Lake Norman State Park -- Lakeshore Loop Trail (3-3-18)
Every once and a while a visit to one of North Carolina’s State Parks surprises me. Lake Norman State Park, located just north of Charlotte, was just such a park. At around 2,000-acres in size the park is located on the northern shore of the largest inland body of water in the state. Due to its fantastic access for water sports enthusiasts and its proximity to major population centers it’s unsurprising that this park is one of the busiest in the system. It was that simple fact that had me dreading what kind of experience I’d have there. What I discovered was enjoyable far beyond my expectations. As the park is most well-known for its lake-centered recreation opportunities it might intrigue you to know Lake Norman also boasts a fairly healthy network of both hiking and biking trails…somewhere on the order of 30+ miles worth. The portion of this system I’d be focused on this day would be the Lakeshore Trail, a five mile loop which closely follows the shore of Lake Norman around the southernmost peninsula of the park. Unlike other State Parks I’d recently visited, Jordan Lake most notably comes to mind, this particular lakeshore trail actually stays right along the edge of the water for most of its length. This allows the beauty of the lake to focus attention outward rather than on the number of people surrounding you. It is a busy place to be sure, but this wonderful trail boasts scenery big enough for everyone.
My hike would begin in the center of the park along the road which leads out to a picnic area just south of the main beach. It’s a busy location and parking spots can be hard to come by on the nicest days, so be warned. A large kiosk marks the trailhead and, as a loop, you can choose to head north or south at your pleasure. As I was getting a late start I decided to head south first (heading in a counter-clockwise direction) as to get the best views along the lake first while daylight was still good. Leaving the parking area the trail dips into the woods and almost immediately begins its winding journey right alongside the wooded shore. Though occasionally the trail climbs away from the lake to cut across low ridges for the most part, for the first four miles, the waters of Lake Norman are rarely more than a stones throw away. Ducking in and out of numerous coves where the clear water laps against orange-colored bluffs, there’s something new to see around every corner. My worries about the masses of people I’d encounter melted away as the lake and the pleasant, wooded trail quickly absorbed my attention. A bit over a mile in the trail cuts across the southernmost point of the peninsula and begins its journey up the western shore of the Hicks Creek arm of Lake Norman. The wonderful mix of woods and water continues, only broken briefly when the trail crosses the road to the busy park boat ramp, to a point four-miles into the loop where the trail turns inland for a final time to re-cross the peninsula. The final mile-or-so of the hike is exclusively wooded as the trail climbs to cross the main park road and then descends towards the opposite side of the peninsula. This is where the bulk of the minimal elevation gain is covered on this hike. Passing the park road I had hopes the trail would once again seek out the waters of Lake Norman for a final time but, alas, it never did. The early spring woodlands were pleasant and the warm sunshine promised greener days soon ahead so, regardless of a lack of lake views, it was still a relaxing way to finish out the hike.
The last half-mile is mostly uphill as the path seeks out the trailhead, passing the busy road to the beach just before it reaches its end. It was a quick five-miles but it had been packed with scenery beyond what I had expected. I highly recommend this hike, something ahead of time I had not expected to say. Pretty much anyone could hike this trail as it’s wide, well-marked, and rarely is anything approaching moderate in steepness. Just give yourself enough time…the lake shore will beckon you often as you walk. So, without further adieu, I present one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable hikes I’ve taken in a while…the Lakeshore Trail of Lake Norman State Park…as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.649482, -80.944138
Mileage Hiked: 5.1 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 760' Max. Elevation: 870'
Total Vertical Gain: 310' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 61'