Thursday, October 15, 2020

Boone's Cave Park

There's a 140-cave in Davidson Co. where American pioneer Daniel Boone and his family were rumored to have spent their first winter after moving to the area from Pennsylvania in 1751. How cool is that? 

Boone's Cave Park, located in Lexington, NC, just under an hour north of uptown Charlotte, is home to this storied cave and a number of other fun features, including biking and hiking trails, a disc golf course, picnic shelters, fishing and primitive camp sites.

First, a little more about the park's historical significance. It's said that in the mid-1800s, Squire Boone, Daniel's dad, headed south with his family to the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina and settled for their first year in this fertile, river-side site. Daniel was 16 at the time. It should be noted that, while it's not been confirmed that the family in fact lived in the cave, it has been documented that Daniel roamed the area during his time in North Carolina.

If you visit, you'll find the cave on the banks of the river, just down a few sets of boardwalk stairs where Boone's Cave Rd. ends inside the park. There is parking here or in a lot a few hundred yards closer to the entrance next to a bathroom facility.

When we visited, we parked in the center parking lot (next to the restrooms) and set out to explore from there. One important note: During our visit, the mosquitoes were especially problematic. It seems this low-lying area offers a perfect breeding ground, so keep this in mind and consider making this a cooler-weather trip.

The park offers more than 7 miles of trails (see the park map at the bottom of this brochure), many of which are said to resemble what Daniel Boone and other backcountry settlers would have experienced when they roamed the area hundreds of years ago. 

The park is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May 1 to September 18, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from September 19 to October 31, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November 1 to April 30. You'll want to note that the park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

We found Boone's Cave Park to be a fun place to explore. Between the novelty of its historical significance and the abundance of recreational activity options, this makes for a fun, dynamic, family-friendly destination. We'll be back -- when the mosquitoes aren't so bad!

How to get there:
Boone's Cave Park is located at 3552 Boones Cave Rd, Lexington, NC 27295. You'll find parking just inside the park and at the end of Boone's Cave Rd. There are restroom facilities here.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do. Note that it's likely to be muddy after rain.
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months.
  • Water and snacks: Pack enough to stay a while.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The park is mostly shaded, but not entirely.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Biketoberfest!

Do good, get moving, and have some fun. Those are the reasons our family will be participating in Sustain Charlotte's Biketoberfest during the weekend of October 24-25.

We came to know Sustain Charlotte, a local nonprofit that advocates for smart growth and sustainability, when we participated in one of their events a couple of years ago. Sustain Charlotte is high on our list of charitable organizations because of the work they do to support a healthy, equitable and vibrant community. This isn't just about more trees and fewer cars. Sustain Charlotte advocates for diverse housing and transportation options, works to protect the environment, actively supports the local economy, and engages the community. You can learn more about their efforts here

This year's Biketoberfest, one of Sustain Charlotte's signature events, will be necessarily different from years past. Whereas before there were large gatherings at the start and finish and mingling during the ride, this year will feature multiple routes for a choose-your-own-adventure-themed event with a scavenger hunt and chances to win prizes over the course of the weekend. Of course, the primary goal remains to raise funds to support Sustain Charlotte's efforts to inform, engage, and empower residents to address the numerous sustainability challenges that have accompanied our rapid population growth.

The event routes are organized by level of difficulty: family friendly, medium, and expert. (You can see routes here.) We'll probably do the one closest to our house so that we can jump on our bikes straightaway, rather than commute.

Registration is $35 and includes an event t-shirt. Kids 18 and under participate for free.

If you're not up for this year's ride, but Sustain Charlotte's work aligns with your values, too, you can support participants by making a donation. (Here's our family's page if you want a place to start!).

I'm looking forward to a day two-wheeling around our beautiful city with the kids, knowing that our fun outing is also doing meaningful good for the greater community. Join us? 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Clarks Creek Community Park

I'm so glad that playgrounds are open again. I missed them. I missed what they represent. It's such a gift to be able to take kids to a safe, open play space where they can move their muscles, meet and make friends and enjoy fresh air and creative, screen-free fun. (I also enjoy the chance to run into and chat with grown-up friends, too). 

Long before the pandemic shut everything down, we discovered Clarks Creek Community Park and loved it. Located just under 20 minutes north of uptown, this park is exciting for a number of reasons. 

We actually stumbled on it when we visited Clarks Creek Nature Preserve (another fun discovery!), which is right across the street, for the first time. I would recommend hitting both destinations if you take a trip.

Here's what you'll find at Clarks Creek Community Park:

Trails: There are both natural-surface walking trails and paved paths good for scooters and strollers.

Courts: This park is home to a large complex of both pickleball and basketball courts.

Dog parks: There are large, spacious, fenced dog parks for both large and small breeds.

Playground: Probably our favorite equipment is the in-ground slides built into the wall bordering the playground space. There's also a climbing web, swing sets and a see-saw.

Sprayground: Open during summer months (in non-pandemic times), this new, sprawling water play area could keep littles content for hours.

You'll also find restroom facilities, an outdoor picnic shelter and a large community garden. Here's a park map

We haven't been back to Clarks Creek Community Park since pandemic restrictions have been lifted, but it remains high on our list for the next time we get a chance.

How to get there:
Clarks Creek Community Park is located at 5435 Hucks Rd, Charlotte, NC 28269.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The park is not heavily shaded
  • Snacks and water: You can refill water at the restroom facilities
  • Toys: Pickleball equipment, basketball or rolling riding toys
  • Swim stuff: If you're visiting when the sprayground is operational

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Booty Loop

I first heard the term "Booty Loop" from my friend, Michael, when we were in high school. We'd been running some variation of this three-mile route around the heart of Myers Park as part of cross country practice for years. But it wasn't until he started riding bikes with older fellows who trained in the area that he learned -- and shared with a teenage-boy giggle -- that some in the cycling community had come up with the name as a nod to the fitness of the women they saw exercising while the riders were doing laps. 

There are other, more PC origin stories. I'll leave it to you to decide which to believe.

Whatever you think about the name or its genesis, there's no denying that the Booty Loop is a pretty ideal urban exercise destination. Lined with generous sidewalks and billowing old-growth trees, this city street route runs along Queens Rd., Selwyn Ave., Queens Rd. West and Hopedale Ave. Here's a map of the loop.

A good place to park and start is at the intersection of Hopedale Ave. and Queens Rd. (Note: this is a church parking lot; be mindful courteous about taking spaces during church events) or at or around Queens University (1900 Selwyn Ave., 28207). Of course, if you can ride or walk from wherever you're coming from, even better.

Here are some of the things we love about the Booty Loop:
It's pleasant. There's lots of shade. The terrain is flat-to-gently rolling (with the exception of one relatively steep hill at the north end around Hopedale). There are no left turns and no major intersections to navigate. If you're riding bikes, this is a relatively low-traffic area (but don't let your
guard down!).

It's dynamic
. You can use the loop for bike riding on the street or walking, jogging, or pushing a stroller on the sidewalk. You also don't have to do the whole loop to enjoy this as a destination. There are a number of smaller cut-through side-streets you can use to create your own shorter loop.

It's entertaining. There are plenty of jaw-dropping houses and buildings to admire as you make your way around the loop. This is one of Charlotte's oldest neighborhoods and some history is on full display.

It's in close proximity to other things to do
. Take a stroll through the beautiful Queens University campus. Visit nearby Freedom Park. Stop by the Myers Park branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system. Each year in July, the loop is also home to 24 Hours of Booty, a 24-hour bike-riding event that raises money for cancer support services.

I've been enjoying the Booty Loop long before it got its name (I think?) and I still find it to be a compelling destination. If you're looking for a quick, easy outing with a slice of Charlotte thrown in, the Booty Loop is worth a visit.

How to get there:
A good place to park and start is at the intersection of Hopedale Ave. and Queens Rd. (Note: this is a church parking lot; be mindful courteous about taking spaces during church events) or at or around Queens University (1900 Selwyn Ave., 28207). Of course, if you can ride or walk from wherever you're coming from, even better.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Murray's Mill Historic District

Here's a fun field trip. Ever heard of Murray's Mill Historic District? I hadn't either until I started poking around for some new trails and educational destinations to supplement our remote learning.

Murray's Mill historic site is located in Catawba, NC, a little under an hour north of uptown Charlotte. It's a pretty straight shot up NC-16 (Brookshire Freeway) a little past Denver, NC. This destination is compelling for a number of reasons.

First, the history. The original Murray's mill was built by William Murray in the nineteenth century. His son, John, replaced his father's mill in 1913, building the two-story structure and a waterwheel you can still see there today. Surrounding the mill are a number of other historic buildings, including a wheat house and the Murray family dwellings.

For $7, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the grounds (during non-pandemic times, guided tours are an option).

The next draw: The 1890s general store. One of our favorite things to do when we're exploring the state -- particularly in rural mountain towns -- is to find old-fashioned general stores. The creakier the wooden floors, the better. The Murray & Minges General Store checks all the boxes for a fun, authentic old-timey shopping experience, including soda in glass bottes (from an antique Coca-Cola refrigerator) and bulk candy bins. We bought giant pinwheel lollipops to enjoy along our hike. 

Finally, the trail. The Murray's Mill Trail, a Carolina Thread Trail, is a 1.4-mile (one way) natural surface trail good for hiking. The mill is at the mid-way point of the trail. Take a right at the dam to follow the banks of the beautiful pond (while the CTT trail is technically out-and-back, you can also follow a footpath around the entire pond to return to the parking area. See this map.). This section of the trail is well marked with CTT blazes.

Or you can take a left just after the bridge across the road from the dam to take a wooded trek. This section is not as well marked and we found ourselves walking in circles a couple of times. That said, we found both ends of the Murray's Mill trail to be pleasant.

One other fun feature to mention is the StoryWalk (a children's book posted one page at a time along a short walking path) that begins and ends at the field just above the parking area. This is especially fun for tiny visitors.

If you've got kids who have been stuck in front of a screen all day and could use some fresh-air mental and physical stimulation, I think you'll find Murray's Mill to be a lovely afternoon field trip destination. Easy to get to, lots to do, and there's a Chick-fil-a on the way home Win, win, win, right?

How to get there: Parking for Murray's Mill Historic District is located at 1489 Murrays Mill Road, Catawba, NC 28609. From here, you can see the mill, take a tour, visit the general store or hike the trail.

Don't forget to pack: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Some spending money: It's free to walk around, but just in case you want to do some shopping at the general store
  • Bug spray: Particularly during warmer months
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: This area is partially shaded, but not entirely 
  

Thursday, September 3, 2020

River Link Greenway

I've lived close to uptown Charlotte all my life and I wouldn't want it any other way. But if I had to move somewhere nearby, I think I'd consider Belmont, NC. This small town, less than 30 minutes west of Charlotte, is charming, accessible, and home to a number of our favorite outdoor destinations (see Seven Oaks Preserve, Goat Island and Rocky Branch Park).

The other day, we decided to do some more exploring in the area and found the River Link Greenway, a short but compelling stretch of the Carolina Thread Trail.

This smooth, flat, 0.7-mile (one way) out-and-back trail is paved from end-to-end, making it excellent for strollers, bikes, skates and scooters. It runs along the banks of the South Fork Catawba River and is tucked neatly behind a neighborhood development, though you wouldn't know it for most of your stroll.

The trail ends at an overlook (spoiler alert, there are no breathtaking views, but this is a nice place to sit a spell and enjoy nature). All along the way there are lots of opportunities to enjoy wildlife, including a bunch of turtles basking in the sun on the river.

A really cool feature of the River Link Greenway is its proximity to other connector trails, including the Goat Island Greenway, which is a short walk over the footbridge from the River Link Greenway trailhead parking lot. At the west end of the Goat Island Greenway, you can hop on the Riverside Greenway, and at the east end, the Stuart Cramer High School Trail.

All together, this is nearly five miles of trails, and that's not counting the South Fork Blueway, an approximately 10-mile stretch of the river for folks to paddle through more than 1,300 acres of land permanently protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

Another perk: Just on the other side of Goat Island is the quaint downtown Cramerton, where you can find a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.

If you, like me, are partial to center city Charlotte, I'd invite you to take a field trip to Belmont. It's a lovely little community and its nearby greenway system is a good excuse to visit. Start with a stroll along the River Link Greenway and see what you can discover from there.

How to get there: The River Link Greenway trailhead is in the Goat Island Park and Greenway Belmont Access parking lot, which is located at 305 Greenwood Pl., Belmont, NC, 28012. There are no restroom facilities; plan accordingly.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do
  • Water: Bring enough for during and after your trek; there are no facilities to refill nearby
  • Bikes, scooters or other riding toys and a helmet: The paved trail is good for wheels
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trail is partially shaded, but not completely
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Mazeppa Park

Just when I thought we'd covered most of the mountain-biking trails around town, someone mentions one I've never even heard of. Mazeppa Park in Mooresville, N.C., about 40 minutes up I-77 from uptown, offers a relatively new (opened late 2018) 5-mile loop maintained by Tarheel Trailblazers. This trail was built explicitly for trail riding, but also makes for a pleasant hike, which is also permitted (both riders and hikers should follow directional signs at all times to avoid collisions).

This single-track, natural surface trail, good for beginners, is mostly smooth and relatively flat with some switchbacks, bridges, berms, bumps and swoops. There are also some technical features for advanced riders, but there's an alternate route around each of these. The trail is mostly shady, winding through a young-growth forest setting. (See trail map.)

The trailhead is in the parking lot of Mazeppa Park across from the soccer fields. During normal times, there are bathroom facilities available here (for now, there are some porta-potties). Take a left at the trailhead to access the mountain biking loop.

A fun discovery for us was a go-cart race track just off the eastern side of the loop, which can be accessed by a service road a short hop off of the trail. While we tend to like to escape into nature during our outings, it was novel for the kids to take a minute to watch a race or two on the Saturday morning that we went.

NOTE: The trail is closed for 24 hours after rain. Also worth noting is that the trail is heavily lined with poison ivy during the summer. Be mindful.

If you're looking for a new place to ride -- or hike -- Mazeppa is definitely worth checking out.

How to get there:
Mazeppa Park is located at 645 Mazeppa Rd, Mooresville, NC 28115.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Bikes and helmets: Or comfortable walking shoes
  • Water: Refill at the restroom facilities next to the soccer fields
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is mostly shaded, but not entirely
  • Bug spray: Especially during summer months
  • Snacks: You might be out there for a couple hours

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Day Trip: Fonta Flora Trail

Friends, doesn't a quick, easy day-trip sound good right about now? Let me tell you about one of our new favorites.

Last week we took a camping trip to the Highlands of Roan in eastern Tennessee. We always like to find new places to explore en route to our destination (the AllTrails app is great for this). Our drive from Charlotte took us through Morganton, NC, which is only about an hour and a half from uptown. There, we decided to check out the Fonta Flora County Park Loop Trail.

This 3.7-mile, double track, natural-surface loop is part of the larger Fonta Flora state trail system, which will someday connect downtown Morganton to downtown Asheville. Ultimately, the trail will form a 29-mile loop around Lake James. As of last year, more than 20 miles of this project have been completed. The County Park is on the northeastern side of Lake James, directly across the lake from Lake James State Park.

Here's why the Fonta Flora County Park Loop Trail makes for a perfect day trip.

It's easy to get to
. This trail is a very doable 1.5-hour commute from uptown Charlotte. When you get there, there's a large parking area complete with bathrooms and water fountains. From the parking lot, you can't miss the trailhead, marked with a beautiful Fonta Flora trestle. The trail is obvious, well maintained, and offers directional signs and blazes from start to finish.

It's pleasant
. The gently rolling terrain is suitable for all ages and skill levels. We hiked, but would consider coming back with mountain bikes for a good family/beginner ride. The trail is interesting and peaceful, whether you're an avid outdoorsperson or an occasional adventurist.

It's beautiful
. Our favorite part (you might call it the "payoff") was the spectacular view of mountain-rimmed Lake James about midway through the hike. But the entire trek through the forest, over creeks, and by the lake was gorgeous.

It's versatile
. While this was our first and only visit, it occurs to me that this will be an excellent destination any time of year. During these hot summer months, the trail offers blissful shade and some chances to take off your shoes and dip your toes in the water if you want. During fall, the foliage will be invigorating. Winters might be cold, but since Morganton straddles the foothills and mountains, its temperatures are somewhat milder than the highlands of Western North Carolina. And I can imagine this is a bountiful playground for all the plants and wildlife in the spring.

It's near other fun things to do. Burke County's motto is "Nature's Playground." So if you're up for more outdoor exploration, there's plenty to choose from nearby. But might I suggest you also check out historic, picturesque downtown Morganton, NC. Grab a bite to eat or (in normal times), plan your trip around events or activities. Or, here's a fun idea if it's apple-picking season

As an aside, when we went, we had our fishing rods handy and the kids thoroughly enjoyed fishing along a trail-side cove. If you're a fisherperson or have little ones who enjoy tossing a line in the water, this is a good place to do it.

The Fonta Flora trail is open hikers and bikers year-round and we look forward to checking it out again -- and not just when our travels have us passing by. Whether you do the County Park Loop or check out another segment (see trail map), I think you'll find this to be an excellent daytrip (or longer!) destination. 

How to get there: The trailhead for the Fonta Flora County Park loop is located at the Fonta Flora County Park located at 126 NC-126, Morganton, NC, 28655.

Don't forget to take: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do. 
  • Water: You can refill bottles at the parking area. 
  • Snacks: There are a number of benches to take a break along the trail. 
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is mostly shaded, but not entirely. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rocky Creek Trail

Waterfalls are both beautiful and mystifying to me (how come the water never runs out?!). Of course, I think some of the the most spectacular ones can be found in the North Carolina mountains. But, turns out, there are a few cascades closer to home. One is in Great Falls, S.C., about an hour south of uptown Charlotte.

The waterfall is a fun feature of the Rocky Creek Trail, a 1.6-mile (one way) Carolina Thread Trail good for hiking and biking. The trail, which is flat and alternates between sandy, gravel and natural surfaces, follows the banks of Rocky Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River.

The trailhead is in a gravel parking lot just off a small highway and is marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign. There are no restroom facilities, so plan accordingly.

From the parking lot, there's a short, steep spur trail that leads to a wide, sandy beach area, which serves as a canoe and kayak access point and launch.

At the beach, taking a right will lead to the western end of the trail, which is about a mile away. About 0.7 mile in, you'll come to a gate indicating private property. Hikers are welcome to continue on, but be mindful of the electric fence marking the boundaries. It's around here that the trail becomes more interesting, offering plenty of opportunities to stop and hop on the large creek rock formations and play in the water. This stretch is peaceful, mostly shady and, though there are no trail-markers, easy to follow.

One observation worth noting is that the trail follows a sewer line, which is not remarkable, other than to suggest not visiting on a particularly hot, still day.

This section of the trail ends somewhat abruptly at a fence. From here, retrace your steps and head east to take in the waterfall, which is about 0.2 mile past the beach area at the parking lot trailhead (taking a left where you took a right before).

Following the trail in this direction, the waterfall will be on your left. There's an option to take a bridge straight to remain on the main trail, but opt for the detour, marked with a sign, to reach the cascade. You can walk all the way to the base of the waterfall, but be careful doing so as the wet rocks are slippery. There's also a social trail that leads to the top of the waterfall, but I do not recommend taking it, especially with young kids, as the drop-off is steep and dangerous.

If you want to complete the trail, continue on for another 0.3 miles, where you'll run into a fence at the edge of a water treatment facility. At this end, the creek is wide and flat, offering a contrasting vista to the rocky, fast-moving water upstream.

Between the large, playful rocks at one end of the trail and the waterfall at the other, this outing offers a number of fun features. It's an easy outing for hikers of all ages and skill levels. And a nice option for beating the sweltering heat these days. Next time you're looking for someplace new to explore, Rocky Creek is worth your consideration.

How to get there:
The Rocky Creek Trail trailhead is located at 1030 Chester Ave, Great Falls, SC, 29055. The gravel parking lot is marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: And consider shoes that can get wet if you want to rock-hop
  • Bug spray: Especially during summer months
  • Water: Bring plenty for during and after the hike
  • Snacks: Consider a picnic on the beach or rocks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: This trail is mostly shaded, but not entirely

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Catch Some Timeless Fun

When the pandemic brought our family's daily scramble to a screeching halt, I found myself wondering if this pause on "normal" would have felt so dramatic several generations ago. In my mind, those days, for kids in particular, were less extracurricular, more free-range; less scheduled playdates, more impromptu playtime; less commuting in cars, more exploring on bikes; and most certainly less time plugged in, more time outdoors. 

When the coronavirus shut things down, we, like many families I know, were in full stride, leapfrogging from this practice to that lesson, from this meeting to that game. When suddenly our calendar was wiped clean, it felt a little disorienting. And we not only had nothing scheduled, but we couldn't even take unnecessary shopping trips or visit commercial amusement venues to fill the void. 

What to do? The only thing we could: (Re)discover a simpler time. This summer we've been enjoying some old-fashioned (I prefer "timeless") fun. If your creative entertainment bank is running on empty, consider these ideas: 

Catch June Bugs
: June Bugs, or June Beetles, are the green metallic bugs you find hovering in open grassy fields during the hottest parts of the day this time of year. Fun fact: You can tie a string to one of their legs and they'll fly around you like a tiny pet on a leash. Seriously. I thought my husband was making that up to keep the kids busy for a while, but then one of them actually succeeded and I was amazed. Try it. It's not easy, but it is possible.  

Catch lightening bugs: What's more classic than running around the yard as the day softly comes to an close, chasing these magical glowing treasures? Barefoot, if possible. And with a jar handy. 

Catch frogs
: We spend a lot of time at the pond in the field near our house. All of the kids have gotten quite good at spotting the tiny green tree frogs hiding in the fronds of the arrowhead bog plants. Even if you don't like touching frogs (me!), there's something exciting about finding them. And something especially pleasant about simply listening to their songs. 

Catch a breeze
: Why not make a paper boat? Or a boat made from nature. If there's not a stream or pond nearby, sail it in your bathtub. Fold up yesterday's newspaper or find some sticks and weave them together with monkey grass. This activity is really more about the journey than the destination. 

Catch crawfish and salamanders
: This is a fun way to cool off in refreshing ankle-deep water as these critters like to hide under rocks in small streams. They are quick and sometimes hard to spot, but entertaining to study when you find them. Mountain creeks are best, but around here, crawfish and salamanders can be found in streams running through county parks and nature preserves

Catch up on reading
: There are so many good books we never seem to have time to get to "in real life." Power down each night reading aloud as a family. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has made it easy to discover new favorites. Choose something using their app and pick it up at a branch near you. Or, Imaginon, the children's library uptown, has a wonderful selection waiting at their entrance. Librarians have picked books suitable for all levels. And they are eager to offer suggestions based on what you're looking for and fetch some from the selves for you to check out at the front door. 

Some of our favorite books this summer have been Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O'Brien; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg, and the "Ramona Quimby" series by Beverly Cleary. 

As we've adjusted to the new normal, I find I'm none too eager to return to our pre-pandemic rat race, whenever the day comes that we can. There's something to be said for yawning, obligation-free weeknights and weekends. Simpler is nice. And timeless is timeless for a reason.