By Corbie Hill & Kurt Dusterberg
Photo of Looking Glass Rock (above) by Matt Williams Photography
Attention couples, families, adventure seekers, retirees, and beer and music lovers! If the change in seasons has given you an itch for travel, we recommend that you satisfy your wanderlust in Asheville: it’s not quite four hours west of Wake County, but it could be a world away. We spoke to locals and those in the know, seeking a variety of suggestions for your mountain city getaway. So go west.
A visit to the Biltmore Estate, one of the most iconic American mansions, should be at the top of anyone’s visit to Asheville. The Châteauesque-style mansion was built in the late 19th century by George Washington Vanderbilt II and remains the largest privately-owned house in the United States. Stay at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate Park and walk to the Biltmore, the Winery, and three on-site restaurants. It’s a “central to everything location” and offers packages including Biltmore admission, breakfast and cocktail hour, and estate shuttle service. Check out their special events calendar at biltmore.com.
If you seek the full B&B experience, The Biltmore Village Inn is a 19th-century Victorian mansion tucked away in a neighborhood just uphill of Biltmore Village (and not far from the Biltmore Estate, too); if you’re seeking the opposite, Aloft Hotel offers ultra-modern, high-tech lodging in the heart of downtown. Or save a few bucks and choose the Bohemian option: reserve a private room – definitely a private room, if this is a romantic getaway – at Sweet Peas Hostel on Rankin
NORTH CAROLINA ARBORETUM AND ASHEVILLE BOTANICAL GARDEN
The sprawling North Carolina Arboretum, which neighbors the Blue Ridge Parkway just southwest of town, features delicate bonsai trees, native azaleas, and a dedicated holly garden.
Sit together by the water in the stream garden or on a blanket in the forest meadow. Or simply meander and let your conversation do the same.
In north Asheville and adjacent to UNC-Asheville is the smaller Asheville Botanical Garden. Its footpaths make for easy stream-side strolls, and its gazebo and grassy meadows are excellent places to while away the time, so as long as you don’t mind the occasional wandering undergrad. It’s the ideal spot to take a moment away from the city for relative quiet and privacy without actually leaving it.
Do go chasing waterfalls – in fact, dedicate the better part of your day to the simple junction of gravity and water. Many of these cascades are a decent drive from Asheville, but it’s still a good home base for those seeking whitewater views.
Seek Highway 64 southwest of Asheville in Brevard and the Lake Toxaway area, a region rich with waterfalls. Or get on the Blue Ridge Parkway – we recommend driving up Town Mountain Road, which starts at the edge of downtown and features views of the city some of the way up – and pick a direction. North is the popular Linville Falls or the spectacular Crabtree Falls, while three waterfalls are accessible from Craggy Gardens. For a half-day guided tour which ventures to at least three waterfalls, try Tumblestone Tours; contact Keith at email@example.com.
Have a relaxing time, Asheville-style. Alchemy is a new Chinese medicine apothecary that provides services like cupping and acupuncture. They also have a beautiful tearoom that is family friendly. Asheville Wellness Tours offer a variety of unconventional city tours, lasting approximately two hours; an optional upgrade adds an additional 45 minutes spent in a relaxing salt therapy session. The walking tours vary by day/season. Examples of current stops on the tour include: honey tasting at Asheville Bee Charmer, essential oil classes at The Herbiary, sound healing at Skinny Beats Drum Shop, yoga in the park, and tea tasting at Dobra Tea. Contact Kim Drye at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For yoga enthusiasts there’s Bend and Brew Yoga, which caters to the intersection of beer, travel, and yoga. For more info visit bendandbrew.wordpress.com.
In south Asheville, the Salt Spa of Asheville & Himalayan Salt Cave Sanctuary recreates the microclimate of a natural
salt mine, so leave humidity behind. Also of note are the Spa at the Omni Grove Park Inn, a local institution; the Japanese-inspired Shoji Spa; and Wake Foot Sanctuary and Spa in Grove Arcade downtown.
