the mountain range that makes up the western part of North Carolina, the town of Chimney Rock is a true hidden gem – but those who know about it come back year after year.
Most of the excitement can be found at Chimney Rock State Park, with the most notable hiking trail being the Hickory Nut Trail – which takes you to the bottom of a gushing waterfall.
When it comes to panoramic views, the top of Chimney Rock has you covered – and you don’t have to work hard to marvel at its views, thanks to an elevator that leads you right to the top. From the top, you can admire the 75-mile Hickory Nut Gorge in its entirety, Lake Lure, and the Blue Ridge Mountain Range in the backdrop.
If you’re looking to do something different, head over to Cedar Creek Stables and explore the area by horseback riding along Lake Lure.
With multiple bodies of water in the area from Lake Lure to rivers like Rocky Broad and Green, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your time on the water. Have your pick between white water rafting, tubing, kayaking, and partaking in some of the best ghosting opportunities that you will find in the area.
However you decide to spend your time, make sure to start your day with a freshly brewed cup of coffee from Coffee on the Rocks and stop at Bubba O’Leary’s for the best fudge money can buy.
Considered to be one of the most up-and-coming cities in the country, the list of things to do in Charlotte just continues to grow, with activities for all kinds of travelers to enjoy.
You don’t have to be a race car enthusiast to enjoy the interactive displays and unique artifacts that make up the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but it would definitely help
Stop by the US National Whitewater Center, which stretches out over 1,300 acres and offers a variety of fun activities like whitewater rafting, kayaking, biking along a few of the 30+ trails, climbing, and so much more.
Although it’s called Uptown, this area is the ideal downtown – with its giant skyscrapers, rooftop bars, trendy restaurants, museums, and malls galore.
Channel your inner child with a visit to the Carowinds Amusement Park and spend the day playing games, going on rides, and eating fried foods amongst its 400 acres.
If you are looking for small-town vibes, visit the neighborhood of Dilworth – where you can go for a stroll along its streetcar-lined streets and hop between its many boutiques and cafes.
Most people would consider Freedom Park the main attraction here, as it’s sprawled out over 98 acres and boasts a variety of activities like walking trails, batting cages, tennis courts, soccer fields, and plenty more.
Buy some fresh produce at the 7th Street Public Market, go kayaking on Lake Norman, admire some fine art at the Mint Museum, and try some of the best food in town at Good Food on Montford.
Located at the heart of North Carolina, Asheboro is filled with historic landmarks dating back to the Civil War, a growing collection of restaurants, outdoor activities, and so much more.
However, the most popular attraction in Asheboro is the North Carolina Zoo which spans over 2,600 and offers tours, safaris, and stellar viewings of animals in natural environments.
Grab a drink or two at the Four Saints Brewing Company, where you can sample locally brewed beers named after each saint and a rotating selection of unique brews.
Feel what it’s like to fly a plane on the flight simulator at the North Carolina Aviation Museum – and don’t forget to check out the large supply of artifacts and old airplanes.
Once home to a large department store, the Collector’s Antique Mall is made up of 3 floors and over 100 vendors, so you can spend the entire day hunting for hidden treasures.
Visit some of the oldest mountains in the country by planning a trip to the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, and spend the day hiking along nature trails and exploring historic sites.
There are plenty of wonderful places to grab a bite to eat, but The Table has it all with a high-class restaurant, a cozy cafe with an espresso bar, a sweet-smelling bakery, and a charming market all in one.
Known for its overflowing amount of historic significance, Greensboro is a haven for history buffs looking to explore the remnants of the Civil War – but at the end of the day, there’s something here for any kind of traveler.
Stop by the Greensboro Natural Science Center – which is made up of a zoo and a museum – for an interactive, educational experience for its visitors.
Get a feel for the town’s artistic style by visiting Elsewhere, an art museum that boasts a variety of local art pieces each with its own unique touch.
Head over to the Tate Street Coffee House for a cup of organic, freshly brewed coffee in the morning and head back at nightfall to listen to jazz while sampling wine.
Grab a couple of beers at Gibb’s Hundred Brewing Company, a locally owned brewery that offers a rotating selection of seasonal brews and tasty pub fare.
Learn more about the town’s history at the Greensboro Historical Museum, pay your respects at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, buy fresh produce at one of the many city markets, have some fun at the Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park, and so much more.
Located along the shores of Lake Norman, Mooresville is a small town that doesn’t get the recognition that it should – but this just means you can enjoy all it has to offer without worrying about crowds.
Start your day on the right foot by grabbing a coffee from the locally owned cafe, Hebrews, and enjoy a large selection of flavors and fun concoctions like the cotton candy frappuccino.
It’ll be hard not to spend the entire day rummaging through a combination of things new and old at the wide-spanning Main St. Antiques and Design Gallery.
Learn how to brew your own beer before sipping on some of the good stuff at the Lake Norman Brewing Company – but make sure to call ahead as it gets pretty busy.
The Lazy 5 Ranch is considered to be a petting zoo – but what petting zoo do you know of that lets you drive through open fields to pet exotic animals, like giraffes?
Of course, you can’t go wrong with spending time on Lake Norman itself – whether it be kayaking, fishing, boating, swimming, boating, or hiking around its edges.
14. Smith Mountain Lake
Since Winston-Salem is located along the northern edge of North Carolina, it makes for an ideal starting point for day trips to Virginia – like the outdoorsy fun waiting to be had at Smith Mountain Lake.
Get energized with a tasty cup of joe from Smith Mountain Lake Coffee House, or enjoy a sit-down breakfast filled with eggs, meats, and hash brown casserole at the Old Oak Cafe.
Smith Mountain Lake may be man-made, but this doesn’t take away from its beauty, with over 500 miles of shoreline and areas as deep as 250 feet.
It makes sense that many of the activities available are water-based, and some of the best experiences include boating, jet skiing, paddle boarding, and fishing.
Within reach is the Copper Cove Golf Club, for visitors looking to reserve a tee time on the lake’s luxury course – and anyone under 18 can play completely free.
Spend some time with furry friends at the Smith Mountain Lake Alpaca Farm, where you can spend hours hanging out with over 70 alpacas.
There are plenty of places to enjoy a gourmet dinner, but make sure to save room for dessert because the Homestead Creamery is known for making the best ice cream in Virginia.
Head over to Bridgewater Plaza for a fun evening of shopping with waterfront views, catching a movie at the Westlake Cinema, pay your respects for the lives lost during World War II at the National D-Day Memorial, and drink margaritas while you watch boats cruise by at Mexico Viejo.