Not that long ago, mentioning you were from Charlotte led to an inevitable lesson in Southeastern U.S. geography. What state is that in? Did you say Charlottesville? Charleston? But that’s all changed as the Queen City’s rocketed to third place in the list of fastest-growing U.S.cities.
Abundant four-season outdoor recreation opportunities and a focus on healthy, active living are major contributors to the Queen City’s newfound notariety. Here’s our list of the top reasons why you need to get outdoors in Charlotte.
1. It’s Home to the World-Class U.S. National Whitewater Center
An Olympic kayak and canoe training center, multisport mecca, concert pavilion, and gastropub all rolled into one at the USNWC, the epicenter of Charlotte’s outdoor adventure scene. At the center you can raft Class I-IV whitewater, climb, zip, navigate high ropes obstacles, paddle the Catawba River, and run or bike on more than 40 miles of singletrack. Then, you can relax with a craft beer and burger on the River’s Edge Grill patio at sunset.
2. Charlotte is Close to the Smokies, Appalachians, and Blue Ridge
The tallest peaks east of the Mississippi reside just a couple hours west of Charlotte, offering lush day hikes through thickets of rhododendron, mountain laurel, and wispy Smoky Mountains mist. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way from Cumberland Knob to Cherokee, with miles of easy out-and-back routes to spectacular 360-degree vistas. For backcountry hikers, there’s no shortage of challenging weekend loops traversing Smoky Mountain balds and Appalachian valleys.
3. The City Embraces Cyclists and Runners
Every few months, we celebrate the opening of yet another section of urban greenway connecting neighborhoods with parks and community spaces. The bike- and pedestrian-friendly movement that’s sweeping the city is great news for road-weary cyclists and runners looking for scenic training routes. Little Sugar Creek Greenway is evolving into one of the most popular segments of the future XCLT Trail that will extend 30 miles from Pineville to University City. South End’s Rail Trail is ground zero for happy hour runs, and cyclists own the Booty Loop, where they gather for evening and weekend rides through the shady streets of Myers Park.
4. Neighborhood Gear and Bike Shops Abound
From Davidson to Waxhaw, local bike shops and gear outfitters offer expert advice to keep Charlotteans peddling, paddling, and pitching tents. Stores host group rides and give route recommendations, with service bays for maintenance and repairs. Check in with Performance Bicycle and The Bike Gallery downtown; Spirited Cyclist to the north; South Main Cycles in Belmont; and NC Velo south of the city.
Great Outdoor Provision Company has been outfitting North Carolina hikers and paddlers for more than 30 years. Then there’s the USNWC Outfitter, a virtual trip to candyland for outdoor enthusiasts. Major retailers like REI, North Face, and Trek have set up shop in Charlotte as well, another sign of Charlotte’s love affair with adventure.
5. The Outdoor Community is Passionate and Welcoming
Much of the credit for Charlotte’s outdoor awakening goes to local advocates who have worked tirelessly for change. And the best news—there are plenty of ways to get involved. The Carolina Thread Trail offers trail master certification classes, the Tarheel Trailblazers expand singletrack with trail work days, and Sustain Charlotte is bringing issues like clean air and water, public transportation, and local food systems to the forefront of the community conversation.
6. Bikes, Brews, Bouldering — We’ve Got a Festival for That
Nothing whips up enthusiasm like a good party, and every month brings new opportunities to celebrate the outdoors in the Queen City. Open Streets 704 closes downtown streets to cars for a four-mile street festival. At Biketoberfest, businesses and breweries line the route to welcome cyclists, and the Charlotte Marathon has grown into a weekend party and the city’s signature running event.
USNWC festivals draw thousands for equipment demos, sports competitions, live music, food trucks, and craft beer. In addition to holiday celebrations (think paddling a neon green river for St. Paddy’s Day and running a 5K with Santa), there’s Flowfest’s yoga and bouldering; an outdoor gear market every October; and Tuckfest, four days of multisport competitions and clinics that opens the summer season in April.
7. Plenty of Waterfalls and Swimming Holes
There’s only a couple months when the Charlotte weather’s too cold to get your feet wet. You can relax beside some of the most scenic aquatic spots in the Southeast, all an easy day trip from downtown. The best spot include High Shoals Falls at South Mountains State Park, Carrigan Farms Quarry; Hooker, Triple, and High Falls in DuPont State Forest; Eno Quarry in Eno River State Park; the summit and waterfall loop at Stone Mountain State Park; and Pisgah’s thrilling 60-foot natural waterslide at Sliding Rock.
8. Epic Climbing Surrounds Charlotte
Charlotte is home to a solid climbing community, and beginner to expert climbing destinations are within easy reach of the city, adding up to great year-round cragging. Close to home, Inner Peaks has two locations for instruction and training, while Crowders Mountain State Park offers beginner to intermediate sport and trad routes minutes from downtown. USNWC has everything from belay classes to private instruction on its 30-foot rock wall, 46-foot spire, and free climbing Deep Water Solo routes. More experienced climbers drive two hours north to quality quartzite routes at Moore’s Wall, Pilot Mountain, and Sauratown, or head west into Linville Gorge, one of the southeast’s premiere climbing destinations.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with OrthoCarolina.
Featured image provided by Better Bike Share/Michael C. Hernandez Photography