Gifts are great, but giving the gift of experiences has plenty of benefits, too. You never have to worry if an experience will be the right size or if it needs batteries or if the person you’re giving it to already has one. The gift of spending time outdoors won’t be left in a closet a week after it’s opened. And—bonus the giver—booking an adventure for those who’ve made your "nice" list is a cinch to wrap.
To make your holiday shopping a little easier this year, we’ve put together this helpful shopping guide full of excellent outdoor experiences near Charlotte. Here you’ll find something for adventurers of all stripes, whether they’re a novice hiker or seasoned triathlete or simply want to appreciate Charlotte’s abundant outdoor offerings a bit more in the year to come.
For the Hiker
North Carolina boasts an amazing network of trails, but figuring out where to start can be a daunting task. Help your friends and family begin their exploration of this great state with a guided tour of the natural wonders here. Experienced guides will not only help them find the most amazing locales, but can teach them the skills needed to forge new adventures on their own.
For a formal introduction to the cascades of NC’s waterfall country, Pura Vida Adventures is your source. Their experienced guides know just the location of the most photo-worthy cataracts in the state. They offer a wide range of day hikes, backpacking trips, and canyoneering opportunities.
Another option is the passionate, knowledgeable guide team at A Walk In The Woods, who will show hikers both the biggest highlights and most secreted coves of Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited property in the NPS system.
For the Mountain Biker and BMX Rider
One of the often overlooked, but completely worthy, mountain bike trail systems in the Charlotte area weaves its way through the forested tract at George Poston Park. From its historic site in downtown Belmont, midway between Charlotte’s uptown and the tricky trails at Poston, South Main Cycles offers a convenient place to demo mountain bikes. After dropping the demo back at the shop, your rider can stick around for a craft beer served from the in-house bar.
If the your recipient craves the speedier pace of BMX, then they’ll love a pass to the track at Hornets Nest Park. The track includes a full-service bike shop and a full schedule of instruction—including no-cost new rider clinics.
For the Runner and the Road cyclist
Whether those on your holiday shopping list are experienced triathletes or newbie adventurers, there are plenty of options for training in and around Charlotte. Even seasoned roadies can benefit from the safety instruction offered by the Cycling Savvy curriculum. Built around classroom and on-the-street instruction, Cycling Savvy teaches riders what they need to know to navigate city streets safely. Classes can be prepaid so the rider can choose when to attend.
While winter months aren’t terribly brutal in the South, there is still an offseason for many cyclists. You can help your bike-loving loved ones stay in race shape with the help of indoor training sessions at Uptown Cycles. The group training sessions are computer monitored to maximize power, gain speed, and improve biometrics. UC also offers individual and group training sessions for all skill levels.
Proper running techniques are too often overlooked. A gift of time with a certified run coach can mean avoiding injury and improving performance. The team at TriYON Performance is locally known as the leader in running and triathlon coaching. Solo, group, or online sessions would be a welcome gift on Christmas morning.
For the Climber
For the person on your list who seems to be climbing the walls all winter, a formal introduction to the sport might be the ideal way for them to expend some energy (and save your sanity).
The two state-of-the-art Inner Peak climbing facilities are a great place to learn the basics and meet others who love to climb. Designers of these facilities emphasized both safety and encouraging the communal aspects of climbing. A gift certificate for climbing classes and belay instruction could lead to a lifelong passion.
For more experienced climbers, a gift from Thrifty Adventures can make North Carolina’s climbing experiences—gracefully gliding down flowing waterfalls, picking and kicking up a dense ice sheet, surmounting a massive rock face—accessible and achievable.
For the Paddler
One of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the country, paddleboarding has hit the Charlotte area in full force. Whether they’re racing on Lake Norman, cruising the Catawba, or working through a yoga practice on Badin Lake, SUP’ers are now a common sight around the Queen City.
Just an hour east of Charlotte, the adventure mecca of Badin Lake is a beautiful and accessible spot to dip into the sport. Conveniently located at the northern edge of this serene waterway, Blueway Outfitters is a local leader, with rentals, fitness classes, and paddle instruction, along with a fully stocked sales and service shop.
Paddleboarding is already a great core workout and fun addition to any fitness routine. But when you add the balance and flexibility that yoga provides, on-water workouts reach a whole different level. The SUP-Yoga classes from My Aloha Paddle and Surf at Lake Norman are a great gift for those hoping to up the ante on their asanas.
For the busy friend who could use a quick escape, give the gift of kayak time on the Catawba River. Running along the western edge of Charlotte, its easy-flowing waters are close enough for a quick afternoon trip. And since the Catawba Paddle Club at Tailrace Marina provides everything needed to get on the river, your hardworking buddy doesn’t even need to spend time packing gear. Classes and guided tours are also available.
For Any Outdoor Lover
As its name suggests, the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers a world-class training facility for whitewater paddlers and rafters. But the center’s menu of adventures extends well beyond the concrete banks of its manmade river.
The USNWC’s 1,100-acre property also is home to dozens of miles of singletrack riding and running trails. Overhead, aerial adventures take place on multiple zip line and canopy tours. And a host of climbing experiences include bouldering and the first year-round, man-made deep water solo wall in the country.
Any adventurer would be thrilled to find an activity pass from the USNWC in their stocking. One-time visitors to the area can make a day of it with an Allsport pass, while locals can play all they want for a year with a season pass.
Originally written for OrthoCarolina.