The recently opened Asheville Museum of Science is a downtown museum featuring interactive exhibits, educational programs, and a Mars Rover. Another newcomer to the scene is Well Played, North Carolina’s first board game café, in downtown Asheville. With over 500 games and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, it is perfect for families by day.
A unique and popular attraction is LaZoom Kids’ Comedy Tour, which takes place on a touring purple bus. LaZoom is known for their original comedy tour for adults with wild, irrelevant characters that hop on and interact with the bus, and they now offer a kids’ tour. A perfect blend of Asheville information and kid-centric comedy, all geared toward the five-to-twelve-year-old crowd.
To get kids who love reading interested in a trip to Asheville beforehand, consider the Serafina book series. Asheville author Robert Beatty has two young adult novels focusing on the fictional tale of a mythical protagonist, 12-year-old Serafina, who lives in the basement of the Biltmore. Discover the Serafina “itinerary” that ExploreAsheville.com has put together. Serafina and the Splintered Heart debuts around July 4th.
PISGAH AND THE PARKWAY
Leave Asheville and head west through Buncombe County, through Candler, and turn left on Highway 151. As you drive through Hominy Valley, Mount Pisgah will loom larger and larger in your windshield until you’re in its shadow. The trees close in and the road suddenly goes up: it switchbacks up the 5,722-foot peak, eventually reaching the Blue Ridge Parkway after this dizzying ascent. Granted, you could also take the Parkway to Pisgah, but there’s something dramatically gratifying about making your car climb the mountain before you make it the rest of the way by foot.
Pisgah is great for family hikes because you can make it from parking lot to summit and then back down again in a morning or an afternoon. There are some moderately strenuous sections, sure, but nothing too steep or difficult for elementary school kids or older; the long view from the summit platform is excellent payoff.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA FARMERS’ MARKET
With Parkway access not much farther down Brevard Road, West Asheville close by, and I-26, I-40, and I-240, all immediately accessible, it’s easy to put the WNC Farmers Market on the way somewhere – or to treat it as its own destination. Load up on apples, honey, or whatever mountain staple is in season before the drive home.
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA NATURE CENTER
See cougars and otters, rattlesnakes and black bears, owls and foxes at the Nature Center. For its modest size, this mountain zoo offers a respectable variety of experiences, from traditional wildlife viewing enclosures to a barnyard petting zoo. It’s easy to forget that you’re within the city limits and less than a mile from I-40.
Curious kids will appreciate the Colburn Earth Science Museum, located in Pack Square. Or go hippie-watching at Pritchard Park at the Friday night drum circle – and let your kids dance and go nuts. Duck into nearby toy store Curio, on the corner of Haywood Street and Battery Park Avenue, and then stroll down Wall Street looking for sculptures of cats (hint: they’ll be on the left). The one on the brick wall is watching something – get the kids to follow its gaze to find out what. Note: the Asheville Art Museum is closed for major renovations, and offers a small po-pup location at 175 Biltmore Avenue during construction.
ZIPLINES – NAVITAT
If your idea of adventure involves skimming the treetops at 60 miles per hour, Navitat’s Blue Ridge Experience might be just your speed. The mountaintop zipline outing features three courses with a variety of breathtaking views 350 feet in the air. At the start of the longest zipline, your view stretches all the way to Tennessee – but you can’t see the finish line, more than 3,600 feet away.
“It’s a pretty epic experience,” says Navitat marketing director Abby Burt. The tour takes two and a half hours, beginning with a van ride up a mountainside. During short hikes between ziplines, your guide will educate you about the flora and fauna of the mountains. The lines are set up side-by-side, in case you want to share the excitement with someone.
If you’re not sure whether your adventure meter includes the extreme heights and speeds, no need to worry. The lines are built with an automatic braking system, so first timers don’t need to worry about controlling their run. And if you change your mind, the guides can get you down.
