Spring, we’ve missed you. The perfect weather is here and you’re itching to get outside, but hey, we’re all on a budget here. The good news? Most of Durham’s best things to do outdoors are free.

Explore Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Duke Gardens

Durham is incredibly lucky to have this beautiful botanical garden. Named one of the top 10 public gardens in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, Sarah P. Duke Gardens is open everyday of the year and is free to all! (Note: you may have to pay for parking depending on the time of day)

Be sure to check out free concerts in the spring and summer! Adult and youth programs like nature storytime and urban farm tours are also available for free!

Hike at Spruce Pine Lodge

spruce pine lodge

The Spruce Pine Lodge is a 1940s vintage log building located in the Lake Michie Recreation Area. There’s hiking trails, a large lawn, play field, and a picnic shelter, as well as Lake Michie’s camping, boating and fishing facilities nearby. The lodge is 12 miles north of downtown Durham (near Bahama) and easily accessible from Interstate 85.

Canoe at Lake Michie

Photo: @dukerow

Located in northern Durham County less than 30 minutes from downtown, Lake Michie is a scenic gem that’s perfect for a hiking, canoeing, bird-watching, camping and rockhounding. Park access is free; fee for boating, and fishing. The lake may only be accessed during operating hours, Friday through Monday mid-March to mid-November and with a permit purchased at the boathouse.

Hike in Duke Forest

Photo: Gabriel Guillory

Duke Forest consists of over 7,000 acres of forested land and open fields in Durham, Orange, and Alamance. Hiking, running, and fishing are permitted. Horseback riding and mountain biking are permitted on gravel paths.

Go on a Pony Ride

Photo: Instagram @ponysaurusbrewing

No, we don’t mean actual ponies! The Pony ride is a social, leisure ride that begins at The Bull in Downtown Durham and after winding around downtown will end at the Ponysaurus Brewing Co. tap room and beer garden for pints, dumplings from Chirba Chirba and a chance to win prizes and hang with good folks. Pony ride happens on the second Tuesday of each month.

Admire Some Street Art

free things to do in durham outdoor street art murals

We walk past them every day, but how often do we stop and actually enjoy some of the street art around Durham? There’s some fantastic murals that can truly brighten your day. A few are even tucked away so you have to do some searching. Grab your walking shoes and get a few Instagram-worthy shots to show off. Check out a list of Durham murals here.

Explore American Tobacco Campus

kid friendly things to do in durham nc American Tobacco Campus free things to do
American Tobacco Campus

Once a tobacco factory, the American Tobacco Campus is home to the famous Lucky Strike Tower so many identify with Durham. It’s truly beautiful with a river running throughout the campus and a large green space. Play a game of Bull City chess, lounge in hammocks, check out the Burt’s Bees house, relax in the rocking chairs under the Lucky Strike Tower. Check out the free music
concerts on the lawn in the summer!

Hike at Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park consists of 4,200 acres of land and the river flows through Durham for 33 miles before ending up in Falls Lake. It’s only 10 miles from downtown Durham but it’s one of the best places in Durham to get away from it all. You can go canoeing, fishing, hiking, and even camp overnight. Be sure to snap a picture on the suspension bridge!

Durham Athletic Park

Check out the historic Durham Athletic Park where ‘Bull Durham’ was filmed. Sports Illustrated named it the #1 sports movie of all time! Hey, we’re not going to argue with that. The Durham Bulls played here from 1926 to 1994. The stadium was dedicated by the Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, on July 26, 1926, who rode a live bull onto the playing field!

Address: 500 W Corporation St, Downtown Durham

Preservation Durham Tours

free things to do in durham nc outdoors preservation durham tour bike tour
Photo: Mural Durham

Want to learn more about Durham? Preservation Durham offers free walking and bike tours that introduce downtown Durham’s history and architecture! Tours are Saturdays, April through November at 10am.

Duke Homestead

Duke Homestead showcases the historic home, farm, and factory buildings of Washington Duke and his family as they lived on the property from 1852 until 1874. Free of charge, open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

West Point on the Eno

West Point on the Eno is free 404-acre park along the Eno River.  Tour three historic buildings, a rebuilt operational grist mill on the site of what was once the largest mill on the river, the house of the one-time mill owners, and the old tobacco packhouse is now home to the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography.

Explore nature too with five miles of scenic trails along the river for hiking and fishing, an amphitheater used for festivals and concerts, and the river itself, with a natural play space and rapids.

Durham Central Park

durham central park free things to do in durham nc outdoors
Durham Central Park

Hosting events for the community, Durham Central Park offers open fields, gardens, and paths to explore. At the park, you can attend free movie screenings, enjoy picnics, and attend food truck

Bennett Place

Bennett Place State Historic Site

Did you know that the Civil War effectively ended in Durham? Durham was the site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War. Bennett Place Historic Site offers guided tours. Along with the museum, there are walking trails, outdoor exhibits and a picnic area for you to enjoy.

Stagville State Historic Site

Photo: @ncculture

Offering guided tours of a plantation and its beautiful surroundings, Stagville State Historic Site is a historic house museum made up of buildings from the Stagville Plantation, one of the largest plantations in the American South.

Ellerbe Creek Family Explorers Club

ellerbe creek
Photo: @ellerbecreeknc

Explore with the whole family at Ellerbe Creek Family Explorers Club! The Club meets one Saturday of every month at different natural areas in the community. It’s open to all families in Durham and surrounding communities. Children and an adult family member attend together.

Play at one of Durham’s 65+ parks

orchard park durham nc free things to do in durham nc outdoors
Orchard Park in Durham

There’s definitely not a shortage of parks in Durham, that’s for sure. You can find a sprayground at the Forest Hill’s park, a performance stage at Burch Avenue Park, and a community garden at Orchard Park. Check out all of Durham’s 65+ parks here.

American Tobacco Trail

American Tobacco Trail Photo: Kaitlin Martin

Hop on American Tobacco Trail for 22+ uninterrupted miles. It was once a railroad track that was converted into a beautiful trail for biking, walking, and running. You can even ride horses on the trail! See more about American Tobacco Trail here.

Riverwalk (Hillsborough)

Just a short drive away in Hillsborough, the Riverwalk is a paved greenway that stretches about 1.8 miles along the Eno River. (Making it wheelchair and stroller friendly!) The main entrance is by the Eno River Parking Deck at the end of Nash and Kollock Street, adjacent to the Gateway Center. You can find it right in Downtown Hillsborough so hop over to spots like Weaver Street Market, Wooden Nickel Pub or Matthew’s Chocolates afterwards!

Duke Campus Farm

Photo: Duke Campus Farm

Ever dream of living the farm life? The Duke Campus Farm is a one-acre working farm dedicated to catalyzing positive change in the ways we grow, eat and think about food. Get outside and volunteer at Duke Farms for the day! (Community workdays are on Thursdays and Sundays 3-5pm) All community members are welcome! (You don’t need a Duke affiliation)

Splashpads in Summer

Summer is the perfect season to cool-off at outdoor pools & splash pads in the Durham area. Kids can swim and splash for free this summer at Durham Parks and Recreation’s pools and spraygrounds. (Kids ages 0 to 18 are free)

Free Movies & Concerts in Summertime

There is something about watching movies and concerts outdoors during the summer season that makes for a great evening, especially when it’s free. You can usually catch free movies and concerts at Durham Central Park, Brightleaf, American Tobacco Campus, Ponysaurus, and Southpoint. (We’ll post the schedules as they become available!)

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Katelyn Belch
Author: Katelyn Belch

Founder of Best of the Bull and Shop Durham. It’s my chief goal to keep you in the know about all things Durham.