Asheville’s treasures are mostly found outdoors. As travelers drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, they can imagine what it’s like to live in luxury at Biltmore. If you want even more fresh air, hike sections of the Appalachian Trail or take a dip in Pisgah National Forest’s swimming hole during the summer. Whitewater rafting is also a popular activity in Asheville. Take a tour of one (or many) of the area’s breweries or browse the boutiques and galleries of the River Arts District.
#1 Blue Ridge Parkway Things to do In Asheville, NC
There are 469 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and 250 miles in western North Carolina. A 45 mph highway offers drivers numerous opportunities to stop at overlooks, quaint mountain towns, and hiking and biking trails. As you drive southward, the number of mileposts increases.
Asheville, the headquarters and main visitor center, can be found at milepost 384. The parkway offers outdoor activities and information on the natural and cultural history of the region.
Even if you don’t feel like taking the entire parkway, several attractions within 20 miles of Asheville are worth exploring. Mount Mitchell, the tallest point east of the Mississippi River, is located at milepost 355.4. At milepost 364.4, you’ll find Craggy Gardens at an elevation of 5,640 feet. Milepost 382 is home to the Folk Art Center. The parkway is free to drive along, and most of its attractions are free. Due to weather conditions, some attractions, including NPS visitor centers, may be closed. There are also times when sections of the roadway are closed due to hazardous conditions or maintenance, so be sure to check the website before you start.
Those recent visitors who traveled along the parkway said the views alone make it a must-do while in Asheville. The National Park Service website has more information about the parkway and the visitor center.
#2 Pisgah National Forest Things to do In Asheville, NC
The Pisgah National Forest has over 500,000 acres about 30 miles southwest Asheville. The forest has hundreds of miles of trails, numerous waterfalls, and swimming holes, providing ample opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors.
It was one of the first national forests in the country, created partially with land that was once part of the Biltmore Estate. It is home to the first forestry school, the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
There are three ranger districts: Pisgah Ranger District, Appalachian Ranger District, and Grandfather Ranger District. The Pisgah Ranger District provides easy access to the park’s many waterfalls, while the Grandfather Ranger District offers more challenging trails. You’ll find the Appalachian Trail in the Appalachian District, the farthest district from Asheville. There are also trails for horseback riding, biking, rock climbing, fishing holes, picnic areas, and campgrounds in the forest. In North Carolina, many of the best whitewater rafting tours travel through the forest.
Pisgah National Forest and its state parks are free to enter. The forest is accessible from milepost 408.6 of the Blue Ridge Parkway or via Interstate 26, 40 miles north of Asheville. Visit the National Forest Service website for more information.
#3 Craggy Gardens Things to do In Asheville, NC
Craggy Gardens is hands down the best place to see wildflowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At milepost 364, Craggy Gardens is renowned for its abundance of wildflowers, especially rhododendrons. In June, Craggy Gardens’ evergreen foliage is eclipsed by these pink and purple flowers, creating a sight more than worth the trip. Violets, blackberries, May-apples, and Turk’s cap lilies are also found here.
Hiking at Craggy Gardens will let you enjoy the abundant blooms. The most accessible trail to take is the Craggy Gardens Trail, less than a mile long, and passes wildflowers, forests, and a viewpoint overlooking the Black Mountain Range. The unconventional shapes of the trees in the forested area of Craggy Gardens make them so unique. These trees’ twisted roots and branches result from harsh weather conditions present at higher altitudes. Alternatively, you can see these trees on the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which, according to the National Park Service, offers “tunnels of rhododendron and wildflowers abound from the trail’s beginning to the crest.”
Those who visited Craggy Gardens recently enjoyed its spectacular views. Some travelers suggested that the best place to witness the grandeur of the mountains is on the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which provides 360-degree views of the surroundings. The best time to visit is at sunset, while others recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid crowds at this popular stop along the parkway.
Although blooms are present from spring to fall, some travelers who visited Craggy Gardens in July and August did not notice many flowers. There are no set hours for visiting the free Croggy Gardens, open year-round. In addition to trails and overlooks, the Gardens have a seasonal picnic area and visitors center. Visit the National Park Service website for more information about Craggy Gardens.
#4 Appalachian Trail Things to do In Asheville, NC
The Appalachian Trail spans 2,190 miles through 14 states, from Maine to Georgia. Nearly 323 of those miles are in North Carolina (including 226.6 miles along the Tennessee border).
