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  • Charlie Leonard

Get Outside—Your guide to outdoor spaces from gardens to greenways

Summer is in full swing and with sunny, Carolina-blue skies dominating the weather these days, it’s time to get off the couch and head outside into nature. In Gaston County, outdoor spaces are plentiful with many adults and kids around the Charlotte area retreating here for priceless leisure time. Thanks to such a diverse offering of mountains, rivers, greenways, waterways, and other avenues into nature, Gaston County’s recreation economy is booming and it’s not hard to see why.

Carolina Thread Trail

Camille Renner, Gaston Outside

The Carolina Thread Trail spans 300 miles, 15 counties, and connects both North and South Carolina with a grand goal of connecting people, places, and communities through nature. Gaston County’s section of the Trail has been meticulously planned in a joint effort by city planners to make the area more attractive for businesses and to enhance the quality of life for citizens.

Cramerton, McAdenville, and Mount Holly have the largest collection of recreational areas connected to the Trail, with many sites directly connected or close together.

Mount Holly’s section features the 1.6 mile Mountain Island Park Trail to the north and the 1.5 mile Catawba River Greenway Trail section to the south–both Mount Holly sections run alongside the Catawba River.

In McAdenville, and part of Lowell, the South Fork Trail runs alongside the South Fork of the Catawba River to connect the two towns in a walkable and bike-friendly pathway. McAdenville also has a section for paddling in the South Fork Catawba River called the South Fork Catawba River Blueway. Here, you have just over 8 miles of water to work with, officially starting in Spencer Mountain and stretching down south to Cramerton, connecting towns like Belmont and Ranlo along the way.

Bridge to Cramerton's Goat Island - Evey McFadden, Gaston Outside

The Cramerton sections of the Carolina Thread Trail are numerous and close together. The main greenway piece of the Trail is the Goat Island Greenway on Cramerton’s popular Goat Island, which was recently extended to include the River Link Greenway that heads north along the South Fork Catawba River. To the south is the Riverside Greenway that connects to the Goat Island and River Link greenways with pathway sections extending into downtown Cramerton and along the River. Finally, the Stuart Cramer High School Trail weaves around the playing fields on the Stuart Cramer High School property.

Other notable sections of the Carolina Thread Trail in Gaston County include Gastonia’s Highland Rail Trail with a sidewalk connection into downtown, the Bessemer City Park Trail, the Kings Mountain Gateway Trail which leads to the historically important Kings Mountain National Military Park, and multiple trailheads at the nearby Crowders Mountain State Park.

Crowders Mountain State Park

DeLauren Everett, Gaston Outside

522 Park Office Rd., Kings Mountain

Crowders Mountain State Park is one of the premier outdoor spaces in Gaston County and all of North Carolina. It’s a Charlotte-area favorite–even catering to world-famous celebrities–regularly making lists of things to do in Charlotte, perfect day trips, and best-hiking destinations, and is a well-known spot for excellent Instagram photos.

Crowders Mountain has a rich history in and around it, which includes the nearby Revolutionary War battlefield, Kings Mountain National Military Park, in South Carolina. The area also maintains a significant scientific relevance, starting with the famed French botanist, André Michaux, and his studies of the native plants, and geological discoveries including deposits of iron and gold. More information and museum-quality exhibits are available to view at the Park’s visitor center.

Crowder's Mountain - DeLauren Everett, Gaston Outside

There’s a multitude of marked trails to choose from that vary from easy to strenuous in difficulty. The most popular trails in the park are the Pinnacle Trail, the Ridgeline Trail, the Crowders Mountain Trail, and the Backside Trail, each varying in difficulty but promising an exceptional view of the surrounding area.

If you’re skilled enough and adventurous enough, Crowders Mountain provides several excellent opportunities for rock climbing and bouldering. Both climbing and bouldering require the proper permits and training, and equipment is not provided by the Park. Keep in mind, some climbing and bouldering areas are closed during specific times of the year.

