50 outdoor activities within 2 hours of Charlotte

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Warm spring weather is taking its sweet time to arrive this year but that won’t stop us from dreaming up excuses to step away from the computer and get outside. Here are 50 ways to enjoy lakes, rivers, mountains, trails and more in the Carolinas.

Always check individual websites for the most up-to-date offerings, schedules and pricing. Distances are mapped from Uptown.

Water activities near Charlotte

Take a full moon tour on a glowing stand-up paddle board – Aloha Paddle Sports offers Lake Norman nighttime excursions on LED-lit boards.

Price: $35 with your own board; $65 with equipment rental
Address: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius, NC 28031
Distance: 18 miles

Poston Photography via web

Go on a cycleboat party cruise – Lake Norman’s first pedal-powered party boat offers 2-hour open cruises and full private rentals and you can BYO beer, wine and snacks.

Price: $37/person; $525 full boat rental
Address: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius, NC 28031
Distance: 18 miles

North Carolina’s first Cycleboat #lkn #lakenorman #corneliusnc #nc

A post shared by Charlotte Cycleboats (@charlottecycleboats) on

Test your balance with paddle board yoga – Aloha Flow Yoga kicks off its season on May 19 with classes offered Wednesday – Saturday on Lake Norman.

Price: $15 with your own board; $25 with equipment rental; $119 monthly pass; $275-$350 full season pass
Address: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius, NC 28031
Distance: 18 miles

Hang out on the beach on Lake Norman – No boat? No problem. This 1,934-acre park features a 125-yard sand beach equipped with a concession stand, bathhouse, restrooms and lockers.

Price: $5/day age 13+, $4/day age 3-12 only charged when lifeguard is on duty; main park free to access
Address:
 759 State Park Road, Troutman NC 28166
Distance: 40 miles

Lake Norman State Park (photo via Best of Lake Norman)

Kayak the Catawba River during Rocky Shoals spider lily season – Less than an hour south of Charlotte, Landsford Canal State Park is home to the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals spider lilies. They bloom May through mid-June and can be viewed by kayak on the water or along a 1.5-mile hike on land.

Catawba River Expeditions offers beginner and advanced spider lily kayaking trips.

Price: $40
Address: Landsford Canal State Park, 2051 Park Dr, Catawba, SC 29704
Distance: 37 miles

via Instagram

Paddle for a Pint on Lake Norman – Beginning in May, Aloha Paddle Sports hosts a casual 1.5-mile paddle excursion (kayak or stand-up paddle board) at 2 p.m. that ends with a free pint from a featured local brewery.

Price: $35
Address: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius, NC 28031
Distance: 18 miles

Go whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center – The world’s largest man-made whitewater river features class II-IV rapids and is available as an “Adventure” or “Family” experience.

Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities
Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
Distance: 15 miles

Visit Mecklenburg County’s only public beach on Lake Norman – Ramsey Creek Beach, a 43-acre lakeside park with a half-acre sandy beach, is open late May through Labor Day with lifeguard service 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Price: Walk-ins – $5 age 14+, $3 age 3-13, free under 3; Drive-ins – $5/car Monday – Thursday, $10/car Friday – Sunday; Beach Shuttle – Free, available weekends and holidays at 17126 Northcross Drive with service every 15 minutes
Address: 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius NC 28031
Distance: 20 miles

Ramsey Creek Park via Instagram

Climb an outdoor rock wall with nothing but a pool to catch you – The USNWC’s deep water solo is a series of climbing walls (ranging 25 to 40 feet tall) that hang over a 20-foot deep pool. Climbers tackle the wall without a harness and nothing but water below.

Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities
Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
Distance: 15 miles

Swim in a rock quarry at Carrigan Farms – Plunge off rocky cliffs into blue-green water below during seasonal open swim dates at The Quarry. You must pass a swim test to participate without a life jacket.

Price: $12/person (cash and check only)
Address: 1261 Oakridge Farm Hwy, Mooresville, NC 28115
Distance: 35 miles

Visit a beach surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains at Lake Lure – The beach and waterpark opens Memorial Day through labor Day.

Price: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 kids
Address: 2724 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC 28746
Distance: 95 miles

Kayak Lake Haigler at Anne Springs Close Greenway – Rentals are available weekends May through September.

Price: $10/person for non-members, $5 for members
Address: 2573 Lake Haigler Drive, Fort Mill, SC 29715
Distance: 17 miles

Cool off in an urban sprayground – If your idea of “outdoorsy” is a manicured city park, look no further than our guide to 8 free family-friendly public spraygrounds in and around Charlotte.

Price: Free
Address: multiple locations; see guide

Tube the Catawba River – Float 3 miles from River Walk to River Park on a 2- to 3-hour excursion that includes shuttle service, a tube with a headrest, two cup holders and a life jacket.

