Parks in Charlotte NC area offer outdoors adventures, nature

Looking for an outdoor adventure close to home this summer?

Consider these preserves and parks where you can mountain bike, picnic, hike, paddle, fish, swim, bird watch and generally just forget about work and commune with nature.

Some are in Charlotte. Others are less than an hour’s drive away, including the massive 606-acre Mountain Creek Park that opened June 18 on the northwestern tip of Lake Norman in Catawba County.

It’s time to get outside. You deserve it.

Colonel Francis Beatty Park

Address: 4330 Weddington Road, Matthews.

What you should know: The 265-acre Mecklenburg County park includes walking and biking trails, five lighted soccer fields; two lighted, full-court basketball courts; two playgrounds; two softball fields; six tennis courts; 10 picnic areas; 12 miles of mountain biking trails and a lake with kayak and canoe rentals and fishing.

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A main 3.7-mile mountain biking trail loop offers a “notorious” optional technical section called “Beatty’s Black,” according to Tarheel Trailblazers, a nonprofit mountain bike organization.

“This trail system feels less like it was created and more like it was discovered,” according to the group. “The main loop is fairly open and sandy, with roots and gullies occasionally in play. ‘Beatty’s Black’ is a different story. It is tight and technical, but also features some of the most unique wooden technical trail features in the area.”

The park also houses “The Colonel,” the largest pump track in the area that Tarheel Trailblazers describes as “smooth, fast, and truly a joy to ride at any age.”

The park’s main trail features practically no elevation and can be completed in a single loop.

Mountain bike trails rating: Intermediate to difficult, according to the MTB Project, a crowd-sourced mountain bike guide

Who uses the park? Walkers, mountain bikers; soccer, basketball, softball and tennis players, paddlers and picnickers, and children using the playgrounds.

Restrooms? Yes.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Admission: Free.

Contact info: 980-314-1003;

Mountain Creek Park

Address: 6554 Little Mountain Road, Sherrills Ford.

What you should know: The 606-acre Catawba County-run nature park opened last month on Lake Norman. It features the types of passive recreation found in North Carolina’s state parks system. The park is located off N.C. 150 and Little Mountain Road, about 34 miles northwest of Charlotte via N.C. 16.

The park includes 19.52 total trail miles, including the 18.7 miles of natural surface hiking and biking trails and a 0.82-mile paved, ADA-accessible trail that winds 90 to 100 feet down to the lake.

Other features include a paddle launch, fishing pier, a dog park, huge adventure playground, four pickleball courts, three picnic shelters. Several other picnic tables are scattered around the playground and the paved ADA-accessible trail.

Who uses the park? Cyclists, hikers, bird watchers, picnickers, paddlers, pickleball players, dog park users, children enjoying the massive playground near the park entrance.

Difficulty rating: Biking trails range from easy to very difficult.

Dogs allowed? Yes. A dog park with separate areas for small and large dogs is available. Passes are required for each dog using the dog park with proof of vaccinations and a $20 fee per dog. Dog park applications and information are available at on the County Services/Parks page.

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Lorraine Grunhut, right, fishes with her children, Amina, left, and Asim on opening day at Mountain Creek Park in Sherrills Ford, N.C., on Saturday, June 18, 2022. The new park offers a fishing pier and a paddle launch, among many other amenities. Khadejeh Nikouyeh [email protected]

Restrooms? Yes.

Admission: Free. Fees will apply only to dog park users and to reserve a picnic shelter and a park education center.

Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. in summer. The park will stay open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day.

Contact info: 828-465-9645;


Address: 1000 Riverwalk Parkway, Rock Hill.

What you should know: The 3.35-mile paved greenway starts at a kayak and canoe launch, follows the Catawba River in one direction beside the 1,008-acre Riverwalk Carolinas community and connects to the city of Rock Hill’s River Park.

A person rides a boat in Riverwalk Park in Rock Hill, S.C, on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. Khadejeh Nikouyeh [email protected]

The greenway is part of the city-run Rock Hill Outdoor Center, which encompasses about 250 acres and also includes cycling venues, a playground and about 7 miles of mountain biking trails of varying difficulty.

Who uses the trail? Walkers, runners, cyclists, paddlers, tubers. Cyclists should stay below 10 mph. No skateboarding is allowed.

Difficulty rating: Easy.

Dogs allowed? Yes, on a 3-foot leash.

Restrooms? Yes.

Hours: Dawn-dusk.

Admission: Free.

Contact info: 803-329-5620; RockHillParksRecreationTourism.

Anne Springs Close Greenway

Address: 2573 Lake Haigler Drive, Fort Mill, SC

What you should know: The 2,100-acre, nonprofit nature preserve is named for the philanthropist and matriarch of the Springs family in South Carolina who died on Aug. 20, 2021, at age 95.

Shayna Downey kayaks on Lake Haigler at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in October, 2021. Tracy Kimball [email protected]

The greenway features a 40-mile trail network for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding; picnicking; kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding; facilities for weddings and other events; and 28-acre Lake Haigler and four other fishing ponds. Most of the mountain biking trails are beginner-friendly.

Who uses the park? Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, picnickers, paddlers.

Difficulty: Easy. Mountain-biking trails are beginner-friendly.

Hours: 7 a.m.-sunset, daily, year-round.

Dogs allowed? Yes. Dogs must be leashed, and waste must be picked up and removed.

Restrooms? Yes..

Admission: $12 adults, $6 ages 5-12. Annual memberships are available: $66 per person, $132 per family.

Contact info: 803-547-4575; trail hotline, 803-547-1019;

McDowell Nature Preserve and Center

Address: 15222 S. York Road, Charlotte.

What you should know: The 1,132-acre Mecklenburg County-run preserve is the oldest in the county and protects rolling, mostly forested land along Lake Wylie. The preserve includes a nature center, shaded playground and picnic areas, fishing docks, shelter rentals, a campground with 56 campsites available for rent and 8 miles of walking trails.

McDowell Nature Preserve offers 8 miles of hiking trails and spectacular views. Michelle Bruni CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Bicycles are restricted to paved roads in the preserve.

The 20-acre Copperhead Island lies within the preserve, offering hiking trails, group camping and fishing access.

“Get an island adventure without the hassle of traveling,” Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation officials touted the island on Twitter. “Rent Copperhead Island on Lake Wylie from @MeckParkRec! (Don’t worry. It’s NOT covered with copperheads).”

Who uses the preserve and park? Hikers, picnickers, campers, people fishing, children on the playground.

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

Dogs allowed? Yes but must remain on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times.

Restrooms? Yes, at the large shelters, nature center, campground and waterfront.

Admission: Free. Fees are charged for camping and shelter sites.

Contact info: 980-314-1128; [email protected]; McDowellNaturePreserve.

Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve

Address: 2986 Rocky River Road, Charlotte.

What you should know: The 927-acre preserve protects forested habitat in Reedy Creek Park and includes a nature center, 10 miles of hiking trails, and fishing on two ponds.

Reedy Creek Park has miles of wooded hiking trails.

The 116-acre Reedy Creek Park includes numerous picnic tables; an 18-hole disc golf course; two volleyball courts; a basketball court; a playground and swing garden; two softball fields, a soccer field and large and small picnic shelters.

All bikes must remain on paved roads or pit gravel trails and are not allowed on natural surface hiking trails.

Who uses the preserve and park: Walkers, picnickers, people fishing, athletes on the courts and fields.

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

Dogs allowed? Yes, but must remain on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times. Reedy Creek Park has dog park named Barkingham Park.

Restrooms? Yes, in Reedy Creek Park.

Admission: Free.

Contact info: 980-314-1119; [email protected]; ReedyCreekNatureCenter.

Lake Norman State Park

Address: 759 State Park Road, Troutman

What you should know: The park boasts mountain bike and hiking trails; a 125-yard, lifeguard-staffed sandy swim beach; 33 tent and trailer campsites; and a 33-acre park lake that’s separated from Lake Norman by a dam and is used for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding.

Two Lake Norman islands in the park serve as heron rookeries with about 25 great blue heron nests, park rangers said.

Duke Power, now Duke Energy, donated 1,328 acres to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation in 1962 to establish the park.

The park has 17 miles of Lake Norman shoreline.

Its 30.5-mile Itusi Trail system was built in cooperation with the Tarheel Trailblazers mountain biking group. The park also has three hiking-only trails — Alder, Dragonfly and Lake Shore.

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Bikers navigate the Itusi Trail at Lake Norman State Park in Troutman. JEFF WILLHELM Charlotte Observer file photo

Mountain biking trails difficulty: Easy to moderate.

Who uses the park? Walkers, mountain bikers, campers, paddlers, picnickers, beach lovers.

Hours: 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily in summer; 7 a.m.-8 p.m. September, October, March and April ; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. November through February.

Dogs allowed? Yes, as long as they are on an attended leash no longer than 6 feet.

Restrooms? Yes.

Admission: Free. While the swimming area is open year-round, a fee is charged when lifeguards are on duty, which is 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, according to the park website. Fees are $6 a day ages 13 and older and $4 a daily for ages 4 through 12.

Canoes, pedal boats, kayaks and paddle boards are available for rent.

Camping and facilities reservations: 877-722-6762.

Contact info: 704-528-6350; [email protected];

North Mecklenburg Park

Address: 16131 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville.

What you should know: The 100-acre town park includes nearly 3 miles of trails for walking and mountain biking, along with athletic fields and courts; two picnic areas with grills; two playgrounds; three shelters and a gazebo.

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Who uses the park? Walkers, mountain bikers, picnickers, people playing sports, children on the playgrounds.

Restrooms? Yes.

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

Admission: Free.

Contact info: 704-766-2220; NorthMecklenburgPark.

Renaissance Park

Address: 1200 W. Tyvola Road, Charlotte.

What you should know: The forested biking park has 4 miles of intermediate mountain biking trails managed by the Tarheel Trailblazers organization. Visit the Tarheel Trailblazers website for trail closures to muddy conditions after rains.

Who uses the park: Mountain bikers.

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Admission: Free.

Contact info:

Evergreen Nature Preserve

Address: 1336 Norland Road, Charlotte.

What you should know: The 77-acre wooded preserve includes several fields kept open for wildlife watching opportunities, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation officials said. An easy, 1.8-mile loop trail in the preserve is popular with bird watchers, hikers and runners, “but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day,” reports. The preserve also has a picnic shelter.

The wooded, 77-acre Evergreen Nature Preserve in Charlotte NC includes a 1.8-mile loop trail popular with bird watchers, hikers and runners. LAUREN LINDSTROM CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Who uses the park: bird watchers, hikers and runners.

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

Dogs allowed? Yes, on a leash.

Restrooms: Yes.

Admission: Free.

Contact info: 980-314-1000; [email protected]

Whitewater Center

Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte.

What you should know: The nonprofit, 1,300-acre center along the Catawba River offers whitewater rafting and kayaking; flat-water kayaking; over 50 miles of trails for hiking, running and mountain biking; ropes courses from beginner to physically demanding; jumps from 30 feet, 60 feet and 100 feet using a belay system that simulates a free fall; yoga; zip lines; and one of the largest outdoor climbing complexes on the East Coast with bouldering and top-rope and sport climbing.

The center is 12 miles northwest of uptown Charlotte.

After you pay for parking, access is free to walking and dog-walking paths and places to lay down a yoga mat or string up a hammock. Parking is $6 a day and $60 for a year-round pass.

Who uses the park? Whitewater rafters and kayakers, flat-water kayakers, hikers, runners, mountain bikers; rock climbers.

Difficulty rating: Beginner to difficult, depending on the activity.

Are dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash.

Restrooms? Yes.

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. in summer.

Admission: All Access Passes to more than 30 outdoor activities at the center are, for a day pass, $75 adults, $65 youth; and, for an annual pass, $250 adults, $200 youth. Single Activity Passes for full day access to an activity are $55 for whitewater rafting; $35 whitewater and flat water kayaking; $32 mountain biking; and $27 climbing.

Contact info: 704-391-3900; [email protected];

This story was originally published July 7, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.