5 hikes for Charlotteans obsessed with the outdoors

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These earlier months don’t mean that Charlotte outdoor lovers need to stay in.

From sunny January days spent scrambling down the boulders of Crowders Mountain, to gushing waterfalls at South Mountain State Park, to watching snowflakes melt mid-air at Stone Mountain — the Charlotte area gives winter a good name.

Here’s a Charlotte newcomer’s hiking starter kit for giving cabin fever the boot this winter.


(1) South Mountain State Park

Best for: Celebrating the end of a rain spell, getting a booty workout on Nature’s Stairmaster, enjoying serene trails all to yourself.

Approach: It’s a 90-minute drive from Charlotte to the park entrance (2001 S Mountain Park Ave, in Connellys Spring NC). After reaching the park gate, drive another 2.4 miles to reach the picnic and parking area. The trailhead has maps to take along with you.

Highlights: If you select the High Shoals Falls Loop your steep 3-mile climb will include witnessing an 80-foot waterfall. The trails, covered in glistening moss and home to green-blue pools, couldn’t feel more vibrant. This is also the park’s most popular trail, but we only crossed paths with one group during our visit. One of the great appeals of winter hiking is the chance to get these spots all to yourself.

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(2) The U.S. National Whitewater Center

Best for: Trying out a new activity, access to an extensive trail system close to home, joining an awesome community.

Approach: The USNWC is only 30 minutes from most areas in Charlotte. Check the website to ensure that trails are open and park at the USNWC (note the parking fee). The trail center on the map can get you set up with the info you need and gear rentals if you elect to bike the trails.

Highlights: Comradery is a big pull. You can access their 35-mile, 1,300-acre trail system in what is really Charlotte’s backyard, and find trail run and other groups to do it with. It’s an equally good place to get out there and try something new, like mountain biking. Getting acquainted with these activities in winter means having the trails to yourself while you get comfortable and enjoying a peaceful side of the USNWC — entirely the opposite of the buzz of the summer months.

“I think a common misconception is that we hibernate during the colder months of the year, and that’s definitely not the case,” says USNWC communications and brand manager Eric Osterhus. “You have just as much, if not more, accessibility during the winter months as any other time of the year.”


(3) Crowders Mountain

Best for: Quick trips, playing on boulders, celebrating how accessible nature is in the Charlotte area.

Approach: The beauty of Crowders Mountain is how accessible it is. Just 45 minutes from Charlotte, you can park at the base (522 Park Office Lane, Gastonia) and take a look at the trailhead map for your route options. We elected to start at the Linwood Access Area and take the Towers Trail, which led us to the Crowders Mountain summit and plenty of fun boulders to play on.

Highlights: Seeing the Charlotte skyline from the serenity of Crowders Mountain makes for a lovely summit reward. Scrambling across boulders provides both variety and photo ops.


(4) Badin Lake and Uwharrie National Forest

Best for: Bonding with your fellow hikers, dogs, participants young and old.

Approach: The Uwharrie National Forest is quite big, so access points vary depending on where you want to explore. For accessing Badin Lake, 90 minutes from Charlotte, park at the Badin Lake Group Campground. You can access the trail behind the campsites.

Highlights: The flat, 6-mile Badin Lake loop takes you along the lake for nearly your entire hike. Being a flat trail, it’s perfect for bringing dogs and hikers and of all ages and abilities — and it’s far from boring. The scenery is different from any other hiking in the area, and there’s a peacefulness and cheerfulness to the area that lends itself to skipping rocks and bonding with your fellow hikers.

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(5) Stone Mountain State Park

Best for: Picturesque streams, striking scenery, plenty of smaller trails that can be easily strung together for a larger exploration of the park.

Approach: The park is about 90 minutes from Charlotte (3042 Frank Parkway; Roaring Gap, NC). Once you enter the park, keep driving and you’ll come to both an upper and a lower parking lot. Both work fine, and you can strategically select where you want to start — but be mindful, as this can get a bit confusing. Check the website for updates pre-departure to see the status of trails, some of which are currently closed due to storm damage.

Highlights: We strung together parts of the middle falls, lower falls, and Stone Mountain loop trails, allowing us to experience a variety of what that park has to offer. Waterfalls, gurgling streams, and of course the striking façade of Stone Mountain all left an impression on us. Snowflakes were falling and melting mid-air, as though their presence was only an illusion, making the whole setting a bit magical. It was one of those moments you try to capture on your phone only to find that its camera can’t capture it, forcing you to sit back and enjoy the moment for what it is.

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