Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Green Hours with McDowell Nature Preserve

At the risk of sounding like a lazy parent, I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes grow bored with the same old green hours around the house.  (I say I’ll be the “first” because I’m willing to bet I’m not the only parent out there that feels that way…)  In this day and age of “scheduling,” there is certainly no shortage of programs available for toddlers, be it at a local library, park, or community center.  Even though I’m a firm believer that young children need a healthy dose of “unstructured” time so that they can let their imagination run wild, sometimes a change of scenery can be a catalyst for a whole new world of adventures.

Making an Autumn Vest from leaves gathered in front of the Nature Center!


Hunting for “snakes” hiding in camouflage

In recent weeks, Cragbaby and I have discovered the world of McDowell Nature Preserve, an 1100 acre space along the banks of Lake Wylie that has been kept 90% undeveloped.  With a couple of playgrounds, 7 miles of hiking trails, and an interactive Nature Center, McDowell offers a whole host of enjoyment opportunities for folks of all ages!  Even though it’s not exactly in our backyard, we’ve made the 20 mile trek numerous times over the past couple of months.  A few times we’ve been able to take advantage of the numerous nature programming options the Preserve has available for toddlers.  So far we’ve done classes on “Fall Leaves,” “Water, Water, Everywhere,” and “Creatures in Camouflage.”  Each parent-attended class lasts about 45 minutes, and involve a short story relevant to the topic at hand and a nature craft (generally using items gathered outside during the class).  Some classes are free, some are $3, most require prior registration, and ALL fill up quickly because the student/teacher ratios are very low.  

Exploring water and color!

But what C and I love most about our excursions to McDowell are our post-program hikes.  All of the hiking trails are short, ranging from .5 mile loop trails to 2.4 mile round trip out and backs.  They are the perfect length for a budding happy hiker, and our goal is to do a new trail each visit, eventually ticking them all off
(but in no particular order, and with no particular time frame for completing our goal…).  So far we’ve only done one, the Shady Hollow Trail.  It’s 1.2 miles total, and has a lot of ups and downs on terrain that is easily navigable for a toddler.  It took us 3 tries before we successfully finished the trail – the first time we didn’t plan enough time for a hike and only did the first little snippet of trail, the second time C decided it was more fun to wander around off trail collecting sticks, and the third time was the charm!  For a brief stint in the middle C rode in the Ergo with me, but he hiked the majority of it himself.  We rewarded ourselves at the end with a yummy picnic lunch!  

 Though I do think that Charlotte is a great town to live in when it comes to organized recreation, I’m sure there are plenty of other cities and towns out there with similar offerings.  Does your family have a go-to Nature Preserve or County Park when it comes to outdoor programming for kids?  

A beautiful day on the Shady Hollow Trail


3 Responses to “Green Hours with McDowell Nature Preserve”

  1. I had forgot about making a vest from a paper bag! Great pics!


    • Erica

      Yup, the vest was great fun! The only negative was that the acorns wouldn’t stay on! I offered to hot glue them when we got home, but by then the acorns were long forgotten 🙂

  2. I think unstructured outside play time is a must for kids! We are lucky enough to live very close to a lot of hiking opportunities here in the mountains of Virginia. In the summers a lot of recreational areas will hold activities for kids from learning how to fish, nature walks, etc…. Indoor planned activities are good (especially this time of year), but kids need the outdoors and so do we!


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN