Explore the AT: Nantahala Headwaters Loop
It is one of the longest thru-trails in the United States, and definitely the most popular. Take a weekend, and hike this loop through the Headwaters of the Nantahala river to get a glimpse of the forests of North Carolina. (more information can be seen here)
This loop travels around the southern portion of the Nanatahala National Forest, tracing the basin from which the same-named river originates. The trail is a popular one with backpackers, as it can be tailored to fit different lengths depending on the trail used to connect to the AT, and there are several 5,000+ peaks that give tremendous views into the surrounding countryside.
I began the loop on the Long Branch Trail from the Standing Indian Backcountry information station. The trail winds up for ~1.75 miles before connecting to the AT. Turning up, you walk along rhododendron tunnels and deciduous forests until reaching Albert Mountain, about 5.5 miles from the trailhead. This can be a good place to camp for the night, but I found that I had topped out after only 4 hours on the trail, and still had some juice in me. Plus, water on Albert Mountain was scarce, and I was running low. So after climbing the fire tower, looking out over the forest which was to be my home for the next couple days, I descended the much steeper southern side of Albert and headed on, through to Betty Creek Gap. There are several pleasant camping sites there, and the creek was gurgling happily. It made for a nice night, after about 7.7 miles of hiking.
The second day was a much longer segment, pushing all the way to Standing Indian, but much of it is along ridges or keeping flat along the same elevation, so it didn't seem as much. Water was plentiful at the shelters or even a couple creek crossings, so don't worry about your water levels. The hike is pleasant, and this is probably the quietest portion of the trail (as it is furthest from other day hike-in points). The final section to Standing Indian isn't very steep either, which helps make this direction a better option in my opinion (see below). Camping on Standing Indian, there are a few spots right at the top with beautiful views across the mountains to the south. As noted elsewhere, these tend to fill up quickly; I arrived around 3:30, and within an hour they were all taken. But it is a fantastic place to relax and you get great sunsets over the Blue Ridges. Note: watch out for the insects... when I was there the top of Standing Indian was covered, and they were thick all about. Long pants and repellent work, but keep an eye out for them.
To wrap up the loop, I chose to descend the Lower Ridge Trail (~ 4 miles) rather than Kimsey Creek Trail. Mostly it was logistic; I stayed on the top of Standing Indian, and the junction was right there, whereas Kimsey I'd have to hike down past the shelter another 1.5 miles before hooking up with the 5.5 miles of Kimsey. (So if you stay at the shelter rather than the summit, Kimsey Creek is a better choice). The Lower Ridge Trail was quiet and beautiful, but I ended up giving it the name Knee-a-saurus, because it was a steep monster that ate knees for breakfast. The trail drops 2000 ft in these 4 miles, making a steep grade the whole way through. Keep the trekking poles at the ready. At times it was rocky too, I nearly turned an ankle twice.
It is a beautiful trail, with a good portion along the AT, and very customizable for different lengths and abilities. Camping is readily accessible at the shelters, and water is not an issue. The trail pace is gentle, without any major ascents that will kill you, and the scenery invites you to take your time and enjoy each step. A great weekend outing!
- Hiking and Walking
The Coffee Cup
Sad to see the Cup has finally lost it’s battle with Atlanta-based Beazer Homes.
When the doors of the Coffee Cup first opened in the late 1940's Charlotte was still segregated. In its final days of operation, the Coffee Cup was proudly recognizable as the oldest and most integrated restaurant in the city. What made the Coffee Cup so memorable? Consistency!!! The passing of the proverbial baton not only included the restaurant name, menu, counter, stools, tables, booths, and recipes but, most importantly, the atmosphere. Each new owner amazingly embraced the culture and found it important to maintain and protect it. The face of Charlotte is changing. Taller buildings, neighborhoods are now communities-but one thing remained the same for over 60 years: The Coffee Cup. A (sadly) lost piece of Charlotte's history. A place where different ethnic backgrounds came together on a common ground for one main reason….Good Food and Friendly Conversation.
Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary
Wing Haven has been a special part of Charlotte since its creation by Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson in 1927. The gardens, enclosed on all sides by brick walls, encompass almost three acres in the heart of Charlotte and include lovely vistas, formal gardens, and woodland areas. Throughout, the emphasis is on plantings for birds and other wildlife - providing cover, nesting sites, food, and water. Plaques and statuary, integrated into the garden walls and paths, reflect the spirit and beauty of Wing Haven and its creators.
Located at 248 Ridgewood Avenue.
- Family Travel
Concord, North Carolina is a suburb of Charlotte just across the Cabarrus County line. It is famous for two things: the Lowes Motor Speedway and Concord Mills Mall. People who visit only concentrate on those things, but there is a perfectly good downtown area with notable architecture (exemplified by the old courthouse). There are no chains to be found, but there is the Cabarrus Creamery.
Pineville, North Carolina is an as-yet unspoilt suburb of Charlotte located in Southern Mecklenburg County just north of the state line, There is a small downtown area with what a lot of urban types would call quaint antique shops. By 2010, you may well see Pineville lose its rural nature from both sides: from the north- upscale suburbs moving south from Ballantyne. From the south, less upscale homes in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
Watch Airplanes Take Off at Charlotte Douglas
An official overlook maintained and operated by the city of Charlotte, this small park overlooks runway 18R at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and provides an excellent view of the tarmac and terminals as well as the skyscrapers of Charlotte that are off in the distance. This spot is a great place for both amateur and professional photographers, especially aviation ones. Planes are within approximately 850 feet of you. There are several benches to sit on that are positioned in front of the parking spots. However, if you want a different angle to view planes landing and taking off, there is a side walk outside the overlook's gates that follows the road all the way to and past the end of the runway. Like at the overlook, there are benches located there as well. Planes fly directly overhead from this spot at the end of the runway, probably no more than 100 feet above you. But make sure you park at the overlook and walk to this spot. Parking on the side of the road is illegal and cops will pull over and get you (obvious security reasons). The overlook opens at 8am and closes at 10:30pm. It is usually most crowded during midday all week and late evenings on the weekends. The area around the overlook consists of mostly industrial places that are spread out and construction sites (they are building a new runway), so be aware of your surroundings. Crime isn't a problem, but the area is rather empty and isolated. So I recommend going with a companion. The Overlook is located on Old Dowd Rd.
