Daytrips from Durham to Explore During Your Stay
Stay awhile in the Bull City to see more of The Old North State.
Located in the Triangle region of North Carolina, tucked into where I-85 meets I-40, Durham puts the whole state within a half day’s drive. With over 70 lodging accommodations, we’re a great home base for daytrips to explore all sorts of visitor attractions in Durham and beyond.
Road trips are on the rise during the pandemic, so extend your stay and make use of four wheels to maximize your trip. Whether you’re looking to add an extra night to your trip to make it an extra-long weekend or stay for a week or more at a time, here are some unique daytrips with Durham as your home base.
As one of the more compact counties in North Carolina, Durham’s outdoor spaces are never too far to enjoy. From the heart of downtown, Eno River State Park is less than a 20-minute drive. There are many trails, parks, lakes, and outdoor activities to check off on Durham's Outdoor Adventure Guide before looking elsewhere, too.
While you can find a small waterfall and ford on the northeast turn of Penny’s Bend, take the trip to Hanging Rock State Park in Stokes County near the Virginia state line to chase five waterfalls in one day. Travel bloggers NC Tripping shared a TikTok previewing the 35-foot falls closest to the Triangle. The drive to Hanging Rock State Park should take less than two hours, giving you plenty of time to explore before refueling over dinner back in Durham.
With easy access to I-40 and I-85, it’s no wonder that many prospective college students and their families stay in Durham while visiting neighboring universities. There are a total of 12 colleges and universities and eight community colleges in the Triangle region alone, with an additional 21 colleges and universities located within an hour’s drive.
Besides our partiality to the Blue Devils and Eagles, the campuses of Duke University and North Carolina Central University offer many visitor attractions – everything from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Nasher Museum of Art, and the Duke Lemur Center to the NCCU Art Museum – making Durham a convenient and entertaining spot for the entire family to be engaged as the teenagers stop by admissions offices and focus on campus tours.
Nothing beats peanuts and Cracker Jacks at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the warmer months or catching some of college basketball’s famed Tobacco Road rivalry action in the winter or spring. The Duke Basketball Museum and Sports Hall of Fame near famed Cameron Indoor Stadium is a must-visit open year-round for any sports fan looking to relive buzzer beaters and other incredible moments.
For those looking to incorporate some major league professional sports competition into their trip to Durham, there is an easy option. The National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes play at PNC Arena in Raleigh. This season the Canes have 14 back-to-back home games and four four-game homestands that you could plan your visit around. The arena is just a 20-to-30-minute drive from CCB Plaza in downtown Durham without traffic, or even closer if you're staying at one of the 24 different hotel properties within Durham County near Research Triangle Park and the airport.
Activists and History Buffs
Durham is the only county in North Carolina with three state historic sites – Bennett Place, Duke Homestead and Historic Stagville – in addition to the Museum of Durham History, making it an attractive destination for those that want to spend time learning from our past.
Durham is also home to the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice and plenty of other places to absorb civil rights history included in our African American Heritage Guide. We’re no stranger to folks walking into our Visitor Info Center asking about the many tours one can take to learn more by a docent or volunteer guide.
If you’d like to build out an itinerary exploring meaningful sites related to racial justice and civil rights, you’ll also find the International Civil Rights Center & Museum less than an hour away in Greensboro. The museum is devoted to understanding and advancing civil and human rights in this country and commemorates the fast-spreading Sit-In Movement of the 1960s.
North Carolina Freedom Park will also be a great spot for people to visit once it opens in Raleigh in 2022. The award-winning design by the late, internationally recognized architect Phil Freelon, will honor the African American experience and struggle for freedom in North Carolina.
Pop Culture Fanatics
For movie buffs, Durham is best known for its backdrop in the movie “Bull Durham,” based on the minor league baseball team that still plays in the Bull City today (Visit North Carolina put together a great guide for how to experience the sites of “Bull Durham”). Though it was not filmed in Durham, the 2019 film “The Best of Enemies” starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell is based on the true story of an unlikely friendship between an outspoken civil rights activist and a local leader of the Ku Klux Klan asked to co-chair a community summit about desegregating schools in Durham in the 1970s.
“Brainstorm” is a science fiction thriller about researchers developing a system where they can jump into people’s minds starring Christopher Walken with scenes shot at Research Triangle Park and Duke. Speaking of Duke, fans of “The Handmaid’s Tale” will recognize Duke Chapel from the 1990 film adaptation. Lastly, the film adaptation of James Patterson’s novel “Kiss the Girls” with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd was shot in the surrounding area.
For those looking to take in more of the pop culture history that North Carolina has to offer, may we suggest the Ava Gardner Museum, about an hour away from the Bull City in Smithfield. The museum is one of curatorial preservation and historical interpretation with artifacts and collections spanning the singer and Hollywood star’s life and fame from the 1940s-1970s. Almost two hours away, there’s also the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, with the single largest collection of props, memorabilia, wardrobes, and other artifacts from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock.”
No matter which adventure you choose, there are tons of lodging options available to you in Durham. Rest your head each night, refill on food and drink in the Bull City, and get to exploring North Carolina from the center of it all.