Urban Exploration in the Queen City: Charlotte's Increasingly Awesome Trail Network

Charlotte has an ever-expanding network of urban trails that make it a cinch to explore the city without a car.
Charlotte has an ever-expanding network of urban trails that make it a cinch to explore the city without a car. James Willamor
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Whether you call it urban hiking or being a tourist in your own city, Charlotte is making it easier to ditch the car and explore the Queen City by foot. New miles of greenway and urban trail are being built every year, offering increasingly more opportunities to explore neighborhoods, walk to restaurants and bars, and make work commutes a whole lot healthier.

As founder and executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit dedicated to creating sustainable communities throughout the city, no one is more in step with the benefits of an urban hike than Shannon Binns. "Walking rather than driving improves your physical and mental health, saves you money, reduces air pollution, and allows you to connect with your community," Binns noted.

Among its many projects, Sustain Charlotte has launched #walkCLT, a program designed to encourage local neighborhood exploration on foot, and Way2Go CLT, an interactive app that "gamifies" walking and biking over automobile transit. The organization’s goal for 2017 is to reduce the number of driving miles in Charlotte by one million.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Charlotte or a lifelong resident, there are many ways to explore the Queen City by foot or on two wheels. To get started, Binns has provided intel on several greenways and urban trails that link some of Charlotte’s most interesting neighborhoods, parks, restaurants, and breweries.

Irwin and Stewart Creek Greenways

Irwin Creek Greenway runs alongside its namesake creek and offers a natural oasis in the heart of Charlotte.
Irwin Creek Greenway runs alongside its namesake creek and offers a natural oasis in the heart of Charlotte. Mx. Granger

The Irwin and Stewart Creek Greenways are "V" shaped, multi-surface greenways that travel through neighborhoods not often thought of as walking destinations. But much of the path is covered in a canopy of trees as it mirrors its namesake creeks, offering brief escapes into nature right in the heart of the city.

There are plenty of interesting spots to explore along the conjoined trails. The summertime favorite waterpark Ray’s Splash Planet sits at the trail’s northeastern end. Frazier Park, with its dog friendly environs, is a short stroll to the south.

After the greenway leaves uptown, it passes through the Wesley Heights neighborhood and offers easy access to some fantastic eateries. Pinky’s Westside Grill is the stop for multi-layer burgers and huge baskets of waffle fries covered in pimento cheese. The Rhino Market & Deli is part counter-service restaurant and part food market, which boasts an excellent selection of packaged beer with styles hard to find elsewhere in Charlotte.

As the trail travels north west, it connects to the Seversville neighborhood, stopping on the doorstep of Blue Blaze Brewing. Named for the twin blue blazes (trail markers) that indicate a water source on the Appalachian Trail, the brewery is perfectly positioned to quench the thirst of greenway travelers.

Little Sugar Creek Greenway

When complete, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway will form the backbone of the city’s 26-mile Cross-Charlotte Trail.
When complete, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway will form the backbone of the city’s 26-mile Cross-Charlotte Trail. ITRE Bicycle and Pedistian Programs

If there’s such a thing as a superstar of walking paths, in the Queen City it would be the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. This growing greenway will form the backbone of Charlotte’s 26-mile Cross Charlotte Trail when complete. The 3.8-mile southern section connects to so many noteworthy locations, it’s hard to name them all.

Begin to the north, and you’ll be treated to views of the city skyline and Midtown. This shopping and dining destination is home to Picses (fantastic sushi), Dressler’s Restaurant (incredible filets), and Trader Joe’s (random food).

Head south, and the paved trail passes the eateries and shops along Kings Drive. This stretch of path is among the most developed with a large water fountain and historic statues along the way. Look for the small but popular Kings Drive Farmers Market on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Finish your trek at what is perhaps the most popular green space in Charlotte, the beautifully designed Freedom Park. Take a rest on the gentle hill and watch ducks paddle around the small lake. Hawks often find their nests in the trees here while joggers rule the paths below.

The Charlotte Rail Trail

The Charlotte Rail Trail connects several neighborhoods throughout the city.
The Charlotte Rail Trail connects several neighborhoods throughout the city. ITRE Bicycle and Pedestrian Program

Beginning in Uptown at 7th Street, the Charlotte Rail Trail is a model of how to connect neighborhoods and make a city more walkable. After heading south and escaping the I-277 envelope, this paved path joins several neighborhoods, including South End, Sedgefield, Brookhaven, and Dilworth.

This amazing amenity has grown beyond local favorite to a true tourism and economic driver. Thanks to the trail, visitors can stroll from their Uptown hotel and visit some of the city’s best shops, breweries, and iconic restaurants.

One must-visit spot on the trail is the Atherton Mill and Atherton Market. Located about halfway down the trail from Uptown, the mill is a collection of boutique shops. The market, meanwhile, houses locally grown produce, meat, and fresh seafood as well as cheeses, desserts, and one of the best coffee shops in the city, Not Just Coffee.

The Rail Trail also serves as a safe and convenient way to bar crawl between several of Charlotte’s best craft beverage producers. Located on, or very near, the trail are Lenny Boy Brewing, Sycamore Brewing, Wooden Robot Brewing, and Red Clay Ciderworks. Afterward, head to one of several local favorite eateries, including Price’s Chicken Coop, Futo Bata, and Mac’s Speed Shop.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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