A Day at Lake Norman State Park

Author: Emily McIntosh

This particular story is for all the people that don’t think hiking in the Piedmont/Central region of North Carolina is a good idea in the winter. While I believe the winter season is a great opportunity for rest and hibernation, North Carolina — across the state — is lovely, no matter the temperature or season.

Take, for example, Lake Norman State Park established in 1962. Upon completion of the Cowans Ford Dam across the Catawba River, Duke Power Company created the largest man-made lake in North Carolina and donated the land that would become the park today. I made a visit to learn more.

My journey began near the visitor’s center with the Alder Trail, to check out the dam close by (a different dam than Cowans Ford). Each trailhead throughout the park had its own archways and plaques describing the trail.

 Nature abounds in North Carolina during all four seasons. Though the leaves are sparse (or, rather, have fallen to the ground instead of on the trees), and the weather can seem more gloomy, one can discover wildlife around every corner, and Lake Norman is no exception. Squirrels and cardinals were visible both on the ground and up in the branches. Though the park was quiet as I walked, when I stopped to take in the scenery, the sound of woodpeckers making their homes on the trees was unmistakable.

I made it to the dam and took in more of the sights and sounds of the park. Perhaps because of the rainy weather, or that it was a weekday, or that this particular park is a hidden gem within the Piedmont region, a relatively low-attendance day led to a hike of peaceful tranquility.

I was grateful for a chance to take in the views of the lake with the few nature-lovers who shared the park with me. I would consider this trip a perfect example of spending a gray and rainy day outdoors in North Carolina, as opposed to home on the couch. There’s a time for staying indoors and drinking tea by the fire, and there’s a time for grabbing your coat and hat and seeing North Carolina in all its wintry glory.

Seashells lined the coast along my walk. I didn’t see any fish in the water, but I held out hope for the fisherman I walked.

The trail ended with a lovely view of the visitor’s center. Of the three hiking trails in the park, I would highly recommend the Adler Trail to those looking for a steady walk of serenity. I also suggest a visit inside the visitor’s center for an opportunity to learn more about Lake Norman, the park, and the surrounding history and environmental science that makes this park special. One thing I learned inside: since the lake is man-made, there are mills, farms, and even cemeteries now completely submerged underwater.

The Adler Trail was 0.8 miles, so I set my sights on a different trail and different parts of the park to explore. 

I got back into the car and drove through the park to the Lake Shore Trail. This trail rolled along the banks of the lake, so I could see the lake in all its glory. The trail was more on the moderate side of the walking spectrum if you ask me, at least compared to the more even and steady walk of the Adler Trail. But as long as I paid attention and looked ahead, the views were worth it.

Lake Norman has also become a newfound favorite hiking destination thanks to the staff who have marked the trails clearly and effectively. I only got lost once, and that was because I thought, in my hubris, that I had walked farther along than the map suggested. When I had made it to the shortcut, thinking I had walked the entire trail, I was grateful to the signs for leading the way, and also that I could rely on them instead of my less-than-stellar sense of direction and distance.

I feel obligated to mention, reader, that these photos are minimally edited and that the water in this lake was actually that shade of green. And the sand and clay along the banks practically glowed red against the green trees and water. I am sure any pottery created with the red clay along the Catawba River has captured the vibrant colors well.

The final steps along the trail back to my car ended with a visit by some deer, observing my existence but mostly apathetic.

The trip to Lake Norman State Park ended with cold rain coming in, my cue to head back to my car and make my way home. Lake Norman hosted over 900k visitors in 2017, a number I’m sure has only gone up in the last few years. I can only imagine the amazing views of the lake in the spring and summer as the water is filled with swimmers and canoes and kayaks. (I think my next summer outing is calling). But as long as winter is still here, I will always suggest bundling up and taking in the quiet that only comes with a day outside in nature. I hope your adventure is just as lovely as mine.


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