Charlotte's Natural Riches
The perfect daytrip may require the trendiest new convertible, but just about any old wheels will eventually transport you to 32,500-acre Lake Norman, some 35 miles north of Charlotte on I-77. North Carolina's largest lake, it was formed in the sixties when Duke Power Company dammed the Catawba River. Fortunately, the benevolent company that flooded the valley also gifted a parcel of land that now forms Lake Norman State Park. Thirteen of the lakes 520 miles of shoreline are located within the park, a pocket of land protected from the spoils of over-development. To avoid lake-bound weekend traffic, why not take a day off mid-weekjust remember to pack a picnic and bring your swimwear.
The park can be accessed from Exit 42 off I-77. Once you have arrived, make for the trailhead of the 6.5-mile Lakeshore Trail (located at the parking area of the family campground), a moderately strenuous route running alongside Hicks Creek and the peninsula jutting into Lake Norman. After your days hike, cool off in the swimming area at the trailhead to the short Alder Trail, nestled at the foot of the dam that holds back the waters of the Catawba. Just remember to spare a thoughta short onefor your colleagues still hard at work.
Lake Norman State Park: www.ils.unc.edu/parkproject/visit/lano/home.html; (704) 528-6350
Lake Norman CVB: www.lakenorman.org; (704) 892-1922
Charlotte CVB: http://charlottecvb.org; (800) 231-4636
Only 25 miles west of Charlotte on I-87, Crowders Mountain State Park makes for either a sweet daytrip or easy overnighter. Topped by Kings Pinnacle (1,705 feet) and Crowders Mountain (1,625 feet), this 5,000-acre park is a favorite hangout of local rock climbers, who come to scale Crowders Mountains sheer vertical cliffs. While not towering in terms of elevation, the two peaks rise some 800 feet above the surrounding Piedmont countryside, affording breathtaking views for the hard-breathing hiker or climber.
The two mountains span a saddle of land that is criss-crossed with miles of hiking trails. Stop at the park office and pick up your camp permit ($8 per site) and trail map en route to one of two secluded backcountry campsites. After youve pitched your tent, take a daypack and tackle Kings Pinnacle, located at the end of the strenuous Pinnacle Trail. This hike will be less crowded than that on neighboring Crowders Mountain, but the views are no less spectacular.
The next morning, backtrack northeast towards the summit of nearby Crowders Mountain, located on a loop combining the Crowders, Backside, and Rocktop Trails. The less hardy (and perhaps wiser) backpacker may wish to jettison extra weight such as tent and sleeping bag by detouring to the parks main car park. Having done so, continue to follow Crowders Trail, which will eventually join the Backside Trail and loop around to the summit. The ascent is relatively steep, but the trails are well marked and easily accessible. Once at the summit, gaze eastward to the clustered skyline of downtown Charlotteand breath a deep sigh of relief that you still have the journey down to savor before returning home.
Crowder's Mountain State Park: www.ils.unc.edu/parkproject/visit/crmo/home.html; (704) 853-5375
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication