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McDowell Nature Preserve Charlotte NC

Efficient Admin (aka Michelle) has been hiking for eight years on the wonderful mountain trails of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Cove area on the Kingfisher Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Cove area on the Kingfisher Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

McDowell Nature Preserve

This is one of my favorite places to go “hiking”. I say hike because, even though this preserve is not located in the mountains, it sure does feel like you are in the mountains when you take to these trails. There is a lot of elevation and winding trails. Some trails are very narrow and if you turn your head and look down there is a 30-foot drop. Very exciting and fun if you ask me!

Following are a few tidbits about the preserve and information on the hiking trails and a few photos of the area. I plan to visit this park many times this summer and will either get better photos, or different photos that reflect the atmosphere. Also there is a video at the bottom if you feel like taking a stroll with me on the Chestnut Trail. If you plan to use the hiking trails, it is recommended to wear hiking boots and if you have a pair of trekking poles it wouldn't hurt to bring them as well.

Take a walk with me on Chestnut Trail.

Did I mention this park is near the airport? You can hear an airplane flying overhead, but the usual sounds are birds singing and squirrels running through the brush and playing in the trees.


McDowell Nature Preserve consists of 1,108 acres of forested terrain along the banks of Lake Wylie. Approximately 90% of the nature preserve has been left undeveloped and offers a chance to see wildlife and several hiking trails. The Nature Preserve has picnic areas and decks with tables and grills, a picnic shelter which can be reserved, pavilion and waterfront deck, a canoe and kayak launch area, hiking trails, a playground, an accessible walking trail, and fishing.

McDowell Nature Center is home to an exhibit area showing a variety of displays on the preserve’s natural communities and wildlife such as frogs, snakes, and turtles. It also contains public restrooms (very important when you are hiking), a classroom, a gift shop, and offices for staff. There are also buttons on the wall that when pressed, animal sounds emit. There is a button that emits the growl of a cougar, but there are no cougars in these parts thank goodness!

Hiking Trails

Shady Hollow Trail -- This is a moderate 0.6 mile trail. One end begins at the parking lot of the Nature Center and the other end turns into the Kingfisher Trail near Lake Wylie and a picnic area. This trail passes through a dry pine forest and along a stream that has many different plants. Be prepared for some inclines on this trail between the nature center and the connector trail to Kingfisher.

Kingfisher Trail -- An easy 0.9 mile trail connecting the campground and picnic area and runs along Lake Wylie. It follows the shoreline and provides a nice view of Lake Wylie. Spring flowers are abundant here as well.

Chestnut Trail -- This is a moderate 1.2 mile trail with a few steep inclines. This trail to me feels like hiking in the mountains. This trail circles around a natural valley divided by a small creek and passes beneath a canopy of mature hardwood forest, most of which was affected by a tornado in 2004. The forest floor is carpeted in wildflowers during the early spring, and witch hazel blooms in winter.

Creekside Trail -- This is an easy 1.2 mile loop trail. It follows along a stream into a remote portion of the nature preserve. A variety of interesting habitats are seen here including a dry oak-pine upland forest, a rich bottomland hardwood forest and an old field area. It is common to see deer in this area.

Cedar Ridge Trail -- This is a short 0.5 mile trail and is only accessible from the Creekside Trail. An addition to the Creekside loop, it provides the opportunity for an increased level of strenuous hiking. You will get a bird’s eye view of the bottomland forest below. This trail climbs a steep ridge, passes through an area of very old, large trees and ends with a steep descent back to the main trail.

Four Seasons Trail -- This is a paved easy 0.4 mile trail and is handicapped accessible. This trail has a bubbling Piedmont stream and a creek ramp (for full access to the creek) and several benches are provided along this trail.

Sierra Trail -- This is an easy 0.3 mile loop located directly behind the Nature Center. This trail provides excellent views of large hardwood trees, including many that were downed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Pine Hollow Trail -- This moderate 0.9 mile trail connects with the Sierra Trail behind the Nature Center. Eastern red cedar is abundant in this area.

