Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve: Audubon and Cattail Trails (Blog Hike #342)

Trails: Audubon and Cattail Trails
Hike Location: Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: southwest of HuntersvilleNC (35.35198, -80.93007)
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: April 2011
Overview: A flat hike along the shore of Mountain Island Lake.

Directions to the trailheadOn the northwest side of Charlotte, take I-485 to WT Harris Blvd. (exit 22).  Exit and go west on WT Harris Blvd.  Take WT Harris Blvd. to its end at Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. and turn left.  Take Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. 1.2 miles to Beatties Ford Rd. and turn right.  Take Beatties Ford Rd. 1.5 miles to Sample Rd. and turn left.  Sample Rd. dead-ends at the preserve entrance.  To reach this trailhead, drive the main park road past the Horse Trailer Parking to the picnic area parking at the very end of the road.  Both of these trails depart from the picnic area.

The hike: For my general comments on Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, see the previous hike.  The trails described here do not feature mature forest like those of the previous hike, but they do feature something the other hiking-only trails do not: lake views.  If you hike both the Treasure Tree-Beechwood hike and this hike, you will see the best of everything Latta Plantation has to offer.
            I chose to hike the Audubon Trail first.  To reach the trailhead, find the paved picnic area loop at the rear of the parking lot and turn left.  The dirt Audubon Trail exits to the left at a signed trailhead.  The Audubon Trail is marked with green squares bearing the universal hiking symbol.  Where the trail forks, angle left to hike the loop clockwise.
            The trail heads through Faylinn Village, a village of fairy houses made out of sticks by grade-school kids. This activity helps the kids learn about the forest and survival skills.  Some of the houses would be decent to spend a night in, but not all.
Faylinn Village
            At the far side of Faylinn Village, you reach a trail fork where both options bear the Audubon Trail blazes.  The trail going straight is a spur trail that leads to the Gar Creek canoe access, so you should turn right to continue around the main Audubon Trail loop.  Just past this turn, you will pass an old well under a gazebo to the right of the trail.  A grate prevents anyone from falling into the well, but that does not mean the well is safe.  On my visit, a very large brown spider sat on the inside of the stone well wall.
Well along Audubon Trail
Spider in well
            Past the well, the trail heads slightly downhill through young forest to reach a spur trail to the lakeside.  The spur trail leads to a nice lake view where the Gar Creek inlet flows into the lake proper, but buildings across the narrow inlet mar the view.  There is a much wider view of the lake just ahead on the main trail.
Wide lake view
            Past the nice lake views, the trail returns to the young forest with the lake through the trees on your left.  Where an unmarked trail exits left to stay along the lake, turn right to remain on the Audubon Trail.  After a gradual climb, you close the loop.  Angle left to retrace your steps back to the paved picnic area loop.  Turn right on the picnic area loop to head back to the parking area.
            To reach the Cattail Trail, follow the picnic area loop past the parking area and descend slightly to enter the main picnic area.  Where the paved trail forks, choose the right fork.  The Cattail Trail starts at a signed trailhead on the right about 400 feet past the fork.  Unlike other trails in the preserve, the Cattail Trail is unblazed, but it is wide and easy to follow.
Bench along Cattail Trail
            The Cattail Trail heads through young forest with the lake visible through the trees on your left.  0.9 miles into the hike, you pass an interesting bench consisting of a wooden tie placed between holes in neighboring trees.  As the peninsula on which you are hiking narrows, you reach the lake shore on your right.  A narrow channel separates you from an island in the lake that is accessible only by canoe.  Birds enjoy the seclusion of the island, so take some time to see what you can see.
Bird house in Mountain Island Lake
Rock at tip of peninsula
            As you continue around the peninsula, the island fades behind you and you reach a large rock that marks the tip of the peninsula.  The trail curves sharply left and heads back up the southern side of the peninsula.  Despite the trail’s name, the waters here are too deep and swift to allow any cattails to grow.  A rock island appears in the lake, and you will likely pass numerous anglers along the shore.
            At 1.2 miles, the Cattail Trail ends at the paved picnic area loop.  You could go either direction, but I chose to turn right for one last lake view.  The paved trail heads through the core of the picnic area as it climbs gradually to reach the fork and close the loop.  A short hike on the paved trail is all that remains to complete the hike.

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