Directly to the west of Charlotte, on the other side of the Catawba River, lie the blue-collar towns within Gaston County. Known more for light industrial work and sports bars than outdoor adventure and eclectic fusion fair, it’s easy to overlook Charlotte’s western neighbors when you have an urge to explore outside. With a bit of knowledge, however, you can find a weekend’s worth of activities to keep you busy and entertained.
Caffeine shot at Caravan
Unlike their cousins in Charlotte, independent, local coffee shops don’t tend to have a long shelf life in Gaston County. Caravan Coffee has defeated that trend. Their mix of uber-friendly staff and great collection of flavored coffee options have made them an institution in downtown Belmont NC. Located just across the street from Stowe Park, the setting is perfect for sipping a peaceful cup of banana nut crunch java. Since it’s owned by the same folks that run the cake shop next store, you can usually find a small selection of really tasty treats. The almond crème scone is awesome if you’re lucky enough to grab one before they’re gone.
Up the river, with a paddle
Enjoying your weekend of outdoor activities requires getting into the right frame of mind. Few things bring the Zen of nature like floating in a kayak. Start your day by dropping your kayak in the Catawba River at the Mount Holly put in on 27. From Charlotte, take Mount Holly-Huntersville Rd (AKA 27) across the river. Take the first right you see and work your way to the boat launch.
If you can get going in the morning you’ll be treated to a light mist rising from the water. Much of the wildlife on the riverbanks is active in the morning too. Herons glide along the river, pushing the morning fog as they go. The occasional “plop” will turn your attention to a log recently inhabited by a turtle. Osprey soar above looking for a bit of breakfast, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see one of these guys diving into the river to retrieve it.
There’s no particular destination for this paddle. Explore the inlets and islands, look for birds nesting under the overpass, and watch for the occasional land dwelling raccoon watching you with interest from the shore. From the put in, left is north and against the current while right is downstream. While there are no rapids in the area although it’s good to remember that after heavy rains the current can be strong enough to make you work for your upstream progress. Keep a wearable life jacket on your boat as per local law.
Peddles or paws at George Poston Park
George Poston Parksits on the north end of Lowell NC. If you’ve brought your four-legged friend with you, the dog park at GPP is one of the best. Located on a hill with several large shade trees and benches, the dog park has a metric ton of space for your buddy to get some wide open space and room to run.
If the mountain bike makes the trip, the park won’t disappoint. Around 10 miles of moderately technical trails take you through a mostly wooded patch of land. This trail system is known for it’s tight turns and narrow single-track. Expect plenty of climbs as well. These trails shouldn’t be your first ride but for the intermediate rider they can present a fantastic skills challenge. If your choice is to run the trail, it’s recommended that you travel in the opposite direction of bike traffic.
Rest and refuel at The String Bean
The String Bean raised the culinary bar in Gaston County as soon as it arrived a few years ago. In a land dominated by local pizza joints and sports bars, The String Bean brings high quality, well prepared meals, a good wine selection, and a beer menu not typically seen in these parts. This is a perfect way to end a Saturday of exploring.
Expect chef created specials of seafood or beef each weekend. The burgers are among the best in the Charlotte area. For something a bit different, try the Cowpig, a taste bud kicking burger of ground beef and ground bacon.
Most nights, when it’s not too busy, you can walk over to the in-store meat and seafood counter, point to whatever looks great to you, and ask the server to have the chef do something awesome with it. Or you can take your uncooked selection with you along with a beverage from the on-site packaged beer/wine store.
The atmosphere is plenty laid back for a T-shirt and shorts, and the outside patio area is perfect for cool evenings. Especially if you’re fresh off the trails at Crowder’s, when inside dinning would probably be unkind to the other patrons.
Get your rear in gear at Crowders
Crowders Mountain State Park is not only the anchor of outdoor activity in Gaston County but one of the most visited outdoor destinations in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. Dozens of miles of trails, a small fishing pond, and some of the best climbing and bouldering in the area lure enough visitors to earn the park the nickname “Crowded Mountain.” There is plenty of space here however, to have some alone time with nature even on busy days. Beginning your Sunday here means you may beat some of the throngs of folks who visit after church.
There are two peaks within the boundaries of Crowder’s mountain state park: Kings Pinnacle (1705 feet) and Crowders Mountain (1625 feet) each rise more than 800 feet from the surrounding countryside and offer fantastic views.
Kings Pinnacle is most directly reached using, oddly enough, the Pinnacle Trail. Use the main trailhead near the ranger station and take the left when the trail splits. Two miles of walking up a trail that can be pretty steep at times will leave the legs a bit wobbly but you’ll be grateful for the chance to see the amazing view at the top.
Crowders Mountain is the peak most people notice from the highway. The signature radio towers are visible for miles around on a clear day. To get to the top of Crowders, use the same main trailhead but go right at the split. After about a mile you’ll come to a road crossing. You can see the Crowders trail continue directly across from you. The dirt trail ends at a gravel road. Take a right (well, keep going up). You’ll know you’re almost at the precipice when you hit the stairs. About 3 miles of ascent nets you the peak and the views you came to see. Expect to see plenty of rock climbers on a busy day here.
Without the views of the two peaks, but with a great opportunity to enjoy the trail sans other hikers, the Ridgeline Trail begins near the top of Kings Pinnacle. The rolling hills, good shade, and reduced traffic make this a preferred location for many long distance trail runners.
Grouper, Chicken, and Beers…
No doubt a day of trekking the trails at Crowders will leave your tank running on fumes. Located a couple miles north of 85, in Bessemer City, The Whiskey Mill serves all your favorite post hike favorites. Burgers, messy wings with homemade sauces, fried fish strips, fries, and tots. Of course, you’re not here just for the food. The Whiskey Mill is the only place you can get a pint of the high quality, UK and Ireland inspired beers produced by Bessemer City Brewing. A true small batch process, you can’t be sure which beers they will have available on any visit. In fact, sometimes they run out completely. With options like a strong scotch ale and a vanilla bourbon porter, it’s worth taking the chance. No worries if they don’t have the local stuff, The Whiskey Mill also offers a small but decent selection of micro and macro brews.
This content was originally published on RootsRated.com.