The Queen City offers her own enviable trails and lush tree canopy, but sometimes you need to get out of town and really immerse yourself in nature. Here’s a look at 10 great hikes within a two-hour drive of Uptown Charlotte. (Pro Tip: Weekdays are best for less-crowded park experiences.)
Kings Mountain, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 40 minutes Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
One of the closest hiking parks near Charlotte, the 1,705-foot Kings Pinnacle is a quick drive and, at 2 miles each way, a reasonable hike. From the Visitors Center follow the orange circle blazes. Don’t let the first mile or so fool you: It’s a peaceful, meandering trail through lowland hardwoods. To the summit, it’s much more strenuous up to a narrow ridge with great views. Fun Fact: Kings Pinnacle is the highest point in Gaston County. For a longer hike, try the Ridgeline Trail.
Troutman, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 45 minutes Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
The man-made Lake Norman, created by Duke Power Company (now Duke Energy) as part of a power project from 1959 to 1964, is the focal point of this popular Charlotte-area park. The company built the Cowans Ford Dam across the Catawba River to generate electrical energy, and the park, which formed in 1962, offers many nature-filled perks. For a scenic stroll around the lake’s beautiful shoreline, follow the white blazes (red blazes for a shortcut) for this 6.2-mile moderate Lake Shore Trail hike. For a much shorter, easy stroll, ideal for children, wheelchair, or stroller accessibility, the Dragonfly Trail is just .15 miles and paved. Along the way, nature displays with interactive panels teach walkers a bit about the plants and animals that make Lake Norman State Park home.
Albemarle, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 15 minutes Difficulty: Moderate
You’ll start at the parking lot at Lake Tillery to begin the 4.1-mile Fall Mountain Trail. The top of Fall Mountain offers great views of Lake Tillery and surrounding countryside when leaves are off the trees. The path, mostly natural and graveled, also throws in a couple of bridges and boulders for good measure. It’s best for adults, couples or families without small children. Once nearing the top of Fall Mountain, chestnut oaks, common in the Uwharrie Mountains, dominate the ridgelines. Keep your eyes peeled for a bald eagle or osprey!
Connelly Springs, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 20 minutes Difficulty: Strenuous
At South Mountains, the High Shoals Falls Loop crosses the Jacob Fork River and reaches the High Shoals Waterfall, just a mile from the parking lot. But don’t let the distance fool you: The trail leads to notorious steep steps and crosses the river again, before you get to the waterfall. Backpackers, or families with children may prefer the more approachable backside of the loop.
Troy, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 20 minutes Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Scoutmaster Joe Moffit was a trapper’s son from Asheboro. In 1972, he began blazing this trail to help his Boy Scouts earn their Eagle rank, hiking 50 miles. Catch the trail 10 miles west of Troy, on NC Highway 24/27 and walk the rocky terrain in short or long sections. The trail is marked with white blazes and crosses many access points along the 20-mile Uwharrie Trail or 11.5-mile Dutchman’s Creek Trail.
Pinnacle, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 30 minutes Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Known as “Jomeokee,” or “the Great Guide,” to the area’s early Saura (also known as the Cheraw) Indians, Pilot Mountain served as an unmistakable beacon and navigational landmark to guide Native Americans and European hunters traversing the area. Today, an extensive trail network includes the moderate, but short Kid’s Track Trail, with fun activities for children along the way, and easy access to the top of Little Pinnacle, where, on clear days, you’ll capture enviable Instagram pinnacle posts. The popular Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a 1,200-mile network of footpaths from the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina to the Outer Banks in the far east, passes through the Pilot Mountain State Park on three trails: Corridor, Mountain and Grindstone.
Looking for an alternative to the peak path? Follow the white triangle blazes of the 1.5-mile Yadkin Islands Trail to the banks of the Yadkin River.
Roaring Gap, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 30 minutes Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Not to be confused with the Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, North Carolina’s version is packed with day-hike experiences. More than 18 miles of trails surround the main focal point: a massive dome made of granite. You’ll happen upon Hutchinson Homestead, a restored mountain farm, along the 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail. Hikers can also choose to go to a waterfall or the summit without trekking the whole loop. Expansive grounds include plenty of pit stops for picnics.
Danbury, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 1 hour, 45 minutes Difficulty: Strenuous
Cascading waterfalls and gorgeous Piedmont scenery await at Hanging Rock State Park, a straight shot north of Charlotte, just before the Virginia state line. The park offers several varied hikes, including the Indian Creek Trail, the hike to Window Falls. This waterfall emerges from behind a natural “window” in the rock wall. Hikers can safely peek at the “window” from a railed overlook. Don’t let the length of this .6-mile hike fool you: It’s a strenuous path, but well worth the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north.
Chimney Rock, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 2 hours Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Hike up the Hickory Nut Falls Trail and find scenes familiar from the film The Last of the Mohicans. This 1.4-mile roundtrip moderate trail ends at the base of one of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. But this is hardly the only hike in the park. Chimney Rock is also known for its Exclamation Point hike at 2,480 feet, and the easy, child-friendly Great Woodland Adventure interpretive trail. There is an admission fee for the Chimney Rock access. Find four free trails at Rumbling Bald access, Eagle Rock Reserved Parking Area, and in the Chimney Rock Village.
Linville Falls, NC Travel time from Uptown Charlotte: 2 hours Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Linville Falls, located in the lush Pisgah National Forest, is one of the most impressive waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway. For wow-worthy views of the iconic falls, take the moderate Erwins View Trail or the Strenuous Linville Gorge Trail. The wide footpaths here are great for families with kids. Spend a few hours along the area’s 39 miles of trails, and you’ll find that there’s more to explore for your next visit. For the best views and the least amount of crowds, avoid the weekends.