Several of the Appalachian Trail’s highest peaks can be found in North Carolina, including several above 6,000 feet. A multiday or weeklong hiking excursion is an option for hikers (keep in mind that you’ll need permits to camp and hike in some areas, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains).
For a taste of Appalachia, you can head 36 miles northwest of Asheville to the town of Hot Springs, where the Appalachian Trail runs right through town. Park at the Silvermine trailhead and follow the Appalachian Trail to Lover’s Leap Ridge. You can continue hiking along the Appalachian Trail or complete the Lover’s Leap Loop.
Despite the trail’s moderate difficulty, hikers say the views from its peaks and outcroppings are worth the climb. Take Interstate 26 North to Highway 25 North to reach Hot Springs. Visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website for more information about the trail.
#5 Sliding Rock Things to do In Asheville, NC
Ever wondered what it’s like to slide down a natural waterslide? Pisgah National Forest’s Sliding Rock is just that. As one of the forest’s most unique attractions, Sliding Rock is a sloped, mostly flat rock that extends 60 feet long. It’s technically a waterfall, but rather than a stream or river falling into a pool below, the water here glides down the rock and empties seamlessly into a 7-foot deep pool below, making it perfect for water sliding. Many people trek to Pisgah National Forest to sled down this fun natural wonder.
The recent visitors to Sliding Rock said they had a blast taking the plunge. Although travelers unanimously recommended a detour to Sliding Rock, they cautioned that the water is cold and you should expect crowds. Thus, you should arrive early (like when the attraction opens), preferably on a weekday, and bring aqua socks and a rash guard or swim shirt.
Another benefit of sliding rock is that it has lifeguards. Sliding Rock is a seasonally open attraction. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the attraction is open 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day, and after Labor Day, it is only open on weekends through October 31. Admission is $4 per person. Sliding Rock is located about 40 miles southwest of Asheville. You can find more information at the U.S. Forest Service website.
#6 Mount Mitchell State Park Things to do In Asheville, NC
Not sure where to stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway? Mount Mitchell State Park offers unbeatable views of the mountains. Mount Mitchell State Park is home to the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, making it one of the most popular stops along the parkway. The great thing about Mount Mitchell is that it has a car-accessible summit, which isn’t always true for parks with high peaks. Once you reach the top, which is 6,684 feet above sea level, you can park your car and take a short walk to the observation area, where you’ll be able to see 360-degree views of the surrounding scenery. Additionally, visibility from the top can reach 85 miles.
If you’d like to hike Mount Mitchell, a handful of trails range in difficulty and intensity. Balsam Nature Trail is rated moderate but is less than a mile long. A small stream along this pathway is the highest spring in eastern North America. If you want to climb Mount Mitchell as they did in the old days, take the Old Mitchell Trail, a 4.4 miles round trip. You can also hike the strenuous 2.1-mile Deep Gap Trail, which follows the ridgeline between Mount Mitchell and nearby Mount Craig.
Mount Mitchell State Park visitors were highly impressed with the view. They advised that visitors should arrive early to avoid the crowds at the observation deck because it is a popular attraction. They also recommended being aware of the walk to the observation deck. You can park at the summit, but the hike to the viewpoint is steep, so be mindful of that before you go. Bring layers, even if it’s warm, as the mountain is 15 to 20 degrees colder than sea level.
Mount Mitchell State Park is free to visit and open every day, except on Christmas Day. Regardless of the season, the park always opens at 7 a.m. There is a museum, a shop, and restrooms on-site. In addition to the on-site restaurant, there is one open from May through October. Camping is also available seasonally if you want to spend the night in nature. Mount Mitchell State Park is located at mile marker 355.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 30 miles northeast of Asheville. Visit the park’s website for more information.
#7 French Broad River Things to do In Asheville, NC
To find adventure in Asheville, you don’t have to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. The French Broad River, which runs along the western edge of town, is filled with fun and exciting activities. River activities include tubing, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and more. French Broad Outfitters offers a 3-mile tubing trip down the French Broad River, a highly rated tour operator. In addition to your tube, this tour comes with tubes for your cooler if you’d like to bring drinks and child-sized tubes if you’re traveling with children. The company also offers kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard rentals. Zen Tubing offers tube rentals, and Wai Muana offers rentals, tours, and lessons for stand-up paddleboarding.
