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Best Hiking Trails in Charlotte, NC (Rustic Hikes To Urban Trails)

Explore the best hiking trails in Charlotte, NC, from rustic forest paths to scenic urban routes, perfect for all levels of hikers and outdoor lovers.

Tobi Miles
July 1, 2022
Best Hiking Trails in Charlotte, NC (Rustic Hikes To Urban Trails)

North Carolina is a state full of beautiful mountains and stunning views. It shouldn't come as a surprise that there are a wide array of hiking trails around the major city of Charlotte. Whether you have young kids or you're an avid solo hiker, there are trails suitable for any level of experience.

Charlotte has many nearby state and county parks that offer endless miles of hiking opportunities for both residents and tourists. You'll discover urban city trails, as well as rustic hikes through the densely wooded forests. You'll come across waterfalls, abandoned homesteads, and many species of wildlife if you move quietly and keep your eyes peeled.

If you're searching for the perfect hiking trail, you'll find many of the more popular options below. The routes range from easy to challenging and include everything in between, making them varied enough for any type of hiker.

1. Colonel Francis Beatty Park Loop

This hiking loop provides the opportunity to not only explore nature from the trail but to go fishing and birdwatching as well. With sections of the trail partially paved, you can access part of the path by wheelchair.

During the heat of the summer, the park provides plenty of shade. Hikers will be thankful for the relief from the sun. There's a lake in the middle of the loop and a few streams that meander along the main path.

If you have younger kids, they could certainly handle this trail. There isn't much in the way of elevation gain and dogs must be kept on leashes. The park keeps the trails well maintained.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 4.3 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 223 Feet

2. Whitewater Center Lake Loop

Credit: Dorian Barrier / AllTrails

You're sure to see a lot of mountain bikers along this loop and it's recommended that you give them the right of way. The path is large enough for everyone to space out and you can easily find a spot for a quiet moment of solitude on your hike.

If you're thinking about making this hike after it has just rained, you should grab some duck boots because there are going to be areas of mud. Overall, there is a good deal of shade and you can enjoy your hike without worrying about heatstroke.

There is a $6 fee for parking but once you're inside the park, you have access to a variety of trails and you can easily spend an entire afternoon getting lost in nature.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 141 Feet

3. Clarks Creek Greenway

Credit: Mike Nencetti / Flickr

This out-and-back trail is used by road bikers, trail runners, and hikers. Everyone stays amiable and gives everyone else space to enjoy their outdoor excursion at their own pace. There are several unique features on this trail, including a small waterfall and several bridge crossings.

When you walk along the creek, you may even spot some crawfish and salamanders. After you've spent a couple of hours hiking and spotting wildlife, you can sit down at a picnic bench and enjoy lunch.

If you or a loved one uses a wheelchair, the parking lot is paved and there are several accessible spots. The trail surface itself is smooth and there are railings along the edge of the bridges. The path itself is around 6 feet wide.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 5.4 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 187 Feet

4. Stevens Creek Nature Trails

Credit: Dipika Bhattacharya / Flickr

This loop trail can be expected to take between 1-1.5 hours to complete. You'll see several wooden bridges and plenty of wildflowers in bloom during the springtime.

Tree cover provides some much-needed shade that gives hikers relief from the sun's rays. There is a science center on the property with public bathrooms and a place to fill up water bottles.

As far as wildlife, some reviews mention seeking a copperhead. Tread carefully along the trail and ensure you don't step on something that doesn't want to be stepped on. Though dogs are supposed to remain leashed, some owners allow them off-leash.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3.7 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 164 Feet

Related Read: 75 BEST Things to Do in Charlotte, NC

5. U.S. National Whitewater Center Loop

Credit: Roots Rated

The U.S. National Whitewater Center has over 45 miles of trails on the property, giving hikers plenty of options to choose from. For the low price of a $6 entry fee, you can easily make a day of hiking and enjoying a picnic lunch in the shade.

If you are local to the area, they offer annual passes that can save you money. You'll want to come back frequently after you've had a taste of the well-marked and varied paths and terrain. This particular loop should take anywhere from 3-3.5 hours, so it's important to bring enough water and a snack or two.

