Trying to plan an amazing vacation to North Carolina’s biggest city? Take your itinerary from enjoyable to utterly unforgettable by adding some of the best day trips from Charlotte, NC, to your holiday travel plans.
Whether you mix things up with a drive to Uwharrie National Forest for a chance to reconnect with nature or visit another big city like Greensboro or Asheville, there’s an array of exciting travel destinations within quick driving distance of Charlotte.
Ready to see where your journey to North Carolina can lead you? This list of exciting Charlotte day trips will inspire you to set out on the holiday of a lifetime!
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other day trip guides and our North Carolina Travel Guide for more travel tips & ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do on your vacation!
Top-rated Charlotte side trips
If you love history, then be sure to add Asheville to your North Carolina holiday plans. It’ll take you over two hours to get to Asheville from Charlotte. But once you arrive you’ll have access to all the historic homes and museums you’ve been dreaming of. From beautiful architecture to art galleries, the past is evident everywhere you look, even if you’re only spending a day in Asheville.
For an exclusive look at a slice of gilded age history, visit Biltmore, recognized as the largest private home in America. This countryside castle is much more than just a giant home and pretty estate: It also houses a private botanical garden, winery, and cafe.
Late spring is a great time to visit Asheville if you want to see the Biltmore Estate and its gardens in full bloom. But taking the candlelight tour at any time of the year is a surefire way to add an extra sprinkle of magic to your visit.
Love a quirky little niche museum? The nostalgic collection at the Asheville Pinball Museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Asheville and is sure to impress. This “museum” is basically a giant arcade with games that visitors of all ages will love. For one flat fee, you can play the day away to your inner child’s content.
Once you’ve exhausted your pinball winning streak, close out the night with a pint at one of Asheville’s best craft breweries, whether it’s The New Belgium Brewing Company or the Wicked Weed Brewing Pub.
Once a free-black community before the Civil War, Boone is a North Carolina mountain town with a rich history. Much of the legacy remains today, much to history lovers’ delight, but it’s also a quirky destination full of family-friendly activities. If you think you can keep the kiddos entertained for the time it takes to get here (two hours on the nose), a road trip to Boone promises a whole lot of fun.
One of the most exciting things to do in Boone, NC, is to visit the Mountain View Speedway for a day of cheering at the races. Afterward, get your thrills by hopping behind the wheel yourself at Fun N’ Wheels. This amusement park has go-kart tracks and bumper cars to stick with the automobile theme, but there’s also a Ferris wheel and arcade for mixing things up.
If you’ve brought your kids along for the ride, there are a few extra attractions you may want to check out to keep them entertained before the drive home. A stop at the Foggy Mountain Gem Mine will grant them a giant bucket to pan through for treasures (They’ll even get to bring it home as a special souvenir!)
Challenging the kids to a round of mini-golf at Sunrise Mountain Mini Golf before hitting the road back to Charlotte wouldn’t hurt either.
Uwharrie National Forest, NC
Need to disconnect for a while? Go hang out with the rocks, trees, and unspoiled wilderness at Uwharrie National Forest. Just over an hour’s drive from Charlotte, this nature preserve has plenty of outdoor activities, as well as designated areas for just laying back and enjoying the scenery.
The range of activities at Uwharrie National Forest is quite diverse. From miles upon miles of hiking trails and biking trails to lakes for swimming, canoeing, and fishing, you could camp here all week and still do it all. For something a little different, you may want to check out one of the horse camps within the forest perimeter. The stables offer several trail tours, including overnight rides.
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Want to try a new sport? Inside the Badin Lake Recreation Area, you’ll find a full 18-hole disc golf course. You can easily pick up a disc at a nearby sports outfitter, borrow one from the lost & found, or play with a regular old frisbee. (It’s not regulation, but nobody’s going to judge you!)
