Sports and Outdoor Activities
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’ ”
-- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
• Enjoy nearly unlimited opportunities for hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, hunting, boating, river rafting, canoeing, kayaking, swimming at waterfalls and in lakes and streams, rock climbing, birding, wildlife and wildflower spotting, road and mountain biking, gem mining, golfing, snow skiing, snow boarding and snow tubing, skateboarding, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, ziplining and many other activities.
• In addition to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the nation’s two most visited National Park Service units), the Asheville area also offers more than a million acres of national forests plus state forests, state parks, city parks and lakes.
• Highlights include Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, DuPont State Forest, Mt. Mitchell State Park, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, North Carolina Arboretum and Cradle of Forestry.
For scenic beauty and variety in outdoor activities, no other area in the Southeastern United States matches Asheville and Western North Carolina. Near Asheville are the two most-visited units in America’s national park system (the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park), two huge national forests (Pisgah and Nantahala), numerous state parks (including Mt. Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, Gorges and Chimney Rock), two state forests (DuPont and Holmes), scores of mountain peaks over a mile high, several large lakes for boating and other watersports (including Fontana, Lure, Santeetlah, Hiwassee, Chatuge and James), thousands of miles of hiking trails and trout fishing streams, hundreds of waterfalls and many other wonderful places for outdoor adventures of all kinds.
The region abounds in opportunities for hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, hunting, boating, river rafting, canoeing and kayaking, rock climbing, birding, wildlife and wildflower spotting, bicycling and mountain biking, golfing, snow skiing and snow boarding, horseback riding, hot air ballooning and many other activities.
Even the most active outdoor enthusiast will find many activities to test his or her physical abilities in many sports. On the other hand, if you have mobility challenges or are just a couch potato, you can still enjoy many of the Asheville area’s scenic wonders, either from your car or via short, easy walks.
The two main units of the U.S. national park system, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, are covered extensively in their own sections. This setion covers the many outdoor recreational opportunities in the Asheville area, including the places and outdoor activities for which the region is well known.
What’s the difference between a national park and a national forest?
National parks emphasize strict preservation of pristine areas, while national forests permit a wider number of public uses. For example, national parks usually forbid hunting, while national forests usually allow it. Pets can be taken on national forest trails, but not on most trails in national parks. National forests may provide trails for motorcycles or ATVs; national parks do not.
National park rangers work for the National Park Service (NPS) under the Department of Interior; national forest rangers are with the US Forest Service (USFS) under the Department of Agriculture.
Under the national forest "multiple use" concept, national forests are managed to provide a variety of services and commodities, including lumber, livestock grazing, mineral products and recreation with and without vehicles.
There are four national forests in North Carolina, two in the mountains (Pisgah and Nantahala), one near the coast (Croatan) and one in the Piedmont (Uwharrie), together totaling around 1.25 million acres. All four national forests in the state are administered from an office in Asheville (160 Zillicoa St. Suite A, Asheville, 828-257-4200; www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc).
Pisgah National Forest (Pisgah National Forest is divided into three administrative districts: Appalachian Ranger District, U.S. Hwy. 19E Bypass, Burnsville, 828-682-6146; Grandfather Ranger District, 109 East Lawing Dr. at Exit 90 of I-40, Nebo, 828-652-2144; and Pisgah Ranger District, 1001 Pisgah Hwy./U.S. Hwy. 276, Pisgah Forest near Brevard, 828-877-3265; www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc)
The basis of the Pisgah National Forest was the roughly 86,000 acres purchased in 1914 from Edith Vanderbilt and the Biltmore Estate, one of the first purchases under a 1911 law, the Weeks Act, that eventually established national forests all over the East. National forests already had existed in the West.
Today, the Pisgah National Forest consists of about 513,000 acres north, northeast, northwest and southwest of Asheville, divided into two main sections. The larger section north of Asheville is J-shaped, running from the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee line past Hot Springs to Valle Crucis and Blowing Rock and then back to near Marion and Old Fort. The section southwest of Asheville runs from the Enka-Candler area southwest past Brevard to the Nantahala National Forest and south near the South Carolina line. Pisgah lands are not all in one piece, and there are privately owned areas within some national forest sections, and as you drive around the area you may go in and out and then back in national forest land.
