Charlotte is a beautiful and vibrant city, but sometimes we all just need to get away from town. We totally get it and are big fans of road trips. Some road trips may take days, but most of our road trips are day trips. The best day trips from Charlotte allow us to have our adventure and make it home in time that we don’t even need a dog sitter.
The Best Day Trips From Charlotte: Top 7 Options
While our kids were born in Charlotte, Erin and I are transplants. We are now proud to call North Carolina home, and we’ve enjoyed exploring North and South Carolina. The Carolinas truly offer something for everyone.
The mountains are beautiful and offer endless adventures, while the coastal regions are relaxed and brimming with fantastic seafood options.
There is plenty to do and see, but these are the best day trips from Charlotte.
1. Best Day Trip From Charlotte With Kids: NC Zoo In Asheboro
North Carolina’s Zoo isn’t in one of the big cities like Charlotte or Raleigh, so it is easily overlooked. Still, the North Carolina Zoo is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo and features animals from around the world.
When you enter the zoo, you will find animals from North America that you are likely familiar with, including alligators, bison, bears (including polar bears), and even snakes. You will find that many of the animals, like elk, roam freely through their designated area.
While many zoos have small, caged exhibits for their animals, The NC Zoo sits on more than 2,600 acres, including 500 developed acres and 1,800 animals.
The African animals are a little more exotic, and eventually, the North Carolina Zoo will also feature an Asian regional exhibit. Until then, the African animals still make for a worthwhile visit. You can see elephants, gazelles, giraffes, and rhinoceroses.
There is an elevated deck near the giraffes where you can feed them at eye level. How cool is that?!? it’s very cool.
The North Carolina Zoo is worth visiting for kids and adults alike, but it might be the perfect day trip from Charlotte to take with your kids.
Distance From Charlotte: 75 miles; <1.5 hours drive
Alternative Daytrip With Kids: Grandfather Mountain
There are plenty of other options if you’ve recently been to the NC Zoo. People may overlook Grandfather Mountain as an awesome day trip to take with kids. While Grandfather Mountain is best known for the Mile High Swinging Bridge, the wildlife habitats are perfect for kids.
The environmental habitats at Grandfather Mountain are large enclosures featuring animals such as bears, cougars, bald eagles, and river otters.
Distance From Charlotte: 110 miles; ~2 hours drive
2. Best Place To Go Hiking: Moses Cone Manor Near Boone
The Moses Cone Manor & Estate features 25 miles of master-planned carriage roads that are perfect for hiking, cross-country running, and even cross-country skiing. The easy-to-hike trails and expansive views make this one of the best places along the Blue Ridge Parkway to view fall foliage.
It is so popular that parking often fills up, and you will find countless cars parked along the main road. This year, Erin and I packed up our kids at 4:30 am on Saturday and arrived at the Moses Cone Manor before sunrise. It was perfect!
We watched the sun come up over the mountain and fall foliage, and we beat all of the traffic. We hiked a few miles with our kids and then returned home to Charlotte before 2:00 pm.
The manor is also referred to as Flat Top Manor. The estate also features two man-made lakes, a horse stable, and beautiful carriage tunnels under the main roads. It is truly a beautiful setting to go for a hike.
The carriage trails are wide and gravel-covered, so hiking is a very accessible experience. You don’t need to own all of the perfect equipment and training to go hiking here, which is one of the reasons it is our favorite place to hike.
Plus, with 25 miles of trails, you can visit multiple times before you ever need to travel the same path twice.
Distance From Charlotte: 100 miles; <2 hours drive
Alternative Hike: Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park is one of the few places to climb to the peak of a mountain and then back down to see a waterfall on the same trail. Along the way, you will encounter beautiful scenery, including a 600-foot gray dome that is popular for climbing enthusiasts.
The Stone Mountain Loop Trail is a 4.5-mile loop that takes about 2.5 hours to finish. The trail is rated as “hard” and contrasts the easier trails you will find at the Moses Cone Estates.
The top of the trail will offer beautiful views of the North Carolina countryside. But Stone Mountain Falls offers a unique complement to the mountaintop experience, making this a worthwhile visit. The 200-foot waterfall rushes down a steep rock face to land in a shallow pool at the waterfall’s base. It’s both beautiful and relaxing.
These spots offer the best day trips from Charlotte if you are looking for a hiking adventure. Charlotte is part of the Piedmont region, which is flatter and has fewer scenic views than some of these mountain-hiking destinations.
Distance From Charlotte: 90 miles; ~1.5 hours drive
3. Best Coastal Experience: Folly Beach Near Charleston
Mountain activities are much closer to Charlotte than the beaches, but that doesn’t mean you can make a day trip to the beach. We’ve done it many times. It’s a long drive, but we have a dog that doesn’t do well in kennels, so we make an effort, and it is worthwhile every time.
So, the question that remains is which beach should you visit? Wrightsville Beach (Wilmington), Myrtle Beach, and Folly Beach (Charleston) are all right at 3.5 hours away. Still, road trips make for the best day trips anyways, and we believe in epic day trips. You can always extend the visit to a full weekend if you want to do so.
Folly Beach is our favorite beach. We love that you can walk from the beach to the main street with restaurants and shops. The beautiful beach speaks for itself. The long stretching sands offer plenty of room even on busy days, but it will get most crowded near the pier.
The long pier stretches out into the ocean and is a popular tourist fishing place. Of course, fishing is far from the only activity that Folly Beach offers. When you consider the best day trips from Charlotte, how many other places can you go for fishing, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, and practicing your photography?
Folly Beach offers an incredibly unique atmosphere combining the best beach town vibes with every summertime activity you can imagine. It’s charming, relaxing, and full of adventure all at the same time.
If you consider Charleston or Hilton Head, you can’t go wrong, but Charleston is a little closer, so that’s our recommendation.
And we haven’t even mentioned that the fresh seafood is fantastic.
Distance From Charlotte: 220 miles; ~3.5 hours drive
4. Best Wintertime Adventure: Hawksnest Snow Tubing
Hawksnest Snow Tubing is another one of our family favorites. Sometimes activities during the wintertime seem more limited than the rest of the year, so we appreciate this family-friendly winter activity.
Hawksnest wasn’t always a snow tubing resort. Before it transformed into one of the largest snow-tubing resorts on the east coast, Hawksnest was a ski resort and golf course. Of course, there are other ski resorts and golf courses near Boone and Blowing Rock, but snow tubing is unique and more all-inclusive.
Hawksnest sells tickets for multiple time slots throughout the day, which you can and should reserve before arriving. Each time slot is for 1 hour and 45 minutes. You can certainly reserve back-to-back time slots; however, snow tubing is surprisingly tiring. After 2 hours, you will likely be ready for a rest.
Snow tubing is a blast, and we love snow tubing because it doesn’t require the skill or experience that is necessary for skiing and snowboarding. Snow tubing is available for anyone 3 years of age or older. Kids who can’t quite control the tube can ride with their parents or guardians.
There are as many as 30 lanes open for snow tubing on any given day. Those lanes sit across four distinct snow tubing areas. Some are short, steep, and fast, while other lanes are longer, less steep, but still plenty fast.
Since Hawksnest Snow Tubing conveniently sits near Boone and Blowing Rock, there are conveniently other activities in the area. You may want to pack more into your day since it’s a long drive, but the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster and Tweetsie Railroad are also in the area.
Distance From Charlotte: 110 miles; <2.5 hours drive
5. Best Adrenaline Rush: Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster
Roller coasters are fun and all, but there is something even more special about an alpine roller coaster. The Wilderness Run Alpine Roller Coaster in Banner Elk, North Carolinas, is as fun as they come.
Unlike a traditional roller coaster, which seats a group of people, you ride the alpine coaster on a personal sled of sorts. If you have a small child (older than three), they can sit on a special seat between your knees. Don’t plan to ride the coaster as a couple, though. The sleds aren’t intended for two grown adults.
The mountain coaster ride last 6 or 7 minutes, but Wilderness Run sells single rides and a bundle of three rides. We recommend that you choose the bundle. Three times around the track is just about enough.
Plus, now there is a ropes course next to the alpine coaster, and obstacle courses are always cool, regardless of how old you are.
The ride is exhilarating, but it isn’t near as stomach-turning as some of the rides you might find down at Carowinds in the Charlotte region. And each sled features a handbrake, which lets you control your speed and torque around the turns.
This is another reason we recommend starting with the bundle of three rides. Your natural inclination might be to hold the break as you get used to the ride. As you are more comfortable, you may find yourself going full throttle and having the time of your life.
The Wilderness Run Alpine Roller Coaster is worth the visit on its own, but it’s also close to other Boone-area attractions like Tweetsie Railroad and Hawksnest Snow Tubing and Ziplining.
Distance From Charlotte: 115 miles; <2.25 hours drive
6. Best Luxury Experience: Biltmore Estate in Asheville
The Biltmore Estate sits on approximately 8000 acres in Asheville, North Carolina. It is said to be America’s Largest Home, and it is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. It is quite an understatement to suggest that the 250-room castle is impressive.
And the crazy thing is that the grounds may be more impressive than the actual house. Most people think of western Europe when they think of castles. Somewhat surprisingly, you can visit one of the most beautiful castles ever created right here in North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Christmas at Biltmore is an exceptionally beautiful event that people will travel far and wide to visit. Just imagine this pristine house lit with Christmas lights and Christmas trees. Still, there is plenty to do year-round, so you don’t need to wait until Christmas to visit.
The Biltmore Estate offers guided audio tours through the elegant architecture, art, and fascinating details from a time gone by. You will find fine art, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, and even a bowling alley.
And yet, the gardens and grounds make the Biltmore Estate as appealing to visit as the house itself. Vanderbilt cared deeply about the grounds, which is clearly evident in the carefully maintained gardens.
Even more so, Vanderbilt hired experts to develop a plan to conserve the forest lands surrounding the estate. For this reason, the Biltmore Estate is considered the birthplace of forestry in the United States.
In addition to the house and grounds, you will also find a winery, the Antler Hill Village, with shops and dining, guided bike rides, carriage rides, and even a Land Rover off-road driving experience.
Regarding the best day trips from Charlotte, it’s hard to beat a day at the Biltmore.
Distance From Charlotte: 130 miles; ~2 hours drive
Alternative Luxury Day Trip: – The Omni Grove Park Inn (Golf & SPA)
The Omni Grove Park Inn is also in Asheville, but there are few better places for a day away in luxury than the Blue Ridge Mountains. In considering the best day trips from Charlotte, some of you might be interested in a day of golfing, or a day at the spa.
The Omni Grove Park Inn has every luxury you might imagine. The building is magnificent, which is only topped by the beautiful views. Since you are planning a daytrip, you might not be interested in staying at the hotel and resort, but the Grove Park Inn still has plenty to offer.
Distance From Charlotte: 130 miles; ~2 hours drive
7. Best City For Carolina Dining & Culture: Greenville, South Carolina
While South Carolina boasts beautiful coastal towns like Charleston, Greenville might be our favorite in the state. The downtown area is surprisingly beautiful, and there are plenty of things to do downtown and around the city.
You can spend an entire day downtown, strolling, shopping, and taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. Downtown is nestled against the Reedy River Falls, which would be worth visiting in its own right. Still, there’s something unique about such an outdoorsy experience in the heart of downtown.
And while the Reedy River Falls are beautiful, Falls Park and The Liberty Bridge will elevate your stroll to the next level. The Liberty Bridge is an impressive single-suspension bridge that somehow is the star of the show while also perfectly complementing the park’s natural beauty.
The downtown area and NOMA Square frequently host festivals and events to activate the beautiful downtown space. Fun shops, fine dining, and casual restaurants line Main Street and all of the downtown area.
If you are looking for something more specific to do, consider the Greenville Zoo or Mice On Main. At only 14 acres, the Greenville Zoo is significantly smaller than the NC Zoo, but it still serves its purpose and is a neat stop when you are in town. Mice on Main is a one-of-a-kind scavenger hunt for nine bronze mice along Main Street.
Greenville is also home to several professional minor league teams, Broadway shows at the Peace Center and incredible outdoor adventures.
Distance From Charlotte: 100 miles; <2 hours drive
Best Day Trips From Charlotte: Honorable Mentions
There are so many awesome places within a few hours’ drive of Charlotte that you might struggle to decide what to do. Did you know that there are several waterfalls near Charlotte? Still, the list above represents our favorite day trips from Charlotte.
Of course, there are plenty of other awesome options. In fact, there are too many to list, which is one reason we love living in the Charlotte area. Nonetheless, here are a few others worth considering as you look for the best day trips from Charlotte.
Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia
There are two reasons to make the drive up to Grayson Highlands State Park. The first is that the scenery is nearly unbelievable because it is so beautiful. The second is that there are around 150 wild ponies in the state park!
You’ve likely heard about the wild horses near Corolla on the Outer Banks, but the Grayson Highlands ponies aren’t as well known. Even so, the ponies are just as beautiful as the state park, and there is something alluring about watching them roam freely.
The ponies are used to humans visiting the state park, so you might say they are semi-wild. You shouldn’t feed or pet the ponies, but don’t be surprised if they walk right up to you. Make sure you have your camera ready when you visit Grayson Highlands.
Distance From Charlotte: 130 miles; ~2.5 hours drive
Many Things To Do in Raleigh
Raleigh is more of a hike from Charlotte than most people outside of the Carolinas realize. Nonetheless, Raleigh (and the surrounding area) offer tons of fun activities worth a day trip or a weekend trip.
Some people refer to Raleigh as the “Smithsonian of the South” because of the fantastic museums, including the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Of course, the museums are just the tip of the iceberg. Raleigh is a fun town with arts and culture, great food, sports, and nearby outdoor excursions.
People love to compare Charlotte vs. Raleigh, but they are very different cities that are both a ton of fun to visit.
Distance From Charlotte: 170 miles; ~2.5 hours drive
Which Day Trip From Charlotte Will You Take?
This list represents some of our favorite places and the best day trips from Charlotte. The Carolinas offer something for everyone. Whether you want a secluded hiking trail, an adrenaline rush, or a luxurious night of theater and dinner, we are confident you will find what you need.