Guide to North Carolina’s Running Trails

Guide to North Carolina’s Running Trails

With four distinct seasons, North Carolina offers a constantly changing setting that’s anything but boring for outdoor runners. Winters are mild, but there can be some snow. Spring weather is pleasant, but breathing through all the pollen offers some challenges. Summer is hot, humid, and a true test of a runner’s endurance. Autumn is divine, with pleasantly cool weather and a gorgeous backdrop of fall leaves. No matter the season, runners of all levels can enjoy practicing their sport outdoors in North Carolina, if they know where to go and how to prepare for some of the unique challenges presented by the Tar Heel State.

Top 5 Running Trails in the Charlotte Area

City running has its charm, but sometimes you just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Charlotte and its suburbs and connect with nature. Fortunately, the Charlotte area has many appealing options for trail runners, some even within city limits! Read on to discover your new favorite running trails in the Charlotte area.

Most All-Around Amazing: The National Whitewater Center

Don’t let the name deceive you – the National Whitewater Center, just 10 miles west of Charlotte, is home to an extensive trail system that can fit the needs of any runner. As of right now, it features 30 miles of trails, but they are constantly adding more. The trails are clearly marked for beginner, intermediate, and advanced runners, allowing you to tailor your run to your needs. Optional loops make it easy for you to create the exact right distance, and you can further customize your run by choosing anything from steep climbs to gentle hills. Runners of all levels will be able to find what they’re looking for at the National Whitewater Center.

Favorite Day Trip: Crowder’s Mountain

Located about 26 miles outside of Charlotte, Crowder’s mountain is not too far of a drive. But once you get there, you’ll quickly realize that you need the whole day to run as much of its extensive trail network as you can. The trails vary in distance and difficulty, with the total length of available trails reaching roughly 10 miles. The trails at Crowder’s Mountain connect with others from King’s Mountain State Park to form a network of 50 miles. Be sure to plan your route, as choosing the wrong trail can leave you with more of a hike than a run. Reaching the summit is a reward all on its own, no matter how you get there.

Favorite Quick Run: McAlpine Creek Park

Located just 9 miles from downtown Charlotte, McAlpine Creek Park is a great option to get the feel of trail running without having to leave the city. The 114-acre park is a beautiful spot for running and also includes a scenic fishing pond, sports fields, and a championship cross country course. Some of the best runners in the area come to McAlpine Creek Park to go through their paces. It also connects to a nearby greenway, giving you an additional 3.1 miles of paved paths to run on. Run laps around the park for a quick, scenic run, or head down the greenway for more variety.

Best for Beginners: Latta Plantation & Nature Preserve

For gentle running trails relatively free of hills, Latta Plantation & Nature Preserve is your best bet close to Charlotte. It also offers stunning views of wildlife and Mountain Island Lake, which will keep new runners motivated to explore. It boasts 16 miles of trails, so while you can customize your run to any distance, it can be easy to get lost your first few times. Most of the trails are gravel, making them better to run on in the rain than paved options. This gem of a running trail winds through a historic plantation, making it the perfect getaway from life in the city.

Favorite Spot That You Don’t Have to Share: Reedy Creek Park

Learning to coexist with mountain bikers is an important skill for any runner, but for days when you don’t feel like sharing, there’s Reedy Creek Park. This park offers miles of shaded trails that wind through dense woods and around a small lake. You’ll find some gentle elevations, but nothing too challenging. There are five miles of trails at Reedy Creek Park, with several loops that make it easy to create any distance run that you’re looking for.

North Carolina Running Tips

Terrain

North Carolina is an amazing state because it boasts all types of terrain inside its borders. The coast is flat and sandy, while the mountains are steep and rocky. Charlotte is situated right in the middle, in the piedmont area of the state. This region is also known as the “foothills,” so it’s about what you’d expect – hilly! If you’re looking for a hill-less run, it’s difficult to find it anywhere other than a treadmill, but there are some trails on the flatter side. Below are our top tips for running in the piedmont area of North Carolina:

