How to Plan a Lake Day in Lake Norman
Where to eat, drink, paddleboard and lounge while exploring the Carolinas’ largest man-made lake.
by Kristen Moore Apr 10, 2021
Just 20 miles north of Charlotte, Lake Norman beckons nature-lovers, loungers, adventurers and the culinary curious. With more than 500 miles of shoreline, Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in the Carolinas and borders the charming towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Denver. Each area offers a unique array of attractions, activities and restaurants.
Explore like a Local
There’s plenty to see and do while visiting Lake Norman. If you’re outdoorsy, Lake Norman State Park offers miles of mountain bike trails and swimming beaches as well as a boathouse complex complete with a boat ramp for anglers and cruisers. Whether you’re a day-tripper or an overnighter (there are 32 campgrounds with kitchen facilities, restrooms and outdoor fire pits), you can use the visitor center to rent pedal boats, kayaks, paddleboards and canoes. The park’s boat ramp is free, and there are plenty of quiet fishing respites to go around.
For something a little more “feet on” Charlotte Cycleboats offers private and party cruises around Lake Norman. During the BYOB cruise, you and your friends paddle yourselves while partaking in refreshing beverages of your choice.
After a great day at the lake, wander into the surrounding towns for some shopping, live music or a quick pint at a brewery. Explore local boutiques in downtown Davidson and downtown Cornelius or go window shopping at Birkdale Village in Huntersville. While you’re out, you may happen upon a live jazz concert of acoustic set at a local park or brewery like D9 Brewing Co., Lake Norman Brewing, Lost Worlds Brewing and Eleven Lakes Brewing, among others.
Families, there are attractions for you, too. Take the little ones to explore the wonders of flight at the Carolina Raptor Center, home to birds of prey like eagles, vultures, hawks and falcons. Or visit Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville, where kids of all ages can explore science, art and literacy while enjoying hands-on exhibits and events.
Grab a Bite on Land or Lake
Explore popular dining locations along the banks of Lake Norman’s waterfront. Hello, Sailor is a fish camp-style restaurant from James Beard-recognized chef Joe Kindred and his sommelier wife, Katy. Featuring an indulgent fried bologna sandwich, fried flounder and homemade soft-serve, the eatery was recognized as one of the top 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit when it opened in 2018. Fun cocktails—served in quirky shark-shaped or tiki glasses—are best enjoyed at the outdoor tiki bar. You can get there by land, but come by boat to enjoy free boat docking while you eat.
Continue your tiki boat tour to North Harbor Club, a waterside bar that’s great for family lunches or nighttime gatherings with friends. Or when you dock for the day, venture away from the lakefront for an evening at Kindred, where the aforementioned Kindreds serve incomparable homemade pastas and farm-fresh dishes in a restored 1920s structure on Davidson’s charming main drag. The menu changes frequently, but the complimentary starter, milk bread, is a signature.
Sit Back and Relax
Relax on Lake Norman with yacht service at Queens Landing. Book a two-hour sightseeing tour, offered three times a day Thursdays through Sundays (add boxed lunches for an extra fee). Or schedule a romantic four-course dinner cruise on The Lady of the Lake or a more casual meal on the Catawba Queen riverboat on select Thursdays through Sundays.
No matter what experience you’re looking for—from outdoor recreation to relaxation to foodie fun—adventure awaits at Lake Norman.
Article updated by Kristen Moore.