Pisgah National Forest offers a vast number of outdoor recreation and adventure experiences, including hiking, camping, birding, swimming, fishing, hunting, mountain biking and waterfall visiting. Within the forest are some of the highest mountain peaks in the East, along with three wilderness areas – Shining Rock, Linville Gorge and Middle Prong. Also on Pisgah lands are a number of educational, historic and recreational sites, including the North Carolina Arboretum, Cradle of Forestry, Sliding Rock and the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education (see listings below).
Cradle of Forestry (11250 Pisgah Hwy. /Hwy. 276, Pisgah Forest, near Brevard, 828-877-3130, www.cradleofforestry.com, daily 9-5, mid-Apr.-early Nov., $5 adults, children under 16 free, free for everyone on Tues., free at all times for National Park Senior Pass holders) is a 6,500-acre site within the Pisgah National Forest devoted to the history of America’s first school of forestry. The school was established by George Vanderbilt who, upon the recommendation of his landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, hired Gifford Pinchot as forest manager of the then 125,000-acre Biltmore Estate. Pinchot later would become the first head of the USDA Forest Service and governor of Pennsylvania. Later, in 1895, Vanderbilt hired German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenk to succeed Pinchot. Together, Pinchot and Schenk created the modern concept of forestry management and conservation.
In the visitor center of the Cradle of Forestry are 15 hands-on exhibits on forestry, including a simulated ride in a firefighting helicopter. A 1-mile trail winds through the original forestry campus, where you can explore a general store, one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, cabins and a vegetable garden. Another trail, 1.3 miles long, has a sawmill and 1915 steam locomotive used in logging. Adjoining the Cradle of Forestry main grounds are the Pink Beds. The name comes from the rhododendron, mountain laurel and azalea that bloom in the spring and summer. The Pink Beds area has 21 picnic tables and flush toilets. The picnic area is open all year, but the restrooms are closed in winter.
North Carolina Arboretum (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way off Brevard Rd./Hwy. 191 and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393, 828-665-2492, www.ncarboretum.org; 8 am–9 pm Apr.-Oct., 8-7 Nov.-Mar., gates close an hour before closing time, free admission but $12 per car parking fee, free first Tue. of the month) is a 434-acre nature park with 65 acres of cultivated gardens and 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. It is affiliated with the University of North Carolina system and is located in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest on Pisgah National Forest land. Highlights include a quilt garden (flowering plants arranged in a quilt pattern), local heritage garden, holly garden, native azalea garden, permanent and rotating exhibits in the Baker Exhibit and Education Center buildings, one of the best bonsai exhibits in the U.S., and a wonderful trail system. A ¾-mile mulched trail connects the Baker building and the Education Center, with trailheads easily reached from either building. Interpretive signs along the trail explain plant, animal, ecologic and environmental topics. There is a café and gift shop in the Education Center and an art and crafts gallery in the Baker Exhibit Center. The Arboretum conducts many classes and holds a number of plant and flower shows annually, including ones on bamboo, orchids, roses, dahlias and mums. You can easily spend an entire day visiting the Arboretum. Picnics on the grounds and dogs on leash are permitted.
Mt. Pisgah (Blue Ridge Parkway Mileposts 407-409), about 16 miles away from Asheville’s Downtown as the crow flies, is probably the most-recognizable mountain peak in Western North Carolina, because a huge television transmission tower for WLOS-TV perches on top of it, at 5,721 feet. Despite this unnatural attribute, the Mt. Pisgah area is truly scenic. Near the peak are the Pisgah Inn (one of three lodges directly on the parkway), a large campground, picnic area, convenience store, paved parking areas and several hiking trails including a 3-mile roundtrip trail to the summit. Mt. Pisgah was once a part of the vast Biltmore Estate. The mountain was named after the mountain in the Bible near the Dead Sea from which Moses was said to have first spied the Promised Land. There also are peaks named Mt. Pisgah in Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont, as well as in Australia and Antarctica.
Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and Bobby Setzer Trout Hatchery (1401 Fish Hatchery Rd., Pisgah Forest, off U.S. Hwy. 276 near Brevard, 828-877-4423; www.ncwildlife.org; open Mon.-Sat. 8-4:45 year-round, free) has a small museum on wildlife in the Pisgah National Forest and a short hiking trail. Here also is a trout hatchery, the largest in the state. Rainbow, brown and native brook trout are raised in more than 50 concrete tanks or raceways. The hatchery stocks about a half a million trout each year in more than 80 mountain trout streams. Trout fishing is popular in the Davidson River that runs past the center and hatchery.
Sliding Rock (U.S. Hwy. 276 about 7.6 miles from the intersection with U.S. Hwy. 280 in Brevard or about 8 miles south on Hwy. 276 from Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 412; open Memorial Day to Labor Day, with lifeguards on duty 10 to 5:30, but the natural water slide is open at other times of day and during other warm days in the late spring and early fall, at your own risk; admission $1 adults, expected to increase to $2) is a 60-feet long slippery, slick rock fed by 11,000 gallons of water a minute ending in a 7- to 8-feet deep pool. It’s like a water slide at an amusement park, but in a beautiful natural setting. Both kids and adults enjoy slipping and sliding down the rock. Bring shorts or old jeans, tee shirt and shoes suitable for getting wet – there’s a changing area at the site. Children under 7 must slide with an adult. Pets are allowed at Sliding Rock but are not permitted to slide. Remember, the mountain water is COLD even on a warm summer day, and since the pool at the bottom has water deeper than your head you need to know how to swim. No alcohol permitted. No picnicking allowed at Sliding Rock, but a picnic area at the Pink Beds is about 4 miles south on U.S. Highway 276, toward Brevard. Note that on holidays and hot summer weekends Sliding Rock can be very crowded, with long waits to get into the parking area and for the rock slide.
Nantahala National Forest (Nantahala National Forest is divided into three administrative districts: Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Rd., Franklin, 828-524-6441; Cheoah Ranger District, 1070 Massey Branch Rd., Robbinsville, 828-479-6431; and Tusquitee Ranger District, 123 Woodland Dr., Murphy, 828-837-5152; www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc) in the far southwestern tip of North Carolina, at more than 531,000 acres is the largest of the state’s four national forests. Nantahala is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noon-day sun,” an appropriate moniker given that on the floor of the deep Nantahala Gorge, a river gorge with 5,000-feet mountains on either side, there is full sun only in the middle of the day.
Like the Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala offers a huge variety of outdoor activities, including hiking on some 600 miles of trails, camping, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding, hunting and water activities. Nantahala is particularly known for its excellent mountain biking in the Tsali Recreation Area near Fontana Lake and for whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River near Bryson City.
Among the highlights of the Nantahala National Forest are the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, where old-growth poplars, never subject to a saw or axe in 400 years, stand in towering magnificence; the Nantahala River with its superb white-water rafting in the East; and the great mountain biking trails of Tsali.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (about 15 miles from Robbinsville in western Graham County) Directions: From Robbinsville, take NC Hwy. 129 North for 1.5 miles to the junction with NC Hwy. 143 West (Massey Branch Rd). Turn left and go west on Hwy. 143 for 5 miles to a stop sign. Turn right onto Kilmer Rd. Go 7.3 miles to the junction with the Cherohala Skyway. Bear right and continue on another 2.5 miles to the entrance of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Turn left into the entrance and go 0.5 miles to the parking area.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a 3,500-acre tract of national forest land that is mostly old-growth forest. In 1934, the forest was dedicated as a memorial to the poet Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in World War I. Kilmer, of course, is famous for his short, simple but moving poem, “Trees.”
The largest trees here are poplars, some 400 years old or even older, with circumferences of 20 feet or more. It is truly amazing to see what the virgin forests of Eastern American must have looked like several hundred years ago. Here also are huge red oaks and Eastern hemlocks, but many of the hemlocks have been killed by the hemlock wooly adelgid, as the giant chestnuts here before them were killed by an alien fungus. There are two trail loops: the 1.25-mile lower loop passes the Joyce Kilmer Memorial plaque. To view a grove of the biggest trees, take the upper 0.75-mile Poplar Cove loop. Both are moderately easy, but there are some steeper sections. Allow one to two hours for the complete figure-eight trail, depending on your level of fitness and pace. The parking area of the Kilmer Memorial is also a good place to see synchronous firefly displays, usually in June.
By Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a part of the 18,000-acre Joyce Kilmer-Shining Rock Wilderness, a primitive area left as much as possible in its natural state. Vehicles and bicycles are not permitted here, and trails are not blazed. It’s easy to get lost in this wilderness, and in fact more hikers are reported lost here than in any other area of the state. The Benton MacKaye Trail on the western and northern edges of the wilderness is fairly easy to follow, but other trails are not. Primitive camping is permitted. Remember that in the fall deer, bear and wild boar hunting is permitted here (and in most other national forest areas in the mountains) so wear blaze orange colors.
