Things to Do Outdoors Around Raleigh and Durham

When visiting Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, there is a plethora of outdoor activities for every interested traveler to choose from.

Take your visit to the Triangle outdoors, where picturesque scenery and recreational variety thrive throughout Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties. From a 14,000-acre lake just outside of Apex, to a NASCAR racetrack-turned-trail in Hillsborough, you’ll find unique places to enjoy a tranquil boat ride or energizing run, no matter what part of the Triangle you’re visiting.

Escape to floral bliss at Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the historic Duke University Campus in Durham, or hike through cool patches Eastern Hemlock trees at Hemlock Bluffs in Cary. Access the American Tobacco Trail, a rails-to-trails project that winds through cities, towns and rural countryside along the western side of the Triangle, or get your daily run in on the Capital Area Greenway in Raleigh, which connects to the North Carolina Museum of Art’s creatively designed Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park trail.

Depending on the season, it’s a good idea to pack the following for your outdoor Carolina excursion:

  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
  • A hat for shade
  • Bug spray—mosquitos and ticks are common companions on trails and in parks
  • Lightweight, microfiber clothing—the humidity level kicks up in the summer

Check out this list of great outdoor ideas for your visit to the area:

American Tobacco Trail

Experience 22-plus miles of the American Tobacco Trail by foot, bike or horse along scenic pathways that once supported train trestles. Trails currently run through the City of Durham, the towns of Cary and Apex, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers land at Jordan Lake, and other areas of Durham, Wake and Chatham counties.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Swim, ski, sail and fish in Jordan Lake’s 14,000 acres of water, covering parts of Wake and Chatham counties. Open year-round, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area offers campgrounds, picnic areas, public beaches, sand volleyball courts, comfort stations and more. You might even see a bald eagle. 

Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail

Nestled in the woods of Hillsborough, you’ll find NASCAR’s last remaining dirt track, as well as rusty remnants of the inaugural 1948-49 season.

Duke Gardens

Duke Gardens offers visitors four primary sections that expand across 55 acres of fertile land. These gardens have flourished since the mid-1930s on Duke University's historic campus.

North Carolina Museum of Art Park

You might be surprised to learn that the pedestrian bridge crossing Interstate 440 near Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh leads to 160-acre park encompassing fields, woodlands and creeks.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Hike up to 3 lush miles of mulched, family-friendly trails cloaked in Eastern Hemlock trees and other mountain plant species at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. Listen to bird wildlife and meander through the woods to a burbling creek.

North Carolina Botanical Gardens

The North Carolina Botanical Garden, located on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, offers 1,000-plus acres to explore.

Lake Crabtree County Park

This 215-acre site adjacent to a 520-acre flood-control lake offers visitors 16-plus miles of trails, picnic areas, boating, geocaching and catch-and-release fishing. Visitors also have access to an open field, perfect for touch football or kite-flying.

Falls Lake State Park

Falls Lake formed as a result of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to control damaging Neuse River floods and to create a water supply for surrounding communities. Construction of the dam, which began in 1978, took two years.

Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park encompasses the majestic and rolling Eno River, mature forests, a historic mill, historic home sites and scenic river bluffs that cover parts of Durham and Orange counties.

Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve

Named for 100-foot bluffs rising above Swift Creek in southern Cary, visitors can hike through a three-quarter-mile-long preserve encompassing historic beech trees that date back to the mid-1700s.

Harris Lake County Park

Prior to being purchased by the Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space organization in 1985, Harris Lake County Park’s 680 acres comprised a small community of farms and home sites.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

Escape to the Neuse River Greenway to ride a bike, walk or roll a stroller on a 27.5-mile paved trail from Falls Lake to the Wake-Johnston county line.

William B. Umstead State Park

Twenty miles of hiking trails and 13 miles of bridle trails greet visitors to William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, which expands across 5,599 acres. Take a short stroll with younger children or embark on a more extensive hike into the woods with older kids who are up for the challenge.

Historic Yates Mill County Park

A day at Historic Yates Mill County Park offers visitors experiences and demonstrations that interpret and preserve American agricultural heritage, environmental resources and history through educational programs, events and exhibits.

JC Raulston Arboretum

The nationally acclaimed JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University features the most diverse collection of plants adapted for landscape use in the Southeastern United States. The award-winning Perennial Border is a mosaic of botanical colors and textures.