Our series of articles about getting outside in the Charlotte area to be active on the Carolina Thread Trail network and Catawba River is presented in partnership with local orthopedic-care provider OrthoCarolina.
We’ve put together a list of the 10 best trails in the Charlotte-area, each one a part of the vast Carolina Thread Trail, and each one featuring its own unique activities. We’ve also included some safety tips from the experts at OrthoCarolina to help ensure you’re in tip-top shape to get back out there and visit other spots on the list.
Now that we’ve all experienced what life is like when all of our favorite indoor hangouts or exercise spots are closed for business, one thing that should be clear to anyone who didn’t already know is the value of a good hiking trail.
Luckily, Charlotte residents have the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of connected greenways, trails and blueways that reaches 15 counties and two states, and serves 2.9 million people. The Carolina Thread Trail consists of more than 300 miles of trails and 170 miles of blueway that are all open to the public.
And with more than 1,300 miles still to be built, there will be no shortage of great trails to wander and explore in the Charlotte area for years to come. The best part: These aren’t just hiking trails. There are myriad activities to try out, with each trail in the network offering up different opportunities for fun.
Uses & Features: Mountain Biking, Hiking, Suspension Bridge, Water View
Start your journey at Walnut Creek Park in Lancaster, SC, and head north on the natural-surface path and across a bevy of bridges and boardwalks before ending at a 170-foot suspension bridge that marks the border with North Carolina near Charlotte. The bridge will eventually connect the trail to the Twelve Mile Creek Greenway in Waxhaw, continuing the trail.
Trail Distance: 3.7 miles
Trail Parking: 10521 Walnut Creek Parkway, Lancaster, SC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “Make sure to properly fuel for your outdoor adventure. Carbs are your friend for high-intensity activities like mountain biking and trail running. Underfueling can lead to feeling fatigued, sore and weak more quickly.”
Uses & Features: Mountain Biking, Hiking, Historic
This trail is ADA-compliant, allowing more folks to get out and enjoy some of the historic aspects of Kings Mountain, NC. The trailhead is accessible from downtown via sidewalk, and connects to three extra miles of trails beyond the five trails that are officially designated Carolina Thread Trail. This trail is planned to connect to not only downtown Kings Mountain, but to Crowders Mountain State Park, Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Trail Distance: 5 miles
Trail Parking: 807 S. Battleground Avenue, Kings Mountain, NC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “It only takes 10 minutes to start reaping the positive effects of a bike ride and by the time 60 minutes passes, you’ll feel more alert, less stressed and will have lowered your risk of heart disease.” – William L. Craig III, MD, OrthoCarolina Winston-Salem; J. Ryan Martin, MD, OrthoCarolina Blakeney & Matthews
Uses & Features: Hiking, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Water Views
This one is hard to beat in terms of just outright natural beauty, as the natural-surface trail meanders along the shoreline of Lake Wylie and is located on 78 acres of preserved land managed by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. The trail also connects to other trails at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, including two segments at either end of the trail that create a 5-mile loop from the trailhead. It’s also part of the Butterfly Highway, a statewide conservation restoration initiative that aims to restore native pollinator habitats to areas impacted by urbanization, land use change and agriculture across North Carolina.
Trail Distance: 2.6 miles
Trail Parking: 6900 S. New Hope Road, Belmont, NC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “Drinking water is the best way to keep your body hydrated, especially in the summer heat when you’re likely to be sweating more. Excess sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeine found in most sports drinks can actually cause dehydration.” -Chris Gabriel, PT, OCS, CSCS, OrthoCarolina Sports Training Center
Uses & Features: Water Views, Water Access
If you’re looking to get all your steps in for the day, or even do some mild hiking, this is not for you. In fact, it’s not even a trail as much a chill spot to watch the boats take off and pass you by. Of course, that also opens up opportunities to do some water activities of your own — maybe launch a kayak or give stand-up paddleboarding a try. If not, grab a snack from the nearby concession stand and enjoy the view, framed by towering pine and maple trees.
Trail Distance: 0.2 miles
Trail Parking: 15901 NC Highway 73, Huntersville, NC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “To avoid the aches and pains of a repetitive motion like paddling a boat, focus on strengthening your core and staying flexible. Next time you’re in the gym, try back and abdominal work on a Swill ball. The ball’s instability will help you develop strength needed for balance.” -Bill Heisel, PA-C, OrthoCarolina Concord & Huntersville
Uses & Features: Horseback Riding, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Historic
There’s no guarantee you’ll see wildlife, per se, on this trail, but there’s a great chance you’ll scope out some goats, horses and donkeys along the way. Hell, you can even bring your own horse with you, as you cross Steele Creek to eventually reach the Dairy Barn, an iconic landmark of the Anne Springs Close Greenway.
