Ah … the great outdoors. We’ve compiled a list of 20 local trails sorted by trails for nature lovers, trails for city vibes and trails that are worth the drive.
Our favorite resources: This is not a definitive list of every trail in the Charlotte area — there are a ton. If you’ve already made your way through the ones below, check out Carolina Thread Trail’s website and sort by county, level of difficulty and trail use.
- We also love the AllTrails app for tracking trails and marking our completed walks.
Take it up a notch: The 16 best hikes around Charlotte
Details: Gem in east Charlotte, great for hiking, walking, running, and bird watching. It’s open year-round and dogs are allowed on the trail with a leash.
The trail: An easy 1.8-mile loop of paved and dirt paths. (AllTrails)
Details: While Reedy Creek’s nature center is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the rest of the 927-acre preserve is open to the public. Walk along the 10 miles of pine tree-shaded trails and spot birds and botanicals while you stroll.
Details: The US National Whitewater Center isn’t just for rafting, kayaking or listening to live music (fingers crossed that’s back this summer). The Whitewater Center also has a number of trails, covering different terrains, making it moderate in difficulty, but good for hiking, mountain biking, and nature trips.
The trail: The center’s big 8.7-mile loop will take about four hours (AllTrails).
Cost: The hikes are free, but it’ll cost you $6 to park.
Details: Spring is a beautiful time to walk around the lightly trafficked Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve — trees are blooming and it’s a peaceful escape from the city.
The trail: There’s nothing city-like about the so-called Ribbonwalk Urban Trail, a 2.1-mile loop (AllTrails).
Details: Birdwatching, hiking, and biking are all fair-game on this trail. The whole trail is shaded, the paths are at least eight feet wide, plus, you can even cool off in the creek afterward.
The trail: 5.4-mile out & back (AllTrails).
Details: This trail is a newly paved greenway that starts at the Sardis Road parking lot and follows the creek to Providence Road. The terrain of the trail is good for walking, running and biking.
The trail: 2.1-mile out-and-back path (AllTrails).
Details: This greenway is great for its wildlife and biodiversity. It’s good for all skill levels and has good terrain for running, hiking or walking.
The trail: It’s a little unsatisfying that this out-and-back trail isn’t precisely four miles, but I guess 3.8 miles is close enough (AllTrails).
Details: Irwin Creek and Stewart Creek Greenways are a part of the Wesley Heights Connector. The Irwin Creek Greenway begins at Ray’s Splash Planet, travels through Frazier Park and the Wesley Heights neighborhood, then around I-77, it becomes Steward Creek Greenway and continues to the Phillip O. Berry Recreation Center. This paved and gravel greenway is great for a walk, jog or bike ride.
The trail: About 3 miles out and back (AllTrails).
Points of interest: Along the trail, you’ll find Gateway Village, Johnson & Wales University, Ray’s Splash Planet (with public art), Frazier Park, Phillip O. Berry Recreation Center and Seversville Park. Bring snacks and have a picnic along the way.
Details: Little Sugar Creek Greenway stretches from Brandywine Road (near the Park Road Shopping Center) all the way to 7th Avenue. The level terrain makes it a great trail for walking, running, and biking.
Points of interest: The greenway passes through Freedom Park and Metropolitan. Stop to shop or grab lunch at one of the Metro’s many restaurants.
Multiple locations listed below
- Cordelia Park to 12th Street
- Length: .95 miles
- E 7th Street to Morehead Street
- Length: 1.29 miles
- Morehead Street to Brandywine Road
- Length: 2.88 miles
Details: The rail trail, which passes through South End and runs parallel to the LYNX line, is one of the most popular greenway segments in Charlotte due to its vibrant and art-filled paths. It’s also a paved trail making it perfect for biking, rollerblading, jogging or walking.
Length: 3.9-mile out and back from New Bern to Carson stations (AllTrails).
Details: While not an official trail, the boardwalk at the Shoppes at University Place is a nice and easy 1-mile stroll to enjoy as the weather warms up. You can peruse the shops along the water, grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants, or even go on a paddleboat ride for two.
Related guide: 18 things to do, eat, and drink in University City
WORTH THE DRIVE
Details: Located along the edge of Lake Norman, Jetton Park offers amenities that the entire family can enjoy. The 105-acre lakefront park has picnic areas, 1.5 miles of walking/roller blade trails, 1.3 miles of bike trails, a playground, a tanning beach, and eight tennis courts among other things.
Distance from Charlotte: Roughly a 30-minute drive. Park near 19000 Jetton Road in Cornelius.
Details: Located near Belmont (the town), Seven Oaks Preserve Trail is a 4.6-mile loop that winds along the shoreline of Lake Wylie. Visitors can enjoy views of the lake, hardwood forests, and plenty of wildlife along the way. Plus, it loops around Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden if you want to stop and explore.
Distance from Charlotte: 30-minute drive. Park near 6900 S. New Hope Road in Belmont.
Details: One of the most important nature preserves in the Charlotte area celebrated its 25th birthday in 2020. It’s named for Fort Mill native Anne Springs Close, a noted philanthropist who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three times and, now in her 90s, is the last living passenger of the Hindenburg’s flights across the Atlantic.
Distance from Charlotte: Located in Fort Mill, less than 20 miles from Uptown, and it’s 2,100 acres of protected land, right in the urban apron. Also includes options for biking, kayaking, and horseback riding.
Details: Pharr Family Preserve Trail located near Midland is a 3.5-mile out-and-back trail that runs parallel to the Rocky River. The preserve is home to 48 different tree species and a wide array of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The natural surface of the trail is perfect for walking or biking.
Distance from Charlotte: 35-minute drive. Park near 9111 Mt Pleasant Rd. S. in Concord.
Details: The Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council Trail offers a unique place to hike or mountain bike. The 2-mile trail is housed on the Oak Springs Campus — a regional destination for the Girl Scouts. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate this trail because of its wealth of biodiversity.
Distance from Charlotte: 50-minute drive north to Statesville. Park at 1763 Turnersburg Highway.
Details: Hike alongside working agricultural fields and natural forests at Buffalo Creek Preserve Trail. The paths are great for walking, hiking, running and mountain biking.
Distance from Charlotte: 40-minute drive northeast to Mount Pleasant. Park near 7911 Malibu Road.
Details: The Piedmont Medical Center Trail, located in the Riverwalk community, is 3.35-miles of scenic views of the Catawba River. The trail is one-way but connects to River Park allowing visitors to start from either park entrance. (AllTrails)
Distance from Charlotte: 25-minute drive. The Riverwalk is located between Fort Mill and Rock Hill along the Catawba River. Park at 575 Herrons Ferry Road in Rock Hill.
Pro tip: After your walk, stop for drinks at the Pump House.
Details: This historic 2-mile trail was originally used by the Native Americans and settlers for textile mills back in the 19th century. It gets its name from following the south fork of the Catawba River. This trail is perfect for families because it’s relatively flat.
Distance from Charlotte: 20-minute drive from Charlotte to McAdenville. This trail is located on the South Fork branch of the Catawba River. Park at 119 Willow Drive in McAdenville.
Details: Not to be confused with the previously listed South Fork Trail, the South Fork Rail Trail runs along the eastern banks of the South Fork of the Catawba River. From the trail, you can see the historic Laboratory Mill on the other side of the river. The path is perfect for hiking, running and mountain biking.
Distance from Charlotte: 45-minute drive. Find the trailhead near 2677 Laboratory Road outside of Lincolnton.