8 Unique Day Trips In North Carolina

How often do you get out and see what North Carolina has to offer? Here are some unique day trip ideas for NC residents, or anyone else wanting to visit the Tar Heel State!

If you’re ready to get out and explore, but don’t want to stray too far from home, it’s time for a day trip!

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Residents of North Carolina often forget just how lucky they are. The Tar Heel State boasts endless opportunities for sightseeing and activities!

From the beaches of the Outer Banks to the peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains, North Carolina features an incredible range of topography across the state. The assortment of small towns and big cities, beautiful beaches and impressive mountains means there’s a little something for everyone.

The state is also home to some of the oldest towns and settlements in the United States, the world’s largest natural habitat zoo, and America’s largest home. See? There’s just so much to explore in North Carolina.

So, without further ado: my top picks for day trips in North Carolina! And hey, even if you’re not a NC resident, y’all should still come visit!

Land of Oz

The Land of Oz at Beech Mountain, NC

Follow the yellow brick road to the Land of Oz! I’ve actually come across many NC residents that didn’t know about this place, though I think it’s become more well-known in recent years. Once upon a time, this was actually a fully-functioning theme park that operated between 1970 to 1980.

Although it no longer operates as a full-fledged theme park anymore, it does open to the public once a year to celebrate all things Wizard of Oz. The annual re-opening has become known as the Autumn at Oz Festival. You’ll find arts and crafts, food vendors, live performances, and all of your favorite characters.

The North Carolina Zoo

lions at the NC Zoo

Did you know that North Carolina is home to the world’s largest natural habitat zoo? The zoo currently showcases animals from North America and Africa in natural habitats spread across 2,600 acres. Animals have plenty of room to roam here.

And it’s about to get bigger! The zoo has already broken ground for a new region, Asia, which will include animals like tigers and Komodo dragons.

Chimney Rock and Lake Lure

chimney rock north carolina
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There are plenty of mountain towns in North Carolina, but Chimney Rock is a special little spot in Hickory Nut Gorge. Climb 500 steps up to Chimney Rock (or take the elevator, no shame!) for hiking trails and spectacular views. At the base of the park sits Chimney Rock Village, a quaint little town of shops, restaurants, and more.

Lake Lure is right next door. It’s a 700+ acre lake that’s fed by the Rocky Broad River. Here, you’ll find 100 yards of sandy man-made beach, a water park with slides and water games, and boat rides.

For more to see and do during a visit to Chimney Rock, check out these top things to see and do.

The NC Transportation Museum

closeup of locomotive

Tucked away in Spencer, NC, sits the North Carolina Transportation Museum. You’ll find a large collection of railway vehicles, aircraft, and automobiles here. It’s the largest collection of rail relics in the Carolinas.

The location itself is a historic site, too — it was once the Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive repair facility in the southeast. The visitor center is an authentic train station that was built in 1898. See the largest remaining roundhouse in North America, see the very first automobiles, and take a ride on a train.

Roanoke Island

Elizabeth II at Roanoke Island, NC

History buffs will want to visit Roanoke Island, one of the most unique destinations along the Outer Banks. Yes, this is the infamous first attempted settlement by the English in the 16th century, which resulted in a mysteriously lost colony. And while it was new to Europeans, historians and archeologists believe that Roanoke Island was inhabited as far back as 8000 BCE, or even earlier.

You can visit a historic site to experience first-hand what life was like for those first English settlers, or board and explore Elizabeth II, a recreation of one of the ships from the Roanoke Voyage of 1585. You can also explore Coastal Algonquian culture and history in a recreated community, showing what life was like for the original inhabitants.

The Quarry at Carrigan Farms

swimming quarry at Carrigan Farms in NC

North Carolina is home to plenty of natural swimming holes, you just have to know where to look! This one, in particular, is located in Mooresville, NC at Carrigan Farms — and yes, it’s a real stone quarry that was mined for granite stone. A natural spring was uncovered, filling it with clear, blue water.

During the summer months, the refreshing 25-feet-deep water is a refreshing escape from the heat. There’s a white sand beach and green lawn surrounding the water, perfect for relaxing. While you’re there, Carrigan Farms also offers apple picking, pumpkin picking, and strawberry picking throughout the seasons.

Asheville and the Biltmore House

No list of day trips in North Carolina would be complete without mentioning Asheville and the Biltmore House. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this mountain town is well known for its arts and cultural scene and beautiful architecture. Being a mountain town, you can also expect to find plenty of hiking, biking, kayaking, and more outdoor fun, too.

The Biltmore House, America’s largest house, is also located in Asheville. Built by George Vanderbilt in the 1800s, you can now explore the 8000-acre estate and accompanying gardens. The events, decorations, gardens, and everything else changes with the seasons. If you really want to see something spectacular, visit during the holidays to see Christmas lights and candlelight evenings.

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