Lake Norman State Park, NC
This one’s for the outdoor enthusiasts: Just 46 minutes due north of Charlotte lies Lake Norman State Park. The North Carolina state park is known for its “inland sea,” as the lake has been affectionately dubbed by locals and its 31 miles of continuous hiking trails.
Whether you’re looking for an active day to break up an otherwise relaxing NC vacation or you simply want a change of scenery, Lake Norman State Park has you covered. On your day trip, you can take a hike on one of many challenging hiking trails or go for a paddle. The park is also a lovely picnicking spot with beautiful waterfront views and picnic shelters that provide shade from the afternoon sun.
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Do you consider yourself an amateur ornithologist? Birdwatchers flock to Lake Norman State Park to see an abundance of Great Blue Heron rookeries each year. The two islands of this reserve are home to over 25 heron nests, presenting a unique opportunity to see these majestic birds in large numbers, as well as their young.
If you have the time, why not cross the border and check out one of South Carolina’s top destinations? Greenville, SC, is located some two hours and 20 minutes from Charlotte, but it’s well worth the drive to see this beautiful town in action.
Want to hang out in a beautiful urban park for a couple of hours? Falls Park on the Reedy is one of the top places to visit in Greenville, SC. The park revolves around multiple waterfalls, a unique suspension bridge, and lovely walking paths.
Though the most popular way to explore Falls Park on the Reedy is on foot, there’s also an increasing number of Segway tours and rentals that navigate their way through the area. It could be a fun way to enhance your park experience!
Sports fans should also see about buying tickets to a baseball game at Fluor Field. Home of an affiliate team of the Red Sox and modeled after Fenway Park in Boston, you’re sure to have a grand ol’ time here. Plus, since this is a minor league team, admission is quite affordable.
Is that not enough baseball to satisfy the fanatic among you? Complement the game with a visit to Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library. Once the private home of one of the greatest hitters in history, this little museum is now stuffed full of memorabilia that only true sluggers-at-heart can appreciate.
Andrew Jackson State Park, SC
Named after the 7th U.S. president, Andrew Jackson State Park is an outdoor adventurer’s dream with a long-lasting legacy. About 45 minutes outside of Charlotte, this road trip represents an excellent opportunity to catch your breath after a long week in the city and spend some time forest bathing.
One of the most popular things to do in Andrew Jackson State Park is fishing, thanks to the thriving 18-acre lake. You’re more than welcome to lure them in from the pier or the bank, but if you’d like to get out on the water for the day, this state park makes boating both accessible and affordable.
You can take out a little putter boat for just $3 an hour or $15 for the day. Even if you don’t plan to cast a line, it’s a pretty enjoyable way to float around and explore the area.
Visiting during the month of March? Every year, the park throws a massive birthday bash for its presidential namesake. The festivities change a little bit year over year, but the one experience that’s always guaranteed is watching the Revolutionary War come to life around you with historical demonstrations and interpreters.
Looking for another big city with plenty of attractions to discover? The 3rd largest city in North Carolina, Greensboro is an excellent choice. Greensboro is located only about an hour and 20 minutes from Charlotte, making it an easy addition to your vacation plans.
Mix education with fun with a trip to one of the city’s best museums. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is a wonderful choice and one of the top Greensboro attractions. Recognized as a National Landmark, the museum lets you discover the history of famous Greensboro sit-ins and the greater context of the civil rights movement as you navigate your way through its exhibits and galleries.
On a less serious note, the Greensboro Science Center has everything you need to immerse yourself in the world of science. From stingray touch tanks and penguin feeds to dino skeletons and an OmniSphere Theater, there’s no limit to what kids and adults can learn.
Before piling back into the car for the drive back to Charlotte, be sure to stretch your legs with a leisurely stroll around Greensboro’s most beautiful spaces.
The Bog Gardens has over seven acres of boardwalk trails through the wetlands if you’re looking for an easy introduction to the untamed wilderness. Or, for something a little more formal, you could peruse the Greensboro Arboretum, with 17 curated acres of woodlots and lush gardens.
