Accessible Pathways to Adventure in Charlotte
Experience Charlotte’s greenways and parks on accessible paved paths.
by Vanessa Infanzon
Wheelchair users appreciate a smooth ride, too. Charlotte and the surrounding cities feature a network of paved walkways on greenways and in parks, all accessible to wheelchair users, and their families and friends. Choose your path based on what you’re interested in seeing and how far you want to venture. Many urban paths connect to local businesses, restaurants and the city’s light rail system. Enjoy wooded paths linked to playgrounds, creeks and forests, perfect for nature enthusiasts.
Note: Check websites directly for detailed information about accessible paths and hours of operation. The trails listed in this article are paved. Additional trails with dirt paths or crushed gravel may also be found in the area. Consider using Alltrails, a tool for locating places to hike with accessible trails.
Hop on a greenway for views of nature and neighborhoods, and connections to historic sites, nature preserves and recreation. Bring water, snacks, binoculars and an open mind for adventure. Wildlife like deer, fish and turtles may make an appearance, depending on the season. Bird watchers can identify cardinals, hawks, Great blue heron, bluebirds, woodpeckers and more.
Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation has more than 22 greenways covering about 62 miles of paths throughout the area. Greenways are paved and, when possible, most have less than a 5% grade. Many link to the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of connected greenways.
Travel through wet fields and meadows, and view birds and ponds on the McDowell Creek Greenway. It’s a 3-mile round trip from Huntersville to Cornelius on a relatively flat paved path. Park in handicap spaces near the movie theater at Birkdale Village in Huntersville for close access to the entrance to the greenway. Refuel at Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, Midwood Smokehouse or Red Rocks Cafe before shopping, watching a movie or heading to “Live Under the Oaks,” a live music event in Birkdale Village every Friday from July to October.
Choose a section of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to see Midtown, Uptown and the Mill District of Charlotte. For a 3-mile round trip adventure, start on the paved trail at Freedom Park that follows Little Sugar Creek toward Midtown, a walkable shopping area with restaurants, shops and special events such as live music and open-air markets. Look for ducks and great blue herons along the way.
Visit the President James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville while on a different portion of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, extended to pass by the 11th president of the United States’ birthplace. Visit the historic buildings and a 2500-square-foot museum and visitor’s center displaying permanent and rotating exhibits. Park at the museum for free until the gate closes at 5 p.m. Head to shops and restaurants at Carolina Pavilion, The Centrum and Carolina Place Mall, along the 1.8-mile segment. Find STEM, a sculpture developed by Washington artist, John Grade.
In Cabarrus County, the Moss Creek Phase, a 1.5-mile section on the Hector H. Henry II Greenway, features paved paths and wood boardwalks through forests and neighborhoods. Benches, a covered picnic table and a pond overlook provide places to view nature. A lot adjacent to Odell Primary School in Concord offers dedicated parking for the trail.
Within the Riverwalk Community in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is the Piedmont Medical Center Trail, a paved path along the Catawba River. Set out for the Riverwalk Trestle, a scenic setting for photos (note: parts of the 6-mile round-trip trail are hilly and accessible parking may be a challenge on the weekends). Several restaurants in Riverwalk, such as Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Pump House and Tony's Cantina Mexican Grill, offer family-friendly fare. Stop by the Grapevine and The Brass Tap Craft Beer Bar for food and drinks.
The county’s nature preserves embrace the environment surrounding the area, from forests to wetlands. Each includes various amenities including boat launches, camping, playgrounds and picnic shelters. Some wheelchairs may be able to traverse the nature trails with gravel or packed dirt surface found at Evergreen Nature Preserve, Latta Nature Preserve, Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve. Latta Nature Preserve also offers a paved trail along Mountain Island Lake (note: parts of this trail are hilly).
Hit the Four Season Trail, a .4-mile paved path at McDowell Nature Center and Preserve. The loop follows a creek with plenty of places to stop and explore the water. Stop at the Nature Center for a quick lesson on what to find in the area. Borrow a themed backpack before heading to the parking area adjacent to the trailhead. Choose one to fit your interests – stream study, trash pick-up or bug hunting. Depending on the pack, it will include tools to help identify critters, get a close-up view of nature and pick up garbage.
With more than 230 parks in Mecklenburg County, visitors have many options to enjoy the outdoors. Walking trails within the parks are typically paved with less than a 5% grade.
Meetup at Romare Bearden Park, central to Uptown’s restaurants, sporting arenas and art galleries. Stroll through gardens and water features and view “Spiral Odyssey,” a sculpture by Chicago artist Richard Hunt. Spread out a blanket on the grassy field or throw a football around with friends.
Meander through 104 acres at Jetton Park in Cornelius on a paved loop, mostly flat with some hills. Lake Norman can be the backdrop for photos, family get-togethers and romantic rendezvous. Benches, picnic tables and grills are scattered throughout the park and near the playground.
Wander around Freedom Park’s 98 acres on walking trails looping around the duck pond, crossing the creek to a playground and the NFL Play 60 KidZone. Paths offer views of the Freedom Park Demonstration Garden, planted by Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Cross over Little Sugar Creek on an accessible bridge to Discovery Place Nature.
Navigate the Braille Trail, a paved .25 loop at Marion Diehl Park in SouthPark. People with visual impairments can walk the trail without the need for a sighted guide: A permanent coated cable on the inside of the trail serves as a guide. Ten break-out areas with Braille and 3D signs with multi-sensory information to help visitors identify various trees, animals and birds are planned for late Spring 2023.