Cool Things to Do in Raleigh in the Fall 2020 (see, eat, drink, play)

Happy fall, ya’ll. If you are looking for things to do in Raleigh in the fall, we are here to help (2020 version).

things to to in raleigh in the fall
Fall colors at Lake Johnson

2020 has been a crazy ride, and fall this year will be like no other which makes me sad as fall season is my favorite time of year and typically brings with it awesome festivals and events, tailgating at college football games, and Halloween parties!

Unfortunately, many of the best fall things to do in Raleigh have been cancelled such as the NC State Fair, Hopscotch Music Festival, Wide Open Bluegrass (virtual this year), the N.C. Pride at Night, and many other smaller events.

We’re hopeful all these Triangle events will be back bigger and better in 2021.

But fall is still a great time to be living in Raleigh, or if you’re planning a trip to Raleigh for the first time there are still plenty of reasons to visit Raleigh during the fall and activities to partake in while social distancing, and the leaf colors are impressive here.

And because it’s 2020 and less people are traveling with less events on, you can probably find a good deal on downtown Raleigh hotels

lake johnson raleigh

Whilst we LOVE summer and the high humidity, others are welcoming the cooler days and nights that fall brings to get outside and take in some of the best Raleigh things on offer. 

Thankfully, we can still chase colorful fall foliage, eat and drink outside at fantastic restaurants and breweries, explore nature trails, get out on lakes, and pick pumpkins. 

In this post we are sharing some of the best things to do in Raleigh in the fall (2020 version) to help keep you and your kids busy. 

Chase the Fall Colors

Reflections at Lake Johnson, Raleigh
Reflections at Lake Johnson

It seems like every year the leaf peeping season gets shorter and it’s harder to know when it will start and end. But unlike having to plan a road trip to New England and time it perfectly, if you live in Raleigh like us you are already here and can act quickly!

Whilst fall in the Triangle area isn’t quite like in the North Carolina Mountains, there are still some great spots to take it all in. 

When it comes to fall foliage, typically the most vibrant colors are near the water, and some of the best spots to explore include:

  • William B. Umstead State Park
  • Falls of Neuse River Trail
  • Lake Johnson
  • Jordan Lake
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area
  • E. Carroll Joyner Park (Wake Forest)
  • Eno River State Park (Durham)
  • Apex Lake
Apex Lake trail, Raleigh, North Carolina
Apex Lake trail

Also, keep in mind botanical gardens, parks and preserves like:

  • J.C. Raulston Arboretum
  • Pullen Park
  • Dorothea Dix
  • Durant Nature Preserve (North Raleigh)
  • Robertson Millpond Preserve (Wendell)
  • Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (Wake Forest)
  • Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve (Cary)
  • Duke Gardens (Durham) 

Seasonal Drinks & Treats

jubala coffee
Jubala Coffee on Hillsborough Street

Fall is the time for fun pumpkin flavored seasonal drinks and treats and Oktoberfest style beers. Whether you’re a coffee, beer, or cider drinker, put this on your list of things to do in Raleigh in the fall and there’s a brewery or coffee shop for you!

A few of our favorites to check out include:

  • Raleigh Brewing has their Oktoberfest Lager with notes of sweet caramel, baked bread, and herbal hops.
  • Trophy Maywood has their Oktrophyfest – Marzen (a lager that originated in Bavaria)
  • Big Boss Brewing has their Harvest Time Pumpkin Ale, a fall favorite that is brewed with real pumpkin and their own proprietary blend of spices but still tastes like beer.
  • Raleigh Beer Garden is now serving Pumpkin Spice Martinis and Shooters at their spirits bar.
Raleigh Beer Garden
Image credit: Raleigh Beer Garden
  • Lynnwood Brewing serves up a seasonal Shut Your Pumpkin Pie Hole Wheat
  • Pelagic Beer & Wine currently have a Pumpkin Latte Blonde on tap.
  • Jubala Coffee has their Pumpkin Spice Latte; flavored with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and clove. And their Campfire Mocha; a s’mores flavored mocha featuring graham cracker-infused milk, Videri Chocolate, and house made toasted marshmallow.
Pumpkin Spice Latte at Jubala Coffee
Pumpkin Spice Latte at Jubala Coffee
  • Sir Walter Coffee always get creative with their drinks. Ask about their pumpkin pie martini, apple cider old fashion, or spiced rum cider. 
  • Asali Cafe in Cary has a delicious Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse and Autumn Mousse.
Things to do in Raleigh in the fall
Pumpkin Cheesecake Mousse / Autumn Mousse
  • 42 & Lawrence also have a Pumpkin Spice Latte currently on their specials menu, and Apple Cider.
  • Idle Hour Coffee on Oberlin Rd have a Maple Ginger Latte and Lavender Honey Latte.
Pumpkin Spice Latte at 42 & Lawrence, Raleigh
Image credit: 42 & Lawrence
  • Hayes Barton Cafe make the most amazing cakes in Raleigh and currently have a Frightening Funfetti Cake, Pumpkin Spice Cake, and Pumpkin Cheesecake on their menu.
  • Bittersweet offers a Pumpkin Crème Brûlée (gluten-free) with house-made whipped cream, spiced pecans & dried cranberry mix. They do a great Espresso Martini and Irish Coffee too!
Bittersweet, Raleigh
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée / Espresso Martini
  • Capital Club 16 has a traditional Oktoberfest meal package (feeds 5-6 people) so you can stay safe at home.
  • Raleigh Rolls, who make ice cream rolled on cold slates with a variety of flavors and toppings, currently has a pumpkin pie special through October (pumpkin pie filling, graham cracker, topped with whipped cream!
Pumpkin pie special at Raleigh Rolls
Pumpkin pie special

