The Carolina Raptor Center is located at the Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve, which is home to some fun trails and activities (including the Historic Latta Plantation). It is a rehabilitation facility dedicated to the conservation of birds of pray. There you'll find more than 30 species of birds and the largest eagle aviary in the Southeast.
Shady Trail is a lovely, flat, gravel trail that loops the Carolina Raptor Center. You can access it by parking in the Carolina Raptor Center parking lot. The trailhead is a stone's throw from the Carolina Raptor Center entrance (see "How to get there" below). It's a beautiful, easy, peaceful walk through the woods that centers your mind on the natural habitat of many of the raptors you'll encounter.
Back at the Carolina Raptor Center, you'll enter through the education building to pay for admission ($12/adults; $10/seniors, teachers and military; $8/students 4 and older with student ID; free/children 3 and under and members). It may seem a bit expensive, but I believe it's worth the ticket price -- not just for what you'll encounter in the exhibits, but because the Raptor Center is a non-profit that relies on the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations to advance its mission.
Once you're in, you'll follow the Raptor Trail, a fun, engaging and educational self-guided tour through the cages and exhibits. Over the course of about a half mile, the trail loops and winds its way around each species with informational placards along the way. The trail starts and ends at an activity area for kids.
There are also volunteers stationed throughout the center to offer demonstrations, hands-on activities and fun facts about the birds.
Between the nature hike and the raptor trail, this is a fun few hours out exploring the world with some exciting up-close encounters with some very impressive animals.
Visit the Carolina Raptor Center website for hours. They change seasonally.
How to get there:
Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve is located at 5226 Sample Rd., Charlotte, NC, 28078. To park at the Carolina Raptor Center, follow Sample Rd. about half a mile past the Latta Plantation Nature Center at the entrance of the park (on your right) and the maintenance building and raptor medical (center on your left). The Carolina Raptor Center will be on your left. You can't miss it; there's a large bronze raptor statue out front.
To get to the Shady Trail trailhead, take a left on Sample Rd. by foot from the Carolina Raptor Center parking . Go 0.2 miles and the trailhead will be on your left. Follow the orange triangle blazes.The trail loops the Carolina Raptor Center, so on your return, take a left on Sample Rd. to return to the parking lot.
Don't forget to pack:
- Comfy shoes: Both the Shady Trail and Raptor trail are easy and flat.
- Snacks and water: Stay hydrated and keep your energy up. You might also consider packing a picnic lunch. There are picnic tables at the Raptor Center.
- Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The trails are mostly shady, but some stretches are not.
- Bug spray: Mosquitoes weren't bad when we went, but ticks are always a threat.
- Bag or backpack: Something light-weight to carry your supplies.
- Park maps: You can get a Raptor Trail map at the Center, but may find it handy to have a copy of the Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve park map for your hike.