Big Rock Nature Preserve – Charlotte, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

Big Rock Nature Preserve

These strange large stones served as a campsite and lookout post for generations of Native Americans.  


Nestled in a residential neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina is a patch of woods. Nestled in the patch of woods are some very big and quite significant rocks.

These are the largest exposed boulders in Mecklenburg County by a significant margin, rising out of the woods as if they were picked up and transported from some other landscape far, far away. Their incongruous nature has been drawing visitors for at least 7,000 years.

A proper archaeological investigation of the sensibly named Big Rock Nature Preserve was conducted in 1987. Stone tools, animal bones, and fragments of cooking pots were found among the boulders, as well as more recent artifacts, like a musket ball (likely from the mid-1800s). The study concluded that this area was used as a campsite and observation point by generations of Native Americans, whose ancestors crossed the Bering Strait from Asia tens of thousands of years ago, and who reached the Carolina Piedmont 12,000 years ago.

The largest rock’s elevation, along with the sheltered areas created by rocky overhangs, provided protection from the elements and unwelcome visitors alike, and the creek that runs by this area provided a welcome source of water. The tribes that roamed this area for most of its inhabited history were nomadic, following big game across entire swaths of land. A landmark like this one would have been an important meeting point. 

These days, the people clambering on the large stones are likely small children showing off for their hiking parents, or those diving for shelter, or the teenagers who have left graffiti, cigarettes, and other telltale artifacts behind. Maybe 7,000 years from now, a new excavation will tell an even longer generational story.

Know Before You Go

The rocks are located a few hundred feet into the woods off of Elmstone Drive. A sign in the parking area points visitors in the right direction.

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