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Charlotte might not top the list of bike-friendly cities just yet, but don’t let that deter you from some of the amazing trails it has to offer. And the Queen City is currently making strides to ensure safe and comfortable streets to travel via bicycle by piloting a protected bike lane that runs through Uptown — because an active city is a happy city.
With or without it, whether you want to food-hop through South End, cruise along the Catawba River, or trailblaze your way through an obstacle course, Charlotte’s got trails so captivating it’ll shift you into a whole new gear.
Running through the heart of Charlotte, the Rail Trail is a 4.5-mile paved track that connects South End to Uptown. True to its name, this trail runs alongside the city’s light rail system making it an easily accessible hot spot for bars, restaurants, and cafés. After all, you’ll want to refuel your energy, right? As you’re cruising along this urban track, don’t miss the magic carpet murals and ‘Before I Die’ wall showcasing some of the Queen City’s most inspiring examples of community expression. Plus, with several B-cycle stations positioned along the trail, there’s no excuse to miss out on this strip of Charlotte culture.
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway is not only a safe and scenic trail to explore but also an ongoing project to improve water quality and flood zones throughout the city. While this trail is still in its expansion phase, upon completion, it’ll span 20 miles extending just north of Uptown all the way down to the South Carolina state line. Currently, the trail is about six miles of relatively flat, paved surface. Fitt Tip: there’s a restroom along the trail in case nature calls.
For those looking for cycling amped up a notch, head east out of Uptown and, directly outside of I-485, you’ll run into Sherman Branch Mountain Bike Trail. This trail is slightly off the beaten path, giving a remote feel to it. Tame enough for a beginner, but still thrilling enough for the more seasoned rider, Sherman Branch is laden with rock gardens, small drops, jumps, and rooty areas — plenty to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in you.
Further outside the city center in Matthews, this beautiful out-and-back boardwalk trail stretches across Charlotte’s creeks and wetlands… all four miles of it (we were shocked too). With parking available in a nearby shopping center, this trail is easily accessible and moderately trafficked. Perfect for the avid birder or reptile-lover, this trail will make you forget you’re in a city, if only for a brief moment. Soak it in.
A short 15-minute drive from Uptown gets you to the US National Whitewater Center, which has over 20 miles of trails to keep you entertained. These trails are multi-use, meaning they’re open to walkers, runners, and bikers alike. Easily marked levels of difficulty ranging from beginner to advanced give you flexibility to choose whether you’re in the mood for a scenic roll through the woods or a thrilling ride down technical trails. Oh, and stop by the Pump House Biergarten (inside the USNWC) before you leave to enjoy one of their 60 craft beers on tap and grab a bite from the outdoor grill.
In the same general area as the Four Mile Creek trail, the McAlpine Creek Greenway is the first public greenway ever built in the Western Piedmont of North Carolina. Dating back to 1978, this trail is home to 188 documented species of birds and is one of the few greenways where you can spot river otters, beavers, and minks in one central location. With numerous pedestrian access points along the trail, you can hop on and stroll through this nature-lover’s paradise with ease.
In south Charlotte, two three-mile loops of hills, bridges, and turns will have you howling “whoop-de-do!”. Renaissance Park, one of the oldest mountain biking trails in Charlotte, is loaded with challenging obstacles such as series of approximately three-feet-tall bumps, also known (in mountain bike slang) as whoop-de-doos. While this course lends itself to more experienced riders, it’s definitely doable for beginner riders as well.
Just across the South Carolina border in Fort Mill, the Baxter Village Trail is most notable for an observation deck that overlooks the Catawba River. This trail winds in and out of woods and residential areas, making it a prime spot for the surrounding community. About three miles in length but part of a larger nine mile network, this trail is perfect for all levels of riders. Shops and restaurants are also along this trail in case you prefer flash sales over shredding trails.
If you have a need for speed, this trail is for you. Surrounding Huntersville Business Park is a two-mile loop used all year round by some of Charlotte’s finest cyclists. Not the lengthiest trail, this loop is mainly used as a training route since its surface is flat and paved. Bike paths frame both sides of the road allowing for ample space for multiple cyclists. This path is most popular during winter months when this well-lit road becomes essential with fewer hours of daylight — just make sure you signal any turns!