  • Research a trail before you run it – If you’re going to try a new trail, do some research and find out how hilly it is. If you can get a map that shows the hills, even better. Plan a route with the amount of hills you know you can handle, or you’ll find yourself exhausted and sore long before you’re ready to quit.
  • Be mindful of the downhill – Many of us have a tendency to work diligently up a hill with good form, then relax at the top and gleefully pound down the other side with no thought for technique. This might not have many negative side effects when hills are infrequent, but in the piedmont region, sloppy downhill form will quickly lead to soreness and injury. Focus on keeping your stride short, increasing your cadence, landing lightly, and landing on your mid- or forefoot instead of pounding your heels into the ground.
  • Focus on your effort, not your pace – When tackling multiple hills over a long run, trying to rigorously maintain a consistent pace is a recipe for frustration and exhaustion. Focus on maintaining the same level of effort and perfecting your technique for uphill and downhill running.

Weather

If variety is the spice of life, NC weather may be a bit overly seasoned. The weather in NC can keep you guessing, and it can present a real challenge for runners. Below are some tips for tackling the climate in the Charlotte area.

  • Winter: Average temperatures range from 31 degrees - 56 degrees.

Winters in NC are mild, and you may see 1-3 snowfalls per season. You’ll be able to feel smug as you think of your Northern counterparts while you lace up your running shoes in 60 degree weather, but don’t let our comparatively warm winters lull you into a false sense of security. Winter in NC is still cold, wet, dark, and often slippery. Choose shoes with minimal mesh to keep your feet dry, as well as non-slip grips for snow, slush, and melting ice. Wearing high-quality merino wool socks can also keep your feet dry from sweat and water while providing insulation against the cold. You may feel chilled when you start running, but don’t dress too warmly. Your body will quickly warm up and you’ll be at risk of overheating. If it’s dark (and it often is in the winter), wear reflective clothing to make sure you can be seen by cars and cyclists.

  • Spring: Average temperatures range from 41 degrees - 80 degrees.

Spring weather in NC features an almost perfect temperature for runners. You’ll see a lot of rain, so be mindful of the forecast before heading out on a long run. The biggest challenge for NC runners in spring is the pollen. When spring is in full swing, yellow powder coats cars and sits on the surface of puddles and lakes. If you have seasonal allergies, stay hydrated to keep your mucus thin and consider running with a face mask. You can also try to run in the evenings, when the pollen counts are lower.

  • Summer: Average temperatures range from 66 degrees - 90 degrees.

There’s no denying it: summers in NC are some of the hottest, most humid around. Try running as early as you can in the morning, when humidity is low and things haven’t yet heated up. You know to stay hydrated, but your biggest enemy when running in a North Carolina summer is actually the humidity. Humidity is far more dangerous than high temperatures, since it prevents your sweat from evaporating, which means that your body heat can’t escape. To minimize the effects of humidity, run on shaded paths instead of hot asphalt. If you can run near a body of water, you’ll be able to enjoy a breeze coming off of it. Most importantly, learn to recognize the early warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke: nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and confusion. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not push on!

  • Fall: Average temperatures range from 40 degrees - 82 degrees.

Fall is easily the best season for runners in NC. Temperatures are cool but not too cold, the air is fresh and dry but not overly so, and the colors of the leaves are dazzling. In fact, the leaves are one of the few things you need to worry about – when they fall onto pavement, they can trap moisture underneath and become quite slippery, so be mindful when running over them. If you’re running on trails, also be aware that fall is copperhead season in NC. These venomous snakes have mottled brown coloring that blends in perfectly with dead leaves, making it all too easy to step on one. Wear long pants and high socks to guard against bites. If a copperhead does manage to sink its teeth into you, get away from the snake, call 911, and try to keep the bitten area below the level of your heart while you wait for help.

Wear the Right Running Socks

Your running socks are second only to your shoes when it comes to protecting your feet and ensuring comfort on long runs. Feetures’ running socks are designed to maximize comfort year-round for North Carolina runners. Featuring anatomical designs, superb moisture-wicking ability, and a custom-like fit, our socks reduce the risk of blisters while providing superior comfort and support. You have a lot of options for where, when, and in what conditions to run in our fair state. Let Feetures be your partner for longer runs and faster pacing, no matter the conditions.


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