The Outdoor Enthusiast’s Guide to Charlotte from Outside elessard

For one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country, Charlotte, North Carolina, has an impressive outdoor scene that offers everything from urban parks and greenways to wild river adventures and hiking and biking trails galore. Outside tapped John Searby, executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, for a local’s take on the best ways to enjoy Charlotte’s outdoor scene. Here are Searby’s recommendations in his own words.

Water Adventures

If you’re new to adrenaline-pumping watersports, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is one of the best places in the entire country to explore many facets of the outdoor lifestyle. The center offers folks the chance to explore a variety of experiences in a more programmed and controlled space.

Paddle on the South Fork River where there are several kayak launch areas, conserved properties, and parks. (Photo: Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority)

On the flip side, if you want to get away from it all and be totally self-sufficient, plan a paddling adventure on the South Fork Catawba River Corridor, just outside of Charlotte. The South Fork River is the largest tributary of the Catawba River and runs through several early 1900s mill villages. After the mass exodus of textile mills, these villages leaned into ecotourism and embraced the river as a destination. The South Fork River is part of an eight-mile blueway paddle trail that has no motorized boat access and is home to several kayak launch areas, conserved properties, and parks. The river flows through the downtowns of two communities and even has Class 1-2 rapids. The towns along the South Fork—Lowell, McAdenville, Cramerton, and Belmont—all have great outdoor recreation options. Hop on the river for just a few hours, or link together multiple stretches for a full weekend of paddling. Being able to jump in and out of your boat to grab a coffee, lunch, beer, or snack makes the South Fork Corridor a great outdoor enthusiast’s day trip.

Trail Adventures

You don’t have to drive far from Uptown, Charlotte’s city center, to find amazing access to outdoor recreation. About an hour from the city, Crowders Mountain State Park offers access to the 15.8-mile Ridgeline Trail, primitive campsites, and hike-in bouldering areas. Within Mecklenburg County, the 1,400-acre Latta Nature Preserve, on the banks of Mountain Island Lake, features 13 miles of trails, a raptor center where you can get nose to beak with birds of prey, and an interactive science center. Visitors can also access the lake from multiple places in the park. Within a few minutes of the park’s gates, you can return to the “real world” and find restaurants, bars, and accommodations.

Check out the many mountain biking trails right near the city. (Photo: Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority)

For mountain bike trails, check out the Tarheel Trailblazers. This local mountain bike community is dedicated to building trails in the region. They have a great mix of trails in municipal parks and private property that really lends itself to accessibility.

A Blend of Nature and Big-City Vibes

The Cross Charlotte Trail, especially the Little Sugar Creek Greenway segment, is one of the most unique outdoor experiences in the city. This greenway runs from the South Carolina state line all the way to Cabarrus County and goes right through the heart of Charlotte. Along the route, you’ll find numerous parks, wetlands, educational opportunities, and community gathering spots around the Little Sugar Creek stream restoration project. There is also an abundance of singletrack bypass areas, bike parks, and the BYT (Backyard Trails), where you can get your mountain bike or trail running fix along the route. As you cross Charlotte on the trail, you also go through Uptown, NoDa (Charlotte’s art district), and Charlotte’s University area, so there are plenty of opportunities to hop off the trail and experience great food, culture, art, and history. It is really an awesome experience for anyone, no matter what you like.

Just outside of the city, the Anne Springs Close Greenway is one of the most amazing outdoor oases in the region. This 2,100-acre preserve is less than 30 minutes from Uptown and features more than 36 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, trail runners, and equestrians. The park also offers kayaking on a private lake and multiple food and beverage options on-site.

Explore the Little Sugar Creek Greenway segment of the Cross Charlotte Trail. (Photo: Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority)

Post-Adventure Hangouts

There are literally dozens of great breweries in Charlotte, and many of them cater to outdoor enthusiasts with outdoor seating areas, close connections to greenways, and dog-friendly spaces. Some of the best include Birdsong Brewing, off Little Sugar Creek Greenway; Sycamore Brewing, by the Charlotte Rail Trail; and Legion Brewing West Morehead, near Stewart Creek Greenway. For multiple food options in an outdoor food hall environment, Camp North End is just six blocks from Uptown and the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

Visit NoDa Brewing Company, located right next to the Cross Charlotte Trail. (Photo: Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority)

The Trailhead Store at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is one of the newest outdoor hangouts in the region and is quickly becoming a favorite. Open seven days a week, this renovated log cabin offers coffee, wine, and beer, along with grab-and-go food and snacks. From the front porch, you can access nearly seven miles of trails to hike, trail run, and bike through the 380-acre botanical garden. For an artsy hangout, try Confluence South Fork, on the banks of the South Fork River, just 30 minutes from Uptown. This craft beer venue doubles as an art gallery featuring local nature-themed art and live music. Events here help raise money to protect our local waterways. Several adjacent restaurants deliver food to Confluence. Finally, NoDa Brewing Company, located right next to the Cross Charlotte Trail, is the OG of the Charlotte craft beer scene, with the coolest beer garden and taproom around. The brewery has always been a huge supporter of environmental nonprofits and outdoor recreation events, like the Around the Crown 10K.

The Queen City has no shortage of fresh-air pursuits for your next weekend getaway. Raise a glass at one of Charlotte’s buzzing rooftop bars and outdoor patios, discover the city’s thriving culinary scene, and experience unforgettable adventures under the sun. Check out to start planning your trip to Charlotte.

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