Several thematic gardens arranged in a succession of outdoor rooms makes this complex a plant-lover's paradise. The Cottage Garden has many hard-to-find heirloom plants, the Four Seasons Garden highlights form and foliage for year-round appeal, and the Canal Garden features color in changing displays of perennials and annuals. The garden's location on Lake Wylie includes 100 developed acres and some 300 more acres under development.

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This educational forest lends shade, beauty and comfort to the region. Almost 140 acres of forest feature ample picnicking spots. New environmental education center provides guests with information on land conservation and forest environment. Jogging and hiking trails. Great for children.

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If plants, flowers and gardens are your forte, you are in for an amazing treat. There are exceptional varieties of horticulture represented at the gardens. Visitors will find a great many rare species, as well. Don't miss the two-story rain forest. Located on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Highway 49 North. Groups of over 10 must schedule a visit.

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Mecklenburg County made a decision years ago to unite the city via a web of parks and green spaces. They've poured lots of money into the project, and the result is something that can be enjoyed by all. Over 30 miles of greenways have been developed, and almost 150 miles are still being planned. In fact, the greenway system is quickly becoming one of the country's finest, and the eight existing parcels, like McMullen & Lower McAlpine Creek, are definitely worth checking out.

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One of the first parks owned by Mecklenburg County, McDowell Park hasn't been around for long (it first opened in the mid-70s), but during its short existence it has grown from a 136-acre lake-side park to emerge as one of Charlotte's most noteworthy natural assets. From upland hardwood forests to Piedmont prairie, the park offers a variety of beautiful landscapes and habitats, and its now 1108 acres are popular stomping grounds for hikers, bird-watchers and nature-lovers of all types. The McDowell Nature Center, meanwhile, is worth stopping by for its butterfly gardens, bird-feeding stations, animal exhibits and a gift shop.

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If sand, boats, and water are your way to relax, then head a little north of Charlotte. Jetton Park is a 105-acre waterfront park on Lake Norman that gives you opportunities to sit on the beach, watch boats go by, walk on the trails, or take your own vessel on the water and listen while you coast over the waves.

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Wing Haven Gardens

Built in the late 1920s, these gardens offer a wealth of flowering varieties. The site of Wing Haven Gardens was once the property of Mr. and Mrs. Clarkston. Having been willed to a non-profit organization, the gardens were opened to the public. Guided tours are available and may be scheduled ahead of time.

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This garden spot originally resulted from one woman's attempt to renovate and landscape her husband's business. This now public site is home to more than 500 rosebushes. A must-see during the spring and summer months when the glorious flowers are in full bloom. Appointments are available, and tours require at least 10 people (or $20).

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University Area

Located in the front of Reedy Creek Park, this dedicated terrain is actually called Barkingham Park. Bring your four-legged friend to the four-acre, fenced-off area for fun with other canines. You can relax and enjoy music while your pet spends time meeting new friends. The park is an off-leash area where kids under the age of 12 are not allowed.

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Lake Norman's 520 miles of shoreline create an oasis for fun in the sun, just north of Charlotte off I-77. The lake is where Charlotte's "beautiful people" – and those who imagine themselves to be – come to spend summer weekends. Boats are often tied together to create makeshift parties on the lake, and "float up" restaurants like The Rusty Rudder are worth checking out if you're cruising about. Contact the Visit Lake Norman Visitor Center for info about activities on the lake.

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