Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Palmetto Trail: Peak to Prosperity Passage

We've just discovered a new favorite trail, and the only thing I'd change about it if I could is to make it closer to home. The Peak to Prosperity Passage, a 10.7-mile stretch of the 500+-mile cross-South Carolina Palmetto Trail, is about 1.5 hours south of uptown Charlotte. But I guarantee it is well worth the drive.

The trail, preserved and maintained by the Palmetto Conservation, follows what was once a rail line and begins with a beautiful, exhilarating 1,100-foot-long trestle bridge across the Broad River. 

Usually, I like for there to be a "payoff" deeper into an outing, but I just love that this trek kicks off with something for everyone. Even if you don't continue on the trail (but I hope you do!), a stroll across the bridge is magical. We didn't see bald eagles (though they are reported to be in the area), but did spot dozens of turtles sunning on logs and a few otters playing in the river.

Just across the river, the wide, groomed, natural-surface trail heads west through shaded piedmont forest. In all, it crosses 14 wooden trestles over the serpentine Crims Creek. Some bridges include stairs for side-trips down to the creek banks (these make for great snack-break stops). Here's a trail map

The trail is flat and easy. And all along the way, there's an abundance of wildlife, from snakes to butterflies, birds and frogs. This time of year, the plant life is lush and green.

This section of the Palmetto Trail is part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trail program. At the trailhead kiosk, you'll find self-guided brochures and signs to with activities to engage young explorers.

Also at the trailhead is a well-equipped bike maintenance station. What you won't find there are restrooms; plan your trip accordingly.

On a weekday morning, we had the trail almost to ourselves. I imagine (hope!) it gets more use during weekends and holidays, but there's plenty of space for everyone to enjoy its splendor. I'm already planning a return trip to this spectacular destination. I definitely encourage you to check it out, too.

How to get there:
The Peak to Prosperity Alston Trailhead is located at State Road S-20-35, Little Mountain, SC, 29075. This will show in Google Maps. Alternately, you can follow these directions from the trail website:

From Columbia: I-26, exit 97, take US 176 west 11 miles; turn east on SC 213; drive 3.1 miles, turn right onto Alston Road (1st road after the bridge); road changes to unpaved, take right fork, cross RR track and go under the trestle; parking is on the left at the top.

From Spartanburg: I-26, exit 82, take 773 to Pomaria, east on US 176 to SC 213; turn east on 213; follow directions above.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes (sneakers will do
  • Bikes and helmets
  • A day pack 
  • Water (bring plenty; there are no refill stations
  • Snacks
  • Sunglasses, hats and sunscreen
  • Bug spray (especially during warmer months)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Riverside Park and Greenway

Cramerton, NC is one of the best nearby outdoor recreation destinations you’ve probably never heard of. Adjacent to its better-known sister small town, Belmont, Cramerton boasts a number of natural amenities well worth the short, 25-minute drive west of uptown.

I’ve written before about Goat Island and the River Link Greenway, two lovely options for an outing.

Recently, we discovered a third: Riverside Greenway, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail. As the name suggests, this trail winds along the banks of the South Fork River and includes a water access point for canoes and kayaks.

Parking at Riverside Park, you’ll find a spacious fishing dock and river overlook. Taking a left from the lot (facing the river), you can follow a wide, paved greenway for 0.8 miles (one way) with a lollipop loop turnaround point at the impressive the Southern Railroad overpass. This makes for a pleasant stroll – or bike, skate or scooter ride.

Note: This is a low-lying area and ranges from damp to swampy after heavy rain.

Taking a right from the parking lot will lead you into downtown Cramerton, an easy half-mile walk that connects to the Goat Island Greenway and River Link Greenway, both short, accessible trails that make for a nice extension to your excursion.

How to get there:
Riverside Park and Greenway are located at 75 Riverside Dr., Cramerton, NC 28032. Take a left (facing the river) to follow the Riverside Greenway. Take a right to head into Cramerton and connect to Goat Island and the River Link Greenway.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Eastway Regional Recreation Center

Mecklenburg County’s brand-new, state-of-the-art Eastway Regional Recreation Center opened last week with only a fraction of the fanfare it deserves. It is beautiful, exciting and a tremendous community resource.

