Every season brings more opportunities for outdoor adventure in North Carolina’s largest city. Adventure-seekers and multisport fanatics are moving to Charlotte in droves for abundant sunshine, year-round mild temps, mountains, lakes, and a fresh, local food scene that’s bursting with new options. The Queen City delivers with our sunrise to sunset guide to the best paddling, running, biking, noshing, and chilling in the Piedmont.
Coffee & Crepes
Nothing flatters the chefs at Crispy Crepe more than when you ask for a to-go box, which makes it the perfect place for a major fuel-up to start your day. The platter-sized crepes have that feather-light texture and are filled to overflowing with inventive savory combinations like smoked salmon with herb goat cheese and avocado BLT, or sweet fillings like Nutella banana and maple crunch cheesecake. Brioche-style Liege waffles are made with imported pearl sugar and caramelized to sweet, crunchy perfection. Coffee is custom-blended, with notes of fudge, baked pear, and pecan. The signature cookie butter latte (which you can order alongside your cookie butter crepe) is a frothy, spiced wake-up call of crushed Belgian biscuits.
Run the Downtown Loop
Connect Charlotte’s greenways on a 9-mile loop through uptown for a preview of the 30-mile trail network that will expand throughout the Queen City over the next few years. Record your dreams on South End’s "Before I Die" Chalkboard along the 4.5-mile Rail Trail. Arriving at the corner of South Tryon and MLK Boulevard, the triangle-topped Duke Energy tower is your landmark to head east past Panthers Stadium and through Romare Bearden Park and Fourth Ward. At 7th Street, cut east across downtown to Elizabeth Park and pick up the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to Freedom Park. Close the loop with a run past the Victorian cottages and Craftsman bungalows along East Boulevard in Historic Dilworth, originally a streetcar line through Charlotte’s first suburb.
Happiness in a Noodle Bowl
Pick a sunny table on the patio at Futo Buta, the Queen City’s favorite ramen house. People-watching peaks at lunch with dog walkers and joggers on the adjacent Rail Trail, and commuters passing on the light rail line. Futo Buta’s third-generation chef, Michael Shortino, infuses his Japanese menu with Southern style, serving up low country smoked pork belly buns, tori kara-age (Japanese fried chicken), and eight or more bountiful and locally-sourced ramen bowls. Choose your beverage from their lengthy sake list, or indulge in a pint from the list of South End’s microbreweries on the menu. Leave room for amani, slushy-like soft-serve in surprisingly satisfying flavors like fruity pebbles and black sesame.
Afternoon Sports Sampler
Pack your afternoon with as many sports as you can take with a day pass at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Pick up a rental bike at the mountain bike center and warm up with a few laps on more than 40 miles of beginner to expert singletrack. Next, don helmet, paddle, and PFD for whitewater rafting on three man-made river channels (think ski slope with Class II-III rapids instead of snow). Don’t equate man-made with easy; this is no lazy river. Be prepared for serious drops, strenuous paddling, and the very real possibility you might come out of the boat during your trip.
Dry off and gather your courage over small plates at the River’s Edge Bar & Grill, then it’s on to the high adventure course’s 60- to 100-foot-high platforms, 200- to 1,600-foot ziplines, and challenges like ladders, aerial bridges, and tightropes. The course is two stories above ground, giving you a completely different perspective on the 1,300-acre park. If you’ve got anything left in the tank after that, top-rope climb on one of the Southeast’s largest outdoor climbing walls or solo climb the center’s five spires overhanging a 20-foot-deep pool. Climbers push to the top, free-fall into the pool, and climb again on Deep Water Solo’s beginner to expert routes.
Happy Hour in the Park
You’ve earned a little chill time, so head back downtown to Freedom Park for a stroll around the lake. Pick a spot on the lawn to watch the parade of joggers, power walkers and cyclists grabbing that last bit of daylight, then head over to the patio at Zeppelin, South End’s new speakeasy, for handcrafted cocktails like the lemongrass-infused Fogle Fizz or their signature mojito, featuring Muddy River Distillery’s Queen Charlotte Reserve rum. The combination of creative small plates like lobster avocado toast or yellowtail crudo, and the sunset’s golden reflection on the Charlotte skyline from the patio, is the perfect setting to end a perfect day.
Reserve your campsite at McDowell Nature Preserve, an unexpected waterfront escape just minutes away from downtown. Pitch your tent at one of the preserve’s forested primitive sites, or reserve a site with the comforts of home—electricity, water, picnic table, fire ring, and a move-in-ready tent. Light up the campfire, listen to calm waters lapping the lakeshore, and congratulate yourself on the day’s accomplishments.
Sunrise on the Lake
Put the finishing touches on your Charlotte adventure with an awe-inspiring wake up call. Rise early and launch your kayak or SUP board from the shores of the preserve into the placid waters of Lake Wylie. A boat launch off Copperhead Island puts some distance between you and the shoreline to watch the crimson shades of first light over the Piedmont. You’ll have the lake all to yourself, save a few herons and egrets savoring the early morning calm with you.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.