Cove Trail -- This moderate 0.8 mile trail runs along the shoreline of Lake Wylie and is one of my favorite trails. It passes beside a deep cove of the lake in which wildlife including ducks, muskrats, and mink are often seen. Maple trees are numerous and offers a breathtaking view in the fall.

Photos of the Shady Hollow Trail

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

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Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

Shady Hollow Trail at McDowell Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

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Camping, Boating, and Picnic Areas Available

McDowell campground offers 56 sites which will accommodate RVs and tent campers. These sites include: 13 RV sites, 26 drive-to tent sites, 10 primitive tent sites, one cabin and 6 9x12 Rent-a-Tents. The cabin and Rent-a-Tents each include two cots and can sleep up to 6 people.

Boat access to Lake Wylie can be obtained at Copperhead Island at the end of Soldier Road. The facilities at Copperhead Island include ramps for motorboats, boat docks, a group camp site, and fishing piers. There is also a picnic shelter that can be reserved and includes public restrooms, electricity, charcoal grills, a volleyball court, and horseshoe pit.

Hike along the Kingfisher Trail and you will see several wooden picnic areas containing a picnic table and grill, which were built to overhang over Lake Wylie on a wooden overhang. So you can have a lake view while having lunch. It is quite a peaceful and tranquil place to have a BBQ.

Educational Programs

McDowell Nature Center offers a variety of environmental education and nature programs to the general public, schools, teachers, and other organized groups. The center also participates in special events such as Earth Day, Big Sweep, and International Migratory Bird Day.

A quarterly newsletter entitled Natural Connections has a complete description of public programs and special events.

Nature Preserve Rules

  • For your safety, please stay on designated trails and walk with a friend.
  • No weapons or firearms are allowed.
  • Hiking trails are only for pedestrians. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are to stay on paved roads only.
  • Any disturbance, removal, or collection of any natural or cultural object is prohibited.
  • No alcoholic beverages are allowed (except with a valid shelter reservation and permit).
  • All pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet.
  • Children under 16 are required to wear a helmet while riding bicycles, skateboards, or rollerblades.
  • No swimming or wading is allowed.
  • Introduction of plants or animals to the nature preserve is prohibited.

Other Adventures by This Author

  • Hiking the Dupont State Forest Park
    Dupont State Forest is a 10,000+ acre tract located near Hendersonville, NC. This forest was used to shoot the box office hit “The Hunger Games” and also scenes from “The Last of the Mohicans”.
  • Hiking the Stone Mountain Loop Trail -- Roaring Gap, NC
    Located on more than 13,500 acres in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina offers cascading waterfalls and cool mountain streams, quiet forests abundant with wildlife, scenic hiking trails and a historic mountain
  • Moses Cone Hiking Trails -- Blowing Rock, NC
    The Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is an estate honoring the late Moses H. Cone in Blowing Rock, NC.
  • Landsford Canal State Park -- Catawba, SC
    Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba SC is one of those lesser-known gems you must visit if ever near the Charlotte, NC /Rock Hill, SC area. If you love history and nature, you'll love this place.

© 2013 Michelle Dee


Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on February 24, 2015:

poetryman6969 - this is one of my favorite places locally to hike. Thank you for reading and commenting.

poetryman6969 on February 24, 2015:

Some nice looking walking trails.

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on April 28, 2013:

Peggy W - thank you for reading and commenting. There are some other awesome trails at this preserve that I will get some photos of, that have picnic tables and grills overlooking the Lake Wylie and it is awesome and tranquil at the same time. Thanks for the votes. Have a great weekend.

Shiningeyes - I know in your neck of the woods it's really awesome. I have not been there but have seen photos. My kind of land LOL. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on April 28, 2013:

Beautiful and awesome journey you took me on. It reminds me so much of my neck of the woods. Stunning and gorgeous.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2013:

McDowell Nature Preserve looks like a wonderful place to enjoy nature. Thanks for sharing all of your photos and information about this place near Charlotte, North Carolina. For those who like to camp and boat and hike, this seems like it would be a terrific place to unwind and relax. Up, useful and interesting votes.

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