PLEASE NOTE: These are seasonal items. Please contact each business to see if they are still offering those items mentioned above before driving there!

Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes, and Fruit Picking

boyette family farm 2

Looking for things to do with kids in Raleigh during the fall? One of the classic fall activities is visiting pumpkin patches and exploring corn mazes.

Whilst 2020 might offer a scaled back experience, still consider this as one of the top family activities in Raleigh.

The Raleigh pumpkin picking season typically begins sometime in late September to early October.

Be sure to check the website of each place mentioned below for up to date guidelines and opening hours. 

Ken’s Korny Corn Maze

In the town of Garner, Ken’s Korny Corn Maze has been a fall tradition for more than 15 years and North Carolina’s First and longest running corn maze over 6 acres 2 1/2 miles of paths.

Naylor Family Farm & Giant Corn Maze

Located just outside of Fuquay Varina, Naylor Family Farm & Giant Corn Maze offers a variety of outdoor fun including a 2,400 square foot Farm Market Barn, 10-acre giant corn maze, pumpkin patch, petting zoo, kids play area and more. 

DJ’s Berry Patch

DJ’s Berry Patch is a family owned and operated business located in Apex who offer U-Pick Pumpkins & Mums, produce and Strawberries.

Bring the family to pick your own pumpkin, they also have beautiful fall mums (fall flowering plant).

The Family Farm on Avent Ferry

The Family Farm on Avent Ferry in Holly Springs has been in the same family for 6 generations. Here you can pick out your favorite carving pumpkin for your decorating needs.

They also sell a variety of specialty pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks and hay bales. And onsite they have an 85 year old traditional cow barn and 100+ year old log tobacco barn.

Phillips Farm (Haunted Farm & Corn Maze)

Head to the Phillips Farm in Cary to scare yourself at the haunted farm and Visit the Field of Lost Souls and Rebellion Trail, take on the corn maze, and of course pick your own pumpkins.

Video: Pumpkin Farm in Johnston County

Eat or Drink on the Patio at some of the Best Raleigh Restaurants

Brunch with a view at Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, Raleigh
Brunch with a view at Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing

If you’re looking for things to do in Raleigh this weekend (or any weekend) the culinary scene is top notch here and eating and drinking your way around the city of oaks one of the best Raleigh things to do!

But if you don’t like the heat and humidity of summer, fall is your time to eat outside and there are some great Raleigh restaurants with awesome patios or rooftops.

A few of our favorites include:

Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Wye Hill is home to our favorite patio in Raleigh. As they say, come for the brews (and delicious food) and stay for the amazing views of the downtown Raleigh skyline!

Raleigh Times Bar

Rooftop at Raleigh Times Bar
Rooftop at Raleigh Times Bar

If you can jag a seat on their rooftop (or on the sidewalk), The Raleigh Times is one of our favorite places to eat (and drink) outside in downtown Raleigh. In this historic building you get quality bar food – check out their burger and nachos – and a great selection of beers.

Morgan Street Food Hall

Morgan Street Food Hall
Cow Bar Burger

Morgan Street Food Hall in the Warehouse District offers 20 different food concepts. Fantastic spot for families or groups of friends with different food tastes. Lots of outdoor seating. Our fave is the burgers from Cow Bar!

Taverna Agora

Go to Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar for authentic Greek food and for their lovely rooftop terrace that will remind you of your trips to Greece.

The Pit

Pitt BBQ, Raleigh
Pit BBQ

BBQ lovers should head to The Pit Authentic Barbecue in the Warehouse District. Here you can sit outside at their “Pig Pen” on picnic style tables. Don’t miss their Beef Brisket, Baby Back Ribs, and Pimento Cheese Balls. 

Trophy Brewing & Pizza

If you love a pizza and beer combo, and a cozy patio setting, it’s hard to go past Trophy Brewing & Pizza. Popular beers include their Cloud Surfer and Trophy Husband, and for pizza their Daredevil. 

Raleigh Beer Garden

Raleigh Beer Garden
Raleigh Beer Garden

If tasting one of the 350+ beers on tap (world record-holder) isn’t enough to entice you to the Raleigh Beer Garden, another reason we like eating and drinking here is the tons of outdoor space and back garden patio – perfect for a fall hangout.

Whiskey Kitchen

One of our favorite bars in Raleigh is Whiskey Kitchen, not only for its large menu of drinks, but also for its inventive Southern food and great outside patio.

Transfer Co. Food Hall

Transfer Co. Food Hall, Raleigh
Burger from Mama Crow’s

Transfer Co. Food Hall is the other of the two food halls in downtown Raleigh. There’s 50,000+ square feet of renovated warehouse space that’s now home to 12 vendors, plus a nice outdoor patio area. Again, our fave are the burgers from Mama Crow’s!

What you can expect:

A cool neighborhood vibe in an old warehouse building refitted in modern industrial chic. Inside is bright and open, cozy upper level space, and an outdoor patio.

Nice variety of food choices including burgers, seafood, Asian, Italian, Mexican, Bagels, Beer and Wine.

Wide Open Bluegrass

In normal times, Fayetteville Street and surrounds is closed off for one of the best things to do in Raleigh in the fall – the two-day Wide Open Bluegrass Festival.

It’s one of Raleigh’s biggest annual events and the largest FREE urban bluegrass festival in the world.

But 2020 is not normal, so this year’s event is virtual and will be known as IBMA Bluegrass Live and will be held October 2-3.

This year’s lineup festival features IBMA and GRAMMY award-winning legends, top-notch emerging acts, and unforgettable collaborations.

It will still include free admission to shows at Red Hat, a tradition started last year. A limited amount of reserved seating tickets will be offered at Red Hat Amphitheater.

How To Watch: 

Register for your free Music Pass to access all music content on Swapcard, the official event platform.

Hike at Umstead State Park

Sals Branch Trail, Umstead State Park
Sals Branch Trail, Umstead State Park

William B. Umstead State Park is North Carolina’s most visited state park and a natural oasis just 15-minutes from downtown and one of the top places to go in Raleigh.

Surrounding three man-made lakes, if you love nature trails through the forest, biking, trail running, picnicking, camping, canoeing, and horseback riding and haven’t visited Umstead yet, take advantage of the ideal fall weather and leaf colors!

We suggested the easy 2.8 mile Sals Branch Loop Trail as a good place to start!

Explore More Nature Trails

One of the fun things to do in Raleigh is explore the greenways and nature trails. 

Now that the high heat and humidity has passed, fall is an optimal time to hit one of the many trails and greenways on offer in the Triangle area.

Lake Johnson Nature Park

Lake Johnson nature trail in the fall, Raleigh
Lake Johnson loop trail

Located near NC State University, Lake Johnson is a popular lake for students to get active, and for locals living in Raleigh.

With 300 acres of land surrounding the 150-acre lake, there’s a lovely three-mile paved loop around the lake (our favorite trail), plus a separate two miles of unpaved trail, a 700-foot-long boardwalk across the lake, a boat house, small beach area, and picnic shelters.

Art to Heart Trail

Beginning at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the 5.9 mile Art to Heart Trail winds through the museum’s 164-acre park, passes behind Meredith College, cuts through the main campus at NC State, passes by Pullen Park and finishes in downtown just outside of the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center.

American Tobacco Trail

The 23-mile American Tobacco Trail runs along the abandoned railroad bed originally built for the American Tobacco Company in the 70s. The trail crosses through Wake County, Chatham and Durham County.

Part of the East Coast Greenway, it’s open to pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians and other non-motorized users.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

Neuse River Greenway Trail
Neuse River Trail

The  27-mile paved Neuse River Greenway Trail is considered the gem of the 100-mile Capital Area Greenway system.

It stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border line in southeast Raleigh. A good place to start is Anderson Point Park

Lake Crabtree County Park

Located on a 215-acre site adjacent to a 520-acre lake, the park has more than 16 miles of trails.This area is great for hikers, kayakers and mountain bikers.The Lake Trail is a six-mile loop that meanders it’s way around the lake.

Shelley Lake Park

Shelley Lake Park
Shelley Lake Trail

An easy 2-mile paved scenic greenway trail loops around Shelley Lake and is popular with locals in North Raleigh, so it’s better for walkers and runners than cyclists at peak times.

Lake Lynn

Lake Lynn Trail is a 2.6 mile heavily trafficked paved loop trail with scenic views and a couple of hills but nothing too challenging,

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

This 140-acre park in Cary offers three miles of mulch-covered walking and hiking trails that lead to a series of small overlooks.

