Asheville is in western North Carolina and is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. The birthplace of American forestry was established at George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate where 87,000 acres of his land became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an All-American Road and America’s longest linear park stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park. It is easily accessed from Asheville. With so many beautiful outdoor areas that you can enjoy on day trips and a vibrant dining and nightlife scene, it is easy to see why outdoor enthusiasts flock to Asheville.
The Biltmore Estate hosted me on a press trip which included the Land Rover Experience and tickets to the estate.
Land Rover Experience
Wow! This was such a fun experience. My husband and I met up with our instructor Zach Harris at the Antler Hill Village on the Biltmore Estate for the one-hour Land Rover experience. Once waivers were signed, we headed out to the course in a wooded area on the estate. After a brief course on the vehicle’s features and how to use them, we were off. The instructor communicates with a two-way radio and gives detailed instructions on how to navigate the incredible off-road obstacles which can include steep inclines, descents, and side slopes all while enjoying the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one point the rear wheel of the Land Rover was a good five feet or more in the air. So entertaining. At the end of our adventure, we drove through an area of the estate you don’t normally see on regular visits.
Pro Tip: You must have admission to the Biltmore Estate to take the Land Rover Experience. Plan to spend the day at the estate. You can tour the home and then explore the many hiking trails that abound on the property.
Golf At The Omni Grove Park Inn
The Omni Grove Park Inn is a historic luxury resort that has welcomed guests for over 100 years and golfers since 1926 when the legendary 18-hole course designed by Donald Ross was opened. In 2001, it was completely overhauled but remained true to the original design. PGA stars Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus have all played this course. The tree-lined fairways and greens have stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as the resort. Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the Top 20 Southern U.S. Golf Resorts in 2011. The par 70 course is challenging but a joy to play for golfers of all levels.
Note: you must be staying at the Omni Grove Park Inn to book tee times at the course but it is totally worth it to stay at this grande dame of Southern hotels. The historic property also has a world-class spa which is famed for its indoor and outdoor pools.
While in Asheville, you need to get out on the water at least once during your visit. French Broad Adventures offers both calm water float trips and high adventure whitewater rafting on the French Broad River. Both trips begin and end close to Asheville and its outpost is just a 25-minute drive from the city.
Float into the scenic French Broad River valley and enjoy a waterway that is less crowded and warmer than other area rivers. Each whitewater raft comes with a guide who not only ensures your safety but also shares entertaining tales of the river and area history. Float trips are about 2-3 hours long and the whitewater trips range from a 3-4 hour trip or a 5-6 hour trip.
Pro Tip: If high adventure is your thing, you can also take the raft/zip combo experience and enjoy both activities in one day.
North Carolina Arboretum
The North Carolina Arboretum is so impressive it was one of the favorite things I did on my visit. The 434-acre arboretum is located within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in the botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains. The grounds are just lovely, with 65 acres of cultivated gardens. Make sure to stop in the Baker Exhibit Center to get a map of the grounds. I just loved the Quilt Garden which has quilt block patterns created with flowers. This unique garden pays homage to the art and craft heritage of quilting. Also onsite is the world-renowned Bonsai Exhibition Garden which can display up to 50 bonsai trees at a time. In addition to Asian plants such as the Japanese maple and Chinese elm, there are bonsai specimens native to the Blue Ridge region.
There are more than 10 miles of hiking trails at the arboretum and many connect to other natural areas such as the Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Trails are rated easy, moderate, and difficult. All the trails are also dog-friendly.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the United States’ most scenic highways and there are five entrances to the parkway in the Asheville area. The parkway is like a long narrow national park and known for its biodiversity and epic views. There are so many things to see and do. Like plenty of overlooks, hikes, waterfalls, and visitor centers. If you don’t feel like hiking the parkway it is the perfect place for a drive for the awesome scenic vistas.
If you like to hike, a moderate one is the Graveyard Fields hike which will take you on a loop trail through a high elevation, flat valley to two of the most photographed waterfalls in the state. The hike is 3.2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 450feet. Take the Blueridge Parkway south from Asheville past Mount Pisgah to the Graveyard Fields overlook at milepost 418. This overlook is extremely popular so you will want to get an early start to find a place to park. Begin the hike by taking the stairs down to a stream then follow the paved path to the next wooden staircase which has viewing platforms. It will take you down to a bridge over the Yellowstone Prong.
The lower or second falls is just a one-third-mile hike from the parking area. Just be aware that whether you do a short hike or the full loop you will have uphill sections and stairs to overcome to make it back to the parking lot. You will find this with a lot of Blue Ridge Parkway trails where you head downhill and have an uphill hike to return.
Asheville Urban Trail
Before taking this downtown trail, visit the Explore Asheville website (Urban Trail) to watch the movie and print a copy of the map. It takes a 2-hour walk to visit all 30 sculptural trail stations that will give you a glimpse into the city’s quirky past and its larger-than-life historical characters. Start at Asheville’s Pack Square and look for Plaque # 1, “Walk Into History.” There’s also a recorded audio tour you can listen to at each station. This is a fun way to explore downtown and get a little exercise as well while learning more about this beautiful city.
The Asheville area abounds in natural beauty and plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities right in town or further afield. The Biltmore Estate, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Pisgah National Forest and the French Broad River all provide opportunities to explore this beautiful landscape.
Pro Tip: When visiting Asheville, I like to stay downtown for easy walking distance to all the shops and restaurants. The Foundry Hotel is one of Asheville’s newest hotels just celebrating its second year. It has a great location in an area known as “The Block,” which was an African American business district in the days of segregation. It is a quieter area and just a 5-minute walk to all the downtown activities. The NC Arboretum directed the landscaping. The original foundry forged the steel for Biltmore and many downtown buildings. I love the historic aspect of the hotel and that it has all the modern amenities.
I received one night’s comp and one night’s media rate while staying at this hotel.
Asheville has its own unique attractions and activities, but it is also close to other exciting North Carolina venues: