10 Things Charlotte Families Must Do This Summer

A checklist

☐ Explore the trails at the Whitewater Center.

We all know this spot for its thrilling, high-octane zip lines and whitewater rapids, and even its popular River Jam music gatherings. But the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which covers 1,300 beautifully wooded acres, boasts more than 50 miles of meandering trails great for hiking, mountain biking, dog walking, and trail running—and it’s shaded from the hot days of summer. The center grades trails from green to blue to black in order of difficulty, as on ski slopes. The center is open 365 days a year, and the trail network is always open (weather permitting). This year, its major events return, including the Memorial Day Celebration on May 30, Brew Dash on June 19, and Fourth of July Celebration: July 3-4. 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.

☐ Spend a day on the lake.

On sunny days, the water sparkles on Lake Norman to the north of Charlotte and Lake Wylie to the southwest, both of which offer outdoor activities to cool things off. Rent a motorboat and float with friends on the open water or go organic and kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. A rundown of LKN boating options can be found on our recent list of things to do on the lake.

☐ Go for a ride at Carowinds.

After the day is done, the lasting memory won’t be those sweaty waits in line to zip around one of the 407-acre amusement park’s signature rides. You’ll remember the thrill of the Fury 325, the tallest giga coaster in the world and the quickest non-launched coaster, or the newest one of the bunch: Copperhead Strike, the 50-mph ride that happens to be the park’s first double-launched coaster. The price of admission includes access to Carolina Harbor, the 27-acre water park with its own attractions. If you’re going to sweat, you should at least have a chance to rinse off. Opening day for Carowinds is May 22. 300 Carowinds Blvd.

☐ Take in a Knights game at BB&T Ballpark.

At 7:04 p.m. (a nod to Charlotte’s area code) on summer evenings on their home field, the Charlotte Knights throw the first pitch to begin their popular uptown games. Homer the Dragon bounces around BB&T Ballpark to take photos with kids and high-five fans. The smell of popcorn and peanuts fills the stands. Supporting our own Triple-A baseball team (an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox) with a stadium dog and refreshing local brew is just good, old American summer fun.

☐ Race go-karts at GoPro Motorplex.

GoPro Motorplex brings a little bit of Italy to Mooresville. The 0.7-mile, 11-turn track, based on the famous Kartdromo Parma circuit, allows speeds up to 55 mph. Pull on that helmet
(outfitted with its namesake’s fast-action camera) and hop in your kart for 10 minutes of whips, twists, and turns. Drivers must be at least 16 to race—the karts reach speeds up to 55 mph—but this year GoPro added the Mini Motorplex, a remote-controlled racing experience that’s open to all ages. 
130 Motorplex Dr., Mooresville.

☐ Explore the ’burbs.

Charlotte’s booming suburbs hold food, drink, shopping, and other options that rival the quality of what you’ll find in the city. Waxhaw offers quality dining options, popular bars like DreamChasers Brewery, walkable streets with antique shops—and historic sites like the one-time home of Andrew Jackson and the Museum of the Waxhaws. Matthews has a top-notch farmers’ market, wine bars in Matthews Wine Cellar and Seaboard Taproom & Wine Bar, and fine dining at the Euro-influenced Santé. In Belmont, sip a cocktail at The Jailhouse, a bar and cigar lounge within the cells of downtown Belmont’s former jail. Cornelius offers lakeside dining at Hello, Sailor, plus a unique coffee shop/bar/live music venue, Old Town Public House.

☐ Find your favorite flavor of ice cream.   

Don’t want to linger inside? No problem. Get these treats to go.

For the decadent devotee:  Ninety’s Sweets & Treats’shakes and sandwiches are a dream for ’90s kids, combining ice cream and favorite cereals of the era: Cookie Crisp, Froot Loops, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch are among the options for accoutrements. 9009 J M Keynes Dr. Ste. 4.

For the adventure-seeker: Two Scoops Creamery is known for homemade, “secret” family concoctions like Cookies by the Sea, Krazy Kake, Nana Delight, and Boom. The Plaza Midwood mainstay, owned by three Charlotte friends, serves unique, fun, funky flavors. Take your ice cream to go or have a pint delivered. 913 Central Ave.

For the lover of locally sourced ingredients: Not only is everything made fresh on-site at The Local Scoop in Ballantyne, but the ice creams (with rotating flavors like Vanilla Bean, Sea Salted Caramel, and Nutella Truffle) and gelato are made with locally sourced milk from Jackson Farms and Homeland Creamery. 5355 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy. 

☐ Feed baby birds with Carolina Waterfowl Rescue.

From blue jays and robins to chickadees and cardinals, Carolina Waterfowl Rescue takes in more than a thousand orphaned and injured songbirds every year. They also welcome domestic and exotic ducks for placement, do nuisance referrals, and offer bird, duck, and goose rescue assistance. Each year, CWR provides housing, food, and medical care for more than 50 types of baby birds. That means they can use some help. Volunteers dedicate three hours a week to one of four shifts daily—seven days a week to make sure these fluffy little ones get the nutrition they need. For information on volunteer opportunities, email songbird@cwrescue.org or visit cwrescue.org/baby. 5403 Poplin Rd., Indian Trail.

> The Carolina Raptor Center, which just made some major changes, is also a prime spot to connect to nature.

☐ Chill out with a cold brew or iced coffee.

Drive through CupLux at 3115 Freedom Drive and score any number of cold go-to pick-me-ups, from iced lattes in flavors like hazelnut and matcha to signature selections like Iced Honey and Oates. On really hot days, opt for the Cold Brew Slushee, made with local milk, cold brew, and vanilla bean syrup. (You can also get these delivered through Postmates for a fee.)

Made with Joe Van Gogh beans and roasted in Hillsborough, Central Coffee has refreshing cold brew options. Brick-and-mortar locations include South End (1700 Camden Rd. #101) and its original spot in Plaza Midwood (719 Louise Ave.).

The Hobbyist, which Bryson and Julie Woodside own in the Villa Heights neighborhood, slings both caffeinated and alcoholic favorites. Signature options include lavender-vanilla lattes or an iced flat white, made with oat milk, cinnamon, and honey. Teas are also available and include green, white, oolong, and herbal options. 2100 N Davidson St. —V.B.

☐ Take a hike.

Break away from the heat for a nice day drive and hike at one of several nearby hiking areas. Crowders Mountain State Park is the closest, at just about a 30-minute drive west, near Kings Mountain. The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain paths offer challenging hikes, boulders, cliffs, and 25-mile views all the way to the Charlotte skyline. The park’s 11 trails range from leisurely to strenuous and include the Ridgeline Trail, which links to Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina. South Mountains State Park is a bit farther (about 60 miles) but packed with rugged terrain up to 3,000 feet, an 80-foot waterfall highlight, refreshing streams, and more than 40 miles of gorgeous nature trails. Horses and mountain bikes are welcome. Other options include Pilot Mountain State Park, north of Winston-Salem near the Virginia state line, and the Uwharrie National Forest/Badin Lake Recreation Center, east near Albemarle.