Latta Plantation Nature Preserve

Vibe: If your pint-size outdoorsmen are looking to conquer new territory, the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is your Mecklenburg County destination for keeping the backyard from turning into the newest neighborhood field lab. The lush 1,343-acre nature preserve — the largest in Meck County — is a budding nature nerd's dream come true, offering kids' educational programs on every- thing from prairie ecology to bird watching.

But even grown-up adventurers will appreciate this cotton-plantation-turned-park's diverse landscape. Gardening gurus will find unique sunflower species on the Piedmont Prairie, while the lush Laura's Trail leads hikers to Wash Rock overlook, where you can watch anglers and pad- dlers take advantage of the picturesque Mountain Island Lake. Throw in the Carolina Raptor Center (home to twenty-five different bird species and the Southeast's largest eagle aviary) and you've found Mother Nature's Charlotte residence.

Best part: With thirteen miles of bridle trails, the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is the only county-owned land that allows horseback riding. Conveniently, the Latta Plantation Eques- trian Center is just half a mile up the road from the Nature Center. Beginners can sign up for an hour-long guided trail ride for $25, or even take a lesson for $45 an hour. If you're looking for an outside- the-box date night, the Equestrian Center also offers a two-hour sunset ride that includes a “cowboy” steak dinner for $60 per person.

Amenities: Covered picnic shelters (two), picnic pavilions (eight), restrooms (two), hiking and horseback riding trails (thirteen miles for hiking and horseback riding, plus three more for hikers only), canoeing and kayaking landing areas (two), fishing pier, Segway adventures, Nature Center, Equestrian Center, Carolina Raptor Center, Historic Latta Plantation.

6211 Sample Rd., Huntersville; 704-875-1391

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