- Family Travel
- Arts and Culture
Carolina Raptor Center
A living museum where you can get an up-close look at birds of prey. A trail through the woods takes you past aviaries with live raptors that have been injured/disabled and could not survive in the wild. Carolina Raptor Center is open everyday of the week, but there are usually programs or tours on weekends. Entrance fee is minimal, and all the money goes to help rehabilitate injured birds. Located within Latta Plantation Nature Preserve off from Beatties Ford Road just north of Charlotte. Look for the brown sign on I-77 or get directions from the website.
- Family Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Lake Norman boat/jet ski
It's a bit of trek - but Lake Norman is good fun.
I hired a jet ski and had a burn.
Warning: It is easy to get disoriented as the Lake is a bit featureless - at least for a visitor.
Some nice housing communities if you are looking to buy a BIG HOME.
The South Carolina line is just a few minutes from Mark's doorstep or any point in Charlotte. The proximity is so close that a good number of people who work by day in Uptown Charlotte commute to places like Fort Mill and Rock Hill in York County, just across the line. It should further be noted that the local theme park called Carowinds is bisected by the state line.
In March, 2003, Mark and I had an unexpected wild adventure passing through South Carolina. The original plan was for Mark and me to briefly cross into South Carolina during the course of our first tour of Charlotte, but on the way home from Asheville, Mark took a wrong turn and followed Route 26 as opposed to route 74. This detour to South Carolina turned out to be about twice as expensive as a meal for 2 at one of the fancy restaurants I call "Food Network Specials". A South Carolina state trooper paced him going 80 mph (129 km./hr.) in a 60 mph (97 km./hr.) zone. The trooper flashed his headlights and pulled Mark over. The police don't give you any kind of break when you speed in South Carolina.
On the second trip (where parts of South Carolina were on our itinerary), I attempted to snap a photo of a welcome sign on I-77 en route to Columbia. The photo did not turn out as well as I would like, so my friend and native South Carolinian "ClarkRB" hooked me up with one. This one says "Spartanburg County" which is near Charlotte and through which I have passed on a couple of occasions before.
Outdoor activities in/near Charlotte
If you are looking for outdoor activities, golf courses are abound in Charlotte, albeit a bit expensive. If you're looking for a fun day hike, Crowders Mountain is the closest hiking opportunity 30 minutes away in Gastonia. Actually, rock climbers also come to Crowders to hone their skills.
There are six solid mountain biking trails in the Charlotte area as well. These include Renaissance Park, Catawba Riverfront Park, Francis Beatty Park, Beech Springs Mtn Bike Park (near Concord), Anne Springs (just south in SC), and North Mecklenburg Park near Huntersville. Most are fun and fast and cater to all levels of mountain biker.
There are a number of parks in and around the city that are very family-friendly and safe. For water activities, i.e., boating, fishing, Lake Norman and/or Lake Wylie are not far away. There is also talk of putting a manmade whitewater park on the Catawba River, just a few miles down I-85.
Lake Norman is a man-made lake to the north of Charlotte. It is surrounded by Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville, Lincolnton, and Denver. Huntersville is great for shopping, and Mooresville is great for race fans. There are a lot of parks around the lake for boating or fishing.
- Water Sports
- Sailing and Boating
Pineville is on the southwest side of town along the South Carolina border. The easiest way to get there if you're not familiar with Charlotte, is to head south on South Blvd. until you reach Hwy. 51. Hang a right and you'll be driving through downtown Pineville. It's a quaint little strip of shops and is a nice diversion from the relative hustle and bustle of the city of Charlotte. Antiques are the most notable merchandise on sale and there are also a few good restaurants in the area including El Vallarta and The Cajun Queen, both of which I've listed in my restaurant tips.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
If you have an extra day, spend it at the Biltmore. It's a 2 hour drive from Charlotte and about $35 to get in, but worth every penney. This is the largest privately owned home in America. It's more like a castle, built in the French Chateau style and owned by the Vanderbilt family. The collection of furnishings and art-work alone is priceless and the grounds of the estate are gorgeous. The property is hundreds of acres of beautiful land, a winery, an equestrian center, rivers, lakes, a waterfall and 3 great restaurants. Well worth a trip.
The gardens on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate are full of interesting things to see. It's a whole lot more than just the house itself. The gardens are especially great in the spring and summer and you'll also find an equestrian center, miles of pathways for horseback riding, creeks and lakes, and gorgeous open fields.
You want Barbeque? We've got BARBEQUE!
If you want to try the best barbeque this side of the Appalachian mountains, go to the "truck." Every Saturday, in Pineville (a suburb just south of Charlotte), a couple drives their truck up from South Carolina and parks in the parking lot of an Exxon station at the corner of Pineville-Matthews Road and I-485. They open the doors and sell world-class pulled pork barbeque to all comers. The best bet is the South Carolina-style mustard-based barbeque. Sounds questionable, but man, is it good!
Now I'm a bit of a connaisseur of the glorious hog, and I can tell you that while Tennessee barbecue pummels the living daylights out of Carolina pork (the secret is the hickory wood), the stuff of the truck might just be the world's best. Brilliant!
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