Charlotte’s summers start early, crank up to swamp-level humidity and funk before mid-June, and regularly extend into late October. But winter finally comes hard in December, becoming even brutal and dreary (from a Charlotteans’ view, anyhow) by January or February. So, what is a resident of a mostly sunny Southern city to do? Fret not, for Charlotte has myriad options for getting outdoors during these colder winter months. Leave your couch potato ways at the door, put Netflix on hold, and bundle up. It may be chilly outside, but there’s so much to do in the Queen City.
US National Whitewater Center
At first dismissed as an expensive niche project of the County Commission, the US National Whitewater Center has become one of Charlotte’s biggest and most popular attractions. Off the beaten path near sleepy Moores Chapel, The Whitewater Center offers everything the outdoor enthusiast could desire -- and it’s not just for summertime fun. The rafting may be closed for the season, but the extensive trails for biking and jogging are still open, as are challenging yet fun rock climbing walls. Afterward, be sure to stop by the River’s Edge restaurant for some beers and a snack
Crowders Mountain State Park
In the Charlotte bubble, it can be easy to forget how close the mountains and foothills really are. beauty of Crowder’s Mountain State Park is a 40 minute drive from the center of the city and there are several ways to conquer the beast, even in the winter. Pack lunch and head for the Linwood Road Access, a short hike all the way to the summit with its panoramic views of the city and surrounding counties. The Sparrow Springs Access which offers moderate length trails that will take you up the long ridge of the mountain to it’s summit. The more strenuous Boulders Access Area takes you over 6 miles through the park, at which point you can continue the extra bit up the rocky ridge to the summit.
The ritual of hanging Christmas lights (or driving around to see lights on other people’s homes) is a bedrock tradition. McAdenville, a twenty minute drive west of Charlotte, takes this tradition to its absolute extreme, covering every square inch of real estate in the town in spectacular lighted glory. The lines from the highway into McAdenville will be long, but the wait is well worth it. Yuletide has never been so bright.
The Martin Luther King Day Parade is a serious affair in Charlotte, with businesses, schools, communities, and even sports teams coming together to celebrate the inspiring life of an American activist and icon. Practically every high school in the city puts its marching bands and step teams on display for all to marvel at. With a smattering of floats and all different kinds of civic and community groups marching, it's a great way to be more involved and learn more about the Queen City. If marching and waving aren’t your thing, just bring a camping chair and a hot thermos and take it all in. The best spot to watch is in front of the stunning mirrored Phoenix sculpture at the front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
On the weekends hundreds of local residents descend on the vacant lot that was once Eastland Mall, turning it into a lively market that mixes retail, food, and niche flea market goods. Come hungry and feast from multiple food trucks, but be sure to save room for elotes. This Mexican variation of corn on the cob takes the humble grilling staple to a whole new level, then slathers it with butter, chili powder, cheese, mayonnaise, lime juice, and fresh crema.
Even if racing isn’t your thing, you have to go downtown to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for some quintessential winter activity. Outside the museum you’ll find the Ceremonial Plaza turned into 7,000 square feet of skating bliss. You can bring your own skates or rent them on site if needed. Skate till you drop, sip hot chocolate, and take in the beautiful Charlotte skyline.
Among the entire array of fun activities on offer in Asheville, the mammoth and head-spinning extravagance of George Vanderbilt’s pleasure palace is a must-see. The largest private residence in the United States, the Biltmore receives over one million visitors every year, and for good reason. Only a two hour drive from Charlotte, you will need a whole day to take in grand halls and pristine gardens. You can even make reservations for a candlelight Christmas evening at the estate, after which you’ll wish you never had to go home.
Boy Scout Troops in the Charlotte area take our state’s best dish and do it supreme justice at annual BBQ cook-offs. This winter tradition goes back decades and is the best way a lot of troops know to raise money for the community. While there are several different troop Qs to choose from, our favorite is Troop 33 at Sardis Presbyterian Church. Troop 33 has one of the biggest grilling operations in the area and will host will have their annual BBQ fundraiser Super Bowl weekend, serving up one pound containers with all the fixins’.
Contrary to popular belief, Charlotte has a wealth of historical treasures to explore and enjoy. One of the most in depth experiences is at Latta Plantation in Huntersville, where you can take a tour of the old house, walk the grounds, and get up close and personal with all the farm animals. A visit to Latta isn’t complete without a stop at the Carolina Raptor Center, a bird rehabilitation and learning center, or the Nature Center, an extensive network of trails, and ponds for fishing and boating.
This European holiday market in Romare Bearden Park was an effort to bring more holiday spirit to Uptown. Through Christmas Eve, enjoy German pastries and food stuffs, beer and wine, and all kinds of specialty goods from Europe, Nepal, Ecuador, and Turkey. Come at night when the village is lit-up and shining. Of particular interest are the strudels and glühwein, a mulled and spiced wine popular in Germany and Austria. Prost!
You might not understand why anyone would wake up at dawn on a winter’s day to run for miles and miles on end for the hell of it, but anyone can grasp the appeal of eating fresh made donuts. Grab a dozen and on the iron-willed participants of the BB&T Corporate Cup Marathon from the comfort of the sidelines. Pro-tip: the maple icing with bacon pieces is, hands-down, the best donut at Duck Donuts.
Lace up your best hiking boots and shed some holiday pounds at the historic Rural Hills Farm for the first footin’, the traditional Scottish New Year’s Day walk. This walk through the woods is a few miles trot around the historic farm’s sites, stopping along the way to discuss history and folklore. The Charlotte area is home to a lot of Scots-Irish, so be ready for big crowds. Be sure to bring supplies to contribute to the giant communal pot of stew that will be cooked at the conclusion of the walk.
Like many cities, Charlotte has invested in a bike sharing program to foster better health and increase tourism. For a small fee you can ride around the city for up to 24 hours, bringing the bike back to any of the prominent b-cycle stations. For an annual fee of $65 you can ride as much as you want. Put on a scarf and pedal through the Dilworth, Elizabeth, Biddleville, Plaza-Midwood, and Wilmore neighborhoods.
If non-stop pedalling, hollering at the top of your lungs, and leisurely sipping on beer sounds like the perfect weekend, Trolley Pub is your new second home. Get together a group of your most enthusiastic beer drinking friends and rent out Trolley Pub for a boozy ride. Be sure to to make as much noise as possible while you make your way down North Davidson as people talk about how uncouth you are.
Putting on extra layers of clothing for protective padding and trudging through the woods on a cold winter day may not sound like fun. All of that changes when you have a paintball gun firmly in your hands. The folks at Paintball Central have created a multi-experience paintball park in Rock Hill that offers you and your friends or co-workers a full day of competitive entertainment. You can play in the woods, on a dirt mound course, or try to capture a makeshift fort. There’s nothing better than going home covered in sweat, dirt, and giant welts.
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