Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau
Welcome to Orange County
Since the founding of Orange County in 1752 and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1785, this area has championed its natural beauty, history, and its writers, artists and musicians like no other. Consider: the nation’s first public university is here. UNC was the only university to award degrees in the 18th century. The university was built in Chapel Hill, near the ruins of a chapel, due to its central location in the state, right in Orange County. While visiting, stop by the Visitors Center, 501 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.
Contact the Visitors Bureau
Since 2002 the Visitors Center has provided information and assistance to those interested in visiting the communities of Orange County NC including Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough. The Center provides suggested itineraries, directions, visitor guides, North Carolina & local maps, and brochures from many of the areas favorite attractions. Free parking off South Roberson Street, Chapel Hill. ADA access & parking in the front.
Address: 501 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Phone Toll-Free: (888) 968-2060 | Phone: (919) 245-4320 Fax: (919) 968-2062
Hours: Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 am - 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am - 3 pm
The Chapel Hill and Orange County area is serviced by the Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) located in Raleigh, about 18 miles east of Chapel Hill.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Official Parking Program
ParkRDU provides easy, convenient options allowing you to choose your experience. Select from a variety of short-term or long-term products, meeting various budget needs. ParkRDU options are fully-accessible for people with disabilities.
Helpful Tourism Links
For a list of meeting and conference facilities, contact Orange County Sales Director, Marlene Barbera, 919-245-4320
Overview of Orange County
Orange County, North Carolina is a remarkable place to visit. Its three main towns: Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough have everything a visitor wants in a destination: beautiful climate, historic neighborhoods—many on the national historic register, a cutting-edge arts scene, and some of the best food you’re going to get anywhere in the country.
To view the Orange County Neighborhoods Guide online, click here.
Many area hotels are located in the heart of Chapel Hill, near the University, and several area chefs are James Beard winners and nominees.
James Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill, Charles Kuralt taught at UNC, Michael Jordan played basketball here and Mia Hamm set new goals for soccer and women in business.
It’s a cultural oasis, the crown-jewel of higher education. We invite you to explore our neighborhoods and encourage you to check-out the numerous special events that happen year-round.
12 Ways to Enjoy Chapel Hill/Orange County
What is a must see while visiting Chapel Hill and Orange County? We're glad you asked! Click here for recommendations...
About Our Trees
By Neil Offen
Almost everybody notices it when they first fly into the area: how stunningly green Orange County is.
Yes, the county has grown significantly in recent years, new residential and commercial developments springing up everywhere. But it still remains extraordinarily verdant. Many people here for the first time have the same reaction my nephew’s 7-year-old son had when his family visited a few years ago from arid Arizona.
What impressed him most? “All the trees,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many of them.”
You don’t just notice them at 30,000 feet. Drive west into the center of the historic district of Chapel Hill along Franklin Street. The street — even in the heart of winter — seems protected by a canopy of majestic oaks and other varieties reaching gently from one side to the other.
Around here oaks can seem nearly ubiquitous — red oak, white oak, willow oak and water oak abound. But the area also has a number of other native trees, thanks to good upland soils and rich bottomland: evergreens like loblolly and shortleaf pine as well as eastern red cedar and American holly; hickory species like shagbark, the evocatively named pignut hickory, as well as yellow poplar, sweetgum, sycamore, sassafras, dogwood, persimmon, an assortment of maples.
It’s easy to see the wide variety of trees all together in one place at sites like the N.C. Botanical Garden, the Mason Farm Biological Preserve, the university’s Coker Arboretum and along the greenway system in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
You won’t find, however, many longleaf pine, despite a widespread belief that the longleaf is the official state tree. In fact, the state tree is simply the pine — all eight species native to North Carolina — since it was designated by the legislature in the early 1960s after the Garden Clubs of North Carolina advocated for it.
Longleaf has received the attention because there used to be a lot of them in North Carolina, and it was an important tree in the state’s economy for a long time, explained my friend Rob Shapard, a UNC Chapel Hill lecturer who is working on an environmental history of longleaf pine forests called “A Resinous Land.”
Longleaf is — or more accurately, was, according to Shapard — mainly an eastern North Carolina tree that doesn’t grow naturally far into the Piedmont beyond southeastern Wake County.
But other trees are part of the landscape of this area and part of its history, too. In fact, the area may owe its history to a tree, the Davie Poplar, an enormous tulip poplar in McCorkle Place in the middle of the UNC campus.
According to legend, revolutionary war hero and university founder William Richardson Davie personally chose to locate the school lands around the tree, after having a pleasant summer lunch underneath it. In actual fact, the university's location was chosen by a six-man committee in November 1792 and the tree was named in the late 1800s to commemorate the legend.
But legends live on. The most enduring one associated with the tree is that as long as the Davie Poplar — now more than 300 years old — remains standing, the university will thrive; if it falls, the university will crumble. Consequently, steps have been taken to preserve the tree, including grafting a second Davie, called Junior, and planting a third, naturally called Davie Poplar III, from the original tree’s seeds.
The local commitment to trees has a long history, too. Way back in 1889, cutting down a tree in Chapel Hill was punishable as a misdemeanor and carried a $20 fine. In the 1990s, Chapel Hill adopted one of North Carolina’s first tree protection ordinances. The ordinance calls for a balanced approach to protecting trees without over regulation of residential properties and property owners.
Still, despite the loss of those stands, trees continue to flourish here.
And not surprisingly, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough all have been designated as Tree Cities USA, meaning, among other standards, that they spend at least $2 per capita for the planting and care of trees. And that, of course, they all officially celebrate Arbor Day.
In Orange County, History is Everywhere
The past, as William Faulkner wrote about another Southern place, “is never dead. It's not even past.”
In fact, in Orange County, it’s all around us. In this very modern place, history is still everywhere. Nearly 50 county sites are on the National Register of Historic Places, from downtown historic districts and classic farmhouses to stately colonial residences and re-imagined industrial plants.
Some of the history is renowned — like Old East residence hall on the University of North Carolina campus, the first public university building in the nation, dating from 1793. While the residence hall looks welcoming, Gimghoul Castle appears forbidding. Off a gravel path at the end of the road in the Gimghoul Historic District, the stone castle’s tower and ramparts make it look like we’re in medieval England.