It’s easy to fill an entire day at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. Mecklenburg County’s largest natural protection area houses an amazing variety of options for education, exercise, and entertainment. Here’s a list of what’s in store for your visit and some tips on navigating all of it in a day.
9 am: Hit the Trails
Sixteen miles of trails wind through the nature preserve’s 1300+ acres. Horses and hikers share fourteen miles of the trail network. The paths range from tight single track to gravel road and include a few easy to moderate hills. These trails are an area favorite for many trail runners as no bike traffic is allowed. It is important to keep your wits about you so you don’t startle a horse. The trail system can get a bit confusing so you may want to bring a map, you can print one from the park’s website . The good news is that most trails bisect the main road eventually so you can use that to find your way back if you get lost.
10 am: Raptor Center
While the Carolina Raptor Center is located inside the nature preserve, it is not managed by the county park system. The center is a 501c non-profit involved in the rehabilitation of sick and injured raptors, most of which are returned to the wild. Some patients are not able to fend for themselves any longer and are cared for at the center. A walk through the outdoor, wooded Raptor Center offers an opportunity to see these magnificent animals with plenty of information available about each one. Look out for special programs such as the Thursday Night Flights where the Raptor Center provides live music, a flight of beer or wine, and a food truck. Expect to spend about an hour here. There is a fee that is used to help support the non-profit.
11:30 am: Lunch
Lancaster BBQ , just down the road from the entrance of the center, fills up plates with huge piles of pulled pork, chicken wings, and a host of sides like Brunswick stew. Go ahead and top up the tank. You’ve got a lot more to explore!
1 pm: Water Time
The Latta Plantation Nature Preserve fills a peninsula on Mountain Island Lake that is surrounded on 3 sides by water. There are two kayak / canoe / SUP put in’s at the preserve. One to the north, just past the equestrian center, and one to the south. Both locations are easy to access and provide plenty of parking. The north side put-in is near a very quiet, undeveloped cove, which makes it a great option if you’re looking for an easy float while all the BBQ settles. You can rent boats from the Nature Center near the entrance of the Park. The Preserve also offers a free tackle rental program, and there is some pretty good catfish and bass fishing on the lake. A valid North Carolina fishing license is required for anglers 16 and older.
3 pm: A History Lesson
The nature preserve is named after the plantation that was originally settled by James Latta in the early 1800’s. The centerpiece of the park is the Historic Latta Plantation . Like the Raptor Center, Historic Latta Plantation is located in the confines of the preserve but is a 501c non-profit. Daily tours of the grounds provide first-hand knowledge of what plantation life was like in the early 1800’s. The original house built by Mr. Latta is filled with period tools, toys, and furnishings, each providing insight into how things were done back then. There is a fee for the tour and they last about 30 minutes. Since the tours are on a set schedule it’s a good idea to stop here first and pick your time. You can adjust the rest of your schedule around that. Also, your paid ticket to the Historic Latta Plantation gets you a discount at the raptor center.
4 pm: Saddle Time
The equestrian center at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is open every day of the week. They offer guided trail rides, arena rides, and pony rides for the little ones. You can also BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse) and ride the preserve’s trails for a small fee. Visit the site and call ahead to reserve group rides and other services.