If you are an adventurous type, you might be interested in French Broad Adventures. This tour operator offers the closest whitewater rafting adventures to Asheville. Additionally, the company offers zip line tours and canyoneering trips in Pisgah National Forest. French Broad Adventures offers calm water rafting tours and a 30-foot-tall rock-climbing wall if you prefer something less heart-pumping. Visitors can also experience the river views from the Biltmore Farm Trail by bike or on foot. Farm Trail, part of the estate’s network of trails, starts from Biltmore Bike Barn and follows the French Broad River for miles before ending at the estate’s equestrian center.
#8 Biltmore Things to do In Asheville, NC
The French Renaissance-style estate of George Vanderbilt dates back to 1889. It took six years to build the 250-room estate – with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces – which is considered America’s largest private residence. The 8,000-acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same landscape architect responsible for Central Park) and featured more than a mile of walking paths.
At its peak, it encompassed 125,000 acres, but 87,000 acres were sold after Vanderbilt’s death in 1914 to form what is now the Pisgah National Forest. During World War II, the estate stored items from the National Gallery of Art, and in the 1970s, a winery was built. In the 2000s, hotels and inns were built on the property. Guests can now stay at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, Village Hotel, or select cottages on-site. Various tours today let visitors explore the estate and gardens’ architecture, artwork, and history. The property hosts multiple events throughout the year, including Biltmore Blooms in the spring, summer concerts, and Christmas displays with more than 100 opulent trees.
Some visitors have a steep admission fee (ranging from $76 to $106 per person, depending on the season), but most are amazed by the property’s sheer size and attention to detail. There is on-site parking available, and shuttles that run from the parking lots to the house, or you can also prepare for several miles of walking: It’s about 3 miles from the house entrance to the winery and 3 miles from the winery the house. You can take an audio tour, a guided tour, or specialty tours at the winery or estate grounds for an additional fee. The audio tour of the house typically takes about an hour, but you can move as slowly or quickly as you like to admire its intricacies. As well as horseback riding and kayaking, the estate offers a variety of seasonal outdoor activities. There is also a shopping and dining area next to the Biltmore house. Admission to children under the age of 9 is accessible year-round; entrance to children ages 10 to 16 is half the price of adults. The hours of operation vary seasonally, but generally speaking, the house is open from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Upon arrival at the Biltmore Estate Winery, make a reservation for a wine tasting as you can only make a reservation on the day of (in person); as such, tasting slots fill up very fast and typically sell out. The winery is also close to several popular restaurants (highly recommended reservations). You can extend your stay on the grounds by staying at one of the on-site hotels. About 3 miles from downtown, the estate is located off Highway 25, which is accessible both from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Interstate 40. Visit Biltmore’s website for more information.
#9 Asheville Breweries Things to do In Asheville, NC
Having more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States and about 100 local beers to try, Asheville has become the beer capital of the Southeast. Asheville residents and visitors alike enjoy sampling pints at local breweries.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Asheville’s distinct brews: You can self-guide a walking tour along the Appalachian Ale Trail, take an Amazing Pubcycle tour, or let someone else drive with Asheville Brewery Tours.
From the first brewery in Asheville, Highland Brewing Company, to Wicked Weed Brewing, which specializes in sour ales, Asheville’s beers and tasting room experiences are as diverse as the city itself. Watch a movie at the Asheville Brewing Company or hang out at Green Man Brewing’s Greenmansion.
Big-name brands like the Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are also getting in on the Asheville beer scene. The two companies house their East Coast operations right outside the city’s borders.
New breweries and tasting rooms are popping up all the time; ask a local when you arrive where you can find your favorite kind of brew.
#10 River Arts District Things to do In Asheville, NC
The artists who came to Asheville to enjoy the natural beauty and free-spirited atmosphere had to find large spaces to work. This is where the River Arts District comes in. Near the French Broad River, a group of 22 former industrial and historical buildings, including a tannery and a cotton mill, keeps the art scene alive in Asheville. More than 200 artists in various mediums, such as textiles, ceramics, paintings, jewelry, and photography, can be found in the district. You can also pick up a unique souvenir here.
There is always someone willing to chat with visitors in the district, but the hotbed of creativity needs better signage since some galleries are in old warehouses that are hard to distinguish.
Artists and studios generally have different hours. Some are closed on Sundays, while others require an appointment. Every fall (typically in November), the district hosts Studio Strolls. All studios are open, and a free trolley service is available for visitors to explore the two square mile stretch.
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The post 10 Things to do In Asheville, NC first appeared on The USA Traveler.