Price: $20/person, cash only
Address: 575 Herrons Ferry Road, Rock Hill, SC
Distance: 20 miles

Enjoy a dinner cruise on a luxury yacht or Mississippi river boat – Queens Landing offers dinner and daytime cruises on Lady of the Lake, a 90-foot yacht, and Catawba Queen, a Mississippi riverboat. Dinner cruises sail Friday – Sunday. Check the schedule for exact dates and times.

Price: $64.99 – $74.99 adults, $58.99 – $68.99 seniors, $31.99 – $33.99 youths 5-12, $16.99 – $17.99 children 2-12
Address: 1459 River Hwy, Mooresville, NC 28117
Distance: 30 miles

 

Unique outdoor adventures near Charlotte

Take a guided equestrian trail ride at Anne Springs Close Greenway – Horseback riding excursions are offered Saturdays 10-11 a.m. from September to June.

Price: $50 non-members; $45 members
Address: 1604 US-21 BYP, Fort Mill, SC 29715
Distance: 16 miles

Take a paragliding tandem flight – Sky Retreat offers tandem flights and training over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Price: $150 for tandem flights
Address: 438 Cascade Drive, Purlear NC 28665
Distance: 110 miles

Fly through the trees on the country’s steepest and fastest zip line tour – The Gorge Zip Line in Saluda features 11 zip lines spanning 1.25 miles through the tree canopy where you’ll descend 1,100 vertical feet on a breathtaking excursion.

Price: $97/person
Address: 166 Honey Bee Drive, Saluda, NC 28773
Distance: 92 miles

Explore Linville Caverns – North Carolina’s only show cavern offers guided tours into the base of the mountain where bats, spiders, salamanders and other critters can be seen.

Price: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 kids 5-12
Address: 19929 US 221 North, Marion, NC 28752
Distance: 112 miles

Take a canopy tour at USNWC – The 1.5-hour tour takes you through the tree canopy on a series of zip lines, sky bridges, cargo net climbs and rappels. Also available in a twilight package in the dark.

Price: $89
Address:
 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
Distance: 15 miles

Visit Butterfly Bungalow at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden – The 380-acre botanical garden features a special butterfly habitat home to an abundant population of native North Carolina butterflies. It’s open May 26 – September 3 and requires a nominal charge in addition to garden admission.

Price: $3 + garden admission
Address: 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont NC 28012
Distance: 20 miles

by Craig Neil McCausland via Facebook

Stroll the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge – The old bridge between Lake Lure and Chimney Rock was closed to car traffic and transformed into a planted garden over the Broad River.

Price: Free
Address: Town Center Walkway, Lake Lure, NC 28746
Distance: 92 miles

Test your cycling skills at the Rock Hill BMX Supercross Track – New rider orientations take place most Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Novice, intermediate and ladies-only clinics are also available. Check the calendar.

Price: Orientations are free; $5 open practice; $10 clinics; $10 bike rental
Address: 1307 Riverwalk Parkway, Rock Hill, SC 29730
Distance: 20 miles

Ford water crossings on horseback on a riverside trail ride near Lake Lure – Riverside Riding Stables’ two-hour river ride takes you into the water to “swim with your horse.”

Price: Call for rates and reservations
Address: 1325 Freeman Town Rd, Lake Lure, NC 28746
Distance: 81 miles

Walk the raptor trail at Carolina Raptor Center – The self-guided trail features 30+ species of birds of prey like hawks, owls and vultures.

Price: $12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 students 4+
Address: 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville NC 28078
Distance: 14 miles

katie levans carolina raptor center

Camp in a treehouse – The Cherry Treesort in China Grove features heat/AC, shower, toilet and TV so you can retreat into the woods without fully roughing it.

Price: starting at $100/night
Address: China Grove, NC
Distance: 35 miles

miss-molly-treehouse

via Airbnb

Soar through the canopy along the Catawba River on a 3.5-hour zip line tour – Canaan Zipline features a 70-foot tower and 9 ziplines, including one that’s 900 feet long.

Price: $89 for the full tour; $65 for the shorter “bootleg tour”
Address: 3111 Sand Island Rd, Rock Hill, SC 29732
Distance: 25 miles

Rent your own camping island on Lake WylieCopperhead Island, a 14-acre island near the banks of McDowell Nature Preserve, offers all-inclusive rentals starting at $200/night. It features 6 primitive camping sites, 2 observation decks, walking trails, fishing piers and more.

Price: starting at $200/night for the full island
Address: 15200 Soldier Rd, Charlotte, NC 28278
Distance: 20 miles

Explore Charlotte’s urban greenway trail system – Not looking to retreat into the woods but still want to hike? Mecklenburg County’s features 37+ miles of developed greenways for running, walking and cycling. Not sure where to start? Little Sugar Creek Greenway is a popular urban route in Charlotte.

Try outdoor yoga at the U.S. National Whitewater Center – They host classes 7 days a week May through September.

