History runs deep in and around Lake Norman State Park. The Catawba people lived and hunted these lands for hundreds of years. Daniel Boone fought the Cherokee at nearby Fort Dobbs during the French and Indian Wars. American patriots skirmished with Lord Cornwallis at Cowans Ford during the Revolution. But it is the promise of the outdoors that defines the park today; it offers camping, hiking, boating, fishing and other pursuits that make it a delightful destination.
What’s the draw?
Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in all of North Carolina, yet the park is the only spot on it that offers public-access swimming. Its nicely-appointed swimming area is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, through October; there is a nominal fee charged only when lifeguards are on duty.
And if you like to be on the water, the park also rents pedal boats, kayaks, paddleboards and canoes on the park’s 33-acre Park Lake empoundment. Have your own watercraft? Then use the park’s boat ramp to set sail for your big adventure. If you like to fish, make sure you have your N.C. license and then bait your hook for crappie, bass (largemouth, striped spotted) and bluegill for the big lake; bream, largemouth bass and catfish for Park Lake.
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Of several hiking-only trails in the park, the Lake Shore Trail is one you should visit. It’s a 5-mile loop with options for shortening or extending your hike. It’s an easy-to-moderate walk through diverse wooded habit and along Lake Norman. The result: lots of opportunities for viewing bird life (140 species), animal life (two dozen types of mammals) and wildflowers (100 species). Among the park’s other trails, the Dragonfly is a very easy, family-friendly 0.25-mile stretch that is also handicapped-accessible. It’s an exhibits trail: There are information markers along it.
About 740,000 people visited the park last year, most of them for day trips. But the park has two nice camping options that are quite popular, especially on the weekends. That means reservations are a good idea. The 32-site family campground is geared to tents and smaller RVs; each site has a tent pad, grill, table and nearby water. There are no hook-ups. Nearby are wash houses with hot-water showers. The walk-in primitive group camp area is geared to scout and church groups; restrooms, water, fire rings and tables are available.
The park’s Itusi Trail is a bit unusual in that it’s a 30.5-mile option and very popular with mountain bikers and hikers. It is a series of eight loops from 1- to 10-miles in length; this allows you distance flexibility. The trail is sometimes closed during wet-weather conditions so check in advance.
If it’s just a day trip you want, there is much to do. During the warm months, park staff offers interpretive programs virtually every week, most of them without charge. These cover a wide range of topics and are very popular. If picnicking is your goal, there are two main areas with many shaded spots and nearby grills. There are also shelters available on a first-come basis but which can also be reserved ($98 for an entire day); one accommodates up to 125 people.
Lake Norman State Park (704-528-6350; www.ncparks.gov/lake-norman-state-park) is open daily except Christmas; day-use hours are 7 a.m.-9 p.m. through Labor Day; shorter hours fall-spring. Free admission. Camping: $20/night; swimming (10 a.m.-6 p.m., in season): $5 ($4 for ages 3-12) when lifeguards are on duty; boats/paddleboards: $5 for first hour.
Mark Alan Hudson
Just 10 miles north of the park Statesville’s downtown area offers diversions that include museums, shopping and dining. On South Center Street, check out the large Ben Long fresco in the civic center (at www.statesvillenc.net, type “Crossroads fresco” in the search window). Good eating is just a block away at Groucho’s Deli (www.grouchosdeli.com) and the more upscale 220 Café (www.the220cafe.com) is nearby.
A museum worth exploring is Iredell Museums’ Court Street Gallery (www.iredellmuseums.org), which will host a kid-centered, hands-on mummy exhibit beginning in March.
Shopping? An interesting clothing boutique, Salice (www.saliceboutique.com); art-oriented GG’s (www.ggsofstatesville.com) and the Traveling Pants consignment shop (www.travelingpantstrading.com) are just a few options.
April 16-17, nearby Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (www.fortdobbs.org) is holding its biggest event of the year: “War for Empire,” with special exhibits, demonstrations and French and Indian War battle re-enactments geared to the entire family. (Cost: Just $3 for 5 and older.) And mark your calendar for Statesville’s Carolina BalloonFest (www.carolinaballoonfest.com), held in October.
Area info: www.visitstatesville.org.