It’s a nice spot for leisurely walks, fall foliage, families, dogs on short leashes, small crowds – there’s a great little nature center museum, too.

Hit the Raleigh Beer Trail

Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing

Speaking of trails (of a different kind) if you like sampling beers at different breweries, and there are plenty of great Raleigh breweries, consider the Raleigh Beer Trail for a fun fall challenge and earn rewards! 

Download and print your Raleigh Beer Trail Passport, then make your way around and collect 15 or more stamps to earn a stainless steel bottle opener, a Raleigh Beer Trail pint glass hugger and a limited edition T-shirt.

Gizmo Brew Works for their annual Oktoberfest Celebration

Enjoy a day of entertainment, live music, food, and great craft beer during the Gizmo Brew Works annual Oktoberfest Celebration on October 10th.

This is a ticketed event with two sessions. Afternoon session from 12-5 pm and the evening session from 6-11 pm. Learn more here

Picnic at the NC Museum of Art & Dorothea Dix

North Carolina Museum of Art Trail
North Carolina Museum of Art Trail

North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the most popular Raleigh attractions, not only for its excellent display of creative art, but for its large 164-acre park and trail system through natural areas featuring more than a dozen commissioned works of art.

Plenty of cool spots and space to enjoy a picnic outside, so grab some food-to-go from one of your favorite restaurants in Raleigh

Dorothea Dix Park sits on a whopping 300+ acres (the largest park in Raleigh) and offers impressive skyline views of the city from wide-open fields and rolling meadows with plenty of space for picnics!

Picnic at Dorothea Dix Park, Raleigh, NC
Picnic at Dorothea Dix Park with skyline views!

NC Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Festival

Lafayette Village are hosting the 5th annual NC Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival on October 10th (Covid version).

Whilst practicing social distancing, you can enjoy the modified event and on offer is a variety of Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate focused packages that will allow you to taste local and regional products, plus live music in the courtyard of Lafayette Village.

Go Paddle Boarding or Kayaking

 

Padddle boarding on Lake Johnson, Raleigh
Padddle boarding on Lake Johnson

If you’ve been following us for a while you’ll know that we’ve embraced lake life here in Raleigh and one of our favorite family activities is stand up paddle boarding (or kayaking).

With trees surrounding a lakes edge being one of the prime locations for leaf peeping, you can get a great perspective out on the water. 

Our local favorite spot is Lake Johnson, with other top spots being:

Lake Raleigh
Lake Raleigh

Visit the State Farmers’ Market

State Farmers Market., Raleigh
State Farmers Market

As one of four regional Farmers Markets across North Carolina, the Raleigh Farmers Market is considered one of the nation’s best and most modern markets.

Fall in Raleigh is a lovely time to explore and pick out what fruit is in season from across NC. And they have PUMPKINS…Open 7 days per week!

The Raleigh Market

Fall in Raleigh is a good time to explore The Raleigh Market,

With over 500 vendors selling a wide variety of items, this flea market at the State Fairgrounds is one of the unique places to visit in Raleigh and has been an entertaining shopping experience since 1971.

Go Ziplining and Take on a Tree-Tops Adventure Course at Go Ape

Go Ape tree tops course
Go Ape tree tops course

We took our youngest here for her birthday in August which was a little on the hot and humid side, but alas you are shaded by trees

Never fear though, the cooler temps in fall make for the perfect time to visit GoApe and take on the 500-foot-long zipline and tree top adventure courses. 

Allow 2-3 hours. Fun for the whole family. 

Halloween Night Market at Transfer Co. Food Hall

From 2 pm – 6 pm on October 31st, Triangle Pop-Up at Transfer Co. Food Hall will have on display a highly curated selection of accessories, clothing, home goods, custom gifts and more by local artists & makers.

Enjoy live music on the patio while you eat, drink and shop.

Pumpkin Flotilla at Bond Park

On Friday, October 30 you can take your carved pumpkins to Bond Park in Cary for their Pumpkin Flotilla and enjoy a discounted boat ride. 

Plan a Fall Road Trip to the Mountains or Coast

Nags Head Beach, Outer Banks
Nags Head Beach, Outer Banks

If you’re interested in getaways from Raleigh, or even just day trips from Raleigh to nearby towns, the fall is a great time to plan a road trip.

The mountains are obviously prime leaf peeping territory and beautiful this time of year. As for the coast, the big crowds and heat of summer have left but the temperatures are still pleasant in the 70s

Check out our posts on 8 fun day trips from Raleigh or our 1 day itinerary for Wrightsville Beach.

For longer breaks, read about the top places to go in the North Carolina Mountains, and our 20 things to do in the Outer Banks.

I hope this post gives you ideas on stuff to do in Raleigh in the fall of a very unique year. If you have any suggestions on things to do in the Triangle, leave us a comment below. 

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