Spend your spring or summer at the doorstep of both the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains. You can’t do much better than Asheville, North Carolina.
Known for its laid-back vibe, artistic locals and breathtaking natural beauty, Asheville has quickly become a haven for those looking to blend outdoors adventures with easygoing city life. Home to some of the best hiking east of the Mississippi, one of the country’s most historic mansions, and a seemingly never-ending array of breweries, restaurants and quirky cafes, you’ll be hard-pressed to see it all it one visit. Of course, you could always do like the locals do and simply sit back, relax and soak it in at your own pace. Either way, don’t be surprised to find a little something for everyone at this Blue Ridge getaway.
Mansion on the Hill
As stunning today as it was when it was built over a hundred years ago, the Biltmore is one of America’s true architectural gems. For one, it’s the largest privately-owned home in the country, featuring 250 rooms, priceless antiques and incredible artwork. Both self-guided and audio tours of the estate are available. What’s more, the property surrounding the sprawling Gilded Age mansion is equally as inspiring. Miles of forested nature trails wind through the 8,000-acre property, while a series of ornate gardens emphasize the changing seasons and pristine natural landscape. The Biltmore is also home to one of the country’s most widely visited wineries and tickets include a complimentary tasting with an expert host. It’s the perfect way to relax after an afternoon exploring one of Asheville’s most iconic attractions.
Hike Your Heart Out
Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is the perfect jumping-off point for outdoor adventure. There are a number of urban trails that leave from the downtown district and wind past the city’s historic sites and green spaces, but to really experience the area’s natural wonders, head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America’s most scenic roads. From there, you can pull off at any number of trailheads. The 1.2-mile hike to Craggy Pinnacle is a local favorite. Close to town and easy enough for beginners, it offers 360-degree views of the mountain.
Paddling and Floating Fun
Slicing a path through the west side of town, the French Broad River is the beating heart of Asheville. Considered the third-oldest river in the world, its long sloping course helped form the Appalachian Mountains and drew the first settlers to the region, but these days it’s the place to go for all sorts of water sports. Tubing the quiet stretch along Hominy Creek is a popular Asheville pastime, while fly-fishing, paddle boarding and whitewater rafting are all available through various outfitters in town. If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, try a bike tour of the scenic Carrier Park that follows along the river shoreline.
From farm-to-table cooking, to cutting-edge breweries, Asheville is well-known as one of the South’s top foodie destinations. For Appalachian-inspired fare, it’s hard to beat Rhubarb, a downtown staple helmed by a five-time finalist for the James Beard award, as well as local favorites like Blackbird, Buchon, and Tupelo Honey. For a more in-depth look at the region’s culinary roots, your best bet is to join one of the popular cheese, beer, or wild food-foraging tours. Originating at nearby farms or farmers markets, you’ll get a from-the-ground-up look at what makes “Foodtopia” so special. Of course, no trip to Asheville would be complete without a sampling of its many top-notch local beers. With more breweries per capita than almost anywhere else in the U.S., there are tours and tastings aplenty, including the fun-filled Pubcycle, a hybrid party bus that uses pedal power to transport guests between breweries.
When summer hits, locals cool off by riding down the chilly waters of Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest. The 55- to 60-degree water makes for a refreshing time. Plus, many waterfalls are located nearby, including Looking Glass Falls. If you’re seeking something a bit more extreme, take a canyoneering trip with Green River Adventures and rappel down Bradley Falls, deep in the Green River Gorge. After learning the fundamentals of rappelling, take a practice run on a 30-foot vertical wall before you tackle the 200-foot descent. Certified guides guide you all the way.
If you prefer a trip down the river without working up a sweat, take a cruise. French Broad Boatworks will take you on a guided scenic tour down the river in a locally crafted wooden drift boat, complete with your personal paddler. In addition to sunrise and sunset tours, there’s a birding trip and the River Arts District Tour that concludes with dinner and drinks at the riverside Smoky Park Supper Club.
Fun Among the Trees
The Adventure Center of Asheville offers adrenaline-pumping adventures high above the ground, just five minutes from downtown. Get an eyeful of expansive views of the Asheville skyline from Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures or hop on one of the top-end mountain bikes and cruise down thrilling trails. The on-site trail system was created and groomed for the KOLO Bike Park. If you prefer climbing to riding, head up into the trees at Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, an elevated obstacle course with five levels of difficulty. For little ones, the KidZip is America’s first zipline adventure designed for children under 10. Experience a true thrill rush as you zoom at high speeds through the trees.
Located northeast of Asheville, Grandfather Mountain is one of the most popular ecotourism adventures in the state. Considered one of the most biologically diverse mountains on the planet, the mountain has been designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve. For explorers, the mountain is worthy side trip from Asheville. Visitors will feel a genuine rush as they cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge, located one mile above sea level and dishing out 360-degree views. Photographers will catch sight of bears, otters, cougars, eagles and deer in natural habitats. Hikers can tackle rugged back-country trails or stroll gentle nature paths. The onsite restaurant and many scenic picnic areas help you refuel.
Botony on Display
A carefully tended wilderness preserve, Grandfather Mountain is home to many rare North American wildflowers, with displays of such naturalized plants as native azaleas, rhododendrons, mosses and lichens, heathers and other beautiful species. Parts of the mountain are steep and rocky, but much is accessible to anyone seeking dramatic mountain vistas and wildlife habitat areas.
Reach New Heights on Mount Mitchell
Eager to hike in high altitudes? From Asheville, travel 28 miles north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell State Park. At 6,684 feet, the namesake mountain tops every other summit east of the Mississippi River. Start your visit at the museum, open from May through October. Here, you can learn about the mountain’s natural and cultural history, including the effort by scholar Elisha Mitchell in the 1850s to prove the peak’s standing as the tallest.
Stay in one of the area’s Good Sam Parks:
Asheville Bear Creek RV Park, Asheville
Buck Creek RV Park, Marion
Camping World Racing Resort, Concord
Jaymar Travel Park, Hendersonville
Lakewood RV Resort, Hendersonville
Mama Gertie’s Hideawway Campground, Swannanoa
Rutledge Lake RV Resort, Fletcher
Stonebridge RV Resort, Maggie Valley