Fall camping at McDowell Nature Reserve | MomsCharlotte.com


Sara Kendall has traveled halfway across the globe with her kids and lived to tell about it. Stay tuned to hear about family destinations around Charlotte and beyond.

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Fall camping at McDowell Nature Reserve

09/27/13 10:07

Situated in the southwest corner of Mecklenburg County, McDowell Nature Preserve sits along the rolling banks of Lake Wylie. It’s the oldest preserve in the county and has over 1,100 acres to explore. Visitors can take a hike, throw out a fishing line, and sleep under the stars.


From RV to primitive, there are 56 campsites to suit everyone’s needs. For experienced campers, the primitive and drive-to sites are for you. Water and electricity are available at the drive-to sites, but not at the primitive. All sites come with a fire ring with grill.

There is a Bath House which is centrally located in the campground. Each bathroom has a toilet, sink, and shower. It’s a fairly new facility, but bring your flip-flops if you are planning to shower.

Firewood and ice are available for purchase on the campground office. Check in time is 2:30 pm and checkout is 2:00 pm.


For those who have never camped before, and want to give camping a try without spending upfront money on a tent, try a Rent-A-Tent site. It’s a camping site that comes with a 12’x12’ tent already set up. It cost slightly more than other sites, but it will save you set up and break down time. These sites come with a picnic table, fire ring with grill, water, and electricity. There is a handicapped accessible one which is a wooden cabin.


There are 7 miles of hiking over 9 trails. Most trails are rated moderate with only 1 rated easy. Hitting any of the trails around the preserve is very doable for families. Pick up a map to see the distance for each one and where it will take you. For all of them, you’ll get to hike through scenic forests and a few will take you along the shore of the lake.

We chose to hike the Kingfisher Trail. It starts at the camp sites and passes through a small wooded area, then follows the shoreline. We passed kayakers entering the water, the Waterfront Deck, and several fishing piers filled with people trying to catch their dinner. The trail meanders along several coves where you’ll notice erosion has gained a foothold. There is a lot of stepping over exposed tree roots on this trail by the water. We walked down to a sandy bank to get closer to the water. Fallen trees have made excellent waterfront seats to sit and take in the calm waters of the coves. Our kids looked for rocks to slip along the water and dug along the banks to investigate nature up close.

Nature Center

It is a small facility where live turtles, fish, and snakes can be viewed. Several varieties of each species can be studied under glass. Kids can test their skills on a climbing wall. A small puppet show with a large variety of animal puppets is a place where kids can put on a show for their parents. Puzzles, blocks and Lincoln Logs will keep younger children entertained.

The Campfire

What’s a campout without a campfire? It’s the highlight of the camping trip for most kids and adults. Who doesn’t like to snuggle up to a warm fire on a chilly night and roasted marshmallows? Don’t forget graham crackers and chocolate bars.

A fire is useful to cook the main meal on as well. We used it to cook hamburgers. I don’t believe the grills are the cleanest I have ever seen. Either turn a blind eye or bring some aluminum foil to cook on.

Important Tip

If it will be your family’s first camping experience, search online for camping packing lists. A checklist will help you to remember the essentials. Doing this saved us from missing some important items that would have made our trip a less enjoyable one. There is a lot more planning and packing to do than a typical overnight trip to grandma’s house.

My Family’s Take

It’s was our first family camping experience. Yes, we would go again and would recommend to other families. However, as with most first-time events, we learned a couple of lessons. We forgot pillows which would help us get a better night’s sleep. Our neighboring campers didn’t follow the quiet hours that start at 10:00 pm. They talked loudly and played with flashlights till well aftermidnight, that at times shined in our tent. My ten-year-old daughter wished we had brought a fan that would have helped drown out our noisy neighbors and gotten some air moving on what turned out to be a pretty muggy night. Keeping a neighboring tent full of high school boys quiet might be next to impossible. But a fan in the tent is doable, though we would have had brought a pretty long extension cord to make it work.

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