The wanderlust is real — spring is here, and we’re itching to get out of the house and go, well, anywhere. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up a list of locales within driving distance — less than two hours from Charlotte — ideal for day trips where social distancing can be safely practiced. Choose your own adventure: From a leisurely float down the river to a zip-line excursion that will get your heart pumping, there’s something for every adrenaline level.
Ninety miles west of Charlotte off Interstate 26 is the charming town of Saluda. Popular among road cyclists, Saluda, with its quaint downtown, offers plenty of options for adventure seekers. The Gorge is a 1.25-mile guided zip line canopy tour that claims to be the steepest and fastest in the U.S. The course consists of 11 ziplines and offers breathtaking views of the Green River Gorge. Sarah Bell opened The Gorge and Green River Adventures, which runs guided kayak trips, rappelling excursions and more, with her husband Tim after several years working for an adventure travel business in Costa Rica and running an outdoor-education program for children in Vermont. The Gorge is open seven days a week and costs $105 per person (group discounts are available). Green River Adventures opens for the season May 1; costs vary. saluda.com, thegorgezipline.com, greenriveradventures.com
South Fork Catawba River Blueway
For a milder paddling adventure, just west of Charlotte in Gaston County you’ll find the South Fork Catawba River Blueway, an 8.4-mile route that runs from South Fork River Park in Spencer Mountain through the former textile-mill towns of McAdenville and Cramerton to Riverside Park. If you don’t have your own equipment, The Floating Goat at Floyd & Blackie’s Coffeehouse in downtown Cramerton rents canoes and kayaks and is a great spot to grab ice cream after a day on the river.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
Let’s face it, it’s impossible to talk about outdoor activities in Charlotte without mentioning the Whitewater Center. Though whitewater rafting is the main attraction here, the 1,300-acre center in the far west corner of the city is also a haven for biking, ropes courses, ziplines, rock climbing, and kayaking and paddleboarding on the Catawba River. The River’s Edge with its sprawling patio offers guests a spot to kick back with a cold beer and nachos, a burger or a hearty salad after the day’s adventures. The Pump House Biergarten has up to 60 beers on tap and a smaller food menu. All access day passes are $59 for adults and $49 for youth age 9 and under; prices for single activity passes vary. The center is open seven days a week. usnwc.org
Just 20 miles north of uptown is North Carolina’s largest man-made lake perfect for boating, paddleboarding or simply relaxing by the water. If you don’t have a boat of your own — or a friend who does — several places including Carolina Boat Rentals have pontoon boats, sailboats, kayaks and jet skis available for rent. Lake Norman State Park has a beach for swimming, a boat ramp and trails for hiking and mountain biking. The smaller Jetton Park in Cornelius has a 1.5-mile walking trail, playgrounds and a small beach for relaxing, and Ramsey Creek Park is a 43-acre waterfront recreation area with swimming and a boat launch. Take a midday lunch break at Port City Club, Hello, Sailor, Eddie’s or North Harbor Club for dockside drinks and eats, or stop by King Canary Brewing Co. in Mooresville for a Southern Migration — a refreshing witbier with a fruity twist. visitlakenorman.org
Anne Springs Close Greenway
This nature preserve just south of Pineville (about 25 minutes from uptown Charlotte) celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Sprawling across 2,100 acres in York County, S.C., there are 36 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding and a 28-acre lake for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (rentals start in June). The Gateway Canteen opened in 2019, serving salads, sandwiches, tacos, beer and wine with plenty of outdoor seating for a post-workout pick-me-up. At press time, the greenway was open to members and visitors Monday-Thursday and members only Friday-Sunday from 7 a.m. to sunset — check for updates before heading out. Day passes are $6; annual memberships cost $60 for individuals and $120 for families. ascgreenway.org
Stone Mountain State Park
Ninety minutes northwest of the Queen City is Stone Mountain State Park, known for its massive 600-foot granite dome rewarding hikers who make it to the top with expansive views of the area. Covering nearly 14,000 acres in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, the park in Roaring Gap has 18 miles of hiking trails ranging from a half-mile waterfall hike to a more strenuous segment of the Mountains to Sea Trail; more than 20 miles of trout streams for fishing; and expansive picnic facilities. Rock climbing is allowed by permit only. ncparks.gov
South Mountains State Park
Just 70 miles from the Queen City, South Mountains State Park in Burke County offers more than 40 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 2.7-mile High Shoals Falls loop. For a less crowded alternative, try the 4.2-mile Chestnut Knob Trail, a strenuous hike that offers views of the falls and the South Mountains range from the top. Other park activities include fishing and mountain biking. ncparks.gov
The North Carolina Zoo
Covering 2,600 wooded acres in central North Carolina — about 75 miles northeast of Charlotte — the North Carolina Zoo is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. The animals here have a bit more room to roam than at traditional city zoos, so wear your walking shoes and plan to make a day of it. The zoo houses more than 1,800 animals native to Africa and North America, from giraffes and gazelles to polar bears and ring-tailed lemurs. Tickets are $15 for adults and $11 for children 2-12. At press time, advance reservations were required. nczoo.org SP
Top photo: Sydney Farris photographed by Olly Yung on location at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, S.C. Styling and production by Whitley Adkins; hair and makeup by Elizabeth Tolley; photography assistant Victoria Pinson. Aish Shalini top from Five One Five, $200; Eugenia Kim hat and Kristin Hayes Jewelry wishbone earrings, stylist’s own. Vintage 1979 International Harvester Scout II courtesy of Trudi Norris.