Price: Free, $6 for parking
Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
Distance: 15 miles

Learn to garden at Renfrow Farms – The family farm and century-old hardware story offers classes on everything from organic gardening to composting.

Price: $20/person; $150 for a 10-class pack
Address: 409 W. Charles Street, Matthews NC 28105
Distance: 12 miles

via Instagram

Take a hot air balloon ride – Check out our guide to hot air balloon rides near Charlotte and be sure to check out Carolina BalloonFest every fall in Statesville.

Go mountain biking – Check out guide to 5 mountain biking spots in and around Charlotte that enthusiasts swear by.

Waterfall hikes near Charlotte

Catawba Falls – A moderate 2.7-mile hike through the southern tip of Pisgah National Forest will lead you to Catawba Falls, a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall cascading over mossy boulders.

Address: 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC 28762
Distance: 108 miles

Upper Creek Falls – The base of this waterfall features a popular swimming hole with a rope swing and sliding rock.

Address: 6118 Windsong Ln, Newland, NC 28657
Distance: 98 miles

High Shoals Falls – The 2.7-mile loop hike through South Mountain State Park includes a boardwalk crossing and stair climb to a gorgeous overlook of the falls.

Address: 3001 South Mountain Park Avenue, Connelly SpringsNC 28612
Distance: 60 miles

Tom’s Creek Falls – This short, easy, family-friendly hike is less than a mile roundtrip but includes views of the 60-foot falls.

Address: 1400 Huskins Branch Rd, Marion, NC 28752
Distance: 104 miles

Hickory Nut Falls – The second-highest waterfall of its kind east of the Mississippi, Hickory Nut drops 404 feet from peak to base. It’s accessible on an easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike at Chimney Rock State Park.

Address: Chimney Rock State Park, Highway 64/74A Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Distance: 95 miles

Waterfall loop at DuPont State Recreational Forest – The 3-mile trail takes you alongside three waterfalls — Triple Falls, High Falls and Hooker Falls — that were featured in films like Last of the Mohicans and The Hunger Games.

Address: 1300 Stanton Road, Cedar Mountain, NC 28718
Distance: 117 miles

high-falls-waterfalls-charlotte

Scenic summit hikes near Charlotte

Crowders Mountain – Crowders Mountain State Park is home to two peaks — Crowders Mountain and King’s Pinnacle. The 2.8-mile one-way Crowders Trail (strenuous) will take you to the summit of Crowders via the Backside Trail. Pinnacle Trail is 2 miles one way (strenuous) and takes you to King’s Pinnacle, the highest point in Gaston County at 1,705 feet.

Address: 522 Park Office Lane, Kings MountainNC 28086
Distance: 28 miles

Stone Mountain – The strenuous 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail will take you to the summit of the massive granite dome.

Address: 3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring GapNC 28668
Distance: 92 miles

Hawksbill Mountain – The 2.2-mile roundtrip hike offers sweeping 360-degree views of Linville Gorge below.

Address: Hawksbill Mountain Trail Head, Newland, NC 28761
Distance: 104 miles

Chimney Rock – The iconic North Carolina landmark offers 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge.

Price: $13 adults, $6 children; ticket info
Address:
 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Distance: 95 miles

Grandfather Mountain – The state park features 12 miles of free hiking trails. To access the famous mile-high swinging bridge, you’ll have to pay admission to enter at a nearby non-profit park.

Address: 9872 NC-105, Banner Elk NC 28604
Distance: 113 miles

Easy trail hikes near Charlotte

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve – The 1,460-acre park features 16 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails along the banks of Mountain Island Lake.

Address: 6211 Sample Road, Huntersville NC 28078
Distance: 13 miles

McDowell Nature Preserve – This 1,132-acre park features 7 miles of trails on the banks of Lake Wylie.

Address: 15222 York Road, Charlotte NC 28278
Distance: 17 miles

McDowell Nature Preserve

U.S. National Whitewater Center – Although the water activities get all the attention, the USNWC is home to 30+ miles of hiking and mountain bike trails.

Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
Distance: 15 miles

Anne Springs Close Greenway – You’ll find 40+ miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Address: 104 Adventure Road, Fort Mill SC 29715
Distance: 18 miles

Anne Springs Close Greenway

Photo via Facebook

Lake Norman State Park – The 1,934-acre park features a number of hiking and biking trails along the banks of Lake Norman, including the 30.5-mile Itusi trails that arepopular with mountain bikers.

Address: 759 State Park Road, Troutman NC 28166
Distance: 40 miles

Uwharrie National Forest – The closest national forest to Charlotte features 1,600+ miles of trails on  51,000+ acres of land. Not sure where to start? The Badin Lake Trail is a manageable loop around the lake with 2.5- and 5.6-mile options.

Address: Wood Run Trailhead, NC-27, Mt Gilead, NC 27306
Distance: 50 miles

Header photo of Lake Haigler at Anne Springs Close Greenway via Instagram

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