I like hiking but I don’t like driving an hour-plus to get to a good hiking destination. So when I spotted a large green expanse I hadn’t explored yet just 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte, I decided it was definitely time for a Saturday trip to McDowell Nature Preserve.
McDowell Nature Preserve is an 1,100-acre park on the banks of the North Carolina side of Lake Wylie. It’s home to nine trails totaling 7 miles of hiking, a 56-site campground and Copperhead Island (which is the only public boat launch to Lake Wylie in Mecklenburg County).
We decided to hike Cove Trail and Kingfisher Trail because they have the best lake views. We followed signs to the Nature Center and departed on Cove Trail from the third parking lot (marked with the red star below). We took the trails as far as Waterfront Deck and then hopped on the road back to the Nature Center because we had a time crunch.
Our journey was about 3 miles. You can see a full map here.
From where we started, Cove Trail opens with views of a lush, swampy cove that I think looks like Jurassic Park and then continues along the banks of Lake Wylie.
Most of this trail was pretty rugged with lots of roots, a few foot bridges and some decent inclines so dress appropriately. Along the way, there are also plenty of decks and overlooks for fishing and sitting. Next time I’d definitely pack a picnic lunch.
We had some wildlife encounters with a tiny toad, a heron and the dreaded flower-crested puppy, native to this region.
I like this hike because it’s short and scenic with options to piece trails together for as much or as little walking as you’d like. I also like that you can access the water from multiple points on the trails.
I’ll definitely be back to walk the full trail circuit. I noticed a family hosting a reunion at one of the shelters and think this would also be a great place to meet up with friends and do something different. It’s free, has ample parking and is close to Charlotte. I consider that a winning combination.