Over the Fourth of July holiday, we didn’t leave the city like most and were trying the stay-cation experience. We needed a new place to explore and Lake Norman State Park was on our go-to list.

The park is a 45- to 60-minute drive from Charlotte, north on Interstate 77. The park is more than 1,900 acres and is tucked away in the town of Troutman, along Lake Norman, Hicks Creek and Park Lake.

Our visit was low-key. We walked the Dragonfly Trail, a quarter of a mile, accessible trail, and then sat in the rocking chairs on the visitor center’s porch overlooking Park Lake enjoying snacks and drinks.

Next time we go, we’ll be more prepared to take advantage of what the park has to offer. Here’s what you can do at Lake Norman State Park:

Bike and boat

With 900,017 visitors last year, Greg Schneider, park superintendent at Lake Norman State Park, said that the park tries to meet the needs of a wide variety of interests. One of the biggest draws is the Itusi Trail, 30 miles of mountain biking trails, developed through a partnership between the local community, the state park and the Tarheel Trailblazers, a Charlotte mountain biking club.

At the visitor center located on Park Lake, kayaks, stand-up paddleboats, canoes and pedal boats may be rented at $5 per hour. Life jackets are included in the cost and must be worn by children under the age of 16. All others must have a life jacket nearby.

There are three hiking trails in the park with a plan to expand in the near future. Dragonfly Trail is a quick walk on an ADA Accessible trail ending at an overlook with a view of Hicks Creek.

“(Dragonfly Trail) has interpretive displays along the trail that talk about the plants, animals and minerals that are native and indigenous in the area,” Schneider said.

Alder Trail is eight-tenths of a mile through a mature hardwood forest with views of spring wildflowers. Lake Shore Trail is a 5-mile loop, offering views of Lake Norman and Hicks Creek.

Swim and camp

Camping is also an option at Lake Norman State Park, but their 33 sites, built in the 1960s, fill up quickly. A bathhouse with showers and toilets is available. Campsites are $18-$26 per day and may be reserved here. Twenty new sites with recreational vehicle hookups will be added in the next couple of years.

The park has a beach with a swimming area on Lake Norman.

“The swim area is open to the public 365 days a year, unless there’s a reason to close it down,” Schneider said.

The water’s depth fluctuates, but usually ranges from 6 to 7 feet.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a lifeguard is on duty from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. When the lifeguard is present, swimmers over the age of 13 pay $5, ages three to 12 pay $4 and under 3 are free. There’s no charge if you’re not swimming.

Learn from a park ranger

The staff at Lake Norman State Park offer multiple programs each month. Learn about spiders, beavers, birds and even the stars. Take a hike with a ranger to learn about wildflowers and butterflies or bike 6 miles on the Mombo Loop of the Itusi Trail. Look for detailed information about program topics, dates and times, which are made available here.

Lake Norman State Park: 759 State Park Road, Troutman, NC 28166
(704) 528-6350
Free admission and parking
Picnic tables with grills available on first-come, first-serve basis

7 a.m.-9 p.m. May, June, July and August
7 a.m.-6 p.m. November- February
7 a.m.- 8 p.m. March, April, September and October

Photos: Vanessa Infanzon, Lake Norman State Park, Greg Schneider