Grand Design Imagine McDowell Nature Preserve Campground R11
McDowell Nature Preserve Campground,  South Carolina Campgrounds

McDowell Nature Preserve Campground


Finding a campground near a large city can be pretty difficult. We planned to meet friends and celebrate a birthday at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. It took a lot of research to find something that we liked near the park. It was also going to be a much longer drive from home than our two previous trips. After many google searches we came across McDowell Nature Preserve on Lake Wylie.

McDowell Nature Preserve is 1,132 acres and while the campsites are not on the lake, it’s just a short hike to enjoy the view. On campus the nature preserve features live animals, a discovery hall, and visitors center/gift shop. The campground is tucked away in the nature preserve, separate from the park itself. It has 56 sites that include full hookup to primitive, hike in campsites. They also offer rent-a-tent sites which I had never seen before. Over the weekend I did not see anyone in those particular sites, but I’m sure there are many people who would love to skip the setting up and taking down of the tent!

Heather took Friday and Monday off work so that we would be able to take our time on the trip and enjoy each day that we weren’t traveling. I had the camper packed and ready to go by the time she got home on Thursday and we hoped to get on the road as soon as possible.

The weather had other plans for us. The Colorado happened to be in the shop because the def system had a recall. The Chevy dealership loaned us a brand new Silverado for the weekend, knowing we were going to be towing the camper. For all those “gotta have a 1/2 ton truck” folks out there, our Colorado pulls the camper better. We actually couldn’t get the camper out of our parking spot in the yard because it had just recently experienced a monsoon.

The loaned Silverado is front wheel drive and lacks the all terrain tires that we have on our Colorado. It tore up our yard as we tried to pull the camper out of the spot. I had to drive my Sentra to Home Depot right before they closed and pack it full of bags of sand and small rocks, I was looking for anything that would give us some traction. We didn’t leave the house ’till 11 p.m! Four-hour ride, and all I could hope for was an easy set-up/weekend when we arrived.

The campground is gated and the office closes at 5pm so we had planned ahead since we knew our arrival time would be late Thursday night (though not 2 a.m late!) We reserved site R11 based on pictures I did quite a bit of work to find online. Upon arriving and driving through the campground we passed the dump station in the middle of the campground by the bathroom. We found this odd because on Monday we would have to drive back through the campground and possibly block people from driving past the bathroom. It turned out to not be that big of a deal.

R11 is a pull through and fairly level. The sites were closer together than we were used to, but the point of the trip was the Whitewater Center so we were happy with what we got. We were even spoiled with a personal trash can on-site, until the bees arrived.

Our Friday started by taking the dogs on a walk around McDowell Nature Preserve. We found a community fire pit and an outdoor classroom in the back of the campground. Our friends arrived Friday afternoon to set up their tent on our site and plan the next day. We would take the dogs with us to the Whitewater Center. Heather and I planned to spend the day walking around the facility and watching our friends on the zip line, whitewater rafting, and rock wall. Upon arriving we realized just how crowded the center was going to be.

Our middle pup, Cedar started to get anxious and we knew we needed to avoid the big crowds. Heather and I headed into the woods and ended up on a set of bike trails that went underneath the ropes course. The Whitewater center was just too crowded for us that day to really enjoy ourselves, so Heather and I headed back to McDowell Nature Preserve. The center looked like a LOT of fun for any age. Everyone except Heather, she’s afraid of heights. U.S. National Whitewater Center

hiking white water center

Both Friday and Saturday night we had friends that slept on the pull out couch. From what they said it wasn’t uncomfortable and they didn’t mind the smaller size. The couch pulls out to a bed bigger than a twin, but smaller than a double.

We had hard rain one of the nights. We were able to put the awning in just in time before the weather did any damage. I’ve seen way too many pictures of broken awnings due to wind damage. Change of plans, no campfire —we now had six adults and three large dogs in our camper. It was the first time we used the removable dinette table. In case anyone is wondering, you CAN fit six adults around the table for a card game. We have a small ottoman in the camper that one person could sit on and we brought in one chair from outside.

Things we learned.

  1. Always do your best to take care of the camper. There was another camper across from our site that was literally falling apart. It was hard to look at it!
  2. Put the dogs in situations they may not be used to, but don’t push them too much.
  3. We were FINALLY to the point where Summit wasn’t having accidents overnight. Thank goodness!

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