Learn how Charlotte's lakes, rivers and nature preserves help enhance the region's quality of life.
Charlotte USA’s strategic location between the mountains and the coast certainly add to the region’s appeal. But relocating families will be pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of recreation options right in their own backyard.
“The fact that we’re three hours from the mountains and two hours from the beach is certainly going to appeal to people who enjoy the outdoors,” says Eric Osterhus, communications and brand manager for the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. “But having the Catawba River right in our back yard is a phenomenal resource. I think of it as Charlotte’s best kept secret.”
The center, which is adjacent to the Catawba River, boasts the largest whitewater man-made recirculating river in the world, with about 12 million gallons of water. In addition to whitewater rafting, the center offers 31 water- and land-based activities, including kayaking and paddle boarding. The center also features a ropes course, ziplines, rock climbing and a 35-mile trail system.
“The center is a place where people can go running on the trails or learn how to kayak or how to paddle. It’s enhancing the quality of life by providing this infrastructure that allows Charlotteans to engage in the outdoor lifestyle in a way they otherwise wouldn’t be able to on a day-to-day basis right here in their back yard,” Osterhus says.
Another of the Queen City’s crown jewels is Lake Norman, a 50-square-mile oasis often dubbed North Carolina’s “inland sea.” The lake itself boasts 520 miles of shoreline offering adventure in and out of the water – from boating, water skiing, wake boarding and paddle boarding to birding, world-class fishing, swimming or relaxing at one of six waterfront parks.
“No matter what the age demographic, there is truly something for everyone,” says Sally Ashworth, executive director of Visit Lake Norman. “Whether it’s Discovery Place Kids or the incredible educational experience at the Carolina Raptor Center, Lake Norman has activities that will captivate a child’s mind. For the older demographic, we have Historic Latta Plantation, the unique shopping/entertainment experience at Birkdale Village or the burgeoning craft brewery scene that continues to explode in Lake Norman.”
Ashworth says Lake Norman has evolved into a multifaceted recreation and entertainment region, attracting not only residents but also visitors from around the world.
“Not only does the lake generate immense energy power for the region, but it also serves as an economic engine with regards to tourism and visitor spending whether via the numerous national fishing tournaments or lakefront festivals that bring visitors to the lake from across the globe,” Ashworth says.
The region is touched by the Carolina Thread Trail, a network of 1,500 miles of walk/hike/bike trails, greenways and blueways that spans the state. Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County offers magnificent views for adventurous hikers from its 1,625-foot summit. Latta Plantation Nature Center and Nature Preserve in Huntersville also features 16 miles of nature trails, 13 miles of which allow guided horseback riding through the Latta Equestrian Center. The property, anchored by Mount Island Lake, a popular spot for fishing, canoeing and kayaking, offers the region’s residents a 1,300-acre natural playground just 20 miles north of uptown Charlotte.
Latta is home to the Carolina Raptor Center, which rehabilitates and releases injured birds. The center houses about 25 species of raptors, and opens its property to visitors and school groups throughout the week. The nature center runs summer camps and educational programs for schools throughout the year. Chris Matthews, division director, nature preserves and natural resources for Latta Plantation, says Latta is one of the state’s most visited nature preserves, hosting 350,000 people each year. The preserve’s proximity to the city adds to its popularity.
“Latta is one of these kind of places where you can go there and you don’t feel like you’re in the city, and it’s really not that far away. It’s kind of a special place that gives people an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of it all without having to drive far,” Matthews says. “Mecklenburg County is going to be almost entirely built out in the next 15 years. Having these large areas of open space for people to go out and learn about and enjoy nature is really important.”