Trail Distance: 1.4 miles
Trail Parking: 2573 Lake Haigler Drive, Fort Mill, SC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “In the summer heat, the largest danger of hiking is becoming overheated. Before you hit the trail, make sure you’re prepared for the elements. Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen and a hat, dress in lightweight clothing and supportive shoes and take breaks whenever you need to.” – Gary Schneider, PT, DPT, OrthoCarolina Lake Norman Physical & Hand Therapy
Uses & Features: Hiking, Historic
The Catawba Indian Nation has resided in the area surrounding the Catawba River since 5000 B.C., so put some respect on it. Don’t ride when it’s muddy and be mindful about the impact your hikes have on wet conditions. There are three trails on this reservation that connect to each other. Our recommended route: Start at the trailhead behind the Cultural Center, called the Cultural Center Trail or the Yehasuri Trail, which will bring you down to the river after a little over half-a-mile. The trail features interpretive signage about the importance of the land to the tribe’s culture, as well as a Catawba dwelling, a bark house, dugout trees, story circle and active archeological dig. Take a left when you reach the river to get to the Catawba Indian Nation Greenway Trail.
Trail Distance: 2.5 miles
Trail Parking: 996 Avenue of the Nations, Rock Hill, SC
OrthoCarolina Tip: Hiking puts pressure on your back, core and lower extremities. Practicing exercises that build strength in those areas can improve your hiking experience. Men in particular should focus on hip-strengthening exercises, as the hips tend to be weaker or overlooked during workouts.
Uses & Features: Hiking, Water Views, Historic
Another trail that traces the Catawba River near Charlotte, specifically the rocky outcroppings that are home to the largest known population of rocky shoals spider lilies, listed as a national species of concern in the U.S. and designated as an endangered species in some places. Most of this trail is within 10 feet of the Catawba’s banks, making for a fragrant walk in the summer and beautiful walk year-round.
Trail Distance: 1.5 miles
Trail Parking: 2051 Park Drive in Catawba, SC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “Tight muscles can lead to cramps, muscle-tissue tears and forces on the joints that cause aching pain. Warm up with dynamic stretches that mimic the activity you’re about to perform to reduce your risk of pulling a muscle.” – Jessica Sabourin, PTA, OrthoCarolina Matthews Physical & Hand Therapy
Uses & Features: Hiking, Biking, Water Views
No, this trail does not take you through the hallways of a hospital, but along the banks of the Catawba River, beginning at Pump House, a popular Rock Hill restaurant where you can fuel up before your trip. The Carolina Thread Trail trail is connected to all sorts of others through Rock Hill’s trail and greenway system, so don’t feel limited by the relatively short distance listed below if you’re on a bike.
Trail Distance: 2.5 miles
Trail Parking: 575 Herrons Ferry Road, Rock Hill, SC
OrthoCarolina Tip: Shorten your stride when trail running. A shorter stride and slower tempo will allow you to make quick shifts as terrain changes. There’s a lot of lateral movement in trail running that you don’t see on paved roadways.
Uses & Features: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Water Views
This combination of natural surface and crushed gravel trail is located on the 324-acre Rhyne Preserve and provides nice terraced views of the South Fork of the Catawba River. The preserve provides an important habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife species, and this short trail packs in a ton of nature, including mature floodplain forests along the South Fork Catawba River, a bald cypress swamp, rock outcrops and lovely wildflowers. Also check out the historic Laboratory Mill across the South Fork River. Now an event venue, the site operated as Lincolnton Cotton Factory from 1819-1863.
Trail Distance: 1.8 miles
Trail Parking: 2677 Laboratory Road, Lincolnton, NC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “If you find yourself injured after an outdoor adventure, it’s best to treat the injured area with ice first. This will constrict the blood vessels to help prevent inflammation. We recommend icing for 20 minutes on, and at least 30 minutes off.” – Kristi Wheeler, PA-C, OrthoCarolina Hand Center
Uses & Features: Hiking, Mountain biking, Horseback Riding
Seen everything you need to see and learned everything you need to learn about the Catawba River? Head southeast to Cane Creek Park in Union County, where you can grab a map to help navigate the multiple trails. That includes a CTT section that’s home to Schweinitz’s sunflowers, an endangered fall-blooming plant. Beyond the trails, Cane Creek Park offers more than a dozen activities including fishing, mini golf, biking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, an amphitheater, disc golf, a lake swimming area and a rock-climbing wall.
Trail Distance: 1.6 miles
Trail Parking: 5213 Harkey Rd, Waxhaw, NC
OrthoCarolina Tip: “Delayed muscle onset soreness (DOMS) typically occurs within 12 hours of physical activity but is normally not felt until 24 to 48 hours afterward. The best way to relieve that pain and stiffness? Movement! Even an activity as simple as a walk can increase circulation and help reduce inflammation.” – Mike Magalski, PT, OrthoCarolina South Park Physical & Hand Therapy
And there you have it: Ten reasons to get outside on the trails in Charlotte while the weather’s still nice. Plus, all the reasons in the world to stay safe while you do it.