What are the best outdoor things to do in Durham? After seeing that question asked all the time, we created this guide to settle it once and for all. Aside from Durham’s growing downtown and bustling food scene, more and more people are wanting to know what to do outside here. So that’s why we decided to share our favorites. Here, we’re sharing parks, a refurbished industrial space, and one of our favorite ballparks in this guide, so let’s get to it!
This guide is a part of our series on Durham, one of our favorite cities in North Carolina for so many reasons.
Outdoor Things to Do in Durham NC
This post also appears on our sister site NC Tripping. This post was originally created on March 8, 2018. It has been maintained and updated on our blog (as of June 7, 2019) to reflect current viewpoints and travel trends.
American Tobacco Campus
The American Tobacco Campus tops our list of best places to walk around in Downtown Durham. We usually take people there if they’re visiting from out of town. This former industrial hub has been refurbished into a space that houses tech companies, residents, and paths for visitors to enjoy. Personally, we like starting at Mellow Mushroom and walking up along the stream that runs there all the way up to the Burt’s Bees headquarters. If you’ve never been to this part of Durham before, please do yourself a favor and go now.
American Tobacco Trail
Folks seeking outside time (especially with strollers) will love the 22.6-mile American Tobacco Trail. 10 miles of trails cut through Durham before moving on to Chatham and Wake Counties. In Durham, the trail starts at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. There are multiple other ways to access the ATT away from downtown. One example includes Solite Park off Fayetteville Road in South Durham. The trail is part of the East Coast Greenway that starts in Maine and goes all the way down to Florida, so that’s cool, too, right?
You can also walk around Bennett Place (aka Bennett Farm), also known as the scene of the largest Confederate troop surrender to end the civil war. It’s a huge outdoor space and if you’re in Durham during April, May, or December, keep an eye out for special events happening there.
Both Bennett Place and Museum of Life and Science featured in NC Tripping’s guide to North Carolina’s awesome museums.
Though officially managed as a living laboratory and outdoor classroom for university students, Duke Forest hosts some nice and flat nature walks within its 7,000 acres. Among its six designated areas, we spent many days walking Duke Forest trails found within the Durham Division. That section is just off Highway 751 before and after Constitution Drive. If you see cars parked along the side of the road, that’s your hint that Duke Forest’s paths are nearby.
Bonus: You can also find the Al Buehler Trail nearby, which has a little incline and is great for hiking and mountain bikes.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Watching Bulls games tops many people’s “what to do in Durham” lists, and we’d be crazy to leave it out. We love coming to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for Minor League Baseball games throughout spring and summer. However, we also love walking around the area when no games are being played. You can walk around the areas that overlook the outfield, especially the big bull sign that stands over left field.
If you’re in town during the season, a Durham Bulls schedule will come in handy if you want to catch a game.
Durham Central Park
The city’s Parks and Recreation offices manage some of the best outdoor parks in Durham. And if you’re counting, you have nearly 70 to choose from. Durham Central Park is a great green space on Foster St. and has a skate park, playground, and huge space for Farmer’s Markets. Food Truck Rodeos and music events are also held at DCP.
More City Parks
In South Durham, Piney Wood Park is a huge space with facilities available for rental. North Durham’s Whippoorwill Park has a neat little trail that leads to the city’s Stadium Drive bike path. We’re also fans of West Point on the Eno, which is managed by the city, too!
Eno River State Park
Eno River State Park is the ultimate outdoor space in Durham, with some parts in Orange County, too. You can access it throughout many parts of North Durham. Depending on which way you enter, you have a chance to go camping, swimming, or hiking on some of Central North Carolina’s best trails. Our personal hiking favorites include Cox Mountain for the really cool footbridge that crosses the river, Cole Mill and Buckquarter Creek for nice views of the river, and Pump Station for its abundance of wildflowers.
We love the Eno and included it among our favorite places for hiking in North Carolina, not just Durham!
Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve is one of the lesser-known things to do outside in Durham. Sitting out on the outskirts of North Durham, it’s managed the NC Botanical Garden. It’s a unique place, thanks to the rare plants that grow in a soil typically found in the midwestern US. The Eno River surrounds this 84-acre preserve on three sides and most of the paths follow along the water before turning away to loop back to the beginning. Any time of year is nice here, but we especially love spring and fall for flowers and changing leaves.
Museum of Life and Science
There are a few more outdoor things to do in Durham. The Museum of Life and Science (MLS) is a great start, especially if you’re searching for one of North Carolina’s best kid-friendly spots. Walking around the outside loop will take you by the Dinosaur Trail before moving on to lemurs, bears, and red wolves. Of course, you have to stop by the Magic Wings Butterfly House. There’s also a train that you and the kids can ride before hanging out in Hideaway Woods.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
We’re also huge fans of Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which is probably one of Durham’s best-known outdoor spots. I mean, you can’t go wrong with specialized gardens and massive green space for laying around with a book on nice days. Duke Gardens is a very popular wedding destination and visited by over 300,000 people annually.
We included Duke Gardens in our guide to Spring Things to Do in North Carolina, too.
Our Thoughts and Yours
As you can see, we love all the outdoor things to do in Durham and keep searching for new ones all the time. How about you, though? Where would you go first when staying in Durham? If you already live here and want to chime in on your favorite things to do, let us know in the comments section below:)
3 thoughts on “Exploring the Outdoors in Durham, North Carolina”
I guess you had to go to Duke forest right!! Great photos as always, I want to go for a hike now:)
The Al Buehler trail is also a great outdoor spot near Duke’s main campus. Also, the Ellerbe Creek Trail that starts near Trinity and Washington.
Thank you, Patricia! We’ve been on the Al Buehler and I can’t believe I missed it! I’ll definitely have to investigate the Ellerbe Creek trail more. I’ve ridden a bike down it, as it connects with the Stadium Drive bike path. Looks like fun! Doesn’t Durham have some really fun stuff to do outside? Thanks again for stopping by!