There have been multiple wildlife sightings on this trial, including deer, woodpeckers, and even a few turtles. There are water views along the loop and you're sure to get a good workout in as you hike this semi-strenuous trail.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 8.7 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 659 Feet

6. Evergreen Nature Preserve Loop

Credit: Evergreen Nature Preserve / Facebook

This pathway consists of several smaller trails, combined to make one larger loop. There is a nearby facility that has both public restrooms and a picnic area for hikers to enjoy a quick bite to eat. There is also a water fountain to refill bottles.

If you're searching for an easy, short, wooded hiking trail in the middle of Charlotte, then you've found it. You can almost forget that you're in a large city and just enjoy the serenity of nature.

You can bring dogs, so long as you have a leash for them. Unfortunately, there is no off-leash area for them here.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 72 Feet

7. Little Sugar Creek Greenway

This greenway is an out-and-back trail that's popular with hikers and birdwatching enthusiasts. If you want to join in on the fun, pack a pair of binoculars and keep your eyes and ears peeled.

For the most part, the trail is kid and stroller friendly. There isn't much shade to speak of, so ensure everyone is wearing a wide-brimmed hat on hot and sunny days. There is also no bathroom, which can be an issue for the younger kiddos.

If you want to beat the crowds, consider going on a weekday as the weekends can get crowded. You can find some peace and quiet on slow mornings when you'll have the place to yourself.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 5.1 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 137 Feet

8. Shady Hollow and Pine Hollow Trail

This loop trail features a diverse variety of terrain, including gravel, dirt, and paved sections of pathway. There are pretty views of the lake throughout, which can make the hike more pleasurable.

In some segments of the trail, there are a lot of exposed roots. You need to be careful of your footing here, as it can be easy to trip and fall. For that reason, this isn't an ideal hike for young kids or those with mobility issues.

The trail is popular with mountain bikers, so try to keep an ear out for them. They can come speeding around tight corners.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 2.2 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 249 Feet

9. East Main Loop

Credit: Jason Sanford / AllTrails

This loop trail is part of the U.S. National Whitewater Center trail system and while it can get crowded during peak periods, it's an enjoyable hike to venture out on.

It's recommended that hikers download a map or grab a paper one as the intersections aren't always clearly marked. There are some rocky portions and some minor hills, so be prepared to do some scrambling and work those quads.

The tree canopy cover provides much-needed shade and protection from the sun. It makes this hike manageable on even the hottest summer day. Plenty of water is still necessary, of course.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 3.0 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 291 Feet

10. McDowell Chestnut Loop

Credit: Heather Vitale / AllTrails

This loop features lots of elevation changes, making it less suitable for children. However, if they have trail experience they could handle it. The trails are narrow in some sections and you may want to pack trekking poles for when it gets steep.

You can feel free to bring your dog as long as they're kept on a leash. Due to the trails thinning out and becoming narrow, it may be difficult to hike with a larger dog.

There is a moderate amount of shade. You'll want plenty of water on a hot day, as you're still likely to work up a sweat.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.1 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 118 Feet

11. Robinson Rockhouse Trail

Credit: Wikipedia

This out-and-back trail is mostly shaded and takes hikers to the ruins of the Robinson Rockhouse. If you choose to go on the weekend, you shouldn't experience many crowds and you can explore the area at a leisurely pace.

There are several ponds, stocked with fish. This hike is also ideal for children and there are multiple storybook stations to keep them interested.

This is a fairly casual hike but you should be able to learn a thing or two from the historical ruins. You can expect to be finished with the trail in under an hour.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 121 Feet

12. Briar Creek Greenway

Credit: Mecklenburg Audubon / Flickr

This is an out-and-back trail that is one of the many greenways that Charlotte has to offer. Once you cross over Briar Creek via a bridge, you'll enter a densely forested area that's surrounded by beautiful wetlands.

The trail surface is paved and relatively smooth, so it should be manageable for wheelchairs and those with strollers. You'll find informational plaques spread along the path that offer insight into the many species found on the surrounding land.

Reviews mention parking at the Mint Museum and hopping on the trail from there. You should find various accessible handicap parking spaces.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.9 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 19 Feet

13. Marion Diehl Park Loop

Credit: Mecklenburg County / Flickr

This quaint loop offers hikers plenty of shade and it makes for a great weekday option. The weekends may get a little crowded, which ruins the natural ambiance of the trail.

Some segments of the trail are rocky and covered in roots, so watching your step is important. There are also mosquitos and other bugs during the summer months and it's recommended that you bring bug spray.

