Beautiful days call for time outside and the only park that could match the perfection that was this past Sunday’s weather was Latta Plantation Nature Center in Huntersville. So I packed up my boyfriend and dog and headed up for an aimless afternoon walk through the woods.
I like Latta for its proximity to Charlotte (13 miles), substantial trail network (16 miles) and access to water (Mountain Island Lake).
Located on the banks of Mountain Island Lake just 25 minutes north of Charlotte, Latta Plantation Nature Center is the county’s largest nature preserve, offering access to outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and even horseback riding.
The 1,343-acre park is also home to Carolina Raptor Center (an educational rehabilitation center for birds of prey), Latta Plantation Equestrian Center (a stable offering lessons and trail rides) and Historic Latta Plantation (a former cotton plantation and living history farm).
The preserve has 16 miles of hiking trails, only three of which are not open to horses. So be ready to share the trail. Because there are horses on the trails, mountain biking is only permitted on paved trails.
Mountain Island Lake
Mountain Island Lake is a drinking water source for 700,000 residents in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. Swimming is not allowed at Latta but there are two designated canoe/kayak launches and one fishing pier.
Additional on-site activities
It’s free to enter the nature preserve and trails but each activity center located on the property has its own visitor fees. Carolina Raptor Center is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students and free for children under 4. Latta Plantation is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and students and free for children under 5. The Equestrian Center offers 45-minute guided trail rides ($30), 30-minute arena rides ($20) and pony rides for kids ($8).
We wrapped up our afternoon hike with a moderately dramatic copperhead encounter wherein my boyfriend and 5-month-old puppy unknowingly stepped directly on top of an unsuspecting snake while it tried to catch some sun in the middle of the trail. I was about three feet back gasping for air at the sight of it all while my boyfriend casually moved it off the trail into the brush like it was nothing.
I was sufficiently horrified for a second but I guess I give Latta points for a real wildlife encounter. All I ever see are squirrels, so I’m counting Sunday as an educational outing because my boyfriend schooled me on snake markings on the way home.