Located less than 20 minutes east of Uptown, this impressive facility is remarkable. An official grand opening, postponed due to COVID-19, will happen when conditions allow, but don’t wait for the party to enjoy phase 1 of opening, which includes pool and fitness center usage now.

I’m most thrilled with the 8-lane, 25-yard lap pool (a precious commodity for local swimmers, particularly in this time of pandemic safety restrictions and protocols) and the family-friendly leisure pool with a slide, vortex and play area for the kids.

A near second for us is the outdoor nature amenities, including trails, water features, play fields and an educational nature center. There’s also some neat public art outside the facility. Amazing.

Indoors, you’ll find cardio and weight rooms, fitness studios, basketball courts and an elevated track.

One day soon, they plan to offer sports, programs and activities for all ages and skill levels, from badminton clinics for kids to silver sneakers fitness for seniors and a lot of everything in between.

Eastway Rec is well staffed with super friendly, knowledgeable folks (get to know some of them before you go!). It’s obvious that a lot of time and attention has been given to making this a vibrant, dynamic, attentive resource for the entire community.

I love, too, that they are committed to making activities and spaces accessible regardless of skill or ability. Staff is certified to assess and implement equipment and space modifications for anyone who asks.

For now, visits are by reservation with minimal walk-in slots available. You can reserve your spot by phone (980-314-ERRC (3772)) or online. In my opinion, the MeckPass is one of the best deals in town. You can learn more about facility rates and schedules here.

Fun fact: The Eastway Regional Recreation Center and adjoining Briarwood Park has more than 125 acres of parkland, which used to be farmland and a horserace track. Plans for the current site, which now boasts 90,000 square feet of indoor recreation space, sports fields, and other outdoor amenities, began in 1993, when the City of Charlotte acquired the land and began dreaming about the facility that now serves so many communities in the eastern part of the county.

I can’t say enough good things about Eastway Regional Recreation Center. Go. I think you’ll love it, too.

How to get there
Eastway Regional Recreation Center is located at 3150 Eastway Park Drive, Charlotte, NC, 28213.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Morrow Mountain State Park: Short Bridle Loop

A new-to-Charlotte friend asked me for ideas for a nearby hike she could take with her husband on her birthday. Something with a view. A little bit of a challenge, covering at least several miles. Dog-friendly.

Fortunately, we'd just done taken a hike that checked all the boxes. If you're looking for a trail along the same lines, here's what I would recommend.

Morrow Mountain State Park is about an hour east of Charlotte, just past Albemarle. There are around a dozen trails and lots of other fun things to do at Morrow Mountain. Though the park is east of town, it encompasses four mountains, the tallest of which has some elevation (936 feet) and offers a pretty impressive 360-degree view of the surrounding area.

To take an invigorating 5-mile hike, beginning and ending with a view and traversing some gorgeous land in between, I recommend a combination of segments of the Morrow Mountain Trail and Bridle Trail. Here's a park map

To do this hike, park in the Morrow Mountain picnic area parking lot (take a right at the intersection where the main entrance road splits). This puts you at the pinnacle of the the mountain to start. Here, you'll find scenic overlooks, a picnic shelter, and some informational signs about the area's historical significance. 

Take the Morrow Mountain Trail (blue triangle blazes; look for the trailhead just over the stone wall by the parking spaces at the front end of the parking lot) a little over half-mile downhill. (Note: This section is steep and strenuous.)

When Morrow Mountain Trail intersects with the Bride Trail: Short Loop (white circle blazes), take a left or right to hop on a pleasant, rolling, 3.9-mile loop. This section of trail is wide and quiet. As the name suggests, you might encounter horseback riders (and almost certainly need to watch for equine droppings). This seems to be one of the less popular (read: "less crowded") trails in the park, which makes it dog-friendly and perfect for a little solitude.

When you complete the Bridle Loop, retrace your steps up the Morrow Mountain Trail and plan to catch your breath -- and maybe have a picnic lunch or snack -- perched along the stone wall overlooks.

We loved this hike -- and so did my birthday-celebrating friend -- but if it's been a while since you've hit the trails, you might consider some other options at Morrow Mountain State Park first. Here are a few we've enjoyed: 
Happy trails! 

How to get there
Morrow Mountain State Park is located at 49104 Morrow Mountain Rd., Albemarle, NC, 28001. To do this hike, park in the Morrow Mountain picnic area parking lot (take a right at the intersection where the main entrance road splits). The Morrow Mountain Trail trailhead is just over the stone wall by the parking spaces at the front end of the parking lot. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Riverbend Farm Trail

Years ago, we discovered Riverbend Farm for it's pumpkin patch and epic playground (Check it out: Our Favorite Pumpkin Patch). At the time, I noticed a Carolina Thread Trail sign by the farm and made a mental note to return to explore. Recently, we did and loved it.

Riverbend Farm Trail is an easy, 0.8-mile (one way) natural surface trail, good for all ages and skill levels, that circles the perimeter of the farm. A short distance from the trailhead is a canoe/kayak put-in.

To get to the trail, follow the gravel road to the right of the farm entrance. This will end at a gravel lot. The trailhead is marked with a sign. From the lot and the through first section of the trail, you'll be able to see farm animals grazing.

The trail, which follows the Rocky River, is quiet, peaceful and full of wildlife. We saw deer and racoon prints, heard frogs chirping and saw a number of birds. The trail ends on the far side of the farm at a large sandy area (insider tip: this is a great place to let kids play a while; pack a sand shovel if you think of it!). This section is downright bucolic.

Bonus, Riverbend Farm is a stone's throw from the Sundae Shop, a most excellent stop after a day on the trail. Everything you could ask for in a super relaxed, pleasant, family-friendly outing. 

Note: There are no restroom facilities at the trail; plan accordingly.

How to get there:
The Riverbend Farm Trail trailhead is near, but not at, Riverbend Farm, located at 12150 McManus Rd, Midland, NC 28107. Take the gravel road to the right of the farm entrance. This will end at a gravel lot. The trailhead is marked with a sign. Here's a map to the trailhead parking lot

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Water and snacks
  • Sand toys

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Lindsay Pettus Greenway

I love a good stroll along a lush greenway on a pretty spring day. The kids can ride their bikes, the dog can sniff out new territory, and I can enjoy fresh air and movement -- all in the context of nature. Now's the perfect time of year to take an urban creek-side excursion.

Good news, fellow greenway lovers: There's a fresh new option for your enjoyment a stone's throw away from Charlotte. Lindsay Pettus Greenway in Lancaster, SC, about an hour south of uptown, opened to the public in November 2020 and it is gorgeous.

This 1.8-mile (one way), paved trail is a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail. It's a perfect mix of urban development and nature, combined for a lovely trek through Katawba Valley Land Trust conservation area rich with hardwoods and wildlife.

In addition to the paved trail, there's a short, 0.3-mile natural-surface path featuring constructed wetlands and two creek observation areas. This is a lovely little educational side-jaunt.

Along the route, there are benches, a couple of large community swings, bike racks, and restroom facilities. The trail also cuts through two public parks and flanks the Lancaster's downtown district. At the easternmost end is a Kids in Parks Track Trail

What impresses me most about the Lindsay Pettus Greenway is it's boardwalks. Long stretches of the greenway are beautiful wooden bridges over low-lying areas. They add to the intrigue of the outing.

The trail is well marked with directional signs and mile markers and there are a couple of official trailhead parking areas (as well as some neighborhood entrances without public parking).

When we went, we parked at the designated lot across the street from the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. (Note, there's no public parking in the Chamber lot, but plenty on the other side of the road. Be careful crossing; there's no crosswalk!). That trailhead puts you at about two-thirds of the way through the greenway. Take a left to go 1.3 miles east and a right to go a half-mile west. Directly in front of this access point is the nature trail.

When we go again, we'll park at the other main trailhead parking area, located at 610 E. Meeting St. This is the easternmost end of the trail. Starting here allows you to enjoy the greenway linearly, point-to-point in it's entirety.

