Four nature preserves and sanctuaries within 15 miles of SouthPark
by Katie Toussaint
photographs courtesy Wildlands Engineering/Art Howard
The average American spends 90% of their time inside. It’s easy to do – we get caught up working, running errands, cooking, caring for our families. Even when we’re out and about this time of year, it’s just too tempting to get cozy somewhere inside. Summit Coffee slings hard-to-resist hot drinks in its bright shop. Legion Brewing’s wood-fired grill beckons with its open-kitchen blaze. Even the SouthPark Regional Library, with its dry scent of books and snug reading nooks, quietly draws you in.
But getting outside can do us so much good. According to the USDA Forest Service, green spaces can help lower the risk of depression while speeding up recovery from psychological stress. Studies have also indicated that natural outdoor environments spark more motivation to move.
While SouthPark is a mecca for dining, drinking and shopping, the neighborhood is surprisingly close to natural gems. You just have to know where to look. Here are four Charlotte nature preserves and sanctuaries within 15 miles of SouthPark that you can visit for free.
Whether you’re looking for a peaceful respite or a rush of excitement, it’s easy to find. Bundle up and get outside this season – nature’s not far off.
Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary
Location: 222 Wyanoke Ave.
Distance from SouthPark: ~5.5 miles
Best for: A quiet, peaceful stroll
Follow Chantilly Park’s main walk and you’ll reach a point where it narrows and curves through tall shrubs and grasses. Keep going — the thin, dirt-and-grass path loops through the Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary at Briar Creek. This swath of land, previously home to apartment complexes that were prone to flooding, has been enhanced and restored, improving water quality, floodplain function, and habitats for wetland and aquatic wildlife.
A wet pond was added to the prairie-like atmosphere to capture stormwater runoff from the area — you can cross a couple of added bridges for easy exploring. Take the time to wind around the whole sanctuary for a good 1.5-mile walk.
Evergreen Nature Preserve
Location: 1336 Norland Rd.
Distance from SouthPark: ~6 miles
Best for: A short, easy hike
With a small trail system that loops for about 2 miles, Evergreen Nature Preserve offers a quick escape from the city. This easy-to-overlook oasis near Sharon Amity Road is a heavily wooded stretch across 77 acres that features native canopy trees.
Peaceful and unchallenging terrain is ideal for both joggers and walkers, with the main Evergreen Trail branching into additional short trails. If you’re in observation mode, you just might see a little fairy land set up at the base of a tree. Walking an older dog or prefer sidewalk under your feet? The quarter-mile Norland Loop trail is a paved walkway that offers a curving burst of foliage.
Reedy Creek Nature Preserve
Location: 2900 Rocky River Rd.
Distance from SouthPark: ~13 miles
Best for: Trail running or a long hike
Welcome to a trail runner’s dream. More than 10 miles of trails cut through this preserve, which protects 927 acres of forested habitat along the Reedy Creek floodplain. Highlights include a nature center with educational programming, an 18-hole disc golf course and the largest dog park in the city: Barkingham Park.
A network of trails loops throughout the preserve with a range of terrains. For a complete escape from city sounds, make your way around the Sierra Trail. You’ll cut through thickets of trees and tall grasses. A short detour leads to the ruins of the Robinson Rock House, built in the late 1700s. The preserve is a habitat for more than 100 species of birds, including the Kentucky warbler and the broad-winged hawk. Be sure to pause on one of the bridges over the creek and take it all in.
McDowell Nature Preserve
Location: 15222 South York Rd.
Distance from SouthPark: ~15 miles
Best for: Lake views and adventures
As the oldest preserve in Mecklenburg County, McDowell Nature Preserve protects 1,132 acres of forested land. The preserve is home to a nature center, 8 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty and dozens of campsites you can reserve. Follow the .8-mile Cove Trail to take in the shore and cove. Pause at the waterfront deck overlooking Lake Wylie, the ideal observation spot for wildlife from great blue herons to belted kingfishers.
For adventurers, nature center manager Melissa O’Lenick shares that visitors can borrow free equipment like backpacks with gear to explore nature, binoculars and GPS units for geocaching. The nature center also offers guided hikes, kayaking, archery, stream explorations and live animal encounters for free or low costs. SP