25 Top Hikes in the Charlotte area

Looking for a good place to hike in the Charlotte area? You don’t have to look far.

First, there’s Mecklenburg County Park and Rec’s expansive network of nature preserves. Twenty-one preserves are sprinkled throughout the county and while not all have trail, many do, adding up to more than 30 miles of hiking. That should sate your immediate need for a hike. Go a little farther — up to an hour or so behind the wheel — and you’ll find a great collection of state and county parks offering diverse hiking options. Below are 25 Top Hikes in the Charlotte area.

And if you’d like to hike these trails in the company of others, check out our GetHiking! Charlotte hiking group.

charlotte-gethiking


Alexander County

1. Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area | 5 miles
Hiddenite
Have you always just assumed that the Brushy Mountains were the geological creation of John Boy & Billy? In fact, they are quite real and quite lovely. A great place to experience the Brushy Mountains is at Rocky Face Mountain in northern Alexander County near Hiddenite. Rocky Face tops out 600 feet above the surrounding countryside, offering great views. Living up to its name it offers lots of rocky exposure, some suitable for top-rope climbing. Five miles of trail help you cover a good representation of Rocky Face.
More info here.

Cabarrus County

2. Buffalo Creek Preserve | 2.1 miles (4.2 miles out-and-back)
Mount Pleasant
Two developments you should be aware of hiking this trail in rural Cabarrus County. The first you encounter right off: an effort by the Catawba Lands Conservancy to restore a piedmont oak-savannah forest. Once prominent throughout the Piedmont, such forests have been on the decline. They’re important for various reasons, not the least of which is that they are home to numerous ground-nesting birds and prairie species. Hike a little farther and you’ll encounter another disappearing habitat: farmland. The trail skirts a field leased to a local farmer who is growing hay and grain using Best Management Practices to benefit both farming and wildlife. This is one educational out-and-back.
More info here.

Catawba County

3. South Mountains State Park: High Shoals Falls Loop Trail | 2.7 miles
Morganton
All of the 18,000 acres of South Mountains State Park is scenic, but let’s face it: most parks have their superstar. At South Mountains its High Shoals Falls. The falls close proximity to the main parking area makes it the destination of choice for most park visitors. No surprise, either: this 80-foot drop on the Jacob River consists of a classic straight drop, then passage through a boulder field, which the trail passes through. A bridge and observation deck offer vantage points for photos. And at 2.7 miles, this hike lets you get some mileage under your boots.
More info here.

4. South Mountains State Park: Backpacking Loop | 11.8 miles
Morganton
I call this the Backpacking Loop because it’s the route I use for South Mountains in “Backpacking North Carolina.” Don’t let the backpack designation intimidate you; this route is a most doable — and enjoyable — day hike, taking in many of the highlights of this 18,000-acre park. From the main parking area, head out on the H.Q. Trail, then go right on the Possum Trail. The climbing starts here, taking you up to the Horse Ridge Trail and ridgeline hiking. The Lower CCC, Fox, Jacob Branch and Upper Falls trails return you through stretches of year-round greenery. The hike is one of the foot-friendlier long trails, with much of it on old roadbeds from South Mountains’ pre-park days.
More info here.

5. Lake Norman State Park: Lake Shore Trail | 5 miles
Trout man
LakeNorman_640.22809

Lake Norman grew out of a Duke Power Company power project on the Catawba River begun in 1959 and completed in 1964; the parked formed in 1962, while the lake was still filling. Among the recreational benefits resulting from the new Lake Norman was the opportunity to take a long lakeshore hike. Actually, only about half of the Lake Shore trail subscribes to its name, and technically the water it buddies up to is Hicks Creek before it becomes part of the lake. While most trails aren’t ideal for summer hikes, this one is, passing near the park’s swimming area.
More info here.

6. Bakers Mountain Park | 6 miles
Hickory
At 200 acres, Bakers Mountain isn’t big. But it is a great example of a foothills forest. From its 1,780-foot summit, the highest point in Catawba County, a chestnut oak forest spreads below, with the occasional open meadow and a boulder outcrop. The landscape offers a mix of Piedmont and mountain, with mountain laurel, rhododendron Table Mountain and pitch pine, Boynton’s Locust, Shiny-leaf Meadowsweet and Heartleaf Wild Ginger. An extensive trail network gives hikers good exposure to the park.
More info here.