North Carolina State Forests
DuPont State Forest (Cedar Mountain; 828-877-6527; www.ncforestservice.gov or the unofficial site of Friends of DuPont State Forest, www.dupontforest.com, free) Directions from Asheville: Take I-26 East toward the Asheville Regional Airport. Exit at the airport (Exit 40) and go south on NC Hwy. 280 for about 16 miles. Turn left (east) onto U.S. Hwy. 64 and go 4 miles. In Penrose, turn right onto Crab Creek Rd. for 4 miles to DuPont Rd. Turn right on DuPont Road and continue for 3.1 miles. There are several access points to the state forest.
DuPont State Forest is a 10,400-acre recreational forest in Transylvania and Henderson counties about 40 minutes by car from Asheville. It is a favorite area for hikers and mountain bikers who want fairly easy trails and access to beautiful waterfalls. The state purchased the majority of the land in the recreational area in 1996-97 by the state from E.I. du Pont de Nemours company, and obtained another large tract in 2000 by its right of eminent domain from a real estate developer who was trying to build a big residential project near waterfalls in the middle of the forest. DuPont, which is managed by the North Carolina Forest Service, has elevations from 2,240 to 3,620 feet. It has about 90 miles of dirt roads and trails open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
Little River runs through the forest, with four major waterfalls along its course, including Triple Falls and High Falls, and there are other waterfalls on Grassy Creek. DuPont also contains five lakes and ponds, the largest being 99-acre Lake Julia. The state forest offers fishing for largemouth bass, sunfish and bluegill in the lakes and trout fishing in cold-water streams (a state license is required). Hunting on a limited basis for deer, wild turkey and small game is also allowed in season, but a special permit is required and some areas are off limits to hunting. A map of DuPont State Forest is sold at area outdoor and outfitters stores, and a version can be downloaded at www.dupontforest.com. For information on mountain biking trails and routes, see the Pisgah Area Southeast Offroad Bicycling Association (SORBA) website at www.pisgahareasorba.org. Bikers and equestrians should stay on trails marked with brown wooden signs. Motor vehicles are prohibited in the state forest except at the entrance parking areas and on signed public roadways.
Holmes Educational State Forest (1299 Crab Creek Rd. off Kanuga Rd., Hendersonville, 828-692-0100; www.ncforestservice.gov, open Tue. -Sun. mid-Mar.-late Nov., free) is mainly designed to teach school children about managed forests, although adults interested in learning more also are welcome. Holmes has a ½-mile trail with “talking trees” and tree identification signs, plus other trails totaling around 5 miles on the 235-acre site just west of Hendersonville. Also on site are picnic tables and grills. Holmes is one of six educational forests in the state.
North Carolina State Parks
North Carolina has 39 state parks and recreation areas, including several important ones in the Asheville area. Entrance to the parks in Western North Carolina is free, except for Chimney Rock State Park, currently managed by a private company, and the commercial part of Grandfather Mountain, which also is partly under private management. Several of the parks have developed camping, for which generally a fee is charged, and primitive hike-in camping, which is free. Alcohol is prohibited at all state parks. Pets are allowed if on leash. Firearms and other weapons are prohibited except that those with a proper permit may possess a concealed handgun where allowed.
Mt. Mitchell State Park (2388 State Highway 128, Burnsville, 828-675-4611; www.ncparks.gov; open Mar., Apr., Sep. and Oct. 8-8, May-Aug. 8 am-9 pm, Nov.-Feb. 8-6 weather permitting; restaurant and concession stand open May-Oct., hours vary; free) Directions: From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north to Milepost 355 and turn left onto NC 128, which leads 3.5 miles to the park. The parkway and NC 128 may close at times in winter. There is a parking area, from which you can hike 850 feet to an observation deck (erected in 2009) at the summit, with panoramic views.
Established in 1916, this was North Carolina’s first state park. Within the boundaries of the 1,946-acre park in the Black Mountains is the highest peak in Eastern America, Mt. Mitchell, at 6,684 feet. An exhibit hall (open May-October 10-6) has a replica log cabin, wildlife dioramas and 3D topographical maps. The park has a shady picnic area with 40 picnic tables with stone fire grills, open year-round (weather permitting). There also are two large picnic shelters for up to 16 people each. A pleasant, moderately priced restaurant (open May-October) is at the park, along with a concession stand and restrooms (May-October) at the main parking area near the summit.
In 1787, French botanist Andre Michaux journeyed to the Black Mountains to seek plants for the French royal gardens. Michaux collected more than 2,500 specimens of trees, shrubs and other plants. About the same time, Englishman John Fraser collected plants to take back to England. The Fraser fir was named for this explorer.
