Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Into the Woods: A Local Guide to Tent Camping

Think camping might be fun, but not really sure where to begin? When I posted a guide to gearing up for a day outing, a number of folks told me they'd find an overnight packing list handy, too.

As our family prepares to embark on a handful of camping trips over the next few weeks, packing is top of mind for me. It's been a good excuse to dust off my lists and spend some time putting together a comprehensive guide to the basic necessities (as well as some nice-to-have accessories) for tent camping excursions.


Here's what I came up with. Of course, this checklist can (and should) be personalized according to your needs and preferences, but I think it's a solid place to start for both novices and seasoned-but-it's-been-a-while campers alike. 


If you're just dipping your toes into the experience, renting gear (REI is a good place to start) or borrowing it from a friend might be the way to go. Or, I commend to you Goat Gear XCHG (824 Lamar Ave, Charlotte, NC 28204), an outdoor gear consignment shop where you can get the basics for a fraction of new purchase costs (bonus: upcycling helps save money and the planet!)

Another tip: We pack everything — from food to clothes — in stackable, clear plastic containers. Makes it easy to keep things organized, clean and dry. I also recommend taking a large cloth or mesh drawstring bag for storing dirty laundry (Walmart has a great selection) throughout the trip. 


Now, where to camp. If you'd feel more comfortable sticking close to home, McDowell Nature Preserve (15222 York Rd., Charlotte, NC, 28278), a Mecklenburg County park about 30 minutes southwest of uptown Charlotte, might be just the right destination for you. 

A little farther out, we like Lake Norman State Park (759 State Park Rd., Troutman, NC, 28166), about 45 minutes north of town, and Cane Creek Park (5213 Harkey Rd., Waxhaw, NC, 28173), an hour or so south.

Our favorite excursions take us to Western North Carolina. High on our list of favorites are:
If the coast is more your thing, you might enjoy:
You can find lots of other wonderful options at North Carolina State Parks and


While some campgrounds offer first come/first-serve sites, it's generally best to secure a reservation. As we emerge from the pandemic, this can be challenging, but not impossible! 

I recommend spending some time familiarizing yourself with the campground map before you search for dates and sites. On loops, we find that the outside sites tend to be preferable to inside (more privacy) and, while it's nice to have the restroom nearby, a site adjacent to the bathhouse can be high-traffic. Think about what you want out of a space before you decide when and where to go.

Happy campers
As with day outings, getting started can be the biggest hurdle. Planning, preparation and packing takes time and energy. But I always find it's well worth the effort. A night or two in the woods with very few distractions can do wonders for your mental and physical health -- a restorative boost that can last well after you've returned to modern living. 

If you've been considering a wilderness getaway, consider this an invitation to give it a try. Got questions? Message me; I'd love to help. 

Happy camping! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Lake Corriher Wilderness Park

On the way to see the Eccentric Cycles Exhibit at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. (fascinating and worth a visit!), we decided to check out a new-to-us park and trail. Which is how we discovered Lake Corriher Wilderness Park, located in China Grove, NC, about 40 minutes northeast of uptown Charlotte.

Lake Corriher Wilderness Park, located in the Lake Corriher Wilderness Area and run by the Town of Landis Department of Parks, is home to Lake Corriher and the old town reservoir. The park offers fishing (by permit), camping (by reservation), boating, disc golf (a nice, 12-hole course) and, of course, hiking. The park office provides passes and gear rentals (kayaks, discs, etc.) and is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through September and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March.

We found Lake Corriher easy to get to, full of wildlife, and pleasant for a water-side stroll. From the parking lot, you're a stone's throw from the first of the two lakes. There's also a map kiosk near the entrance, which is worth a glance before you set off to explore.

We did this hike, which hugs the banks of both lakes, following the red blazes on the first stretch and blue on the back half. A third of a mile in, there's a large picnic area with fire pits and large rocks for climbing on. While the start of this hike is pretty flat and easy, there's a reason for the "rough terrain" warning sign father in. Lots of rocks and roots make for a more challenging excursion. It's navigable, though, and one of our favorite parts was the boardwalk bridge crossing the tip of the second lake.

Another shorter, simpler hike is this Carolina Thread Trail around the first lake. It's less than a mile and good for all ages and abilities.

A word of warning: There's a spaghetti network of well-worn spur trails that are not all well marked. This makes it easy to get off track if you're not paying attention. Here's a park map to help you get the lay of the land.

If you're in the China Grove area, Lake Corriher is a nice place to visit. If you're looking for a reason to head up that way, the N.C. Transportation Museum is worth a trip in and of itself (go see the eccentric bikes if you get a chance, but, hurry, it only runs through early September 2021!). Pairing the Lake Corriher hike with a museum tour was a lovely day-outing for our crew and I'd recommend it to you as well.

