Here are 10 kid-approved, family-friendly outdoor activities in the Charlotte area
A few days ago, something snapped inside me when I found my almost 7-year-old son, Evan, sitting like a lump on the couch playing Roblox, snacking on Pringles, ignoring the book next to him and clearly not caring that it was almost 70 degrees and beautiful outside. It was time to intervene. He needed fresh air and sunshine stat!
I was craving some quality time in the great outdoors with my little man, so I asked him to make a list of his favorite things to do outside. His response was fairly simple: playground, soccer, scooters, swinging in our backyard and going on a nature scavenger hunt on the neighborhood trails.
He was onto something! But what about outside our neighborhood? The wheels started churning, and I decided to build on his suggestions to create this list of 10 family-friendly outdoor activities in the greater Charlotte area. The following list is Evan-approved.
Location: 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28277
This brand new six-acre park with sensory slides, climbing structures, a rock wall, several hammocks and an expansive open space has quickly become our favorite park. Nestled just out back of The Ballantyne hotel, the public playground also has a covered picnic area with views of the Ballantyne fountain on one side and a stream on the other. The park also links nearly 20 miles of trails throughout the Ballantyne community. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here.
Hit the lake
Hello, Sailor location: 20210 Henderson Rd, Cornelius, NC 28031
McDowell location: 15222 York Rd, Charlotte, NC 28278
It may still be a tad too cool to actually get in the water, but there’s just something satisfying about being by the lake. Here in Charlotte, we’re lucky enough to have several lakes to choose from. You can’t beat the views from Hello, Sailor, a nautical-themed waterfront restaurant that describes itself as a “modern play on a fish camp that focuses on chef-driven dishes.” It has an expansive deck overlooking Lake Norman, and kids will enjoy watching the boats sail in and out from the dock. And then down on Lake Wylie, McDowell Nature Preserve with trails, picnic areas, fishing and panoramic views of the lake for Instagram worthy photos. Seasonal canoe rentals are available, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, there’s camping, too.
Piedmont Social House location: 2135 Ayrsley Town Blvd Suite C, Charlotte, NC 28273
Hobo’s location: 213 Main St, Fort Mill, SC 29715
Several breweries and local restaurants have lively patios or grassy areas with yard games and room to run. My top pick is Piedmont Social House, which has a large covered patio and a lawn with corn hole and other fun outdoor games. Or, head just across the state line to Hobo’s in Fort Mill, where you’ll find a huge outdoor area with plenty of shaded tables and room for the littles to run around. Grab one of Hobo’s signature spiked milkshakes like the Tennessee Apple Pie, Thin Mint or Banana Foster. Kid milkshakes include all the usual favorites, as well as a flavor of the month and add-ons like M&Ms and Reese’s cups.
Also in Fort Mill, hidden around Baxter Village’s trails, pocket parks and communal areas are about 40 geocache containers with goodies waiting to be found, according to Eric Chilton, geocache coordinator for the Baxter Village trail system. This fun, modern-day treasure hunt uses GPS technology to direct a person or group to a waterproof container holding small items to trade. Chilton said Baxter’s caches are typically disguised as fake rocks, sporting equipment or even fake electrical devices meant to fool the untrained eye.
Of course geocaching isn’t exclusive to Baxter. You can download the Geocache app on your phone, register at www.Geocaching.com and then find a green dot of the nearest cache placement. Happy hunting!
Whitewater Center’s ropes courses
Location: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214
The U.S. Whitewater Center has several ropes courses, obstacle challenges, jumps and zip lines to choose from, from beginner to difficult, for ages 5 and up. In full disclosure, I haven’t done this yet but it’s on my bucket list and just screams “adventure.” I imagine nothing gets the adrenaline going quite like the experience of cargo nets, suspended platforms and rope bridges while traversing through the forest and over the rapids. There’s even an on-the-ground ropes course. The center also has plenty of biking and hiking trails and other outdoors activities, and then you can always grab something to eat or drink at an onsite restaurant.
The town of Davidson has more than six miles of trails and can be a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors hiking or biking. It’s an especially good place for bird watching, as the South Fork of the Rocky River that runs next to the greenway is home to more than 100 types of birds including white-thoated sparrows, juncos, woodpeckers, Eastern bluebirds and more. Check out this handy greenway map to plan your route. And while you’re in Davidson, head over to the Davidson Soda Shop for a milkshake that can be enjoyed in the grassy common area in front of the store.
Location: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, 420 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202
We love trekking through uptown on the weekends to see the public art sculptures up close. A favorite is The Firebird, just outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. It’s a glitzy bird perched on an arch made of mirrored and colored glass and makes for cool photo ops. Directly across the street is The Green, a book-themed pocket park with whimsical sculptures, including water-spouting fish. While you’re there look for the Charlotte signpost that points to other cities named Charlotte across the globe.
Romare Bearden Park
Location: 300 S Church St, Charlotte, NC 28202
I debated adding another park to this list, but this one is different. It’s in the heart of the city, surrounded by skyscrapers. So while you’re uptown checking out the public art, just stroll over to Romare Bearden Park by Truist Field. Evan loves to climb all over the rock statues and then splash around under the waterfall exhibit. The large open space is a perfect place for Frisbee, kicking a ball around or having a picnic. It’s even better if you can catch a Charlotte Knights baseball game, too. The season opener is March 31.
Schiele Museum’s outdoor exhibits
Location: 1500 E Garrison Blvd, Gastonia, NC 28054
It’s not just a living history museum. The nature trail and other outdoor exhibits at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia are worth the admission alone. The 0.7 mile trail along a stream and pond would be a great place for a nature scavenger hunt. (You can find plenty of printables like these online). There’s also the Memorial Wildlife Garden, nestled next to the river, and a series of mazes made from natural materials. And then there’s my personal favorite —The Farm, an all-new outdoor experience with interactive displays, farm equipment and real pigs, goats, sheep and cows. Go ahead and mark your calendar now for April 8, when the museum hosts Farm Babies, a meet-and-greet with baby animals.
Location: Mr. Putty’s Fun Park, 2333 Dam Rd, Tega Cay, SC 29708
When I hear “mini golf,” I typically think of Myrtle Beach and the rows of courses along Hwy. 17. But the Charlotte area actually has several great mini golf courses, from Adventure Landing in Gastonia to Lake Norman Miniature Golf to the pirate-themed High Seas Miniature Golf in Indian Land and more. But my family’s absolute favorite is Mr. Putty’s Fun Park in Tega Cay, which is home to the longest mini golf hole in the Carolinas at 111 feet long. With waterfall jump shots, hidden pipe shots and other fun features, this site was host to the 2019 U.S. Pro Mini Golf US Open. There are plenty of other things to do at Mr. Putty’s, too, including ax throwing, trampoline bungees and a ropes course that ends with a 200-foot zip line.