Ever wonder what it might have been like to take a stroll through the Piedmont before the time of Columbus? Occasionally, you’ll find a spot where you can wander through an old-growth forest that resembles a forest before the European invasion. But forests were only a small part of the local topography. Much of the Piedmont was covered by prairie, a type of prairie that’s all but gone. A type of prairie we’ve come to call Piedmont Prairie.

That’s one of the joys of exploring the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve north of Charlotte. Here, off the appropriately named Piedmont Prairie Trail you can explore one of the largest examples of an attempt to restore the prairies that once were home to herds of North Carolina bison. Here, you’ll walk through grasslands that are home to various prairie-specific wildflowers, including the smooth coneflower, the pale pink flower of which comes out in late spring.

There are 16 miles of trail on this 1,343-acre preserve, a four-mile sampling of which takes in the best the plantation has to offer. From the Nature Center head northwest on the Hill Trail, which takes you out to the Cove Trail, offering nice exposure to Mountain Island Lake. Split Rock Trail returns you to the Hill Trail — and past the Piedmont Prairie. Along the way you may well see the preserve’s 97 species of birds, 17 mammals, 14 turtles and 9 species of amphibians. Bald eagles are present as are the federally endangered Schweinitz’s sunflower and Michaux’s sumac.

After such a trip, you may have questions about what you’ve seen. Answers can be had in the Nature Center.

More info: Latta Plantation Nature Center.

Maps: Download a map here, also available at the preserve.

Getting there from downtown Charlotte
Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 30 minutes from downtown Charlotte
Time to complete: 2-3 hours
Address: 6211 Sample Road
City: Huntersville
State: N.C.
Zip: 28078
Latitude: 35.2125
Longitude: 80.5515