Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 15, 2024.
Lake Norman State Park manages 1,900 acres of North Carolina‘s largest manmade lake and its shoreline. It’s one of our most interesting state parks, with plenty of space for boating and paddling, wonderful trails for hiking and mountain biking, and more.
We’ve found fun activities for the whole family and want to share them with you in this guide! This guide details the awesome things to do at Lake Norman State Park, along with the history of Lake Norman itself.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or know this park well, we think there’s something here for you to know and learn. First, let’s take a trip back in time before digging into our favorite ways to enjoy Lake Norman State Park!
Before you jump in, here’s how we’ve organized the guide:
- History of Lake Norman
- Things to Do at Lake Norman State Park
- Explore the Visitor Center
- Things to Do Near Lake Norman State Park
History of Lake Norman
Before we dig into Lake Norman State Park, we think you should know a few Lake Norman facts.
The land that the lake sits on once belonged to the Catawba tribe, long before the Europeans settled the area. In 1600, the Catawba tribe neared 5,000 people before their numbers were reduced to just 60 fighting men due to disease and war with the rival Iroquois tribe.
In 1762, the tribe moved south, leaving the land to be claimed by European settlers.
Fast forward about 200 years to 1959, when Duke Power Company built the Cowans Ford Dam to harness electrical energy. The dam created Lake Norman, leading to the industrialization of nearby Charlotte and its economy.
The State Park was formed around the lake in September 1962, when Duke Power Company donated 1,328 acres of land along the northeastern shore of the lake.
Perhaps one of the most notable and slightly unnerving things about Lake Norman are the towns, buildings, and roads that lie at the bottom of the lake.
Where the lake now sits used to house the East Monbo and Long Island cotton mills and their employees. These mills were closed in the 1950s to allow for the creation of the dam, causing hundreds of their employees and families to move.
Today, these homes, mills, surrounding roads, and even gravesites lie undisturbed at the bottom of the lake.
Things to Do at Lake Norman State Park
Hike or Bike the Trails
Lake Norman State Park offers a nice variety of trails for multiple uses. For example, you can hike the child-friendly Dragonfly Trail (0.15-mile loop) or bike all 30-plus miles of single-track trail on the Itsutsi Trail, or some of its shorter portions.
For hikers, the Lakeshore Trail (6.2-mile loop) mixes forest-covered paths with various stops to view the lake. It’s one of our favorites throughout the year, especially in the winter.
The Alder Trail (0.8-mile loop) is another great one that starts from the Visitor Center and runs mostly along the Park Lake.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Explore the Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is the best place to answer all your questions about the trails or history of Lake Norman. Informative exhibits provide great background on the park.
Step outside and spend a sunny afternoon relaxing on the chairs behind the Center. They’ll give you an easy-to-access view of the Park Lake.
Read More: 20+ Awesome Museums in Charlotte and Nearby!
Rent a Pedal Boat
If you’re looking to get on the water, the Visitor Center is also where you can rent canoes and pedal boats. In a typical year, they allow SUP rentals, as well. Renting a boat costs $10 per hour and accommodates up to 4 people, making it a great family outing.
Fishing licenses are required to fish Lake Norman’s large array of crappie, bluegill, catfish, spotted bass, and more. There are some popular spots to fish from along the lake, specifically Fishing Pier.
NC Wildlife Resources Commission regulations apply for both lakes when fishing.
Go to the Lake Norman Beach!
In the warmer months, you can even take a swim in the lake! There is a swimming area located on the south side of the park that serves as a beach and comes complete with a bathhouse, concessions such as drinks and ice cream, and more.
The Lake Norman beach is equipped with lifeguards and locker rooms that are offered from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Be aware that if you swim when lifeguards are on duty, the Park charges a small fee. The beach accepts cash only while the Visitor Center accepts credit cards.
Enjoy a Picnic
There are multiple picnic shelters scattered throughout the park. The Park encourages reserving the shelters online to ensure their availability, but unreserved picnic shelters are available on a first-come basis.
The bigger shelters are the Heron Picnic Shelter behind the Visitor Center and the Osprey and Kingfisher picnic shelters near the Lake Norman Beach swimming area. Each of these can hold up to 96 people and are perfect for parties, gatherings, and picnics.
Lake Norman Camping
There are a variety of camping grounds to choose from if you’re looking to spend the night here. Lake Norman State Park offers camper cabins that accommodate up to six people as well as group camping sites for parties of 7 to 25 people and sites for tent, RV, or trailer camping.
Each Lake Norman camping type has its own amenities and perks; the cabins come with a bathhouse complex and group camping allows walk-ins given that they are available.
Lake Norman State Park’s calendar is full of engaging programs and events perfect for the whole family! Attend a free interpretive program led by a park ranger to better connect with the Park’s natural landscape.
Check out their group events, like ranger-led hikes and activities that focus on a specific natural topic. One specific group event is the “Falling for Leaves” hike that includes leaf collecting and a leaf crayon rubbing at the end.
They also host special events for holidays throughout the year, including Halloween.
Ready to Explore Lake Norman State Park?
We love exploring Lake Norman State Park and think it’s the perfect place for everyone, especially families. Whether you’re here to swim, take your boat out on the water, fish, hike, or bike, we think this is the park for you.
If you’ve visited the park and experienced any of its fun activities, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know about your experiences in the comments and don’t forget to share your photos in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
Before you do, though, here are some more things to do in Lake Norman State Park’s surroundings.
Things to Do Near Lake Norman State Park
Lake Norman State Park is located in Iredell County, which is home to lots to explore and enjoy after you’ve conquered the trails!
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Charlotte
Whether you’re in town for a hot air balloon ride or enjoying the park, there are lots more things to do in Statesville. Check out Southern Distilling for some incredible spirits, learn some important history at Fort Dobbs, and don’t leave town without a footlong from Jay Bee’s Hot Dogs!
To the south of Lake Norman State Park is Mooresville, another wonderful town in Iredell County. Mooresville is known for its concentration of racing shops and legends that live in the area. NASCAR fans love spending time at the following shops:
There are even more things to do in the area, including family-friendly activities like visits to Carrigan Farms throughout the year. We always try to stop for a burger and a witch doctor from What-a-burger, too!