While the greenway is still relatively new, plans are already in the works to make it a true recreational, educational, and entertainment destination. Check the website for news and events.

Bonus: If you want to make a day-trip of your outing, you can throw in a visit to Andrew Jackson State Park, directly en route to and from the greenway.

How go get there:
There are two main trailhead public parking areas. 

Access the easternmost point of the greenway at 610 E. Meeting St., Lancaster, SC, 29720. 

Access the greenway at the nature trail adjacent to two city parks by parking at 459 Colonial Ave., Lancaster, SC, 29720 (NOTE: This lot is across the street from the Chamber of Commerce.)

Don't forget to take: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Bikes, scooters or other riding toys -- and helmets! 
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Bug spray (in warmer months) 
  • Cash if you plan to stop at Andrew Jackson State Park ($3/adult and $1/kid)

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Day Trip: Thermal Belt Rail Trail

Want to go for a ride? Hop in your car and then hop on your bike for an outing on the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, a 13.5-mile paved greenway running through the heart of Rutherford County, about an hour and 15 minutes from uptown.

Wide, flat and super accessible, the Thermal Belt Rail Trail connects the foothill towns of Gilkey, NC at the north end and Forest City, NC at the south, with and handful of trail access parking areas in between.

From start to finish, the trail is well marked with mileage signs. It also sports a number of bike racks, bike repair stations, fountains, bathrooms, shelters, information kiosks and benches throughout.

The beginning section (starting in Gilkey and heading south) is more rural, traversing through woods and small neighborhood communities. It has little traffic and few cross streets. 

Miles 5 through 13 becomes more urban, winding through towns and passing by restaurants, shops, parks, sports fields and four libraries. There are two bridges, one at mile 12.5 over highway 74 and one at mile 13.2 over the railroad.

When we went, we started at mile 0 and rode bikes east for a couple of miles to the Bechtler Mint Historic Site Park. This was a cool, educational destination and made for a good stop and turnaround point for our young crew.

While we haven't ridden the trail in its entirety, several friends have told me it's a pleasant experience. When the weather warms, we look forward to checking out a longer stretch, maybe beginning at the other end and working our way back to the Bechtler park for another visit, a longer ride, and a picnic lunch. 


How to get there
There are a number of parking areas along the 13.5-mile trail. See options here. We began at the Mile 0 trailhead, which is located at 100 Oak Springs Rd., Rutherfordton, NC, 28139. To begin at the other end (mile 13.5), parking is available at 50 Forrest West Hunt Dr., Forest City, NC, 28043. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Girl Scouts, Hornets' Nest Council Trail

Sunshine! Sweet sunshine and warm breezes. Spring is in the air and it's got me feeling energized, especially after such a long, wet, grey stretch of winter. 

This past weekend, we seized the opportunity to spend the whole afternoon outside and cover new ground. And we discovered an outing that I'd highly recommend when you're ready to emerge from hibernation, too.

The Girl Scouts, Hornets Nest Council Trail is located in Statesville, NC, about 45 minutes north of uptown. This natural surface, 2.2-mile (one way), out-and-back trail, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail, is nestled in a 359-acre conservation easement and hugs the banks of the South Yadkin River. 

It's quiet, peaceful and perfect for all ages and skill levels. The trail is hard-packed dirt, making it a great option for beginner mountain bikers. Wide, winding and not-very-crowded, we also found it to be good for running the dog. 

The trail begins with a handful of moderate hills, but flattens to gently rolling for most of the rest. It's well marked with CTT blazes, there are a few footbridges throughout, and you'll find a rocky knoll overlooking the river at the turnaround point (helpfully marked with a "End of Trail" sign). 

What I enjoyed most (besides the sun on my back!) was the immersive nature experience -- lots of frogs chirping, birds fluttering, and the river bubbling gently by. Ahhh. Yes, please and thank you. 

