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 - Photography by Jamey Price

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 Mooresville, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Denver. Each area offers a unique array of attractions, activities and restaurants.

Things to Do on the Lake

Peninsula Yacht Club on Lake Norman - Photography by Jamey Price

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.

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). 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.

Ride LKN Wake School

Whether you're a novice or a professional, get out on a wakeboard or wake-surf with Ride LKN Wake School. For those looking to relax, take a paddleboard or a boat cruise at Lake Effects Rentals, a family operated and locally owned water rentals team. 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 will paddle your way around the harbor as you partake 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 Mooresville 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 Brewery, Lost Worlds Brewing, Ghostface Brewing, Hoptown Brewing, Eleven Lakes Brewing or King Canary Brewing, among others.

The Quarry at Carrigan Farms

There are plenty of attractions for families, 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. Cool off at Quarry Swimming at Carrigan Farms, an open-swim, natural quarry oasis just 30 minutes from Charlotte. If you have a need for speed, check out GoPro Motorplex, home to an 11-turn kart-racing track, or PIT Indoor Kart Track, featuring exciting activities like indoor kart racing, axe throwing and escape rooms. Stop in Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville, where kids of all ages can explore science, art and literacy while enjoying hands-on exhibits and events.

Things to Do on Land

#CharlottesGotALot

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 and enjoy free boat docking while you eat.

Toucan's Lakefront is new to the lakefront dining scene and offers the perfect place to recharge with custom cocktails, fresh seafood and live music. Watch the sunset from their patio overlooking the lake.

#CharlottesGotALot

The most important meal of the day is brunch, which is why spending your Sunday morning at Eddie's on Lake Norman is always a good idea. Build your own omelet, indulge in a pancake stack or munch on Lacy's French Toast.

For casual Cuban cuisine, head to Havana 33 in Mooresville. Start with the Croquetas de Pollo and Toston con Camarones. Then go with the Sandwich Cubano made with Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.

Continue your tiki boat tour to North Harbor Club, a waterside bar that’s great for family lunches or nighttime gatherings with friends. 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.