How to get there:
Parking for Lake Corriher Wilderness Area is located at 955 Kimball Road, China Grove, NC 28023.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Gaga for GaGa Ball

Yes, GaGa Ball is a real game. No, we did not make it up. This summer, GaGa Ball has become one of our family's favorite pastimes. And we often get questions about it. If you've never heard of this sport, you're not alone.

GaGa Ball is like dodgeball, but in a fenced-in hexagonal (or sometimes octagonal) pit, and the goal is to knock out your opponents by striking them with a bouncy ball below the knee. There are a few more rules, but that's the gist of it. It's a simple, fast-moving game, fun for all ages and group sizes.

We enjoy pairing GaGa Ball sessions with a bike ride on the greenway (it makes for a fun destination activity) and sometimes ice cream or Slurpies after.

While the origins of GaGa ball are a bit of a mystery (it's thought to have debuted in the United States in the 1950s, having originated in Israel and been introduced here by Israeli counselors working at summer camps. Gaga in Hebrew means "touch touch.") there's no denying it's grown in popularity in recent years. Local kids are likely to have played it in school, at camp, or with friends in the neighborhood.

The beauty of the game is that, besides the pit, all the equipment you really need is a light, bouncy ball and some supportive, comfortable shoes. I do recommend throwing some water bottles in your gear bag; it's easy to work up a sweat when you get to playing.

We've found a few public pits in and around Charlotte (they're often at schools or churches). Our favorite is in the corner of the soccer fields at Dilworth Elementary School (405 E. Park Ave., Charlotte, N.C., 28203) because it's large, flat and shaded. And there are public restrooms and water fountains at the adjacent Tom Sykes Recreation Center

Some of our other go-tos are:
  • The playground at St. Patrick Cathedral (1621 Dilworth Rd. E., Charlotte, N.C. 28203, just down the street from Dilworth Elementary)
  • Beside First Baptist Church Uptown (301 S. Davidson St., Charlotte, N.C., 28202)
  • In the far corner of the track across the street from Eastover Elementary School (500 Cherokee Rd., Charlotte, N.C., 28207)
Know of other GaGa pits around town? I'd love to hear about them. A quick search for a local directory came up empty. Maybe we can create one here.

I know GaGa Ball sounds newfangled. Or maybe made up? But, when it comes to schoolyard games, this one's a classic. And I recommend giving it a try. Go on. Go gaga. It's fun for the whole family. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Polly's Garden at UNCC Botanical Gardens

Been a while since you’ve visited UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens? There’s a fun new reason to make a trip to campus, just 20 minutes north of uptown.

The Polly Rogers Memorial Sensory Garden recently opened to the public. This beautiful new space, created in honor of a UNCC student who was studying to be a Special Education teacher when she passed away in 2018, offers a beautiful space for both peaceful contemplation and playful whimsy.

The entrance to the Polly's Garden is at the southern end of the Van Landingham Glen (here's a map), a 7-acre garden featuring rhododendrons and native plants of the Carolinas. (There's also the Susie Harwood Garden, well worth a visit, too)

As soon as you enter Polly's Garden, you're greeted with stimulating things to see and do. On your right is a music area, full of brightly colored cymbals and pipes. Beside the music station is an installation of river stones full of colorful rocks to play with. Nearby is a small library of nature-related books to read during your time in the gardens. Just beyond that are fun little fairy garden diorama blocks. All around are vibrant totem poles, each decorated with a different theme.

The center of the garden features an infinity path with gorgeous stonework, including mosaics. The stone bench along the edge of the path is a perfect place to pause and listen to the adjacent bubbling stream.

The garden is designed to be accessible for all and offers lots of opportunities for people of varying ages and stages to connect with nature.

If you get a chance, visit the nearby McMillan Greenhouse (currently closed for COVID-19). Among many other cool features (like a dinosaur garden and orchid room), this is home to a rare Titan Arum (meet Rotney the Magnifiscent, II), one of the world's largest flower structures when it blooms. They can reach 10-feet tall. Interestingly, they also smell like rotten meat, which is why they are sometimes called the corpse flower (hence Rotney's clever name).

Parking information for the gardens is below, but might I suggest you make an adventure of it and ride the light rail trail to campus (here's how!).   

The gardens are free and open dusk to dawn daily. 

How to get there:
Free public parking for the Botanical Gardens and Greenhouse is available behind the greenhouse in lot 16A, located at 9090 Craver Rd., Charlotte, NC, 28262. The entrance to the Polly's Garden is at the southern end of the Van Landingham Glen portion of the Botanical Gardens. You can access it through the trails in the Glen, or at the Bonnie Cone gated entrance on Mary Alexander Rd. Here's a map that will help you navigate.

Keep in mind, this trip is doable by light-rail and foot if you're up for an adventure! Here's how