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With the Carolinas’ abundance of parks and trails, lakes, and enchanting gardens, us locals are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to see and do outdoors on a beautiful afternoon. To help you get out and explore the best hidden gems and must-see spots, we’ve rounded up a list of the best outdoor adventures close to home.

1. Freedom Park

14 minutes from West End Towns | 30 minutes from Kennington

A 98-acre park in Charlotte, Freedom Park is a go-to for outdoor fun of all kinds. Centered around a 7-acre lake, the park boasts paved trails, tennis courts, athletic fields, and playgrounds. Free films and musical performances are organized in the park pavilion during the summer months.

2. Lake Norman

Approx. 1 hour from all of Empire’s communities in North Carolina

Just 20 miles north of Charlotte is Lake Norman — a hub of adventure suited to all age groups. Stroll down the historic main streets of its surrounding towns like Davidson and Huntersville, filled with shops, restaurants and art galleries, or set out on an adventure on the water. From fishing to swimming and boating, there’s a ton of activities to choose from.

3. Little Sugar Creek Greenway

9 minutes from West End Towns | 25 minutes from Kennington

Running along eastern Charlotte, this trail stretches just under 12 miles with plans to expand further. Connecting to parks, schools, gardens, shopping and dining areas, it’s one of the best places in the region to walk, run and bike, and even spot some of North Carolina’s wildlife.

4. UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens

13 minutes from Kennington | 14 minutes from Camellia Gardens

Interested in taking a relaxing stroll through mesmerizing gardens? Wanting to read up on and learn more about plants? The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens might just be the ideal place. Explore their three gardens on site, featuring 16 beautiful collections. It’s been named one of the best places to see in Charlotte.

5. Reedy Creek Park

6 minutes from Kennington | 11 minutes from Camellia Gardens

This 125-acre urban park is a favorite among locals. Rich in courts and fields for sports like basketball, softball, tennis, soccer and cricket, you’ll find sports lover’s spending time here on weekends. So, what are you waiting for? Plan a visit and take advantage of their picnic facilities, beaches, playgrounds, disc golf course and fishing pier.

6. Four-Mile Creek Greenway

26 minutes from Kennington | 27 minutes from West End Towns 

Find walkers, hikers, runners and bikers making use of this paved trail, stretching 2 miles from East John Street to South Trade Street. Here, you’ll find pets trotting along, as well as wild animals like beavers, deer and birds in their natural habitats. Open all year round, it’s the perfect place to find some solitude and escape the hecticness of life.

7. U.S. National Whitewater Center

20 minutes from West End Towns | 30 minutes from Camber Woods

The U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) is where to head when you’re looking for a unique outdoor experience, with over 30 things to do and see inspired by the area’s natural wonders and offerings. Less than 30 minutes from Charlotte, you’ll be greeted by 50 miles of trail, access to Catawba River and Long Creek, dining options, educational activities and water sports of all kinds.

8. Seven Oaks Preserve Trail

17 minutes from Camber Woods | 30 minutes from West End Towns

This 4.6-mile loop trail near Belmont is a great choice if you can also spare a few hours. It’s located on 78 acres of conserved land and connects to one of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s trails. Meandering along Lake Wylie’s shoreline, the scenic views of nature and signs of wildlife are a sight to see.

1. Lake Wylie

27 minutes from Camber Woods | 34 minutes from Enclave at Massey

Calling all lake lovers — Lake Wylie is your go-to destination for all things fun on the water. This 12,455-acre man-made lake is great for kayaking, canoeing, tubing and fishing. Located on the North and South Carolina border, it’s accessible from both states. So, if you’re looking for an escape from summer’s heat or some water-based activities, be sure to plan a visit.

2. Anne Springs Close Greenway

11 minutes from Enclave at Massey

Can you imagine visiting a nature preserve more than twice the size of New York City’s Central Park? Well, that’s what South Carolina’s Anne Springs Close Greenway is known for. This 2,100-acre outdoor destination is just minutes from Fort Mill, nestled among lakes, forested areas, and wide open spaces. Next time you visit, make sure you book a horse-riding session or sign up for a yoga class with goats.

3. Table Rock State Park

54 minutes from Holcombe | 56 minutes from River Reserve

Mountain views, swimming holes, waterfalls — oh my! Table Rock State Park is a must-see in South Carolina with 3,000 acres to explore. Follow paths and trails to natural streams and waterfalls, and end up on top of the Pinnacle and Table Rock mountains. You can even camp on site at the park’s cabins.

4. Laurel Fork Falls

Approx. 2 hours from Holcombe & River Reserve

If you’re looking for scenic views few have seen, a trip to Laurel Fork Falls might just be the outdoor adventure you’ve been seeking. Hiking to this 80-foot high waterfall requires a difficult 5- to 6-hour journey over permanent and suspended bridges at times. You can also experience these scenic views via a kayak ride — but only for those who are more experienced braving rapid waters.

5. Paris Mountain State Park

30 minutes from River Reserve | 34 minutes from Holcombe

Located in Greenville, Paris Mountain State Park is a center for all things paddling, fishing, swimming, hiking, biking and bird watching. Spend a weekend at one of their campsites and revel in the outdoors. We promise you — the memories you’ll make here will last a lifetime.

6. Jones Gap State Park

Approx. 1 hour from Holcombe & River Reserve

Feel at home in the great outdoors? Jones Gap State Park is a great option if you’re looking to traverse through pristine mountain woodlands. Fun fact: the Middle Saluda River runs through this park, offering some of the best trout fishing in all of South Carolina. The park is also home to an abundance of trails suited to all levels — some leading to breathtaking waterfalls.

Setting out on your outdoor adventure in the Carolinas? Share your photos with us on Instagram by tagging @empire_thecarolinas. Next, check out these 4 celebrity-owned restaurants in the Carolinas or 5 must-visit fairways for golf lovers in Charlotte.


Images courtesy of: Charlotte’s Got a Lot (Lake Norman, UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens); Conde Nast Traveler (Little Sugar Creek Greenway); DPR Design (Reedy Creek Park); Pacer (Four-Mile Creek Greenway); Catawba Lands Conservancy (Seven Oaks Preserve); Anne Springs Close Greenway (Anne Springs Close Greenway); Lake Wylie Marine Commission (Lake Wylie); Greenville, SC (Table Rock State Park); South Carolina Lakes Database (Paris Mountain State Park); Greenville Journal (Jones Gap State Park). 


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