December 9th, 2016

Exploring the North Carolina Research Triangle

Exploring the North Carolina Research Triangle

North Carolina’s "Research Triangle" includes 16 counties, but three cities—Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—form the main points. It’s a university and research dominated region with rich historical and cultural traditions, as well as beautiful green spaces. Visit during the spring or fall for ideal temperatures. To illustrate just how beautiful it is, I packed my bag, grabbed my camera, and put together this guide. Follow along as you explore the North Carolina Research Triangle’s three corners—and much more. 


Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, and North Carolina’s second largest (behind Charlotte). Start with a delicious meal downtown at Big Ed’s City Market before embarking on a nice day of digging into the city’s solid collection of museums. Soon after arriving in the “City of Oaks,” you’ll easily see that Raleigh has many great public parks and green spaces. Walk around and relax at the JC Raulston Arboretum, which is carefully curated and administered by N.C. State University. Cyclists and walkers will also love the Neuse River Greenway trail and the North Carolina Museum of Art Park (also known as the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park). Also, William B. Umstead State Park is one of America’s finest urban parks, and a perfect place for a hike and a picnic.

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Stroll through the recently revitalized American Tobacco Campus, home to the Burt’s Bees Headquarters and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a minor league baseball stadium. Durham also has a bar and restaurant scene that caters to both Duke University students and long-time locals who knew the "Dirty Durham” of yesterday. Be sure to bring your wallet, so you can grab a sandwich or pastry with some coffee at Ninth Street Bakery, and then work that meal off with a walk around downtown. There, you can check out the famed Durham City Bull Statue on Foster Street, explore “Black Wall Street,” and uncover other historical gems. Drive away from town to nearby Eno River State Park and you’ll find trails that run along the water and join up with North Carolina’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail.

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Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is the smallest of the Triangle’s three corner towns, and a city that was built around the University of North Carolina. Stroll through UNC’s gorgeous tree-lined walkways and you might just want to become a Tar Heel too. Bring a daypack on your trip, because Carolina North Forest (also known as Horace Williams Tract) offers a wonderful collection of trails for cyclists and trekkers—and if you’re lucky (and quiet), you may spot a family of deer walking through the area. Chapel Hill’s top-notch food scene also fights for attention, with nationally acclaimed restaurants like Crook’s Corner and Top of the Hill (both on Franklin Street) serving up delicious eats throughout the year.

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Small Towns and Nature Around the Cities

It’s even easy to find fun things to do in the Research Triangle’s surrounding small towns. Hillsborough, a town northwest of the Triangle, is a cultural and historical treasure trove, and also home to a fabulous Riverwalk along the Eno River. Carrboro, just west of Chapel Hill, is known for its Carrboro Farmers’ Market (open on Saturdays year-round and Wednesdays from early April to early November), as well as its bike-friendly streets that are worth exploring on any day of the week. Raleigh has satellite towns on all sides, like Cary and Zebulon, and each one is a lovely detour. There are also multiple parks in the area—trails at Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and Little River that are all friendly for hiking and cycling visitors.

Are you ready to get out and explore this fun-filled region? Where within the Triangle do you want to visit first?

Related Links (from Eagle Creek Blog):

Photo Journal: North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail

3 Educational Trips the Family Will Actually Enjoy

by Carl Hedinger

Carl Hedinger is a recovering American expat who writes about travel, life, and everything else at Travel Through Life. You can follow his family’s adventures there and on their social media FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.