Navitat also operates the Moody Cove Adventure in Asheville, a tree-based canopy tour with shorter ziplines, bridges, and rappels. The operating season runs April to November, with each tour costing $99. “Our goal is to thrill, educate, and inspire,” Burt says. “There is an opportunity in those moments to inspire people to value the outdoors more.”
Navitat is located 7.5 miles off I-26 near Barnardsville. For more information, visit navitat.com/asheville-nc.
BLUE RIDGE HIKING COMPANY
Jennifer Pharr Davis has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and a variety of exotic locations around the world. But her heart is in the Pisgah National Forest.
“There’s no place better than the southern Appalachian mountains,” says Davis, the owner of Blue Ridge Hiking Company. Davis and her trail guides lead half- or full-day hikes, as well as overnight hikes along the Appalachian Trail. And while anyone can strap on a backpack and start walking, Blue Ridge Hiking Company lends some know-how to the journey.
“We know which trails are most crowded, we know where the wildflowers are,” Davis says. “It’s like being in an outdoor classroom. Plus, there’s no getting lost.”
Don’t worry if you’ve never set out on a hiking trail. Blue Ridge is accustomed to working with beginners. They will meet up with you at a convenient location and take you to one of six trailheads around Asheville.
“Some people are fit and active, others just want to be in the woods,” Davis says. “Many people like to take photos or just relax and sit on a rock. We don’t think one is better than the other.”
Blue Ridge Hiking Company also works with people who have a wide range of disabilities. The way Davis figures, if you can get outdoors, you can enjoy the experience. “It’s like sharing a secret, how to live and spend your time. It sounds so trivial, but it can change your life.”
For more information, visit blueridgehikingco.com.
Invented in Asheville, a Bellyak is a unique watercraft you ride on your belly while wearing webbed gloves to help you paddle in either flat water or rapids. It is a fun activity for all ages of adventure seekers. Guided tours run all summer on the French Broad River. Visit bellyaktours.com. If you would rather stand up while you paddle, Wai Mauna offers individual Class I (no experience necessary) SUP (stand up paddleboard) tours on the French Broad River as well as a group six-person paddleboard for the first time this year.
SMOKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE CENTER
At the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center, you can choose from a variety of activities to get you moving, including indoor climbing walls as high as 34 feet. If spending time on the water is more your pace, the center rents tubes, kayaks, and paddleboards for trips on the French Broad River – or rent a bike and tour the River Arts District or downtown Asheville.
The center also has dedicated space for yoga and tai chi classes. After your workout, they will set you up with coffee, tea, or a smoothie at their juice bar.
If you would rather kick back with a line in the water, the SMAC can outfit you with fishing poles, bait, and tackle. If that’s not enough of a wind-down, just settle in at the Hangout, an elevated wraparound deck that serves locally crafted beers.
For more information, visit smacasheville.com.
Are you a bird nerd? A good pair of binoculars and a field guide is all you need for a good day of birding. Richmond Hill Park has 180 acres of hiking trails and is home to vibrant-colored songbirds, including the indigo bunting, black-and-white warbler, and the scarlet tanager.
Swallows and chimney swifts like to swoop over the water in search of insects at the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary. The yellow-throated warbler and blue-grey gnatcatcher also nest at the sanctuary. Birders can take part in early-morning bird walks on the first Saturday of the month, all year long. If your birding trip has carried over to lunchtime, how about a picnic at Craggy Gardens? The location offers beautiful mountaintop views and a setting that attracts migratory species from the northeastern United States, such as slate-colored juncos, winter wrens, and blackpoll warblers.
The North Carolina Arboretum is a 434-acre public garden that is home to many songbirds. Or take in Chimney Rock Park, which attracts more than 130 species of birds.
THOMAS WOLFE MEMORIAL
Make some time for a literary tour with a visit to the childhood home of author Thomas Wolfe. The Asheville author grew up in a boarding house, which was depicted in the novel Look Homeward, Angel. Artifacts from the early 20th-century home tell the story of his family.
But the residence known as The Old Kentucky Home (called Dixieland in the novel) is just the start. The Asheville Urban Trail is a series of 30 stations that tell the city’s cultural story. Wolfe’s childhood paper route is mapped out, along with a marker that identifies the site of his birthplace.
Wolfe is buried in Riverside Cemetary, among 87 acres of rolling hills and flower gardens that overlook the French Broad River. It is also the burial site of author O. Henry and three Confederate generals. Self-guided tour packets are available Monday through Friday.
For more information, visit wolfememorial.com.
RIVER ARTS DISTRICT
Put on your walking shoes and plan to spend the day. The River Arts District is a mile-long stretch of industrial and historic buildings along the French Broad River. The works of more than 200 artists in a wide range of forms, including paint, pottery, metal, and glass are on display, and you can meet the artists and discuss the creative process. If you find something to buy, many artists will pack and ship your purchases. Asheville Art Studio Tours offers guided two-hour, artist-led, behind-the-scenes walking tours.
If you come for the biannual Studio Stroll weekends in May and November, most of the artists open their studios for hands-on demonstrations. It’s crowded, but free trolley rides make it easy to get to all your favorite studios.
Parking is free in the district, which began converting industrial buildings into studios in 1985. There are no official hours of operation, but the district is open all year.
If you plan to make a day of it, you’ll work up a hunger. The district has you covered from breakfast through dinner. Whether you have a taste for tacos or pizza, or you are looking for something upscale, there is a dining experience to match your taste.
For more information, visit riverartsdistrict.com.
BEER & MUSIC LOVERS
Downtown, music is inescapable. As you walk, watch for buskers performing on the sidewalk. Be prepared to stop and listen to their songs, and drop a few dollars in the hat before moving on to a place with a stage and some taps. Fabulous dinner options before catching a band on Biltmore Avenue include The Blackbird, Curate, or Rhubard before heading down the street to The Orange Peel.
As one of Asheville’s largest music venues, The Orange Peel has a deserved reputation for bringing household names to the area, and catering to all genres. In the immediate future, some of the travel-worthy shows include Steve Earle and The Dukes (July 11th) Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band (July 29th), Hellyeah (Aug 2nd), and Comedian John Reep (August 24th-25th). Continue up Biltmore Avenue to Diana Wortham Theatre, a dignified room where orchestra, folk, drama, world music, and all manner of performance art intersect.
Over the last decade, what is now called the River Arts District has grown up around a former lonely outpost of a music venue, The Grey Eagle. Now this intimate venue is comfortably nestled among galleries and shops. A seated show here is an all-but-required Asheville music experience – check out the Burlesque Weekend August 11th-12th. The Grey Eagle has a taqueria, too, so come hungry.
For locally brewed beer, the River Arts District Wedge Brewing has a second location within the compound called The Foundation, along with 12 Bones Brewery. Across the river is Archetype Brewing and the massive New Belgium Brewing Company, with their in-house “Liquid Center” and brewery tours – reserve your tour online at newbelgium.com/brewery/asheville/tours.
The area directly south of downtown – South Slope – features at least nine breweries ,becoming the city’s de facto beer district. Wicked Weed, Catawba Brewing, Asheville Brewing Company, Burial Beer, Greenman, Twin Leaf, Hi-Wire, and Bhramari Brewhouse are all there. Outside of downtown, Turgua is on a farm adjacent to protected land. If you want an interesting six-pack, swing by one of Asheville’s top-notch beer stores, such as Tasty Beverage Company or Bruisin Ales.
Across the French Broad River from downtown is West Asheville, a distinct district that’s only really come into its own in the past 15 years. Westville Pub, a cozy little neighborhood bar with a tasty menu, excellent North Carolina beer on tap, and a full music calendar including open mic nights and blues jams, remains a staple.
Just down Haywood Road from Westville, mid-size venue The Mothlight is a home to hip, interesting touring bands. Also on Haywood, ISIS Restaurant and Music Hall offers both traditional concerts and seated dinner shows.
An excellent resource for all things Asheville is ExploreAsheville.com.