Note
: The trailhead parking listed on the Carolina Thread Trail page gets you close, but not exactly to the lot. There's a designated gravel parking area, marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign and map kiosk here

How to get there:
The Girl Scouts, Hornets Nest Council Trail trailhead is located in a gravel lot off US 21-N near (but not at!) 1763 Turnersburg Hwy, Statesville, NC 28625. From I-77 N, take exit 54. Turn right onto US 21-N and go approximately 3.5 miles. There's a designated gravel parking area, marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign and map kiosk here

Don't forget to pack: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water and snacks 
  • Bikes and helmets
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses 


Friday, February 19, 2021

Martha Rivers Park

Dear parents of young kids, here's a recreation destination that's sure to dazzle your little ones.

Martha Rivers Park in Gastonia, about 40 minutes west of uptown, is home to a 1-acre playground castle, complete with turrets, slides, ladders and bridges. It's got places to climb and places to hide. It also has swings and a sand pit for digging. Even the tiniest of visitors have their own designated play area.

The magical playground sits within a 58-acre park that also boasts playing fields and restroom facilities.

There are also about 2.5 miles of paved walking paths. We didn't take riding toys when we visited, but it occurred to me that this would make an excellent place to skate, rip-stick and scooter. (Here's a trail map.

In light of the pandemic, I recommend going on an off day at an off time. When we went on a Wednesday afternoon, there were only a handful of other friends there. (But none of them were wearing masks.)

Martha Rivers Park is open dawn til dusk year-round. 

I noted a Pelican SnoBalls within a short walking distance on the way out. It was closed for the season, but I'm already imagining a warm-weather outing to play at the castle and get a sweet treat. Magical, right?

How to get there:
Martha Rivers Park is located at 1515 Neal Hawkins Rd., Gastonia, NC 28056. The castle playground is at the center of the park, between ball fields. You can't miss it. 

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Riding toys and helmets

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Mountain Island Lake Park and Trail

We had the most refreshing outing the other day. Partly because the sun finally came out after a cold, gray stretch, and partly because we stumbled on a new-to-us destination with a little bit of something for everyone.

Mountain Island Lake park and trail, located about 30 minutes northwest of uptown near Mount Holly, NC, are nestled along the Catawba River next to the hydroelectric station and dam at the southern end of Mountain Island Lake. 

(As a point of interest, Mountain Island Lake, the smallest of the three man-made lakes that border Mecklenburg County (the other two are Lake Wylie and Lake Norman) provides drinking water for much of Charlotte, Mount Holly and Gastonia.) 

This recreational perch along the river offers water access for boaters, piers and accessible shoreline for fishers, a playground for young explorers, and several miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers.

We visited with bikes and took to the trail system, which includes a 1.5-mile, easy, gravel out-and back stretch of the Carolina Thread Trail. Along the way, we discovered some side loops, built and maintained by the Tarheel Trailblazers, with fun bridges, boardwalks and features for more technical mountain biking.

The main trail is good for all ages and skill levels. It's mostly shady and well-marked with Carolina Thread Trail blazes. There are also map kiosks every 0.5 miles, and several footbridges and benches along the way. I can't find a trail map online, but this is the yellow trail on the maps posted at the park.

The mountain bike trails -- mostly single-track -- loop their way along either side of the main trail. To navigate them, follow the red arrows. We enjoyed the 0.4-mile Boardwalk loop. This trail is green on the posted trail map. Other options include the 0.6-mile inner loop (purple) and 0.8-mile outer loop (blue), and I understand there are more in the works.

We also spent some time on the playground equipment, which wasn't too crowded on a weekday afternoon.

Next time we go, we plan to take fishing gear and set up camp for a while along the large, handicap-accessible fishing pier situated near the base of the dam. I hear this is a good area for catching catfish and bass.

There's plenty of parking in the main lot, but no restroom facilities, so plan your visit accordingly. 

There's something very pleasant about spending time along the water and, with so much to do here, we plan to visit Mountain Island park and trail again soon. 

How to get there:
The Mountain Island Lake park and trailhead are located at 400 Mountain Island Rd, Mt Holly, NC 28120.
Don't forget to pack
  • Comfortable walking shoes (sneakers will do)
  • Water and snacks
  • Mountain bikes (and helmets) 
  • Fishing gear 
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses