MCP All-Access Route

MCP All-Access Route

Published: December 20, 2023

2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina and we invite you to spend it at Catawba County Parks! This series of articles will help you do that with details on suggested routes across our four parks. Our next feature is an all-access route at Mountain Creek Park.

Walk Statistics:
     Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip 
     Estimated Time: 45 min - 1 hour 
     Elevation Gain: 200 feet 
     Difficulty: Easy 

Walk Overview:
Mountain Creek Park, named after the creek that winds through the park, is nestled along a cove on the northwestern tip of Lake Norman. This 2.2-mile route begins at the park office and follows paved paths to the lakefront area and back, passing many of the park’s most popular amenities including the nature center, adventure playground, pickleball courts, fishing pier, and picnic areas for a glimpse at the activities, views and habitats that can be enjoyed during a visit. The entire length of the 2.2 mile route is paved, making it stroller-friendly and wheelchair-accessible.

Directions to Trailhead:
From Newton, travel south on NC Hwy 16 to Buffalo Shoals Rd and turn left. In 0.6 miles, turn right onto Little Mountain Rd and travel 4.8 miles to the entrance of Mountain Creek Park on the left. From the park entrance, follow the signs for the park office, taking the first right off the traffic circle. Park along the sidewalk on the left and walk up to the front of the park office building to begin the walk.

Walk Description & Details:
As you face the park office for the start of the walk, you’ll find an inviting scene before you: two rocking chairs at the entrance of the building, a pollinator garden lining the front, and a Little Free Library box, a bench and an American flag retirement collection bin in front of a flower bed to the right of a breezeway. The pollinator garden blooms from spring through fall with showy perennials including lantana, Turk’s cap, swamp milkweed, salvia and agastache attracting pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Flowers in baskets and hummingbird feeders hanging on the front porch serve not only as decorations but also as another invitation to draw in birds and insects. Take a moment to watch their activity from the rocking chairs at the entrance or the bench located before the breezeway leading to the restrooms. To the right of the bench is a Little Free Library, donated to the park in January 2023 by the Friends of the Sherrills Ford-Terrell Library, designed by Bandys High School student Nayelis Castillo and constructed by the Rehobeth UMC’s men’s group. Bring books to donate or exchange, or drop off an American flag ready for retirement into the collection bin to the left of the bench, both installed in July 2023 as an Eagle Scout project by Brett Smit of BSA Troop 823. 

The building bears the inscription “Kitty Barnes Nature Center” just below the peak of the gable embellished in mountain laurel branches; the natural elements complement the park’s playground you will circle further into the walk. As you step into the complex, you will find an 846 square-foot nature center, dedicated in June 2023 to retired Commissioner Kitty Barnes who served Catawba County since 1998. The nature center features informational displays and exhibits, live reptiles including a corn snake, black rat snake and a box turtle, taxidermy animals, books and hands-on activities for kids to educate about local plants, insects and wildlife, as well as a nature-themed selfie mural for photo opportunities. The building is also home to the park rangers’ office and a 648-square-foot indoor meeting room available to rent for group meetings and family gatherings.

Continue the walk by exiting via the side doors down the hallway to the right of where you entered. Outside, you will find the restrooms, water fountain and bottle refill station ahead; turn left to follow the breezeway to the back of the building where a back patio decorated with hanging baskets, bird feeders, rocking chairs and benches beckons for another moment of rest. This is a great spot for watching and listening to the songbirds that can be seen and heard throughout the park from spring through fall, such as mockingbirds, mourning doves, blue birds, finches and titmice. Their calls blend with the ambient sounds of children playing in the background; as you follow the paved path away from the park office, you soon come to the source of the laughter and squeals: Mountain Creek Park’s adventure playground ahead to the right.

Built by Beanstalk Builders, the nature-inspired playground is the centerpiece of Mountain Creek Park. The space is designed to engage, challenge and promote well-being and discovery among children of all abilities for hours of adventure and play. Situated on just under an acre of play space, the playground includes 3 slides, several rope bridges and skywalks, a climbing wall, an ADA-accessible mountain laurel tunnel, a sky hammock, a vine climb, a rope swing and more. It is encircled by a paved walkway a tenth of a mile around, with benches scattered along the way so parents can keep a close eye on their kids at play.

Make a left turn on the loop around the playground, just past the large covered picnic shelter on the left. Curve around and take the first left to pass six picnic tables equipped with bright blue umbrellas. Turn right at the T-junction, then left to follow the path to the driveway crossing at 0.16 miles. On the other side to the right, four pickleball courts are available on a first-come basis for a game of America’s fastest-growing sport; to the left, the trailhead for the Stormie Normie trail is denoted with a trail marker and a large-scale map of the park’s 19.52 mile network of hiking and biking paths.

Continue onto the Stormie Normie trail, so named for the mythical sea creature allegedly sighted for decades around the waters of Lake Norman and described as “long and serpentine with scaly fins or flippers,” like an overgrown alligator. The doubletrack asphalt path curves to the right and passes through a grassy clearing decorated in spring through fall with radiant flowers including Small’s ragwort, oxeye daisy, daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, clasping bellflower, toadflax, and goldenrod. Past the clearing, it meanders on a slight descent, winding its way through a former Duke Energy loblolly pine plantation, with the trees planted in neat, evenly-spaced rows for the purpose of being logged and turned into power poles. Listen for the sounds of woodpeckers, owls, whip-poor-wills or their cousin, the chuck-will's-widow, which can be heard over the ubiquitous chatter of the grey squirrels that are sure to cross your path frequently as you stroll down the forested lane. Less commonly you may catch sight of a deer, chipmunk or box turtle, cohabitants of the woods with other park wildlife including fox and coyote whose presence is marked by hairy scat frequently seen along the trail.  

