Pause whatever you’re streaming. It’s time to go outside.
Here are the 30 best outdoor activities within two hours of Charlotte. Distances are mapped from Uptown and listed in no particular order.
Editor’s note: This guide was first published in March 2019 and updated in July 2023.
1. Head to the U.S. National Whitewater Center
Check out more than 1,300 acres of protected land, 50 miles of trails and access to the Catawba River and Long Creek at the Whitewater Center.
Pro Tip: Start your day with a dry activity like rock climbing, zip-lining or a ropes course before a water activity like whitewater rafting or deep water solo, both of which will leave you soaked. Bring a towel, a change of shoes and maybe even a change of clothes for the ride home.
Bonus: Refuel after your day in the sun with a meal. The Whitewater Center has five onsite food options ranging from grab-and-go to full-service, including River’s Edge, a full-service restaurant serving food, beer and wine with a view of the rapids. Check out the menu here.
2. Explore the greenway
Grab your bike or running shoes, or go for a walk on one of the area’s more than 67 miles of greenways.
- New stretches of greenway are popping up all over Charlotte, from the 1.5-mile Brandywine Road to Tyvola Road connector on the Cross Charlotte Trail to the three-mile stretch of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway extending to the South Carolina state-line.
3. Play pickleball
Pickleball is the sport of the season, so grab your paddles and head to LoSo to play at Rally, a new pickleball bar, restaurant and cafe with four outdoor courts and four indoor courts.
4. Hit the Padel court
- Charlotte Padel Club, which is located in Matthews, includes three lighted courts.
5. Chase waterfalls at DuPont State Recreational Forest
Head two hours west of Charlotte and explore 10,400 acres of forest featuring four waterfalls along the Little River and several on the Grassy Creek. You’ll find High Falls, Triple Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
Fun fact: Scenes from “The Hunger Games” were filmed at the waterfalls in DuPont.
6. Visit a lake surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains
Pro tip: Stop by the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, an old bridge between Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park that’s closed to car traffic and has been transformed into a planted garden over the Broad River.
7. Climb every mountain
North Carolina is filled with beautiful mountains, trails and places to camp. Here are seven to check out:
Crowders Mountain State Park is a straight shot down I-85 South and a crisp 24 miles from the city. You can see the Charlotte skyline on a clear day. There are more than 20 miles of trails to explore, plus you can fish, rock climb and boulder in the park.
Morrow Mountain State Park takes you 46 miles east of Charlotte. There are 37 miles of hiking trails and 19 miles of horseback riding trails.
South Mountains State Park is 54 miles from Charlotte. You’ll climb up what will feels like a million stairs, but the view of the waterfall is worth it. The park has more than 47 miles of hiking rails, 17 miles of biking trails and 35 miles of horseback-riding trails.
Chimney Rock State Park is just past Lake Lure and 80 miles from Charlotte. It’s filled with breathtaking views and a massive 404-foot waterfall. “The Last of the Mohicans” filmed parts of the movie in the state park.
Stone Mountain State Park is 81 miles from Charlotte. Make sure you check out the waterfall and climb to the summit of the mountain. The 600-foot granite dome is a National Natural Landmark. Check out the park’s 20 miles of hiking trails and 10 miles of horseback riding trails.
Hanging Rock State Park is 88 miles away and gives you a chance for the iconic hanging off a cliff photo. Don’t worry, it’s just an illusion for the camera. Don’t forget to check out the waterfalls on the Indian Creek Trail before you head up toward the main attraction. There are 48 miles of hiking trails, 15 miles of biking trails and six miles of horseback riding trails at the park.
8. Check out a community festival
There’s nothing like gathering with your neighbors to remind you just how much love we have for each other in Charlotte.
- Take A Vibe Outside, for instance. It’s a celebration of Charlotte’s Black community and it’s set for Saturday, July 15, at The West Complex (1600 W. Trade St.), near Johnson C. Smith University from 3-8pm. It’s free to attend.
9. Listen to live music
Head to River Jam at the Whitewater Center and listen to live music by the water, the live music series at the Metropolitan in Midtown or one of Charlotte’s venues, like Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre, Bank of America Stadium or PNC Music Pavilion.
Go deeper: 10 concerts coming to Charlotte in July
10. Working on your fitness with friends
Head to an outdoor fitness class or check out a local run club (nearly every brewery in the area has one). Here are a few:
Mad Miles Run Club meets every Tuesday at YVY Training in Camp North End at 6:30pm and Saturday in Elizabeth Park at 10am.
Triple C Run Club meets every Thursday at 6:30pm for runs through South End, particularly on the Rail Trail.
Go deeper: 4 Charlotteans running the Boston Marathon
Dancing Lotus Yoga + Arts teaches classes all over the city, from the lawn of the Mint Museum Randolph to Symphony Park in SouthPark to Rosie’s Coffee & Wine Garden.
11. Take an art walk
Check out Charlotte’s many murals from Uptown to West End, South End to NoDa, Elizabeth to Plaza Midwood and everywhere in between.
12. Go to the garden
13. Float down the Catawba River
There’s nothing like floating down the Catawba River in a tube on a hot summer day. A trip from the Lake Wylie Dam to Riverwalk is about 3.5 miles and will take you roughly two-three hours to float down the river. You’ll know you’ve reached your destination because the Pump House restaurant will be on your right side.
14. Hit the trails or the water
Anne Springs Close Greenway includes more than 40 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. You can also kayak, paddle board or fish on Lake Haigler.
15. Fly through the sky
Skydive just over an hour from Charlotte in Chester, S.C., or zip line around the Carolinas. It’s a massive rush of adrenaline.
16. Head to a farm
Sometimes you just need to get away from the city. In Lancaster, S.C., you can listen to live music, play horseshoes and drink a beer brewed on the farm at Benford Brewing or shoot guns, go fishing or attend a cooking glass at North Corner Haven.
- Head to Hunter Farm in Weddington to pick strawberries during the spring.
17. Grab your golf clubs
Charlotte has more than 45 public and semiprivate golf courses within an hour. Rock Barn Country Club & Spa (Jackson Course) holds the top spot for Axios contributor Chris Beeman.
- If putt-putt is more your speed, Frankie’s Fun Park in Huntersville, where you can also drive go-karts and go on rides.
18. Splash around
There’s nothing like a splash pad for the kids on a hot day. Check out Charlotte’s nine free spraygrounds and splash pads, including one in First Ward Park.
19. Escape to the zoo
In the middle of North Carolina, you’ll find giraffes, lions, elephants and more. The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is roughly 90-miles northeast of Charlotte. You can also head south to Columbia to the Riverbanks Zoo.
20. Take a walk in the park
Mecklenburg County recently completed a $5.9 million facelift on Independence Park, Charlotte’s first public park. Take a walk here, in Freedom Park or any number of the area’s parks. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.
21. Have a lake day
Bonus: There’s also Lake Norman State Park where you can hike, bike, swim and play on the beach.
22. Go horseback riding
Head to Indian Trail for a horseback ride at Country Time Equestrian Events.
23. Play disc golf
Charlotte is a disc golf mecca, and no, that thing you’re throwing isn’t frisbee. Play a round at one of Charlotte’s many disc golf courses.
Go deeper: Charlotte is a disc golf mecca
24. Explore a vineyard
25. Explore a nature preserve
Mecklenburg County has several nature preserves.
- Latta Nature Preserve in Huntersville is 1,460 acres.
- McDowell Nature Preserve in south Charlotte is 1,132 acres.
- Reedy Creek Nature Preserve in north Charlotte is 927 acres.
- Stevens Creek Nature Preserve in Mint Hill is 281 acres.
26. Go for a swim
Swim in a rock quarry in Mooresville at the Quarry at Carrigan Farms. All ages are welcome to swim, jump off rocks into the quarry and swing off the rope swings.
Bonus: You can also pick strawberries, pumpkins and apples at the farm, depending on the season.
27. Ride in a hot air balloon
Carolina Balloon Fest runs Oct. 20-23 in Troutman, less than an hour from Charlotte.
28. Experience birds of prey
29. Explore the king of cool
Asheville is the “the king of cool and crowd favorite mountain town,” as Emma describes it. It’s around a two-hour drive from Charlotte and it’s home to the massive Biltmore Estate, which includes 8,000 acres of trails and gorgeous gardens.