5 Fall Hiking & Biking Trails Near Charlotte That Won’t Be Crowded

Skip the usual spots this fall for a better hiking and biking experience that's just two hours from Charlotte.

There’s something so peaceful about exploring nature during its peak fall palette. That is… Until you realize everyone had the same idea you did. Over-crowded trails are a real issue for Charlotteans looking for fall foliage, but luckily, you can bypass the masses this year.

The Carolinas are full of beautiful landscapes just waiting to be discovered. While folks continue to flock to the same fall hiking and biking destinations, you can skip the crowded trails by heading to the Old 96 District in South Carolina instead. Sprawling with more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, this five-county area is only two hours from Charlotte—the same as a trip out west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but a much bigger secret.

Pack your camping gear, plenty of socks, and a go-getter attitude. Whether you’re a first-timer or chock full of experience, the below trails in the Old 96 District will satisfy your adventurous spirit, leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Hickory Knob State Park Resort Trails

McCormick, S.C.

Along the 71,000-acre, wooden shoreline of Lake Strom Thurmond Reservoir sits Hickory Knob State Park Resort, a lakeside golf resort and remote state park. Insiders say this state park is South Carolina’s best-kept secret. Lake Thurmond is the second largest lake in South Carolina, and Hickory Knob is the only resort state park in South Carolina.

Park highlights:

  • 18-hole, Tom Jackson-designed, championship golf course on the shores of Lake Thurmond
  • 16 comfortable cabins that sleep up to six people
  • Skeet shooting and archery range
  • Three meals served per day at the park restaurant plus a daily happy hour
  • 44 campsites located near Lake Thurmond offering picture-perfect views
  • Historic cabin, the Guillebeau House, offers a cool, unique lodging experience for four
  • One group lodging barrack that sleeps up to 10

There are several trails to choose from at Hickory Knob, but below are two favorites.

1. Beaver Run Trail

The gentlest of the park’s trails, the 2.5-mile Beaver Run trail provides an easy mountain ride for beginners. It is the perfect setting for a peaceful moment with nature—a jog, an early morning run, or a meditative walk. As the trail dips down to the edge of Lake Strom Thurmond, it enters leafy stretches of floodplain forest, where rad maples, sweetgum, and tupelo trees dominate the landscape.

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: 33.87888, -82.43176 (at lodge), 33.89198, -82.42191 (at skeet range)
  • Surface: Natural, optimized for mountain bikes
  • Fees: None
  • Pet Permitted: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the main visitor center at the Hickory Knob State Park Resort Lodge
  • Lodging: Camping, cabins, and hotel-style rooms

2. Lakeview Trail

A mountain biker’s happy place. The 6.7-mile Lakeview Trail provides a balance of technical challenges and scenery galore. This single track roller-coaster of a trail showcases scenic views above and along the shoreline of Lake Strom Thurmond in Hickory Knob State Resort Park. The tricky pedaling on this trail is well worth the breathtaking views—a leaf-peeping experience unlike any other! Be sure to peep the panoramic view of the lake from a promontory on the hillside.

  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trailhead: 33.88240, -82.41377
  • Surface: Natural, optimized for mountain bikes
  • Fees: None
  • Pet Permitted: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the main visitor center at the Hickory Knob State Park Resort Lodge

Calhoun Falls State Park Trails

Calhoun Falls, SC

Calhoun Falls State Park is one of the most coveted thanks to its spacious RV and tent sites complete with forested, shoreline views of the lake. Tennis courts and seasonal swimming and fishing also complete this spot. The camping sites are rather large and come with water and 15-30-amp hookups, so you should have no problem fueling your adventure! The campground is very quiet—even with other campers present, you still feel secluded. Plus, a local company rents out kayaks and golf carts, and they will bring them to your campsite. Sites 19 and 20 offer incredible views of the sunset and sunrise, so keep that in mind when looking for a spot.

Park highlights:

  • 86 standard campsites
  • 14 walk-in tent sites
  • 36 rental boat slips in the marina
  • 318 acres providing access to beautiful Lake Russell

There are several trails to choose from at Calhoun Falls State Park; see below for some suggestions.

3. Cedar Bluff Trail

This loop trail begins at a high point and swoops down into a deciduous forest, a unique vantage point with a view of a Lake Richard B. Russell. Enjoy the quiet and the untouched nature on this footpath.

  • Length: 1.5-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: 34.10798, -82.62623
  • Surface: Natural, rugged in places
  • Fees: State Park entrance fees, $2
  • Pet Permitted: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the camp store and in the campgrounds
  • Lodging: Campsites with many on Lake Richard B. Russell

4. Mariners Nature Trail

Although a short walk, the Mainers Nature Trail provides stunning perspectives of Lake Richard B. Russell. Once a fertile valley, the placid waters of the lake now stretch nearly 27,000 acres across the land. Via a series of stairways, you’ll descend the bluffs to reach the lake level, which awards scenic views across the lake coves.

  • Length: 0.25 mile, linear
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: 34.10042, -82.61947 (park store), 34.10798, -82.62623 (campground)
  • Surface: Natural, with numerous bridges and steps
  • Fees: State Park entrance fees, $2
  • Pet Permitted: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the camp store and in the campgrounds
  • Lodging: Campsites with many on Lake Richard B. Russell

Revolutionary War Trails

Ninety-Six, S.C.

History buffs will love the Old 96 District’s past. Situated at the crossroads of important trade routes in the South Carolina backcountry, Ninety-Six was a newly established courthouse town on the eve of the Revolutionary War. The question of independence deeply divided the inhabitants of the district. With mounting tensions and the absence of British authority, conflict arose as a civil war. The Battle of Ninety-Six in 1775 has come to be known as the “first southern land battle” of the Revolutionary War.

5. Cherokee Path

The Cherokee Path, from point to point, stretches for 1.5 miles. It was once a direct route for traders and trappers, Native Americans, and settlers to exchange merchandise between the backcountry and the Carolina coast. Today, you can hike the existing Cherokee Path at Ninety Six National Historic Site just as the Native Americans and explorers did.

  • Length: 1.5 miles one way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: 34.14555, -82.01853
  • Surface: Natural
  • Fees: None
  • Pet Permitted: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes, at the park visitor center

 

Ready to hit the trails? You can check out all 262 miles of the hiking and biking trails in the Old 96 District using their interactive map. For more information on the Old 96 District, visit the website.

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