Charlotte, the Queen City of the South, is known to most as the second largest banking center in the country, headquarters to a slew of NASCAR racing teams, and as a much-lauded location that’s been building into a booming metropolis over the last two decades. But this southern city on the banks of the Catawba River is also a hospitable haven for anyone who loves the outdoors—and ending the day with a cold quaff of expertly crafted beer.
Charlotte is just about an hour from Crowders Mountain State Park--a 5,210 acre expanse that’s home to eleven hiking trails for hiking, a nine-mile lake for fishing and its namesake peak, which is prime for rock-climbing and bouldering. But few outdoor devotees realize that Charlotte holds plenty of great recreation spots, with activities as varied as mountain biking, whitewater rafting, climbing, hiking, and trail running. The bustling city’s bona-fides include 40 miles of creeks and streams, 50 miles of developed greenways, and 40 community and regional parks. And in sublime synchronicity—since many of us like to kick back with a few frosty beers after getting sweaty—Charlotte’s booming craft brew scene offers another highly compelling reason to visit. It’s easy to enjoy this time-honored tradition, since the city boasts a robust roster of both outdoor excellence and banging brews in close proximity.
The craft brewing scene in Charlotte has long been heating up. The city has over 60 craft breweries and cideries, several of which have gained acclaim. With five breweries in the Queen City returning from the Great American Beer Fest in Denver with six medals, you know that after working up a thirst in the crisp fall air, you’re gonna find a great quaff (or two) to fuel a good night. Read on for Charlotte’s prime spots to enjoy the outdoors along with some post-recreation relaxation.
Whitewater and Beers
The U.S. National Whitewater Center opened in 2006 on 1,300 acres along the Catawaba River as an Olympic Training Center for whitewater slalom racing, and now features over 40 miles of trails you can navigate by mountain biking, hiking, or running. Beyond rafting, you can try kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, deep water solo or rock climbing, ziplines, and ropes courses.
After an intense day on or near the water, a cold brew is essential. You won’t have to go far, as the Center has its own pub, the Pump House Biergarten. This chill pavilion offers around 60 craft beers on tap, tasty food, and the opportunity to watch rafters battle the rapids on the nearby Competition Channel.
Trails and Taps
A network of 280 miles of trails weaving through 15 counties and two states around North and South Carolina, multiple paths in the Carolina Thread Trail can be accessed in Charlotte. We like the Seven Oaks Preserve Trail, a jaunt around Lake Wylie that allows for running and mountain biking. The preserve is home to wild turkeys, eagles, osprey, kingfishers, and a unique oak tree species, the swamp chestnut oak, which produces large, sweet acorns. After exploring these 2.6 miles, branch off and check out the trails that connect to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, which hosts fall fests.
Head back over the Catawba River and into town for a treat at Wooden Robot Brewery. This spot now has two locations, but the connoisseurs’ consensus is to try the Good Morning Vietnam blonde ale (made with coffee and vanilla beans) and the What He’s Having IPA, whichever outpost you hit.
Park and Run
For trail runners, McAlpine Creek Park is a must. The 114-acre park, 20 minutes southeast of downtown, features a 5k championship cross-country course (created by coach Larry McAfee in the park behind his house during the ’70s) that hosts competitions. If a few laps on the natural surface course doesn’t tucker you out, outdoor amenities include an open air fitness center, bike trail, nature trail, 3-acre lake, fishing pier, and dog parks.
It’s a short hop up to Charlotte’s South End neighborhood, where you can sit for suds at Sycamore Brewing, with its huge outdoor space frequented by Friday food trucks, weekend brunchers and their canine companions. Go for the Mountain Candy IPA, double dry hopped with a hint of fruit and candy.
Camping and Cider
Fall is the time for camping and cider in the South. The heat breaks at the end of September and the apple harvest fuels new and interesting ciders. For camping just southwest of Charlotte on Lake Wylie, venture to McDowell Nature Center and Preserve. The preserve is the oldest in Mecklenburg County and has more than 1,100 acres open to exploring the 7 miles of trails and unique fauna like the spotted salamander, Gulf Coast spiny soft-shelled turtle, Seminole bat, and loggerhead shrike. Camp at 56 reservation-only sites, from tent spots to RV pads.
After a couple nights under the stars, head back to the southside of town and hit up Good Road Ciderworks. You can sip award-winners like Avogadro’s Trail and Blue Byway, or choose from the dozen or so other ciders and meads on draft.
Nature and NoDa
On the north side of town, head to Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve, pocked with ponds, forests, fields, and streams that can be experienced through 10+ miles of hiking trails. Highlights include an 18-hole disc golf course, rocky ruins of an 18th-century stone building, and three ponds open for fishing. Those wanting to learn more about the local flora and fauna can stop by the Nature Center, where the area’s unusual species—Kentucky warbler, broad-winged hawk, conjurer’s nut, and pale hickory—are described in detail.
After nature bathing, head back to the NoDa (North Davidson) ’hood for brews at NoDa Brewing Company. Besides the requisite order of Hop Drop ‘n Roll, which won gold in 2014, try out their craft spiked seltzer (on tap!) while you mull over plans for your next visit.