Need to get away for bit? (Don’t we all!) Try a run along these off-road but not out-of-reach trail running routes. Hitting the trails around Charlotte is a great opportunity to run without the worry of traffic, soften the blow from your regular diet of asphalt and concrete running paths, among other benefits. And this time of year, trail running around Charlotte is a great way to take in some scenic fall foliage and refresh your spirit.
Wondering where to start? Try a run on these great trails in and around Charlotte!
Not THAT Area 51 – the one in Charlotte, aka Pineville-Matthews Road. Many of Charlotte’s southern greenway trails converge around this area, so park your car and jump on McMullen Creek, Lower McAlpine Creek, or Four Mile Creek greenways. Together they provide 11.4 miles out and back for a great fall run from points just west of Johnston Road, all the way to Rea Road near Trader Joe’s.
For a slightly more ambitious run, you can continue up Rea Road (or go through the nearby neighborhood), turn right on Hwy 51, and reach William R. Davie Park in just another mile and a half. Davie Park has its own walking trails and facilities.
A very popular loop in Matthews, Col. Frances Beatty Park offers a 4.3-mile loop around a scenic lake. It is the home of a Wednesday morning trail run for Charlotte Running Club, and a favorite of its past president, Chad Champion.
“It’s a beautiful park,” says Champion. “It’s a loop that’s a little over 4 miles, so it’s easy to get done, but allows extensions if you feel like doing more.” It’s also an entry-level technical trail, says Champion, with a lot of tree roots and other features that make you slow down and watch the scenery a little more.
Just off Weddington Road south of I-485, it’s also a popular stop for anyone who lives near Matthews. It’s a favorite local route for Lisa Landrum, founder of runCLTrun and a board member of the Charlotte Running Club. She likes that it’s a challenging course located close enough for a mid-week run.
“These entry-level trails are perfect for those who want to try running on them, but aren’t ready for more technical stuff,” says Landrum. “You can learn here! The main loop is 5 miles, and if you’d like a longer run, just loop it twice.”
Anne Springs Close Greenway
The Anne Springs Close Greenway offers 40+ miles of trail, setting it apart from paved options around the Queen City. The longest trail, Blue Star, spans more than 7 miles end-to-end and connects with the entire trail system. Refuel after your run at the on-site restaurant, Gateway Canteen. Keep in mind that the Anne Springs Close Greenway requires a daily entrance fee or annual membership. With trails passing scenic water, rolling pastures and shady trees, runners find it worth the drive from Charlotte. https://www.ascgreenway.org/
The “Other” McAlpine
Or the primary McAlpine, depending on how you look at it. McAlpine Park – between Monroe Road and Independence Blvd., just north of Sardis Road North – has a 5k trail used by local high schools for their cross country meets. It also connects to the McAlpine Creek Greenway (not the Lower McAlpine, which we previously mentioned off Hwy 51), so you can go a little further on a good day.
Champion understands why this is such a popular course. “You don’t have to worry about traffic,” he says. “It’s safe, it’s flat, it’s lit, and most of all, it’s in good condition – it doesn’t flood.”
The Great North & West
Two areas north and west of uptown Charlotte offer trails of their own that are popular with runners. For sheer beauty, with plenty to do after a run, try the U.S. National Whitewater Center. There are 40 miles of trails to choose from, along with a river for kayaking, and all of the other activities offered like whitewater rafting, ziplining, rock climbing, and relaxing with food and a beverage.
“It’s very well-marked and very well-groomed,” remarks Champion. “It has all different types of terrain, and it only costs $6 to park.” And don’t forget that a half-mile portion of trail is lit up with light sculptures for the winter, and ice skating is a seasonal option if you have any legs left after your run!
To the north, Lake Norman State Park offers 6 easy-to-moderate level trails around beautiful Lake Norman. They vary in length from 3.1 miles to nearly 20 miles. Three additional trails are great for hiking and biking – offering something for everyone.
Get Outta Town
It’s overstating the obvious that North Carolina is full of picturesque beauty with its many mountains along the Blue Ridge. A few hours’ drive is all you need to enjoy a hike or run along, well, too many great trails to name here. For a short drive, though, the Kings Mountain-Crowders Mountain area just one county (or state) over can give you a quick trail-hike fix. There are two great climbs at each state park, and the Ridgeline Trail is a 12-mile trek that connects them. This one is definitely a marathon, not a sprint!
For a less daunting elevation, Landrum likes the Uwharrie State Forest, near Troy. The trails here are best known for being cut from the brush for Boy Scouts, but you get a mix of challenges along several choices of trails.
“There’s definitely some elevation happening out there, but if you’re ready for a great run, check them out!” says Landrum. “These are a little more technical, but the bonus is that most trails don’t allow mountain bikers, so your focus can be on your running.”
Champion travels a little further for his favorites – to the Moses Cone Memorial Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Blowing Rock. The former summer home of industrialist Moses Cone (founder of Cone Mills, once the world’s largest denim maker) and wife Bertha offer a house on the National Register of Historic Places, and 25 miles of carriage trails to pull you back through history.
“There’s absolutely nothing like running to the fire tower, and taking some pictures,” says Champion – if you’ve got the strength to climb to the top! We agree, the breathtaking views are worth a visit even if your run is short and your curiosity is long.
We know this is just a short list, but hopefully it will open some venues for you to discover!