This trail is located behind South Park, where there are bathrooms and picnic amenities for hikers to use before or after their trek. Before embarking on this quick hike, make sure you fill up your water bottles.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.7 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 157 Feet

14. Renaissance Park Trail

This loop trail has a disc golf course nearby, so you'll want to look out for any stray frisbees. There are several smaller trails that are offshoots from the main one. You can add in one of the mini trails to bump up the mileage to 5+ miles.

Popular with mountain bikers, you may see some grooves in the dirt from where bikes have ridden in the mud. This urban trail hike has a lot to offer and it's a convenient way to get out into nature for a couple of hours.

The park is relatively active, so you're unlikely to be completely alone while on the trail. You'll have a sense of connection to the outside work.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 4.3 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 308 Feet

15. Academy Loop

If you're looking for a quick workout, Academy Loop has you covered. Roots are covering the first section of the trail and you'll have to stay focused to avoid tripping over them. You may even see signs of beaver activity in the area, such as downed trees with teeth marks.

There is a $5 entry fee to use the trail, which can turn away some potential hikers. Once you're in, keep an eye out for any copperheads. A couple of reviews mentioned seeing them.

As you continue onward, you'll cross a wooden bridge over a small creek. This can be a nice place to stop for a moment and take in the scenery of the surrounding wilderness.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 269 Feet

16. Queens College Treasure Trees Loop

Credit: Facundo Atencio / AllTrails

If you're interested in trees, this route gives you plenty to look at. You'll find up to 9 of the original trees that are currently recognized by the Mecklenburg County Treasure Trees Program. 5 of these are visible within the first mile of the trail.

You're more than welcome to bring your dog but they must stay on their leash. You'll be walking by beautiful area homes and you can gain admission to the Wing Haven Gardens to see a couple more of the trees.

Expect this easy hike to take around 1.5-2 hours, depending on how many stops you make along the way.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 5.1 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 249 Feet

Related Read: 20 Outstanding Black-Owned Restaurants in Charlotte

17. Mallard Creek Greenway

Credit: NC Wetlands / Flickr

This mostly paved pathway has some sections of gravel, making it difficult for those using wheelchairs or pushing strollers. It's an out-and-back trail, so you can cut it short by turning around partway through.

If you find parking difficult on Mallard Creek Road, you can head over to the University Place shops and park there. After heavy rainfall, expect a good deal of mud and wear the proper footwear.

College students keep this trail highly traversed and you're likely to run into other hikers during the school semester. This is a great option for beginners who want to begin adding mileage to their hikes and building endurance.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 9.2 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 167 Feet

18. Inner and Outer Loop

Credit: John Cox / Flickr

Located inside the Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve, this loop is popular amongst hikers. It's a hidden gem of sorts, so you may not even encounter anyone else on your excursion. Bike riding is not allowed, so you don't have to worry about jumping out of their way.

There are many signs of wildlife in the area and you may see turtles, deer, and perhaps a snake or two. There are several sections of varied terrain that will take you through the woods, wetlands, and even over a creek.

If you bring your dog, keep them leashed and close to you. This can prevent them from getting into any poison ivy found on the side of the trail.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3.6 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 209 Feet

19. Ribbonwalk Urban Trail

Credit: Ben Tyler / AllTrails

A unique feature of this trail is that hikers may be able to spot some beaver activity. If you're lucky enough to see the creature building a dam, it would make this hike memorable.

There are a few ponds in the area, though reviews mention them being unsafe for dogs due to blue-green algae. Keep your dog leashed and close by at all times.

There is also a picnic area near the front and hikers are welcome to pack a quick lunch to enjoy after their hike. Though the route is short, you'll want to pack plenty of bug spray as the mosquitos can get pretty bad here.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.9 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 55 Feet

20. Piedmont Prairie Loop

This hike takes you through the tall prairie grasslands located inside the McDowell Nature Preserve. Since there isn't much shade, you may want to save this hike for a cloudy day. This loop is nearby the Charlotte Premium Outlets, making a convenient stop after a day spent shopping.

There are several picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch. If you see a variety of butterflies, this is due to an Eagle Scout conversation project. They bring a beautiful sense of life to the preserve and have been enjoyed by many local hikers as they trek along this quick trail.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.1 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 118 Feet

21. Pinnacle Trail

This out-and-back trail is popular for both hikers and rock climbers and you'll find various rock walls to explore. Before heading out onto the trail, be sure to fill up your bottles at the park office. You can also grab a map there.

