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Arts & Culture

Here Are Some Of The Best Hikes Within Day Trip Distance Of Charlotte

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Dashiell Coleman
/
WFAE
Linville Gorge Wilderness is seen from the Table Rock area in summer 2020.

North Carolina has trails nearly everyone can enjoy — whether you’re a longtime outdoor enthusiast, someone who got into hiking during the pandemic or a newcomer looking to explore.

Here are some suggestions for hikes within day-trip distance of Charlotte, including favorites from listeners who responded when we asked on social media. It’s worth pointing out that this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of hiking trails. It is, however, a starting point for places that a Charlotte resident could drive to in less than three hours, spend a few hours in the woods, and make it home by nightfall.

Have suggestions? Let us know on Facebook. 👇

Mecklenburg County Parks Are A Nice Start

Don’t let development and traffic turn you off to the Queen City’s trails. You won’t get sweeping mountain vistas, but Mecklenburg County has several nature preserves with plenty of wooded trails. You’re sometimes more likely to have the walk to yourself within this county of 1 million people than during peak hiking season in North Carolina’s more popular remote parks.

A few suggestions:

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Dashiell Coleman
Latta Nature Preserve in Huntersville is seen in November 2019.

Anne Springs Close Greenway

Down in South Carolina, Anne Springs Close Greenway is a short drive from Charlotte and closer to the city than many of the more popular hikes on the North Carolina side of things.

The Fort Mill site, about 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte, sits on 2,100 acres and is peppered with moderate trails that take hikers through wooded areas, near lakes and across creeks — sometimes via swinging bridge.

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Anne Springs Close Greenway
Anne Springs Close Greenway is an easy day-hike getaway from Charlotte.

While we’re in South Carolina…

Landsford Canal State Park

Landsford Canal State Park is about 45 minutes south of Charlotte in Chester County. It’s a unique, scenic environment — and one that’s flat if hills aren’t your thing. A short hike takes you along the Catawba River and through the ruins of an old canal system from the 1800s. You’ll want to take photos, especially if you make it down during May and June when the rocky shoals spider lilies are blooming.

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Dashiell Coleman
Rocky shoals spider lilies bloom along the banks of the Catawba River at Landsford Canal State Park in summer 2019.

Crowders Mountain State Park

Crowders Mountain State Park is kind of the hiking spot for the Charlotte region — for good reason. The park’s about an hour west of Charlotte in Gaston County, close to Interstate 85, and it has actual mountains in the metro area. The park has two small peaks (Crowders Mountain at roughly 1,600 feet and The Pinnacle at roughly 1,700). It has a variety of trails, including one that links to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina if you’re feeling ambitious. It’s most famous for the Backside Trail, a tough shot upward from the parking lot to Crowders Mountain’s peak, which is full of jutting rocks and offers an often-photographed view of uptown Charlotte.

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Dashiell Coleman
Rocky outcroppings are seen at the peak of Crowders Mountain in 2019.

Lake Norman State Park

Lake Norman State Park is a great option for an easygoing, relatively flat stroll through the woods. The state park is about 45 minutes north of Charlotte in Troutman and offers about 35 miles of trails for both hikers and cyclists — including a 6-mile path along the shoreline. There’s also a swim beach if you need to cool down. Pro tip: If you visit the park in the fall, the trees on these trails get a lot of colorful leaves.

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Dashiell Coleman
The sun sets over Lake Norman State Park in 2018.

Morrow Mountain State Park

Sure, western North Carolina steals the show when it comes to mountains, but that doesn’t mean the area of east Charlotte is without its fun. Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour from Charlotte in Albemarle, is named after one of the tallest peaks in the Uwharrie Mountains at just over 900 feet. The park has about 15 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty.

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Morrow Mountain State Park
Morrow Mountain State Park is seen in November 2020.

And speaking of the Uwharries...

Uwharrie National Forest

Uwharrie National Forest is also about an hour east of Charlotte. It covers 52,000 acres, including the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, a 5,100-acre wilderness that has what the U.S. Forest Service describes as possibly the oldest mountains in North America. Uwharrie forest is also home to Badin Lake Recreation Area, a popular spot with access to roughly 40 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult. Hikers can expect a mix of forest, streams, lakes and short mountains.

See what folks told us on Instagram when we asked for hiking tips. ⬇️

South Mountains State Park

South Mountains State Park is about one hour and 15 minutes northwest of Charlotte, in Burke County. The park sits on roughly 20,00 acres, and it’s a good in-between hiking area before getting to some of the state’s higher peaks. There are about 40 miles worth of trails to explore and some great waterfall views. Be warned, there’s some elevation here, so expect more strenuous hiking than in the Charlotte area. High Shoals Falls is a particularly popular hiking destination.

Stone Mountain State Park

Stone Mountain State Park (not to be confused with the one near Atlanta) is about one and a half hours north of Charlotte. The namesake, 600-foot-tall granite dome in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a sight to behold. Hikers can expect about 18 miles of trails to keep them busy, including the Stone Mountain Loop Trail that takes visitors past a 200-foot waterfall and across the rocky summit. Pro tip: You’ll want sun protection as there’s little tree cover up top.

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Dashiell Coleman
North Carolina's Stone Mountain is seen in a panoramic photo taken in June 2019.

Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State Park is actually one of North Carolina’s youngest state parks, at just 18 years old. It’s a little over two hours northwest of Charlotte, and you’ll pass Boone on the way there. The park sits on more than 4,000 acres, and Elk Knob itself is about 5,500 feet tall, making it one of the higher peaks in the Boone area. It doesn’t have as many trails as other parks, but it makes up for that in the hiking experience. In addition to a two-mile uphill hike to the summit for a nice view, hikers can also take an easier stroll through the woods to reach the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River.

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Dashiell Coleman
The view north from the top of Elk Knob is seen in summer 2020.

Grandfather Mountain State Park

Grandfather Mountain State Park is one of North Carolina’s most iconic hiking spots. It’s also home to some of its toughest hiking — think rugged terrain with the occasional ladder or cable. It’s a little over two hours northwest of Charlotte, but keep in mind that the terrain on some trails here might make for a slower-than-usual pace, so arrive early if you’re only hoping for a day hike. (For example, the Grandfather Trail takes hikers up and down 1,872 feet over just two and a half miles.) The state park is free, but there’s also a paid area with access to the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

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Chandler Coleman
Grandfather Mountain State Park is seen in 2020.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell State Park is a little more than two and a half hours northwest of Charlotte. It’s worth the drive. At 6,684 feet above sea level, Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the east of the Mississippi River. There’s a short, paved walk from the parking area to an observation deck at the summit. If you want to feel the burn, however, there are several options for more strenuous treks, including the Deep Gap trail that takes hikers across other peaks in the Black Mountain range. There’s also a much longer way up to the summit: The Mount Mitchell trail itself starts on U.S. Forest Service-run Black Mountain Campground and works its way up about six miles to the peak. Pro tip: That trail is about eight hours of hiking back and forth, so if you’re with a group, it’s best to park one car at the summit to drive back to the starting point. Second pro tip: The elevation here means cooler weather, even in the middle of summer. On a windy day, it could be cold enough to feel like a different season entirely, so you'll be happy you packed a light jacket.

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Two Hearted River
The sign near the summit of Mount Mitchell is seen in 2010.

And that leads us to …

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is huge, in North Carolina terms. The forest spans more than 500,000 acres — including several wilderness areas — across 12 counties in the western part of the state. Pisgah’s closer to Asheville than Charlotte, but many of its more eastern areas are solidly within day trip distance of Mecklenburg County. (Just expect that day trip to be on the longer side, especially if you’re planning to explore some of the steeper areas.)

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Dashiell Coleman
Linville Gorge Wilderness is seen from the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in summer 2020.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions on the forest’s eastern side:

  • Linville Gorge Wilderness has some absolutely stunning trails — many of them with views looking down on the gorge’s walls and the Linville River. A lot of them are tough, though, so be prepared. Some good hikes include the easier Linville Falls area and the more strenuous trails at Hawksbill Mountain (with a can’t-beat view), Table Rock and Shortoff Mountain.
  • Craggy Gardens is about two and a half hours northwest of Charlotte and is accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fortunately, the trails aren’t very long, so it’s a doable day trip — one especially suited to picnicking. Craggy Pinnacle is a short, 1-mile hike with only about 250 feet of elevation gain to get to one of the most popular views in the Carolinas. The Craggy Gardens Trail is a bit tougher but with several stopping points. You might even pass some wild blueberry bushes on your way to the grassy bald summit.
  • Rough Ridge is not far from Blowing Rock off the Blue Ridge Parkway, about two hours from Charlotte. Its unique terrain, killer views and short climb on the Tanawha Trail make Rough Ridge a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, so plan accordingly. On busy days, cars will line the side of the parkway by the trailhead. You’ll pass blueberry bushes and walk on some mountain boardwalks as you make your way up to the rocky outcrop at the top.
  • Wilson Creek Wild And Scenic River Area is tough to beat when you’re looking for summer hikes with access to water. It’s about two hours northwest of Charlotte, accessible through Caldwell County. There are nearly 50,000 acres in this section of Pisgah, including several trails with varying elevations and access to backcountry swimming holes and waterfalls. The popular Harper Creek Trail is a 6-mile trek that leads to the waterfall of the same name.

DuPont State Recreational Forest

DuPont State Recreational Forest is about two and a half hours west of Charlotte, and it’s where we’ll stop our list of hiking ideas -- for now. It’s a roughly 12,500-acre site in Henderson and Transylvania counties on land once owned by the DuPont company. It’s a popular site for tourists and locals alike, so it’s wise to arrive early if you’re trying to avoid big crowds. It’s a good mix of moderate trails — though expect some elevation gain — and stunning waterfall views. And on that note, here’s a gentle reminder, especially for folks who are new to the state: Waterfalls are deadly, so heed all those warning signs you see posted nearby.

Stay safe, have fun and leave no trace!

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