Already the largest city in North Carolina and the second largest in the Southeast, Charlotte keeps pulling in newcomers with a moderate climate, booming economy, thriving microbrew and culinary scene, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors on the city’s rivers, lakes, trails, and parks.
To keep pace, the Queen City’s adding miles of greenways and blueways, building a culture around walking and biking, and working hard to expand mountain biking and hiking trails. From the shores of Lake Norman to the hills of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, there’s never been a better time to visit Charlotte for a weekend of outdoor adventure. To help you plan your own trip, we’ve put together a 48-hour itinerary with top activities, entertainment, and places to eat and grab a drink.
Kick off your weekend with a happy hour tour of Lake Norman. Book a two-hour trip aboard Charlotte Cycleboats, a pedal-powered, floating pub and party all rolled into one. Bring your beer, wine, snacks, and sunscreen to cruise the lake with up to 15 of your buddies. As the sun sets over the lake, you’re likely to forget all about the cycling workout you’re getting.
Back on dry land, you’ll head a couple miles down the road to Hello Sailor, one of Lake Norman’s newest restaurants. Thumbs up reviews from Food & Wine Magazine, Eater, and Bon Appetit have elevated this trendy lakeside restaurant to celebrity status. Don’t miss traditional Carolina fish camp platters like shrimp calabash and baby back ribs, and leave plenty of room for a creamy soft serve cone in an ever-changing range of seasonal flavors.
Craft Beer and Camping
The Queen City’s craft brewery count continues to climb, and you can check out three of the city’s unique options on your way to camp. Drop by Ghostface, JollyRogerBrew, and King Canary to share a flight or sample a pint on your drive north to set up camp in Lake Norman State Park in Troutman. In this small and quiet lakeside campground, you can watch the stars come out as you stoke the campfire and take bets on who will clock the fastest trail run time in the morning.
A Morning Run and Coffee
Sunup is the best time to hit Lake Norman State Park’s 30 miles of singletrack before runners and mountain bikers have a chance to get caffeinated and join you. Run the 5-mile Lakeshore Trail out of the campground, or pick up the Itusi Trail at the visitor center for more distance and elevation.
With your workout behind you, pack up camp and stop in the quaint college town of Davidson on your way to downtown Charlotte for a wake-up mug of coffee at Summit Coffee. Stroll through the year-round farmers market to pick a fresh-baked pastry and a few locally made snacks for later in the day.
Now it’s time to head downtown, or “uptown” as the locals like to call it, for a walk on the Liberty Trail. The walking tour tells you how events of the Revolutionary War unfolded in the area. Download the Charlotte Liberty Walk app to really make the tour come alive, and then extend your trip north into Fourth Ward, the city’s bustling center of commerce in the 1830s, for another self-guided walking tour.
No doubt hunger will hit you at this point, so grab one of the rental bikes or scooters on any street corner to ride through the gardens at Romare Bearden Park and south along the Rail Trail to Brewers at 4001 Yancey. This new mega-brewery is a mash-up of two great mid-Atlantic/New England breweries, Southern Tier and Victory. You can fill up on burgers, pizza, and shareable small plates while you’re choosing a pint from 40 rotating taps and a huge selection of local brews. Two outdoor patios offer some of the best crowd watching in the city.
Adventures Along the River
Once you’ve had your fill at 4001 Yancey, it’s time to check in at McDowell Nature Preserve for your second night of urban camping. Another small and peaceful campground with exceptional amenities and proximity to the Queen City nightlife, McDowell has frontcountry and primitive sites. A group site on Copperhead Island is a possibility if you’re camping with a crowd. At the preserve, you’ll find seven miles of trails, a public launch for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the Catawba River, fishing, and guided nature programs.
One of the best spots for dinner and a little more adventure to end your day is at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Make the most of your visit with a day pass that allows you to climb and navigate the zipline and ropes courses, all before dinner. Finish up with a craft beer and meal on the patio overlooking the park at the River’s Edge Grill, and then head back to McDowell Park for the night.
Breakfast and Mountain Biking
Start your final day in Charlotte with brunch at hometown favorite Famous Toastery in Tega Cay. With their generous plates of flapjacks, breakfast burritos, or biscuits and gravy to fuel you, tackling the beginner to intermediate singletrack at Sherman Branch should be no problem. Three fast loops flow together for up to 11.6 miles, and expert riders can ramp up the difficulty by hitting the berms, jumps, and rock gardens along the trail.
If you can extend your stay in the Queen City, book a night at Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe. Three cabins in the canopy look out over bucolic Piedmont farmland. Sample their varietals in the tasting room, or take a bottle back to your cabin to sip from the comfort of your outdoor deck.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.