Charlotte may be a busy city full of concrete and skyscrapers, but you don’t have to go far to get outside and onto a hiking trail — and summer is the perfect time to get out and enjoy all the beauty North Carolina has to offer. From strenuous mountain hikes with big payoffs at the top to easy trails with picturesque views, here are seven hikes that are within a short drive of Charlotte.
1. Badin Lake Trail — Uwharrie National Forest (5.6 miles)
The Badin Lake Trail cuts through the scenic Uwharrie National Forest and nudges up against the shores of Badin Lake offering picturesque views and a peacefulness only nature can bring. The entire trail spans a little over 5.5 miles and is well-marked, but narrow in some places. It’s rated as easy to moderate, making it ideal for hikers who want to get outside and exercise, but don’t want to take on anything too strenuous. It’s also great for families with kids. Dogs are allowed on the trail as long as they’re on a leash. Past hikers say to expect the entire trip to take about 2 1/2 hours.
Tip: If you want to make an entire weekend of it there are campsites spread throughout the trail that can be rented for $12. Check them out, here.
2. Fall Mountain Trail — Morrow Mountain State Park (4.1 miles)
The 4.1 mile loop of Fall Mountain is an easy to moderate hike through Morrow Mountain State Park. While most of the natural trail is level, there are some inclines, but nothing too steep or strenuous. However, it is rather rocky and has a lot of roots sticking up that hikers need to watch out for. Since the state park is mostly wooded trees keep the path completely shaded throughout the entire loop — making it perfect for a leisurely summer hike. Along the route hikers can even sneak a peek of the Yadkin River and Lake Tillery through the trees. As an added bonus, leashed dogs can join their owners for some exercise.
Tip: After your hike you can rent canoes or rowboats at the park’s boat launch and take a spin around the lake.
3. Lake Shore Trail — Lake Norman State Park (3-6.3 miles)
About an hour’s drive from Charlotte in Lake Norman State Park is the 6.3 mile Lake Shore Trail. It is a moderate hike on a natural surface with gorgeous views of Lake Norman — the largest man-made lake in the state — and stunning natural scenery. There are shortcuts throughout the trail that can cut the trip down to only 3 miles if you don’t feel like making the entire 6.3 journey, which can take anywhere between two to three hours. The trail is reserved only for hiking, so hikers don’t have to worry about sharing the route with any fast moving bikers.
Tip: Pack your bathing suit to cool off at the park’s swimming area after hiking. From 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. there is a lifeguard on duty and a $5 fee for adults and $4 for children to swim. (There is no fee for hiking.)
4. Latta Plantation Nature Preserve (16 miles)
The 1,640-acre Latta Planation Nature Preserve is just a quick trip from Uptown Charlotte and home to over 16 miles of moderate hiking trails. Of the 16 miles 13 of them are shared between hikers and horseback riders, with three miles specifically dedicated to only hiking. While each specific trail is well-marked, they all connect and intersect, so visitors can hop on multiple trails during their visit and hike as many miles as they want. Terrain varies along the trails between gravel and dirt, and part of the trail touches the edge of Mountain Island Lake. All of the trails are dog-friendly as long as they’re on a leash that’s 6 ft. or shorter.
Tip: While you’re at the Nature Preserve stop by the Carolina Raptor Center and walk through their Raptor Trail to see a wide array of eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. Tickets for the center are $12 for adults and $8 for children. Kids ages three and under are free.
5. Crowders Mountain State Park (Varies)
Crowders Mountain State Park is favorite among Charlotteans for its close proximity to the city and the panoramic views that can be seen from the top of mountain. The park offers 11 different trails with easy to strenuous options to choose from. Two of the most popular trails are the Pinnacle Trail and the Crowders Mountain Trail. The Pinnacle Trail is a strenuous hike that’s 4 miles roundtrip and leads to the summit of King’s Pinnacle — the highest point in Gaston County — which reaches 1,705 ft. and offers sweeping views of the area below. The Crowders Mountain Trail is 5.6 miles round trip and rated as a moderate hike. While the route does include steep inclines and a lot of stairs, the pay off is big with spectacular 25-mile views of the surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see Charlotte’s towering skyline in the distance. Along each of the trials, hikers can expect to see several interesting rock formations, which offer a great spot to stop and rest whenever you need a quick break.
Tip: Pack a picnic to enjoy once you’ve reached the peak. You’ll also want to have a camera (or your phone) to take pictures of the stunning views.
6. Reedy Creek Park Nature Preserve (.25-1.5 miles)
The 832-acre Reedy Creek Park Nature Preserve offers visitors 10 miles of hiking trails that vary in length. The preserve’s shortest trail is the South Fork Trail that is .25 miles and offers visitors an easy hike that mostly cuts through a heavily wooded area and crosses over one creek. Past hikers say they enjoy the easiness of the trail and the beautiful flowers that can be found along it. The longest trail at Reedy Creek is the Sierra Loop, which spans 1.5 miles and is considered a moderate hike with a few uphill and downhill sections along the trail. This route takes hikers through the forest to some of the most remote parts of the preserve that can’t be reached by taking any of the other trails. All Reedy Creek trails are dog-friendly.
Tip: There’s a fishing pier in Reedy Creek Park if you want to sit down and cast a line after hiking.
7. U.S. National Whitewater Center (.25-5.7 miles)
The popular U.S. National Whitewater Center isn’t just a a hub for water sports, the compound also features 1,300 acres of woodland that’s home to 40 miles of hiking trails. There are 21 different trails to choose from that vary in difficulty from novice to advanced. Lengths also vary with the shortest trail being .25 miles and the longest reaching 5.7 miles. Trails are shared with mountain bikers and runners, so it’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings while hiking so you don’t get hit. There is no fee to use the USNWC trails.
Tip: After your hike reward yourself with a cold beer at the USNWC’s Pump House Biergarten.
If you don’t want to leave the city for a hike there are several different greenways to choose from including, Little Sugar Creek Greenway, Briar Creek Greenway, Irwin Creek, and the Stuart Creek Greenway.