This hike has a good deal of forest cover, providing a nicely shaded experience. The last third of the trek gets steep, so it's a good idea to have a snack to fuel your energy for the final push.

There is a beautiful view to drink in once you reach the summit, making this trail popular for good reason. If you don't mind some boulder scrambling at the top, make sure to wear proper footwear.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 4.2 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 777 Feet

22. Latta Plantation Trail

With so much to do on this trail, such as hiking, birding, and even horseback riding, you're sure to encounter other outdoor enthusiasts. Watch out for horse manure, though!

There are nice views of the water as you follow the path, as the trail hugs the lake. During the summer months, mosquito repellent is a necessity so you don't get overwhelmed by the insects.

You may come across a few herons and even an eagle, if you're lucky. The lush tree canopy provides plenty of shade on bright days.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 5.4 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 383 Feet

23. Stone Mountain Loop Trail

Credit: Roots Rated

If you're spending the day exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, this trail is worth the detour. There is a waterfall as well as other varied scenery — such as the Hutchinson's Family Homestead that was occupied in the 1800s.

Reviews recommend going in a counterclockwise fashion to avoid the steep hike. The pathways are relatively wide and clearly marked, though due to the stairs they're not ideal for children.

Swimming holes line the river, so if you're looking to cool off you can take a quick dip.

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 4.5 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 938 Feet

24. Lake Norman Lakeshore Trail

Located at the Lake Norman State Park, you'll find a clearly marked trail with convenient distance markers every half mile. The park is dog friendly and your canine will have plenty of water stops along the route.

There are public restrooms and plenty of benches, allowing you to take frequent breaks. Be aware of the root cover on the ground and wear sturdy boots to avoid any stubbed toes.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 5.2 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 436 Feet

25. Fall Mountain Trail

This trail is within the confines of the Morrow Mountain State Park, which is a quick trip outside of Charlotte. If you're looking for a more strenuous hike, follow the route counterclockwise for the steepest inclines.

If you're bringing small children or someone who isn't as physically active, follow the trail clockwise. Trekking poles are recommended for the many dips found along the trail.

Once you're finished with the hike, you should head over to the scenic overlook and drink in the expansive view of the beautiful North Carolina forest.

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Distance: 3.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 547 Feet

26. Alder Trail

Alder Trail, while quaint, is a great experience for hikers of all ages and abilities. If you're looking for some serenity, there's even a quiet meditation spot around half a mile in.

When you're looking to get out of the house for an hour or two, this makes for a great spot. There are clean public restrooms on the property.

This is not an accessible trail, despite its short length. There are roots along the path that would be difficult for wheelchair users to manage. Strollers are not recommended either.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.9 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 49 Feet

27. Cattail Trail

Latta Nature Preserve has a lot to offer, including this trail through the pine and hardwood forest. If you want to boost the total mileage, you can add in some of the side trails as well.

This path features stunning lake views, plenty of tree cover, and very few people if you come early. This is a great trail to take younger kids on and there is a picnic area for the family to enjoy a packed lunch.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.1 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 29 Feet

28. Ridgeline Trail

This challenging trail is located inside Crowders Mountain State Park. You'll want to pack plenty of food and water before embarking on this journey, as you may be gone for 7-8 hours if you plan to trek the entire thing.

Best of all, you're unlikely to see many other people on the trail. You can relax in nature and gain a sense of remoteness if that's what you're looking for.

Some segments of the hike get rocky, so proper hiking boots are highly recommended. There are steep stairs near the end, so be prepared for this and have a snack beforehand.

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 15.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 2,572 Feet

29. McAlpine Creek Greenway

Credit: Carolina Thread Trails

This paved creek greenway is very family-friendly and is a popular destination for runners and road bikers as well. Whether you have a wheelchair or a stroller, you'll be able to navigate the path with relative ease. There is little to no elevation gain.

There are restrooms and a playground at the nearby park. With very little tree cover to speak of, wide-brimmed hats are recommended on sunny days.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 11.9 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 157 Feet

30. Freedom Park Pond Loop

This short trek is a great opportunity for kids to get a taste of hiking, as there are various unpaved pathways. The main path is completely paved, making it accessible with a stroller.

As far as inner-city urban trails go, this is a great option for a morning or afternoon outdoor excursion. There are waterfront views and dogs are more than welcome to join their owners, provided that they stay on a leash.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.8 MilesTotal Elevation Gain: 9 Feet

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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