8 Family Adventures to Enjoy in Gaston County this Summer
When school’s out and sports, tutoring, and band practice go on summer hiatus, it’s time to get the kids outdoors. The benefits are many, from spending family time without digital distractions to reducing stress, boosting sensory skills, and getting fit. Studies show that playing in nature even increases focus, improves immunity, and contributes to social and emotional development.
If that’s not enough reason to spend a day in the park, think back to some of your fondest childhood memories of strolling through the forest and splashing in a creek. Nothing builds the next generation of environmental advocates better than being in nature, a passion that’s worth passing on to your kids. So pack up the water bottles and trail snacks for a summer’s worth of outdoor adventure in Gaston County.
1. Camp on Crowders Mountain
The backcountry campsites at Crowders Mountain State Park, only a mile from your car and close to amenities like restrooms, firewood, and drinking water, are just the right overnight challenge for budding campers wanting to spend their first night in the woods. An easy, one-mile trail leads to sites with picnic tables, fire rings, and two tent pads. After you pitch your tent, spend the day climbing the trails to Kings Pinnacle and the summit of Crowders and go fishing on the seven-acre lake.
2. Paddle the River District
Rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard to take out on a family-friendly section of the Catawba River at Tailrace Marina in Mt. Holly. The wide and slow-flowing Catawba narrows here, making for easier paddling across the river to Sadler Island and the dock at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
3. Hike the South Fork Trail
Spend a few hours exploring an undeveloped stretch of the South Fork River between McAdenville and Lowell on the South Fork Trail. The two-mile route, part of the Carolina Thread Trail, hugs the river for a mostly flat, leisurely stroll through Pharr Yarns Preserve. Highlights are a river overlook at Cable Point and the remains of mills and bridgework from the county’s textile days. Half-mile markers let you know how far you’ve gone, so you can tailor the distance to the youngest explorers in your family.
4. Spend a Day on Goat Island
Take the stately pedestrian bridge that connects the restaurants of downtown Cramerton to Goat Island, a 29-acre park surrounded by the South Fork River. Fish from the pier, bring a picnic lunch to the playground and dog park, or play a few rounds on the 18-hole disc golf course. There are permanent ping pong tables and cornhole boards, plus kayaks for rent at Floyd & Blackie’s, right across the river from the park, for paddling on the gentle South Fork River Blueway.
5. Learn to Stand-Up Paddleboard
For a day of fun and relaxation on the water, there’s nothing better than stand-up paddleboarding. You can paddle as hard as you like, with plenty of breaks to grab a snack, take a dip, and lounge in the sun. Anchored Soul will set your family up with boards, paddles, leashes, and PFDs, along with tips on safety and basic paddling technique. For the first-timers in your group, they offer instruction, including a kid-specific lesson plan that eases young paddlers into the sport.
6. Play in the Garden
You may find your kids asking for weekly trips to Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardenthis summer. The draw? Storytime, scavenger hunts, crafts, cookie decorating, birding, and educational nature walks. And that’s in addition to exploring 110 acres of gardens on your own. For the 20th anniversary, the garden is hosting a botanical glass exhibit that’s bound to capture the imagination of the artists in your family.
7. Picnic at Rankin Lake Park
Another Gaston County park that offers a day’s worth of outdoor fun surrounds 80-acre Rankin Lake. Stroll the 1.5-mile path around the lakeshore and cast a fishing rod off one of the park’s two piers. Play a game of horseshoes or rent kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, or a jon boat at the park concession stand. If that’s not enough, you can play the 18-hole disc golf course. Families with older children will enjoy the paved greenway bike ride from downtown Gastonia to Rankin Lake Park on the 1.5-mile Highland Rail Trail.
8. Get a Day Pass to Multisport Adventure
For an outdoor sampler of just about any adventure sport your family wants to experience, get day passes to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Go whitewater rafting on three manmade Class I-III rivers, harness up to zipline through the trees above the Catawba River and jump up to 100 feet from treehouse platforms, and ride the beginner-to-advanced singletrack mountain biking trails above the river. Leave plenty of time for rock climbing, flatwater stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, and a session on the ropes course.