Cleveland County

7. Broad River Greenway | 4.0 miles (one-way)
Boiling Springs
This trail penetrates about 1,500 acres of land protected on both sides of the Broad River through Cleveland County. The 4-mile trail serves as the spine for a more extensive trail network in the area, connecting with about 20 miles of additional trail. The vast network is open to equestrians and mountain bikers, making it an especially popular destination. Enhancing the greenway’s popularity even more are a fishing pier, canoe access and a playground.
More info here.

Davidson County

8. Boone’s Cave Park | 5 miles
Lexington
European influence dating back to the mid 1700s can be found at Boone’s Cave Park, making a ramble on the five miles of trail here all the more interesting. A re-creation of a cabin built in 1752 gives a sense of the challenging living conditions of the day, while disappearing ruins from the park’s early days offer a more mysterious glimpse into the park’s human past. As for natural history, 46 acres of the park are designated as a Natural Heritage Site and support wildflowers typically found farther west in the southern Appalachians.
More info here.

Gastonia County

9. Crowders Mountain State Park: Pinnacle Trail (including Turnback, Fern and Lake trails) | 4 miles
Kings Mountain

KingsPinnacle_640.16985
Need a quick-fix peak experience? The 1,705-foot Kings Pinnacle is a short drive and, at 4 miles, a relatively short hike. From the Visitors Center the first mile or so is a mellow meander through lowland hardwoods. Then it’s a half-mile climb up this monodnock comprised of kyanite-quartzite (a fact you can toss out on a group hike). The summit is a narrow, spiky ridge that affords great views, especially to the south, north and west, and includes unusual foliage, including dwarf Virginia pine and a few specimens of the blighted American chestnut. Return on the Turnback, Fern and Lake trails through more lowland hardwoods.
More info here.

10. Crowders Mountain State Park: Crowders and Rocktop trails | 5 miles
Kings Mountain
As “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina” notes, “this is a classic ‘eat-your-broccoli-and-I-promise-you-something-really-good-for-desert’ kind of trail.” The broccoli: a nondescript hike from the Visitor Center east on Crowders Mountain Trail. The trail crosses Sparrow Springs Road, then continues along the base of Crowders Mountain before a rigorous climb up the mountain’s north flank. There’s a notorious stair climb (gain 360 feet in four-tenths of a mile), then its frolic time atop Crowders Mountain’s rocky ridgeline. The return along Rocktop Trail includes more boulder passages.
More info here.

11. Ridgeline Trail: joining Crowders Mountain State Park (N.C.) and Kings Mountain State Park (S.C.)
Kings Mountain, N.C. / Blacksburg, S.C.
A 12-mile hike is impressive on its own; add to it the cache of starting in one state and ending in another and suddenly you have an epic on your hands. Opened in 2009, this trail links 15,000 acres of parkland: Crowders Mountain State Park in North Carolina and Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina. Starting from the north, you’ll peak out (with a slight spur diversion) on Kings Pinnacle, then follow a rolling ridgeline to the South Carolina, where the trail flattens into a bottomland forest. If you’re not up for the return trip, there’s a campground at trail’s end, at Kings Mountain State Park.
More info here.

12. South Fork River Trail | 2.2 miles (4.4 out-and-back)
McAdenville
Near the start, this trail passes beneath Interstate 85, but quickly escapes the drone of the freeway in favor of the quiet of the forest. Following the South Fork River as it does, the trail is relatively flat, which makes for easy hiking; it also makes for soggy hiking after a good rain, so use caution. This trail is popular with runners and with mountain bikers; of the latter, expect to encounter beginners looking to ease into the sport and young riders making their first venture into the woods.
More info here.

Mecklenburg County

13. Evergreen Nature Preserve | 2 miles
Charlotte
Looking for a good trail to introduce yourself — or a reluctant friend — to the great outdoors? Something not too long, not too challenging, not too wild? Then check out the Evergreen Nature Preserve, which at just 77 acres isn’t big enough to get lost in, and being just three miles from the center of Charlotte, makes for a quick escape. Although small, you’ll find a nice sampling of the types of things you seek in the woods: an upland hardwood forest, a couple of small tributaries and a glade or two. A good place to break in your boots.
More info here.

14. Latta Plantation Nature Preserve: Hill, Cove, Split Rock trails loop | 4.2 miles
Charlotte
It’s hard to pick favorites among the 16 miles of trail at Latta Plantation; that’s why we’ve strung together a series of interconnected loops involving three trails. The Hill Trail is a logical starting point, departing the nature center off Sample Road. Logical, too, in that it passes one of the truly unique portions of this one-time cotton plantation: a Piedmont Prairie. Time was, such prairies were a common sight in the Piedmont, though their origins remain a mystery. Prairie grasses such as little bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass, and wildflowers such as prairie anemone, Georgia aster, tall larkspur and the smooth coneflowers inhabit the prairie today as they did hundreds of years ago. The only thing missing from yesteryear are the bison. Another plus for this hike: brushes with Mountain Island Lake.
More info here.

15. McDowell Nature Center | 7 miles
Charlotte
The seven miles of hiking trail here take on a small portion of this 1,107-acre preserve. But it’s enough to give you a good sense of this escape on the shores of Lake Wylie. A loop starting with the Pine Hollow, Creekside and Cedar Ridge trails takes you away from the water and through a forest that ranges from just-getting-started to settling into old age. The valleys that made the area well-suited for Duke Power to dam the Catawba River offer quick climbs and, mostly in winter, good views. Finishing up on the Cove Trail you’ll witness the evolution of a small creek to flooded wetlands to manmade lake.
More info here.

16. Reedy Creek Park and Nature Center | 10 miles
Charlotte
The 10 miles of trail at Reedy Creek Park serve two functions. Trail on the north side link the park’s various amenities: dog park with ball fields with picnic facilities with playgrounds and camping. Trail on the park’s south side, emanating from the nature center, explores the more pristine parts of the park. Head out on the southern leg of the Umbrella Trail and quickly pick up the Big Oak Trail (which might have also been named Big Rock Trail) and you quickly escape into maturing Piedmont forest. A good destination is the Robinson Rockhouse Ruins, a decaying example of what constituted elite living in Charlotte in the late 1700s. A return on the Sierra Loop, Sassafras and Dragonfly trails offers more rolling Piedmont exploring.
More info here.

17. RibbonWalk Nature Preserve | 3 miles
Charlotte
RibbonWalk is a great example of carving out an unexpected place to explore in an urban area. The three miles of trail on this modest 188-acre natural area offer a big escape. At first, that escape comes along a small creek that runs through a tight young forest of hardwoods, pines and cedars; later, you escape through a stand of beech trees that date back 150 to 200 years. To date, 106 herbaceous plant species, 78 species of woody plants, 53 species of birds and 24 species of butterflies have been documented at the preserve. You won’t get a good aerobic workout here, but with so much to see that’s not really a priority.
More info here.

18. Rural Hill Nature Preserve | 2.5 miles
Huntersville (on Mountain Island Lake)
Even though Rural Hill is in the heart of the Piedmont, you’re to be forgiven if a hike here feels like a ramble through the Scottish highlands. Not because you’ll be traipsing through bogs and over hills barren of all but short grasses. Rather, because you’ll be exploring the grounds of the former Davidson plantation, begun in 1760 by Scottish immigrants. Today, the preserve protects 487 acres on Mountain Island Lake (which only dates back to 1924). What you will find are some structures dating back to the Davidson days, and a healthy and diverse bird population.
More info here.

Montgomery/Randolph counties

19. Uwharrie National Forest: Joe Moffitt section of the Uwharrie National Rec. Trail | 4 miles
Albemarle
Back in the 1970s, Boy Scouts from central North Carolina had to drive to the southern Appalachians to find a trail long enough to earn their 50-mile-hike badge. Several scout leaders got to thinking that didn’t need to be since the 51,000-acre Uwharrie National Forest was right in their backyard. So, led by scout leader Joe Moffitt, they blazed a 50-mile trail. Over the years, parts of that trail fell into disrepair until only the 20-mile Uwharrie National Recreation Trail and 7 or 8 miles of trail in the forest’s Birkhead Mountain Wilderness remained. Thanks to the efforts of local volunteers, the original 50-mile trail is on its way back. About 40 miles now exists, including the newest stretch, a 4-mile run in the Little Long Mountain area. Dedicated in December, the trail is the freshest in the Piedmont.
More info here.

Randolph/Montgomery counties

20. Morrow Mountain State Park: Sugarloaf/Morrow Mountain Trails | 5.4 miles
Albemarle
A part of the ancient Uwharrie Mountain Range, this two-for-one peak-bagger starts with a gradual ridge climb up Sugarloaf Mountain followed by a fast descent through a mountain laurel thicket. There’s recovery time along the base of Sugarloaf Mountain, then the ramrod-straight we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-switchbacks ascent up Morrow Mountain. Good views await in winter, when the canopy is bare; crowds await as well, as a park road to the summit ends in an ample parking lot. Here, it really is more about the journey than destination.
More info here.

21. Morrow Mountain State Park: Fall Mountain Trail | 4.1 miles
Albemarle
Hiked clockwise, you enjoy a mellow climb up Fall Mountain, one of the park’s four peaks topping out just under 1,000 feet, followed by a quick descent. The end of the hike is a pleasant stroll along the wide Yadkin River before it widens further to become Lake Tillery. Hiking, for the most part, is through a maturing hardwood forest. Overall, the park has 15 miles of hiking trails and another 16 miles of bridle trails, which can also be hiked.
More info here.

Randolph County

22. Uwharrie National Forest: Birkhead Mountains Wilderness | 11.5 / 7.4 miles
Asheboro
Technically, by federal decree, this is a wilderness, though some might quibble with the occasional trail markers and signs of the area’s human past as qualifying for wilderness designation. Don’t let a sign or two of civilization keep you from this 5,160-acre oasis on the northern tip of the Uwharrie National Forest. The climbs are greater than you’ll find in much of the Piedmont, there’s a rocky ridge or two harkening back to the Uwharrie’s heyday as a 20,000-foot-high mountain range (top elevation on the trail today is 750 feet) and you’ll experience some of the region’s older hardwood forests. The mileage difference depends on where you start: The Robbins Branch trailhead off Lassiter Mill Road links directly into the Robbins Branch/Birkhead Mountains/Hannah’s Branch loop, resulting in the 7.4-mile option. Entering via the Tot Hill Road trailhead to the north adds 4.2 miles (a little over two miles out and back), though it’s some of the most scenic hiking on this route.
More info here.

York County (South Carolina)

23. Anne Springs Close Greenway | 40 miles
Fort Mill, S.C.
In 1995, local residents got a git from Leroy Springs & Co.: the 2,100-acre Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, S.C. The sylvan retreat is an oasis for various types of recreation, from mountain biking to paddling to horseback riding and hiking. For the latter, more than 40 miles of trail are available. If you’re a member of the Greenway ($49 a year for individuals, $99 for families) access is free; otherwise, there’s a $5 daily fee. Trail maps are posted at all entrances to the Greenway and use different colors to indicate different trail systems: yellow is used for hiking trails; purple is used for horseback riding and hiking; red is used for mountain biking and hiking.
More info here.

24. Kings Mountain National Military Park: Browns Mountain Trail | 2.5 miles (out-and-back)
Blacksburg, S.C.
Kings Mountain National Military Park and neighboring Kings Mountain State Park offer 16 miles  of combined hiking, a long day in any hiker’s log book. If you’ve only got two or three hours, try the Browns Mountain Trail, which starts at the visitor center and heads to … Browns Mountain. (Be advised that it’s 2.5 miles to Browns Mountain and 2.5 miles back.) Another, slightly longer option: the 3-mile (6 out-and-back) Clarks Creek Trail, which departs the visitor center for Lake Crawford.
More info here.

25. Kings Mountain State Park (S.C.): Ridgeline Trail | 1.8 miles (one way)
Blacksburg, S.C.
In itself, the Kings Mountain Hiking Trail is a short hike. But it taps into a total 16-mile hike with neighboring Kings Mountain National Military Park, as well as the portion of the Ridgeline Trail that starts at the North Carolina line and runs another 10 miles, into Crowders Mountain State Park. Three parks, two states — that’s a marathon’s worth of hiking.
More info here.