Outdoors & Adventure

How to Plan a Lake Day in Lake Norman

Where to eat, drink, paddleboard and lounge while exploring the Carolinas’ largest man-made lake.

Lake Norman, North Carolina

Created in partnership with Dickens-Mitchener

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 eats.

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 biking 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 with partaking in refreshing beverages of your choice.

After a great day at the lake, wander into town to attend one of the surrounding area’s arts and culture events. Visiting on the second Friday of the month? Plan to attend the 2nd Friday Street Festival in Old Town Cornelius for a jam-packed lineup of live bands, food trucks, craft brews, local artists and kids activities.

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.

Hello, Sailor - Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

Grab a Bite on Land or Lake

Explore new dining locations along the banks of Lake Norman’s waterfront. New this year, Hello, Sailor is a fish camp-style restaurant from James Beard-recognized chef Joe Kindred and his sommelier wife, Katy. Featuring indulgent fried bologna sandwiches, fried flounder and homemade soft-serve, the eatery was recently recognized as one of the top 50 best new restaurants in 2018 by Bon Appetit. 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 Landing Restaurant, 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 (See Hello, Sailor) serve incomparable homemade pastas in a restored 1920s structure on Davidson’s charming main drag. The menu changes daily, but the complimentary starter, milk bread, is a signature.

Lake Norman Marina

Sit Back and Relax

Relax on Lake Norman with yacht service Queens Landing. Book a two-hour sightseeing tour, offered twice a day Thursdays through Sundays. (Add boxed lunches for an extra fee.) Or schedule a romantic three-course dinner cruise on The Lady of the Lake on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Never want to leave the lake? Ask Dickens-Mitchener to help you find you a permanent lakefront getaway.