At 0.47 miles into the walk, pass a bench and trash can on the left before traveling through a series of S curves to a junction at 0.72 miles. A parking area marked with a map stand and two benches is to the left; take a right to follow the path past an observation platform with two picnic tables and a grill on the right to reach the fishing pier straight ahead. The walkway is lined on both sides with serviceberry bushes, one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring with fragrant white flowers, followed by red pome fruits that turn purple when ripe, resembling blueberries in appearance and taste. The berries are popular with birds and small mammals and attract native bees; they are a food source to 120 species of butterflies and moths, as well as humans. 

As you step onto the pier, you may notice evidence of beavers along the shoreline, such as markings of the animals’ wide front incisors, gnawed branches, beaver dams or hourglass-shaped tree stumps. You may also be treated to an occasional sighting of a muskrat swimming about with its long (8-11 inch) rat-like, scaly tail or a family of river otters engaging in the playful behaviors they are known for. Reptiles, including pond sliders, spiny softshell turtles, river cooters and snapping turtles, can be found sunbathing on logs in the water. When lake levels are low, as controlled by a Duke Energy dam, exposed mudflats create the perfect habitat for great blue herons, kingfishers, great egrets, ducks, killdeer, and other shorebirds that often perch at the flats year-round. Predatory birds such as hawks and bald eagles can be seen soaring overhead throughout the year, joined by ospreys from March to October; colorful migratory birds like warblers, indigo buntings, and rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive in spring while kinglets, pine siskins, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers make their residence at the park in winter. Last summer, rare sightings of a Florida native limpkin lured birdwatchers from an extended area trying to catch a glimpse or hear the sound of the notorious haunting shrieks that give the limpkin the common name of “crying bird.” In addition to bird watching and wildlife observation, the pier is a great spot for fishing for bass, bream, yellow perch and catfish. It offers the best panorama within the park, so be sure to allow some extended time to take in the sights.

Retrace your steps back to the trail junction and take a right back onto Stormie Normie as it travels along the edge of Lake Norman. The habitat here is riparian, dominated by sycamores, river birches and maples that put on a beautiful display of color in fall. In 250 feet, come to the ramp of the kayak launch at 0.94 miles, worth walking out to for another view of the outlet of Mountain Creek as it feeds into Lake Norman. For paddlers, a pull-out along the driveway allows for unloading canoes, kayaks or paddleboards for easier access onto the water. Continue past the kayak launch, cross over a small wooden bridge and, just after a 180-degree curve in the trail at 1.11 miles, take the left fork on a walkway that leads gradually but noticeably up to another junction at 1.28 miles. To the left, a handicap-accessible path leads to the outdoor classroom, a curved, tiered, amphitheater-style space for presentations and educational events; on the right, two picnic tables with the same bright blue umbrellas as those by the playground entice a snack break. Ahead on the right, a large covered picnic shelter makes a perfect location for a larger gathering; it can be used on a first-come basis or be reserved ahead of time by contacting the park office. A building with restrooms, water fountain and bottle refill station is located on the left; in front is a new planting of two flame thrower redbud trees, known for their dynamic display of a mix of colors during stages of active growth in spring. On the ground between the building and shelter, look for a compass stamped into the concrete, oriented to point in the correct directions.

Turn left onto the walkway past the restrooms and descend down parallel to the road, crossing the road twice before reconnecting with the Stormie Normie trail at the lower parking lot near the fishing pier. Turn right onto Stormie Normie and follow it 0.6 miles back to the trailhead by the pickleball courts. Turn right to cross the road, then left to follow the outer sidewalk back to your car, with the playground on your right and the road and parking on your left. The sidewalk is decorated with magnolia trees and bluebird boxes; large areas of grass invite rest, a picnic on a blanket or a game of frisbee. The walk ends in front of the park office at 2.2 miles.

Mileage Breakdown:

  • 0.00 – start of walk in front of the park office
  • 0.16 – driveway crossing to map stand and trailhead for Stormie Normie trail
  • 0.47 – bench on the left 
  • 0.76 – paved path to fishing pier
  • 0.94 – kayak launch
  • 1.20 – fork in paved trail (bear left)
  • 1.28 – paved paths to outdoor classroom and picnic tables
  • 1.32 – restrooms, compass and picnic shelter
  • 1.38 & 1.43 – driveway crossings
  • 1.46 – junction with path to fishing pier and Stormie Normie Trail (turn left, then right)
  • 2.06 – driveway crossing at end of Stormie Normie trail
  • 2.21 – end of walk at park office

Visitor Reviews:
Some nice views of the lake. This is all paved, so it is ADA accessible. Lots of dogs and people out going for a walk. Passed a kayak launch with a nice view as well. Restrooms at two spots on the route. AllTrails Review

Great place! Plenty to do! Bring the kids! Great play area for them! Bike trails and fishing! Also have a small little museum with some interesting things ... Love this place! Google Review

This is a well-maintained, paved trail that descends gently to the lake then connects to a few others. Partially shaded most of the morning to mid-day. Well-traveled. AllTrails Review

Excellent park, lots of parking, nice clean bathrooms. Great playground for the kids to play on with lots of benches. Paved trail to the lake is through trees and is easy to navigate. Google Review

I took my kindergarten and preschool-aged kids, and they kept up pretty well. It’s all paved and well-marked. There were several people on bikes but everyone was courteous and shared the path. AllTrails Review

Gorgeous park! So much nature, great big fun playground for children, fishing piers and beautiful walking trails, bike trails, even my elderly parents could go in a wheelchair because the trails are paved! Google Review

Walk Video:

Other Routes in the Series: