Secluded campsites, high-altitude hikes, and new experiences from Charlotte’s climbing experts—there are so many great ways to be active around the Carolinas it would be impossible to do them all in just 12 months. So we humbly offer these 16 outdoor adventures in Charlotte to put on your list. It’s going to be a busy year—you’d better get going.
Paddle to Camp
1. Catch sunset from your campsite overlooking the crystal clear waters of Lake Keowee.
Keowee-Toxaway State Park is amazingly well-appointed for such a small campground—there are only a couple dozen cozy, tree-shaded sites total—with showers, a gift shop, and hiking trails. But when it’s time to get away from even this small crowd of campers, pack your ’yak and paddle a short distance to one of three lakeside sites. Listed as TS-001 to 003, these sites are also accessible via half-mile hike. But your boat is much better at carrying provisions.
2. Get away from everyone else that is getting away from it all at Devils Fork Campground.
Ringed by rolling green mountains and decorated with waterfalls, the 75-mile shoreline around Lake Jocassee is a flat-water paddler’s dream. Devils Fork State Park, which claims the southwest portion of this deep water lake, is the perfect launch site for Jocassee exploration. Among the camping options here are 13 primitive, boat-in sites. The easy trip from the boat launch, maybe 30 minutes at a leisurely pace, nets a seclusion not easily found at busy campgrounds. If you get there early enough, grab site No. 1. It’s on a small point and provides fantastic lake views.
Don’t Delay Your Belay
3. Try new stuff at USNWC
The crew at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the now 1,100-acre outdoor playground that sidles up to the Catawba River, were very busy this “offseason.” New races fill the few open weekends of the Center’s calendar, new trail miles make all-weather riding and running possible, and supersized zip lines make flying over it all a whole different experience. But the most ambitious project is the multi-walled deep water solo climbing area. No ropes needed, just get up the wall (ranging from 25 to 40 feet) and drop into a 16 foot deep pool.
4. Be pitch perfect
Inner Peaks has been serving the Queen City climbing community via its location in the far southeast reaches of greater Charlotte for a long time. The grand opening of their new South Boulevard site—with its vast bouldering areas, convivial social scene, and incredible array of routes—means greater access in a booming section of the city. Take a class, learn the knots, and add “belay on” to your adventure lingo this year.
5. Help protect Charlotte’s most valuable resource
For hundreds of miles the Catawba River flows down mountains and through lakes, providing drinking water, power, and recreation for millions of us. This highly endangered resource deserves protection. Spend a few days this year helping the clean-up efforts orchestrated by the Catawba Riverkeepers or join their network of Cove Keepers and become the eyes and ears for the group’s water quality monitoring programs.
6. Help kids learn the joy of trail riding
Since 2001 the Dirt Divas have been removing the barriers of perception that sometimes follow mountain biking, making Charlotte’s trails more accessible to all sorts of riders. Their group rides and clinics introduce beginners to the sport and help longtime riders improve their skills. But the all-female riding club also breaks down the financial barriers of the sport. Their charitable effort, Project Angel, provides bikes and ancillaries to kids around the Queen City who might not otherwise be able to afford them. Join the group for a clinic, a monthly meeting, a volunteer day, or simply donate to their worthy cause.
Enjoy Time on Two Wheels
7. Bike with a little help from your friends
Biking in the Queen City is a social affair and cycling groups abound around town. From fast paced pelotons to leisurely pedaling through pretty parks, there are plenty of ways to gather up and go. A great place to start is the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride. The variable route will introduce you to a bunch of bike friendly restaurants and hundreds of new riding pals. The ride is always on so jump in whenever you have a free Tuesday night.
8. Get dirty at cyclocross
Combine the best of road and trail riding in the quickly growing sport of cyclocross. On trail, field, and over obstacles, the varied terrain of the NCCX series test a wide range of riding skills. The spectator friendly events are always a party and even the most competitive teams are willing to chat up new riders, offering tips and tricks to succeed.
9. Race in the winter
Unlike other short track racing, the ¾ mile route of the Charlotte Winter Short Track Series spends time on pavement, gravel road, and challenging mountain bike trail. The six week series begins in late January and always includes music, food, and a variety of sponsor tents to fill out the day. Race day schedules includes races for beginner kids through expert adults.
Get Fit at a Brewery
The group activities sponsored by Charlotte’s breweries will keep you running, stretching, and hopping (sorry).
10. Join a social run
NoDa Brewing, with all its shiny gold medals and sparkling new facility, has been one of the brightest stars in the Queen City’s ever growing constellation of beer makers. As the longest standing brewery run—happening whether the weather calls for rain, snow, or blazing sun—the NoDa Brewing Wednesday Night Run Club has also been a constant point of light for Charlotte’s running scene. Join the group for a 1, 3, or 5 mile jaunt around the NoDa neighborhood and finish with a pint of the breweries many award-winning refreshments.
11. Discover Yoga
Make 2016 the year you complete your down-est dog and least-shaky crow. The open space at Sycamore Brewing is the perfect spot to refine your yoga skills. The talented teachers at NC Yoga bar bring their portable practice to the brewery’s lawn on fair weather Wednesdays. Look for the weekly class to start up again in spring and prepare yourself to finally win yoga.
Try a Tri
12. Join a triathlon training program.
There are few athletic endeavors more noteworthy, or more intimidating, than completing your first triathlon. The mentors at Tri it for Life have helped thousands of women of all ages, backgrounds, and athletic ability accomplish what they once thought impossible. Their 12-week programs, including a mock triathlon, not only prepare participants for a live race event, but offer a sense of empowerment that goes far beyond the pool and road.
Explore the Waterfalls at Pisgah National Forest
13. Stay for awhile
The dramatic changes in elevation and plentiful rain in Pisgah National Forest incubate a collection of waterfalls that rival anywhere else in the Old North State. With hot showers on-site, Crank Coffee just outside the park, and the charming mountain town of Brevard a very short drive away, Davidson River Campground is the ideal launch pad for a multi-day exploration of these dazzling cascades.
14. Play in the rain
Go ahead, splash in puddles and get your shoes muddy. We won’t tell mom. The densely vegetated Pisgah Forest becomes a mysterious place when shrouded in the fog of a rainy afternoon. Waterfalls gush and bright green moss on downed logs seems to glow against a smooth gray backdrop. And a hearty stout from the Brevard Brewing Company feels well-earned at the end of slightly soggy day.
Hit the Islands
15. Explore the Brunswick Islands
In North Carolina, adventure doesn’t end at the edge of the Blue Ridge. Plan a week-long exploration of the Brunswick Islands for a surprising list of activities sure to keep you moving. Get a hawk’s-eye-view of turtles and cypress while zip lining over a swamp. Run on miles of tightly packed sand under the watchful eye of soaring gulls. Spot snowy egrets and great white heron through waving spartina grass on a kayak tour of Montgomery Slough. Then chase down a day of shredding pine-canopied singletrack with a locally brewed beer and shrimp burger.
Climb to the Top of the East
16. Summit Mt. Mitchell
As a 12-mile out-and-back day hike, the trip to the top of the eastern U.S.’s highest peak should be on every hiker’s must-do list. But to really understand the majesty of Mt. Mitchell, an overnight backpack trip is in order. The memory of watching a fiery sunset reflect off the clouds that settle in nearby valleys from your perch on Commissary Ridge will easily replace the thoughts of the quad-burningly steep trail that got you there.
Originally written for OrthoCarolina.