Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina, and as such has no shortage of fun things to do.
But outdoorsy types sometimes get antsy for some natural greenery and, perhaps, a strenuous workout.
If you're looking to spend a few hours exploring, there are many great places to hike with an hour's drive. Top spots include Uwharrie State Park, South Mountain State Park and Catawba County.
On the other hand, if you want to get a nature fix closer to town, here are the local trails to hit:
This city park covers 98 acres and boasts a seven-acre lake and miles of walking trails. It's great for a stroll or a run for athletic types. Hikers can take it a little further—trails connect to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. After a long day of hiking in the summer, come back to relax on the lawn and listen to live music in the pavilion.
Crowders Mountain State Park
For mountain goodness only a half-hour away, head west to Crowders Mountain State Park. Several hiking trails add up to 25 miles, and at the peak on a clear day you can see all the way back to Charlotte. There are 150-foot vertical drops, gorgeous views and some unusual foliage. For a challenging hike with the double benefit of crossing the state line, hike the 12-mile Ridgeline Trail from Crowders Mountain to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina.
Lake Norman State Park boasts the largest man-made lake in North Carolina and hiking trails for every skill level—from less than a mile for beginners to more than 30 for serious hikers. The easy Dragonfly Trail has interactive panels giving information about the plants and animals found along the way. The 30.5-mile Itusi Trail is a series of loops ranging from one to almost 10 miles, so go as much or as little as you want.
McDowell Nature Preserve
There are seven miles to explore on this 1,116-acre preserve along the shores of Lake Wylie. The area is home to 119 species of birds and more than 50 other animals and reptiles. Keep an eye out for spotted salamanders, Seminole bats, and Loggerhead Shrikes, in addition to more common animals you'll likely encounter along the way. If you want to stay awhile, there are more than 50 campsites to rest in. For more hiking, trek over to Copperhead Island and take a tent—there are a few primitive campsites along the shore.
McAlpine Creek Park
Just over 450 acres, McAlpine Creek Park features a three-acre lake and a 1.5-mile nature trail. The greenway that runs through this park connects to trails in neighboring James Boyce Park, creating a 5.8-mile horseshoe trail through South Charlotte. Look for Great Blue Heron and bright orange Southern Skipperling butterflies on your trek. Bring your four legged best friend and visit the recreation department's first off-leash dog park.
Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve
There are more than 10 miles of hiking trails that meander through the 832-acre nature preserve and adjacent 125-acre park. As you explore, you'll find three lakes, open fields and pine and hardwood forests. Some of the trails are challenging, and one leads to the ruins of the Robinson Rockhouse, the remnants of a stone house built in the latter part of the 1700s. Take a rest stop at the Habitat Garden and feed the birds.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Mecklenburg County is in the process of building a greenway that will follow Little Sugar Creek and extend for 19 miles, beginning just north of uptown and extending to the South Carolina state line. Currently developed sections cover about six miles and connect several city parks, local attractions, shopping centers and business areas like medical complexes and community colleges. It offers gorgeous views of the city, as well as a chance to explore Charlotte on foot.
Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
Latta Plantation covers 1,343 acres and boasts 16 miles of trails to explore. The preserve offers a glimpse of what the area might have looked like before settlement, and features diverse landscapes like open fields and old wood forests. Hikes may take you past a restored Piedmont Prairie—an example of a prairie was once common in this area but is now almost gone. The prairie is home to federally endangered plants and a winter home for a variety of birds. After your hike, learn more about things you've seen on the trails in the Nature Center.