Don’t have a lot of time to spare? No problem! A road trip to Belmont takes just 22 minutes from Charlotte. This historic suburban area has plenty of independent boutiques for shopping local and fine restaurants for satisfying your cravings. It’s also just a lovely place to walk around for an hour or two.
Young families wanting to keep things kid-friendly will have plenty of options in Belmont. The town’s bowling alley, Textile Lanes is always a hit. Scoring a strike or two is always a great way to set the tone for a day of fun!
And, of course, no North Carolina family road trip is complete without a sweet treat to devour on the way home. The Cotton Candy Factory is the most colorful and nostalgic candy shop around. With over 25 hand-spun flavors to choose from, plus a giant gumball machine, The Cotton Candy Factory should thrill even the most insatiable sweet tooth.
As for the 21+ crowd, there are plenty of places to entertain yourself in Belmont with a libation in hand. The Jailhouse Whiskey and Cigar Bar is a popular choice for lounging in a sophisticated atmosphere and fancy leather armchairs. The Muddy River Distillery is also a great option if you’re interested in sampling some hand-crafted rum straight from the source.
Durham has been called many things over the years, from the “City of Medicine” to “Bull City,” which is a nod to the region’s historic tobacco industry giants. These days, Durham, NC, can be classified as a world-class destination with many attractions to draw you in. Two hours and 8 minutes from Charlotte, this road trip is the perfect itinerary addition for travelers who love a mix of history, architecture, and culture.
Are you an architecture fanatic? A history buff? Or are you a little bit obsessed with the Academia aesthetic? If so, start your day in Durham with a walk around the Duke University Campus. From the historic stone buildings and towering Duke Chapel to the bright blooms and trickling fountains of Sarah P. Duke Gardens, this prestigious institution is impressive for more than just its academic prowess and is home to several top-rated Durham attractions.
On the other hand, theatre geeks and art lovers will want to keep the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) on their radar. This gorgeous glass venue was ranked #2 on a list of the best theatres in the United States, so it’s probably worth scoring some tickets—or at least taking a walk around. From Broadway shows and ballet performances to concerts and comedies, there’s always something exciting to see at this prestigious event venue.
Chimney Rock State Park, NC
If there’s nothing you love more than a good hike, then visiting Chimney Rock State Park is a no-brainer. It’ll take two hours and 5 minutes to get there by car by Charlotte, but it’s definitely the place with the most challenging hike around—and the biggest reward when you reach the top!
The hike up the park’s namesake Chimney Rock is the most popular trail thanks to its high summit and incredible views. You’ll need to climb 44 stairs to the top after riding the elevator most of the way up, making this journey accessible for most travelers.
More active hikers, though, may want to take the Outcroppings Trail, where you’ll trek the entire 350-foot incline on foot. Of course, for the most adventurous souls, there’s one even more challenging way to tackle these mountains: rock climbing.
While you’re in Chimney Rock State Park, don’t forget to make time for a quick stroll around the Hickory Nut Falls Loop. For approximately 45 minutes of time investment, you can stand at the foot of the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River and hear the water roar.
Another shortie but a goodie: Just like Belmont, Ballantyne is only 22 minutes away from Charlotte’s city center—and it’s equally as impressive. A little breath of fresh air in the middle of the city, this gem of a neighborhood has lots of green space and residential areas with a slower pace of life.
Ballantyne has one thing that urban tourists go gaga over: Ballantyne Village. This high-end retail venue is a hotspot for world-class shopping and dining. From independent boutiques to fine jewelry shops, this is definitely the place to be if you have a little holiday spending money burning a hole in your pocket.
Once you’ve shopped til’ you dropped, you might feel the urge to disconnect and get back to nature. Away from the city crowds, Big Rock Nature Preserve offers a short hike through the forest to see some pretty unique (and large!) rock formations.