Four scenic day hikes make getting off the couch more enticing than ever.
by Michael J. Solender
Springtime in the Carolinas is prime season to explore nature’s best, and the Charlotte region is home to abundant hiking trails and nearby state and national parks, many within an easy 90-minute drive. SouthPark recently caught up with south Charlotte resident and avid hiker Steve Copulsky to get his take on four area hikes that are sometimes overlooked by locals. Copulsky is the former North Carolina chapter chair of the Sierra Club, a national advocacy group supporting preservation and protection of the environment. Copulsky hikes extensively throughout the Carolinas and routinely leads group hikes through the Sierra Club’s local chapter. Copulsky recommends these four lesser-explored regional gems, each offering unique charms to visitors looking to enjoy the wilderness (almost) right in their own backyard.
Browns Mountain Trail near Clover, S.C., leads Copulsky’s list of nearby day hikes. A quieter alternative to Crowders Mountain State Park, the 2.5-mile trail (5 miles round trip) is part of a 16-mile grouping at Kings Mountain National Military Park and neighboring Kings Mountain State Park. Today, hikers exploring the national park can soak in a bit of history with their trek, stopping first at the visitor’s center where exhibits and a film share the area’s backstory highlighting a significant 1780 Revolutionary War battle.
“The area is not as well-known for hiking as it is for the military park and battlefield,” Copulsky says. Many visitors aren’t aware of the wonderful back-country trails. One interesting feature is the top of Browns Mountain had a fire lookout tower many years ago. Though the tower no longer exists, you can see the base where it stood. I like the solitude here. It’s rare to see other hikers.”
Though widely known to many area residents, Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, S.C., doesn’t receive enough credit for the beauty and diversity of its hiking trails, Copulsky says. Hikers of all skill levels can find trails to match their abilities at ASCG. The 2,100-plus-acre greenway has three main entrances, notably the historic Dairy Barn entrance off Springfield Parkway, and a 36-mile trail system.
“People think of the greenway as a linear trail like Little Sugar Creek in Mecklenburg County,” Copulsky says. “It is really a nature preserve with trails throughout, including equestrian, biking and hiking trails. I especially like to lead hikes there around Lake Haigler combining several of the loops into a really nice 6-mile round trip.” Copulsky particularly likes the three swinging footbridges on the hike. “They’re made from wooden slats and sway a bit when crossed. It’s a fun part of the hike, especially for children.”
Stone Mountain State Park is a bit farther afield from Charlotte, northwest of Elkin in Roaring Gap. It’s well worth the 90-minute drive, according to Copulsky, as the park has an unusual geological feature of a 600-foot granite dome affording stunning views from the top.
“I lead a fairly strenuous hike that begins with an ascent to the top of the dome, and then it’s all downhill from there. After the climb, it’s a pretty easy hike, and there is a wonderful and dramatic waterfall — one of many in the park — and a nice walk through the woods.”
For those looking for easier hikes, there are 18 miles of well-marked trails, many offering gentler treks than a full climb up the dome. Aside from hiking, the park — nearly 14,000 acres stretching across Wilkes and Alleghany counties — also has designated trout streams, picnic areas, family campsites and rock climbing.
South Mountains State Park is well-known for its High Shoals Falls, Copulsky says, referencing the majestic 80-foot waterfall accessed by a 2.7-mile loop trail. “It’s only about a mile out [from the trailhead] and gets pretty busy,” he says. Instead, Copulsky likes to lead hikes out on the Chestnut Knob Trail. “Many people aren’t aware of this hike. It’s a trail that’s about 4 miles round trip and has a great view of the Chestnut Knob and an opportunity to get away from the crowd.”
Only 70 miles from Charlotte, South Mountains State Park is in Burke County, near the town of Connelly Springs and just south of Morganton. It’s known as one of the state’s most rugged parks with some rough and rocky terrain. The hiking trails, however, are well-cleared, well-marked and reward visitors with a great workout and superb views.
“Hiking is such a great activity to get outside and experience nature,” Copulsky says. “Whether you go out by yourself for some solitude, or you hike with family and friends, a day hike is as easy as getting off the couch, lacing up your shoes and taking off for the trail.” SP