Jul 14, 2023 - Things to Do

30 best outdoor activities within 2 hours of Charlotte

Little Sugar Creek Greenway

Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.

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.

Go deeper: 13 ways to spend a day at the Whitewater Center

Deep water solo at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Deep water solo at the Whitewater Center. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.

Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.

Go deeper: Pickleball restaurant and bar with 8 courts opens in LoSo

Rally's outdoor courts.
Rally’s outdoor courts. Photo: Amanda Anderson/courtesy of Rally

Hit the Padel court

Sure you’ve probably heard of pickleball, but have you heard of Padel? Think tennis meets squash. It’s the fastest-growing racquet sport in the world, as the New York Times reported.

Charlotte Padel Club courts at sunset.
Charlotte Padel Club. Photo: Sophie Aguilar/courtesy Charlotte Padel Club

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.

Go deeper: This 3-mile hike through a 10,400-acre forest features three waterfalls – as seen in "Hunger Games" and "Last of the Mohicans"

hike-and-waterfalls-at-dupont-forest
Photo: Axios archives

Visit a lake surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains

Lake Lure is 79 miles from Charlotte and is one of North Carolina’s most scenic lakes. Rent a boat for the day or chill out on Lake Lure Beach. It’s open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Lake Lure
Lake Lure. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios
Lake Lure Flowering Bridge.
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. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Climb every mountain

North Carolina is filled with beautiful mountains, trails and places to camp. Here are seven to check out:

The ridgeline trail at Crowders Mountain. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
The ridgeline trail at Crowders Mountain. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Morrow Mountain State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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 feel like a million stairs, but the view of the waterfall is worth it. The park has more than 47 miles of hiking trails, 17 miles of biking trails and 35 miles of horseback-riding trails.

The waterfall at South Mountains State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
The waterfall at South Mountains State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.

View from the Opera Box at Chimney Rock State Park.
View from the Opera Box at Chimney Rock State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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. 

The waterfall at Stone Mountain State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
The waterfall at Stone Mountain State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Pilot Mountain State Park is 83 miles away and includes 14 miles of hiking trails and nine miles of horseback riding trails. The rocks here are gorgeous.

Pilot Mountain State Park
Pilot Mountain State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.

Hanging Rock State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Hanging Rock State Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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.
Winston Robinson, a Wilmore native and the founder and executive director of Applesauce Group, the nonprofit behind the event, hopes people leave feeling empowered. Photo: Courtesy of A Vibe Outside
Winston Robinson, a Wilmore native and the founder and executive director of Applesauce Group, the nonprofit behind the event, hopes people leave feeling empowered. Photo: Courtesy of A Vibe Outside

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

whitewater center river jam
Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. National Whitewater Center

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.

Go deeper: I hate running but I’ll exercise with Mad Miles Run Club

Mad Miles run club
Photo: Alvin C. Jacobs Jr./courtesy of Cornell W. Jones.

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

Run club outside of a brewery.
Photo: Courtesy of Philip Sanford

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.

Dancing Lotus Yoga + Arts co-founder, Jasmine Vializ. Photo: Courtesy Dancing Lotus Yoga + Arts

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.

Go deeper: Guide to 24 Beatties Ford Road corridor murals

Kindred by Georgie Nakima/Garden of Journey in West End. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Abel Jackson’s “Historic Brooklyn” mural at 219 South Brevard St. Photo: Daniele Chemtob/Axios
Abel Jackson’s “Historic Brooklyn” mural at 219 South Brevard St. in Uptown. Photo: Daniele Chemtob/Axios

Go to the garden

Stop and smell the flowers at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, UNC Charlotte’s botanical gardens in University City and Wing Haven in Myers Park.

Wing Haven nursery entrance.
Wing Haven. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios
UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens at UNC Charlotte. Photo: Axios archives

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-to-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.

Tubing down the Catawba River.
Photo: Alivia McAtee/Axios

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.

Anne Springs Close Greenway. Photo: Carissa Rogers/Courtesy of Anne Springs Close Greenway
Anne Springs Close Greenway. Photo: Carissa Rogers/Courtesy of Anne Springs Close Greenway

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.

Go deeper: 14 places to zip line within 3 hours of Charlotte

U.S. National Whitewater Center Double Down zip line. Photo: Courtesy of the Whitewater Center
U.S. National Whitewater Center Double Down zip line. Photo: Courtesy of the Whitewater Center

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.

Go deeper: Shoot guns, go fishing and host your wedding at North Corner Haven farm, less than an hour from Uptown

North Corner Haven
The pigs have about 30 acres of pastures to roam around in. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
Benford Brewing. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Benford Brewing. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Grab your golf clubs

Charlotte has more than 45 public and semi-private 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. 

Go deeper: 10 best public golf courses around Charlotte, ranked

Photo: Chris Beeman

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.

Go deeper: 20+ family-friendly activities to check out this summer in Charlotte and beyond

First Ward Sprayground
Photo: Emma Way/Axios

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.

North Carolina Zoo
Photo: Courtesy of the North Carolina Zoo

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. 

Go deeper: Charlotte’s first public park reopens after a nearly $6 million makeover

Independence Park facing east.
A garden sits on the east side of the park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Have a lake day 

Head to Lake Norman, Lake Wylie or the Catawba River. Rent your boat and ride off into the sunset. You can also paddle board, kayak or jet ski on the water.

Bonus: There’s also Lake Norman State Park where you can hike, bike, swim and play on the beach.

Go deeper:  7 boat rentals near Charlotte starting at $255

Black Boat Club
The Black Boat Club. Photo: Courtesy of Corinna DeWitt

Go horseback riding

Head to Indian Trail for a horseback ride at Country Time Equestrian Events.

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

Photo: Axios archives

Explore a vineyard

Spend the night in a treehouse at Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe or explore Childress Vineyards in Lexington. Both are within an hour of Charlotte.

Go deeper: You can stay overnight in a treehouse at this vineyard just 25 miles from Charlotte

Photo: Axios archives
treehouse-vineyards-in-charlotte-nc
Treehouse Vineyards. Photo: Axios archives

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.

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.

Carrigan Farms
Carrigan Farms. Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

Ride in a hot air balloon

Carolina Balloon Fest runs Oct. 20-23 in Troutman, less than an hour from Charlotte.

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Experience birds of prey

Huntersville is home to the Carolina Raptor Center, which includes more than 20 birds on the Raptor Trail, a self-guided tour where you’ll see birds like owls and hawks.

Photo: Courtesy of the Carolina Raptor Center

Explore Asheville

Asheville is “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.

Go deeper: Check out these 12 must-visit mountain towns within 4 hours of Charlotte

Biltmore Estate. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Biltmore Estate. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

One for the road

Get boozy on a pedal pub or trolley pub ride. The guided tours allow you to see Charlotte with a drink in hand and they include stops around the city.

pedal pub
Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

Go deeper: Where to eat, drink, play and stay in Charlotte for the best bachelorette party

Editor's note: This guide was first published in March 2019 and updated in July 2023.

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