Crowders Mountain State Park
522 Park Office Lane, Kings Mountain. 704-853-5375. www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/crmo/main.php.
How about a no-charge workout in a natural, rural setting - one where you can still keep an eye on Charlotte's uptown skyscrapers?
Crowders Mountain, in southwest Gaston County, is one of several high points on a 13-mile series of ridges. Crowders Mountain State Park holds that peak, plus the slightly higher The Pinnacle. Parkland extends down to the South Carolina state line and connects with that state's Kings Mountain State Park as well as Kings Mountain National Military Park.
You can hike the full distance on connected paths or stay within the North Carolina park and enjoy its 11 trails, which range from short and easy to the 6.2-mile Ridgeline Trail, which you must register for in order to hike. (It's of several that runs along the park's raised spine.)
The twin peaks are different. Crowders (1,625 feet) has steep walls - cliffs that drop up to 150 feet - that attract rock climbers. Two of the park's three strenuous trails lead to its summit, where the view includes uptown Charlotte on the eastern horizon.
The Pinnacle may be a tad higher (1,705 feet) but offers a more gradual ascent and full panorama. From its top you can view Kings Mountain also to the southwest.
At lower elevations, you'll find dogwood and wildflowers in spring; rhododendrons grow higher up. Peaks feature short pine.
Any season, you'll see birds, both migratory and permanent residents. More than 160 species have been spotted. Other animal life ranges from salamanders and turtles to rabbits, moles, foxes, coyote and deer.
Before you go, print the trail map from the online brochure, and pick the trails that suit you best.
If you're just up for a relaxing stroll, the Lake Trail is short, easy, close to a parking area and leads to a 9-acre pond where you can rent a canoe for $5 for a hour ($3 per additional hour).
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; until 8 p.m. March-April; until 9 p.m. May-August.
Tip: On nice days, go early to avoid possible crowd/traffic issues at the park.
Travel time from Charlotte: 40 minutes.
Directions: Interstate 85 South; west of Gastonia, take exit 13, turn left and follow Edgewood Road south to Kings Mountain Highway (U.S. 74/29). Turn right onto Sparrow Springs Road. Follow signs to the park.