NC State Parks: Lake Norman State Park

“Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface, and great depths of kindness.”    – Lao Tzu

Welcome back, LKN readers, as we begin our state park journey together in our own back yard. Lake Norman State Park may be a place that you have missed with the numerous opportunities on the perimeter of Lake Norman to visit. Many readers may have homes right on the lake, but Lake Norman State Park is a place everyone should visit for either quiet and welcoming solitude or active recreation with family and friends. There are many enticing trails and adventurous activities that the park offers for free or numerous activities with modest fees. The ability to support the natural and cultural resources of our great state and local community is enough incentive to visit the park.

Brief History

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” Henry David Thoreau

Lake Norman, named for the Duke Power CEO Norman Atwater Cocke, was created during the years from 1959 to1964 when Duke Power Company built the Cowans Ford Dam across the Catawba River to have the ability to generate electrical energy. The creation of the lake led to increased industrialization of Mecklenburg County, while helping to establish Charlotte as a major trade center according to the website.

Lake Norman State Park was formed in September 1962 when Duke Power Company donated 1,328 acres of land on the northeastern shore of Lake Norman for a state park. Lake Norman, also known as the “Inland Sea” is the largest manmade lake within the state, and the park covers about 17 miles of its northeastern shoreline. Originally named Duke Power State Park, Lake Norman State Park was opened in 1965 to the public. 


“Stay close to the serenity of a lake to meet your own peace of mind” – Unknown

Begin your trip at the beautiful and relaxing Lake Norman State Park Visitors’ Center where the accommodating staff offers exceptional advice on the best hikes, trails and activities for your group’s experience and ability. The visitors’ center with friendly and informative staff, has many must-see displays including interactive maps and a local arrowhead collection. While inside the center, peruse the small gift shop with nature-related souvenir shirts, various snacks, informative maps, and a few camping necessities. The clean, climate-controlled bathrooms are a welcome bonus, along with the huge deck out back that is lined with rocking chairs in which to relax while looking out over the northeast section of the lake.


“People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.” John Wanamaker 

If rocking chairs are too sedate for your taste, there are many recreational activities and numerous amenities to keep you active. While most of the activities are free, some have minimal costs that will fit into most budgets. Pricing lists are available at the visitor center for everything offered on site at the park. Below is a list of some of the many amenities and activities.

  • Hiking (38 miles)
  • Biking (30.5 miles)
  • Paddling
  • Canoeing
  • Pedal boats
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Boat ramp
  • Boat rentals (seasonal)
  • Concession stand (seasonal)
  • Auditorium and classroom
  • Community building
  • Picnic shelters
  • Beach access (lake)
  • RV, tent, and group camping
  • Camper Cabins
  • Bathhouse

Park Lake an unconnected 33 acres of Lake Norman State Park is separated from the larger Lake Norman by a dam and is a great place for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. 

Unique Features

“Skip a stone. Take a hike. Sit a spell. Listen. Daydream. Just breathe. This is lake living.” – Unknown

If mountain biking is your passion, the Itusi Trail at Lake Norman State Park consists of 30.5 miles of exciting bike trails, comprising various loops which range in difficulty from easy to moderate. This Itusi trail system has meandering and rolling cross-country single-track trails available for most riding levels. *Bike trails are closed at times for construction, poor trail conditions due to weather, or other reasons. For both visitor safety and protection of the trail and natural resources be sure to check the website for closures before your visit.”

Another unique feature of Lake Norman State Park is the swimming beach that is one of only two public swimming areas on this huge four-county lake (Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln & Mecklenburg). It has a 125-yard-long sand beach with a large parking area, a bathhouse with comfortably, warm showers, restrooms, a seasonal concession stand, spacious changing stalls, and roomy lockers. It is open to the public April through October. A small fee is charged for swimming during the day, but only when lifeguards are actively on duty throughout the summer months.

Although most are rarely seen, the park is home to 35 plus species of mammals. What can be seen, and a unique feature of the park, is the diversity of bird species. This duo of piedmont forest and aquatic lake habitats offer visitors a cornucopia of species for every bird watcher.

Typical of the Carolina Piedmont are wild turkey, warblers, blue jays, goldfinches, wrens, and cardinals. Red-tailed and broad-winged hawks, along with various owl species, are some of the predatory birds that are common in the park. There have even been several bald eagle releases by the Carolina Raptor Center at Lake Norman State Park, with the latest bald eagle rehab release on October 15, 2021.

Lake Norman State Park also attracts a large variety of waterfowl. Mallards, wood ducks, teal hooded mergansers and other ducks and geese can be seen during certain seasons. Wading birds, including great blue herons, green-backed herons, and egrets are abundant in the park’s lake area.

According to their website the park has two islands that are heron rookeries which are home to over 25 nests. Heron will gather in large colonies each spring, building their nests in the safety of the treetops. In this way, they can work together to monitor predators such as eagles and owls from above and racoons and other predators from below.

At the End of the Day

“Of all the paths you take in life make some lead to the lake.” – Unknown 

I hope this article inspires you to visit Lake Norman State Park and take advantage of the beauty, amenities, and activities available at this local state park. Stop by the visitor’s center and let Jennifer and other accommodating staff offer suggestions for the trip based on your interests, especially if you have children. The Junior Ranger patch that children can earn during visits to the park is well designed and on display in the center, along with the booklets needed to complete the challenge.

Lake Norman State Park is located at 759 State Park Road in Troutman, NC. Park hours are 7am-8pm Sept & Oct, 7am-6pm Nov-Feb, 7am – 8pm Mar-Apr, and 7am – 9pm May-Aug. For more information, visit or call 704-528-6350.

Be on the lookout for next month’s issue where we will continue our journey at William B. Umstead State Park.

Bon Voyage,



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