5 TV and Movie Locations that Offer Outdoor Thrills Around Charlotte

The U.S. National Whitewater Center starred as the Colorado River in the movie Vacation, which was released this summer.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center starred as the Colorado River in the movie Vacation, which was released this summer. Eric Osterhus
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In every movie or TV show, scenery is a main character. The right background can make or break a production, and producers spend loads of resources finding just the right locales for their stories to unfold. The variety of terrain in North Carolina—from charming beach-side towns to dark, dense forest—has made the Tarheel State plenty worthy of Emmy and Oscar buzz.

With the help of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the North Carolina Film Office, we’ve located some sites around the Queen City that have found their way onto screens both big and small in the last year. Here’s a list of where they were featured and how you can explore these TV and movie locations.

1. Max

The Tower Trail served as a forested mountain road in Max
The Tower Trail served as a forested mountain road in Max Rob Glover

In this movie that hit the theaters last June, Max is a war hero returning from Afghanistan. The trauma of war and loss of his best friend have taken their toll on Max, making his integration to family life difficult. The twist is, of course, that Max is a war dog - one of the highly trained canines used throughout the conflict. Max and the troubled brother of his former handler find redemption with each other’s help.

Charlotte-based hikers and runners will spot the shots featuring Crowders Mountain. While on his bike Josh, Max’s new best friend, looks up and sees the rocky peak of Crowders. The gravel road is actually the Tower Trail. And some of the fast-paced scenes through the woods took advantage of the pine and hardwood forest near the Boulders Access along the Ridgeline Trail.

The best views around are from the top of Crowders Mountain.
The best views around are from the top of Crowders Mountain. Rob Glover

For the best views in the park, start at the Linwood Access in the northeast part of the park. The 1.8-mile Tower Trail featured in the film leads to the precipice of the park’s namesake Crowders Mountain. On a clear day there is nothing to impede the stunning view that stretches to the Charlotte skyline, nearly 40 miles away.

To get a glimpse of the forested tracks from the movie, head down to the Boulders Access area. This is roughly halfway along the Ridgeline Trail, which connects Crowders Mountain State Park to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina.

2. Vacation

Crew of Vacation turned the man-made river at the USNWC into the Colorado.
Crew of Vacation turned the man-made river at the USNWC into the Colorado. Eric Osterhus

You probably know the plot to this follow-up that came out this summer to the Chevy Chase classic. In this version of Vacation , the Griswold family patriarch plans to take his brood on a cross-country adventure, hoping to bring everyone closer together. Spoiler alert—things don’t go as planned. Funny things happen.

During their pilgrimage to the infamous Wally World, the Griswold’s enjoy a day of rafting on the Colorado River. Through the magic of film, Charlotte’s very own U.S. National Whitewater Center played stunt double for the mighty Colorado. It’s controlled flow and Class IV rapids a perfect stand in.

Adventure rafting is just one of many activities at the USNWC.
Adventure rafting is just one of many activities at the USNWC. Rob Glover

To enjoy the same wild ride that Ed Helms and Christina Applegate took, grab an Allsport at the USNWC and have a go at an Adventure Rafting trip. After a brief trip talk to prepare you for time on the Class II through IV rapids, a professional raft guide takes you through the man-made river. The relatively calm waters in the Wilderness Channel are just a warm up, getting you ready for the wilder Competition Channel—an official training location for the U.S Olympic Whitewater Kayak and Canoe teams.

3. Banshee

Mountain Island Lake's less-developed shores make for a paddlers paradise.
Mountain Island Lake's less-developed shores make for a paddlers paradise. Rob Glover

Banshee is a heartwarming tale of a young man who, on the rebound after a scrape with the law, atones for his early indiscretion by joining the law enforcement team in small town Pennsylvania. OK, not exactly. But it is a super-popular show from Cinemax and its creators have featured several Charlotte-area landmarks in its filming.

During a scene early in the series the main character, Lucas Hood, is wakened by a haunting dream. He runs off in a panic through the woods, arriving at the shore of a tranquil lake barely visible in the pre-dawn light. For those in the know, the heavily forested, red clay banks of Mountain Island Lake are instantly recognizable.

Since it serves as the water supply for over a million people from several counties, Mountain Island Lake has been protected from much of the development that surrounds Lakes Norman and Wylie. For stand-up paddleboarders, this means an opportunity to float in tree-protected coves and inlets of the lake with fewer motorized vessels passing by. The free-to-use launch site off of Neck Road is a great place to start. Ample parking and dual put-ins—both natural surface and cement—makes for a convenient place to head out in search of the blue herons, turtles, and hawks that frequent the lake.

4. Ashby

Latta Plantation holds all sorts of recreation on the trail or water.
Latta Plantation holds all sorts of recreation on the trail or water. Charlie Cowens

Ashby , which was released last month, is a May/December buddy movie about an ex-CIA hitman with a short time to live who is befriended by the awkward new kid in town. It was shot primarily in North Carolina, and its stars, Mickey Rourke, Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff, and Sarah Silverman, were frequently sighted all around town.

According to the NC film commission, Latta Plantation served as an important filming location for the film, which spent about five weeks in the Tarheel State.

Latta Plantation, and the nature preserve on which it resides, quietly hosts some of the most diverse outdoor diversions in the area. Sixteen miles of trail, from narrow, rocky singletrack to wide, gravel roads, lace the forested peninsula on which the plantation was built. Two boat launches afford kayakers and anglers easy access to Mountain Island Lake. And the Carolina Raptor Center gets you up close to some of the coolest birds of prey on the planet.

5. Careful What You Wish For

The trails at Lake Norman State Park are some of the fastest in the area.
The trails at Lake Norman State Park are some of the fastest in the area. Rob Glover

Careful What You Wish For , which came out in May this year, features Nick Jonas in the story of what happens when you befriend a scary rich guy and mess around with his wife. A cautionary tale for the everyman, for sure.

Sailboats and lake houses are a running theme of the movie, so what better place to film than Lake Norman. The waters of the Charlotte area’s largest lake are visible several times throughout the film, including in the movie’s trailer.

With 520 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy the lake. But some of the best action is at its northern tip. Some 30 miles of pristine singletrack winds through Lake Norman State Park. These super-fast and flowing mountain bike trails offer great beginner options and longer rides for experienced bikers looking for some of the best speed paths in central Carolina. Brought to you by the Tar Heel Trailblazers, the single track at Lake Norman was well designed and is well cared for.

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