Camping is allowed at Crowders Mountain, and that includes designated campgrounds with grills, picnic tables, and tent pads, as well as opportunities for backcountry camping in groups. Each campsite’s specific amenities will vary, and there is a reservations website with the most up-to-date information.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont

Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Located on 380 acres of land on the banks of Lake Wylie, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is one of the best botanical gardens in the entire South. Daniel Stowe and his wife, Alene, envisioned a world-class facility to celebrate the beauties of nature and to rival the best botanical gardens around the world. It’s safe to say they met their goals.

There’s so much for adults and kids to see and do at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden throughout the year. Several prominent gardens, each imbued with a different thematic focus, are available for your exploration. Along with the gardens, there’s a visitor’s pavilion–which is a popular wedding venue–several fountains, trails, exhibits, and much more. That includes a rotating event schedule too, with annual series’ like their Movies on The Lawn series and other popular favorites including their Chinese Lantern Festival and Holidays at the Garden.

George Poston Park

Randy Rivera, Gaston Outside

1101 Lowell Spencer Mountain Rd., Gastonia

Daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m.

Sitting in between Gastonia, Lowell, and Ranlo is the sprawling George Poston Park, a multi-purpose park space that caters to everyone because it has everything.

If you’re a mountain biker, then you especially will love George Poston Park. The Poston Park Mountain Bike Trail is over 10 miles of single-track trail with varying difficulties to suit every skill level. The trails are also equipped with a GPS numbering system, loop colors, and directional cues for each rider’s safety. The Park is also home to the annual BIKEFEST event and the Red Bull World Championship Qualifiers. If you’re a dirt bike rider, there’s a separate dirt bike track just for you.

George Poston Park has multiple green spaces, baseball fields with batting cages, soccer fields, playgrounds, picnic tables, a dog park, a horseshoe complex, and even a boating dock, and more, plus plenty of parking spaces to choose from. It’s easy to spend an entire day at this park, and with all of your options, that’s an easy decision to make.

Golf Courses

Once the summer comes around, Augusta’s iconic Masters Tournament and PGA Tour events at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club have area golfers ready to hit the course. Gaston County's golf courses provide many different amenities to indulge in and several different terrains to conquer. Your best bets for public golf courses include the wide-open and green-hilled, Green Meadows Golf Course, Gastonia’s Catawba Creek Golf Course full of large pine trees, and amenities in and around the clubhouse, and an idyllic, sloping, mountain-side course at Kings Mountain’s Crowders Mountain County Club which sits at the base of Crowders Mountain. Members-only golf courses include Cherryville Golf and Country Club, The Cramer Mountain Club, and Gaston Country Club.

Rankin Lake

Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

1750 Rankin Lake Rd., Gastonia

Daily 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Originally built in 1922 to provide drinking water to the citizens of Gastonia, Rankin Lake and the adjacent Rankin Lake Park have served as one of Gastonia’s go-to places to relax. Rankin Lake Park has a lot to do on-site that includes trails–with access to the Highland Rail Trail–boating and canoeing/kayaking, picnicking areas, horseshoe pits, an 18-hole disc golf course, and more. There are also boardwalk areas for fishing, and a clubhouse on-site complete with restrooms, a “warming” kitchen, and event space that’s available to rent.

US National Whitewater Center

5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy., Charlotte

Open 24/7

Now almost 15 years old, the US National Whitewater Center shared by Gaston and Mecklenburg County has become synonymous with outdoor adventuring. Besides holding Olympic trials, the Whitewater Center is a recreational hub, holding festivals, races, the River Jam series, and other events on a consistent basis.

There’s always something happening at the Whitewater Center, but a special event is far from the only reason to visit. The star of the show is their whitewater rafting section which traverses Class II to IV rapids in the world’s largest manmade whitewater river. In total, there are 1,300 acres of space with 30 different recreational activities, including 50 miles of trail, access to the Catawba River and Long Creek, and the main facility that has rock-climbing, zip-lining, a nearby ropes course, a gift shop, restaurants, and so much more.

The Whitewater Center is open year-round and season passes are available alongside day passes. multi-day passes and other activity-specific options for non-stop fun the whole family can enjoy.

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