You’ve been at home. You baked all the sourdough and watched all the Netflix. You’ve dutifully gone out and walked in your neighborhood, but the view is getting a little stale. You long for adventure and new things to see, but you still want to responsibly social distance. Here are several under-the-radar outdoor walking itineraries for a variety of moods and occasions, all within about an hour of Charlotte. Of course, check ahead to make sure there are no closures or special hours.
This tiny preserved mining village was once the richest mining town east of the Mississippi. In the 1850s Charlotte’s mayor declared that “Charlotte will one day be as big and prosperous as Gold Hill.”
Park in the gravel lot across from E.H. Montgomery General Store. You’ll see the entire preserved village here, which under non-pandemic circumstances would be a great place to browse for antiques, pottery, and more. For now, just visit the general store for trail information and snacks.
Then walk or bike The Gold Hill Rail Trail, which starts near your parking in the Gold Hill Mines Historic Park. This trail uses the path of a narrow gauge railroad spur line from the 1880s. Along the way you will see the vestiges of the town’s former glory: mine shafts, an old stone jail, and the foundation of the old stamp mill. Most of the historic attractions are in and around the park.
After your adventure return to the village and stop at Mama T’s for a takeout picnic—there are lots of shady spots around the village and in the park to enjoy your meal.
Step back into North Carolina’s farming past in the Murray’s Mill Historic District of eastern Catawba County. Ten minutes off I-40, your first stop is Murray’s Mill and the Murray & Minges General Store. The staff in the store are a wealth of local knowledge, and you can pick up some old fashioned candy, local honey, and more. Kids will love seeing the giant water wheel and everyone will enjoy an easy walk through the woods by the lake. Note that most of the historic buildings are currently closed, though the grounds are open during daylight hours.
From here the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge is only a few minutes’ drive on your way back to I-40, and well worth a look. This National Civil Engineering Landmark has Civil War and even Revolutionary War connections.
You can wind down your adventure at this point, possibly stopping off in either Claremont or Catawba for some local home-cooked lunch (Cindy’s Starlite Café is a favorite with locals). But if you’re up for more adventure, head west on I-40 towards Bakers Mountain Park. On your way, stop off in Conover and pick up a picnic lunch, maybe at Sweet ‘Taters, a locally owned restaurant serving southern-style food.
Bakers Mountain is a 189-acre county park that gets you to the highest elevation in Catawba County (1780 feet). Six miles of trails wind through mature Chestnut Oak forest, with several beautiful lookout points. The trail to the highest point is a little over one mile.
On your way home, don’t miss a stop at Udderly Delicious for homemade ice cream. There are several locations in Hickory and Conover with truly some of the best ice cream you will ever eat. Flavors rotate, but recent favorite flavors are bourbon pecan, cookie monster, and salted caramel.
Fuel up for your day at either 4th Corner Bakehouse & Coffee Co. or Crossroads Coffee House. Crossroads is the Waxhaw original, with creative and delicious coffee drinks in an old log cabin. 4th Corner is the newcomer. They offer old world bakery items like croissants, cakes, and bread, along with craft-roasted coffees.
The big draw for this adventure is the 170-foot suspension bridge spanning Twelve Mile Creek and marking the NC/SC border. Your walk is about 1.4 miles from the park to the bridge, mostly on pavement and all of it pretty easy terrain. If that’s not enough for you, the greenway continues another 3.5 miles in South Carolina, terminating at Walnut Creek Park in Lancaster. Park at H.C. Nesbit Park in Waxhaw (1304 H.C. Nesbit Park Road, Waxhaw, NC 28173). Parking is also available at Kensington Elementary School.
We’ll see you out on the trail!