While Charlotte may have been a sleepy southern city in the past, it gets bigger and busier by the day. It is a beautiful city with plenty to do, but sometimes you need to spend some time outside connecting with nature. That’s not always easy in a city, but Freedom Park in Charlotte offers that opportunity.
Visiting Freedom Park (Charlotte): All You Need To Know
Freedom Park gently nestles between the Dilworth and Myers Parks neighborhoods in Charlotte, but it isn’t that far from Uptown. Sometimes you can even see the top of the building formerly known as the Duke Energy Center (now 550 S. Tryon).
Celebrating its prominent location, Freedom Park proudly serves the masses. The park is so popular to visit that you may even see local law enforcement managing traffic near the entrance. This is especially true during the summer.
Green Space Galore
Freedom Park is simply beautiful and a near-perfect place to enjoy some fresh air. The 98-acre park features a large lake and pathways meandering throughout the park.
There are multiple event pavilions that you can reserve for parties and special events. You can always lounge down by the lake or in a hammock under the trees. When the weather is mild yet warm, hundreds of people find ways to enjoy the park simultaneously.
It is easy to find some personal space to relax or do some people-watching. There are nearly 100 acres of park space to share.
The Mecklenburg Parks & Recreation team has a nice map of Freedom Park on their website.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway
One unique design feature at Freedom Park is that the Little Sugar Creek Greenway runs parallel to the park. In fact, the greenway runs right under the park entrance. Still, the first time you visit, you might not even realize that it is there. Most of the park is separated from the greenway by a creek and line of trees.
When my kids were little, I would park my car near CPCC and run on the greenway to Freedom Park. Depending on how strong I felt, I would circle the lake a few times and head the stroller back home. And that’s just the beginning; the greenway’s current and future state extends much further.
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway is a critical link in the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT). The fact that it integrates nicely with Freedom Park is outstanding.
The lake at Freedom Park has a stretched-out, oblong shape, and Little Sugar Creek runs parallel to the lake, separated by nothing more than some natural habitation. The greenway is on the opposite side of the creek from Freedom Park, and there are several different bridges at which you can cross from one to the other.
The wooden bridge that leads toward Discovery Place Nature is iconic, but more on Discovery Place later.
Amphitheater for Concerts, Festivals Too
The amphitheater sits on an island in the middle of the 7-acre lake, for real. The island is within a short rock’s throw of the lake’s northern edge, so the amphitheater serves its purpose well, but the fact that it sits on an island is pretty cool.
The bridge that leads to the amphitheater has served countless photo sessions. There are many people out there with prom pictures, wedding pictures, etc. Every time I visit the park, a professional photographer takes clients to that bridge, and we love it. Not only is the bridge iconic, but the entire park is iconic.
The amphitheater plays a significant part in that history. Free films and musical performances play in the amphitheater during the summer. There are a limited number of benches and seats, so if you plan to attend, make sure to get there early, with blankets and chairs in tow.
Festival in the Park is a five-day event that takes place every September and has been known to attract more than 100,000 visitors over five days. The Festival in the Park is a worthwhile experience, but the parking gets a little tight. We recommend going early to beat the rush.
Sports Fields & Courts For All Ages
While Little Sugar Creek runs parallel to the long park, a second creek effectively divides the park into two different sections. The playgrounds, ball fields, and public restrooms are on the northernmost side closest to Uptown. Across the bridge are the open public spaces, including the 7-acre lake, amphitheater, and several pavilions.
The southern part of the park features one little league field and a playground for small children. A hill separates the field and playground from the lake below. The other playground equipment and ball fields are located on the park’s north side, near East Blvd and the main entrance.
The park’s north side features an outdoor basketball court, three baseball fields, four soccer fields, and six tennis courts. If you cross Little Sugar Creek via the available bridge, there are six different tennis courts (totaling twelve tennis courts). Additionally, there are two sand volleyball courts.
All of the courts and fields see plenty of use. On any given Saturday, you may see youth baseball and soccer games underway, friends playing recreational games of sand volleyball (we’ve seen tournaments played as well), and all of the many tennis courts occupied.
The outdoor basketball court is off to the side. The basketball court is often full of pick-up games, so get there early if you want to play.
From my perspective, one of the great aspects of Freedom Park is that you will see people of all ages engaging in fun, athletic activities. Yes, organized youth sports events occupy the baseball and soccer fields at times, but at other times you will see a large family playing soccer together.
Multiple Playgrounds (Plus A Steam Engine!)
Across the main parking lot from the ball fields sit a large playground for older children, a large swing set, and the steam engine train with a bridge leading into the cab. The public restrooms are situated just past the swings, which is convenient for parents trying to potty train their kids.
The main playground is extensive and varied. Kids run around and scream, having a good time. It gets very busy sometimes, but the kids don’t seem to mind. That’s just another part of the adventure for them, even if it requires parents to keep an even more attentive eye on their kids.
The steam engine is fenced off, as we discuss more below. Still, a bridge passes from the main playground directly into the steam engine cab, which effectively extends the playground directly onto the train, which the kids love.
Beyond the swingsets and public restroom is the Play 60 playground, built and updated by the Carolina Panthers. The focal point of the Play 60 playground is likely the turf strip measuring out 40 yards and a timer for participants to measure the 40-yard dash speed.
The Play 60 playground also features pro-like training equipment. For instance, you can weave through tackling dummies to showcase agility.
The entire area near the playgrounds is pure family fun. Unsurprisingly, you may see an adult (including myself) attempting the 40-yard dash from time to time. While the results on the 40-yard dash timer are often a serious dose of reality for the adults, for the kids, all of the playground equipment is a reminder that childhood joy is the best.
Discovery Place Nature
While Discovery Place Nature isn’t technically part of Freedom Park, it is located on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, directly across the creek from the large lake at Freedom Park. The outdoor fenced portion of the facility runs right along the greenway.
Many people are first introduced to the fact Discovery Place Nature exists because they happen to visit Freedom Park and venture across the beautiful wooden plank suspension bridge crossing from the park to the greenway.
Discovery Place Nature was the south’s first nature museum and now features live animal shows, nature exhibitions, and environmental education. The museum has served the Charlotte community for decades, yet unassumingly is hidden in the woods along a creek.
If you’ve never been to Discovery Place Nature, it is a gem worth uncovering and is the perfect complement to an afternoon spent at Freedom Park.
More About Charlotte’s Freedom Park
While we’ve already shared the many reasons you should soon plan a visit to Freedom Park, some common questions are commonly worth addressing here.
How Long Is The Loop At Freedom Park?
The walking loop around the lake at Freedom Park is roughly 0.6 miles, but can easily extend your walk. The greenway and the rest of the park are well connected. Still, the lake offers a beautiful and entertaining view, so many power walkers and joggers will continually circle the lake, and we understand why this is their chosen path.
Doing so offers consistency and a method for measuring how far you have gone. For instance, if you count five times around the lake, you know it will just surpass 3 miles worth of exercise.
Freedom Park is full of interesting people. Some are there to exercise, while others are there to enjoy nature. Still, others are there for family bonding time. One time as I was running at Freedom Park, my son and I encountered a couple walking their pet snake.
Thankfully, they weren’t pulling it on a leash. Instead, the lady had her arm extended into the air, and the snake wrapped her arm. I don’t love big long snakes, so it made me uneasy, but it was interesting nonetheless.
And that is the one thing you can count on as a certainty. You will enjoy some interesting people-watching, even if you choose to stay around the Lake Loop at Freedom Park.
Is Freedom Park in Charlotte Safe?
Freedom Park in Charlotte is in a very safe area. It sits between the Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods, among the most desirable and exclusive neighborhoods in all of North Carolina. Park Rangers are often on-site attending to the park, and police frequently position themselves near the park entrance.
Where Do You Park For Freedom Park in Charlotte?
There are multiple parking lots at Freedom Park in Charlotte. One Parking lot sits on the backside of the youth baseball fields, near the tennis courts. Soccer fields, volleyball courts, playgrounds, and the creek surround the second parking lot. The backside of Freedom Park also has one small parking lot.
Pro Tip: Consider looking for parking on the backside of the park, alongside Princeton Avenue. You can park along the road or at the playground for smaller kids.
Can You Feed Ducks At Freedom Park?
Per park ordinance, do not feed any of the ducks or geese at Freedom Park.
In the past, Freedom Park had a problem with the Canada Geese taking over. That might sound mildly endearing, but the reality is the geese can be aggressive toward children, destroy turf, and leave feces on the sidewalks.
Either way, the ordinance prevents feeding ducks, geese, or other waterfowl, but there are other reasons it is a bad idea.
History of Freedom Park
Freedom Park is a beautiful and expansive park with a rich history. As you walk the pathways, you will find memorials to war heroes from the World War II era. The park honors them well and continues a legacy of Americana freedom.
The Mecklenburg County Lions Club initially raised private money to build the park, and then the land was deeded to the City of Charlotte in 1949. The Little Sugar Creek Greenway, which connects Freedom Park to Uptown, was completed much later, in April 2012.
Why Is It Called Freedom Park?
Freedom Park was founded after World War 2 when the Mecklenburg County Lion’s Club raised money to build the park to honor veterans. The park was named Freedom Park as a reminder of the lifestyle and ideals they fought to preserve.
In the early days, the park also featured tanks and airplanes. To this day, the park still features small monuments honoring their service.
Tanks and Airplanes
While Freedom Park still showcases a steam engine that kids can climb into, in the park’s earlier years, it also featured fire trucks, tanks, and even an F-86 Sabre jet fighter. Times were different then, and kids were allowed to play on all equipment. The fire engines even had old-fashioned handle cranks.
Even though the park no longer showcases the fire engines, tanks, or jet fighters, the steam engine is still a mainstay. Parks and Recreation fenced off the 2-8-0 steam engine, but you can still reach the cab via a bridge extending from the main playground.
Not many things will compete for a kid’s attention in the day and age of video games, but a steam engine will. Imagination and excitement run wild as kids pretend to operate the engine.
The cab is a little tight to accommodate the number of kids gracing its presence, but the cab proudly serves them all. Aesthetically, the engine is a fun addition to Freedom Park, but as far as little kids are concerned, it and the playground are the main attractions.
Side Note: You can check out the Charlotte Airport Overlook if you are bummed Freedom park no longer features airplanes. The Overlook is another great way to experience Charlotte for free.
Visit Freedom Park In Charlotte And Enjoy
Whether you are a long-time Charlotte resident that has never been, or you are just planning a trip to Charlotte for a few days, Freedom Park is a preeminent park worth visiting. The expansive park features creeks, a lake, and beautiful trees (and colorful foliage in the fall).
Still, there are many activities for you to enjoy while you are outside, enjoying the best that urban nature has to offer. One weekend you may stroll along the pathways, while the following weekend, you may drop by to let the kids play on the expansive playground equipment.
One weekend you may watch youth baseball, while the next weekend you might play sand volleyball. There is plenty for everyone, and there are few more beautiful settings so close to a major central business district. Freedom Park is just around the corner from great restaurants, beautiful neighborhoods and less than three miles from Uptown.
Freedom Park is a Charlotte treasure worth appreciating!