In 1835, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a science professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, visited the area to measure the mountain elevations. At the time, Grandfather Mountain was assumed to be the highest point in the region, but previous trips had persuaded Mitchell that the Black Mountains were higher. On this and follow-up trips, Dr. Mitchell calculated the height of the peak at 6,672, only12 feet off modern calculations. In 1857, Dr. Mitchell returned to the Black Mountains to verify his measurements. While hiking across the mountain, he fell from a cliff above a waterfall, was knocked unconscious and drowned. In honor of his work, the highest peak in the Black Mountain range was given his name in 1858. Originally buried in Asheville, Mitchell's body was reburied atop Mount Mitchell a year later.
At the state park are nine walk-in campsites with picnic grills, tent pads, running water and restrooms ($20 a day, $15 for those age 62 and older, $12 a day for winter rates without running water starting November 1). In addition, there are two primitive hike-in campsites (free).
The NC State Parks Guide app for mobile devices including iPad and iPhone is available online free from the iTunes store (https://itunes.apple.com).
Grandfather Mountain State Park (Linville, 828-963-9522; www.ncparks.gov; Mar., Apr., May, Sep., Oct, 8 – 8, Jun.-Aug., 8 am- 9 pm, Nov. – Feb. - 8 – 6; free). Directions: From Asheville: Take 40 East to Exit 72 to merge onto U.S. Hwy. 70 toward Old Fort. Turn left at NC 226 Bypass/U.S. Hwy. 221 and follow to U.S. Hwy. 221. Turn right at Newland Hwy. Continue straight onto U.S. Hwy. 221. Turn left at Grandfather Mountain Rd.
Listen up, because the situation with Grandfather Mountain is a little complicated. In 2008, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to acquire almost 2,500 acres of private land on Grandfather Mountain. That, along with conservation easements on around 4,000 acres on the mountain owned by The Nature Conservancy, became in 2009 the basis of Grandfather Mountain State Park. Entrance to the state park is free. The process of developing the state park is ongoing, but hikers have access to 12 miles of challenging trails in the park, some of which require the use of the trails' ladders and cables in steeper sections. Camping (free) is allowed with a permit at 13 backpack camping sites along the trail system.
A private company operates the 749-acre Grandfather Mountain Attraction (2050 Blowing Rock Hwy./U.S. Hwy. 221, Linville, 828-733-4337 or 800-468-7325; www.grandfathermountain.com; park open daily 8-6 spring, 8-6 summer, 8-5:30 early fall, 8-4:30 late fall, winter 9-5, adults $20, seniors 60+ $18, children 4-12, $9). Directions: The Blue Ridge Parkway links Grandfather at Milepost 305 with Asheville at MP382. Plan on a 2 ½ -hour drive if you take the parkway. A faster route is to take I-40 East to Exit 85 at Marion. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go 1 mile to a stoplight. At the stoplight turn left and follow U.S. Hwy. 221 North 30 miles to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.
The commercial part of Grandfather Mountain has the famous “mile high swinging bridge,” zoo, nature center and other tourist facilities. The 5,946-foot mountain is topped by a 228-foot suspension bridge, built in 1952, that connects two peaks. On clear days it’s possible to see Charlotte, more than 100 miles away. Although the bridge is perfectly safe to cross (you can even take an elevator up to it), and it is designed to hold 3 million pounds, when it swings in the wind most people can’t help feeling a little frightened. And it can be very windy – record wind gusts of more than 120 mph were recorded in December 2012. Wind speeds exceeded 60 mph on 61 different days in 2012. In high winds the bridge is temporarily closed to visitors.
This private tourist attraction charges admission fees. Owners of the attraction, the heirs of Grandfather Mountain founder Hugh Morton, a photographer and conservationist who died in 2006, say that they have decided to pursue the conversion of the company to a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit entity. The acquisition agreement gives North Carolina a conservation easement on the 749 acres where the attraction is located and has operated since the 1950s. At this time, though, the state parks system has no management responsibility for the Grandfather Mountain commercial attraction and its facilities. Parts of the movie Forrest Gump were filmed at Grandfather.
Chimney Rock State Park (Chimney Rock, 828-625-1823; www.ncparks.gov or www.chimneyrockpark.com; ticket plaza hours Jan.-mid-Mar., 10-4:30 Fri.-Tue., mid-Mar.-early Nov. 8:30-5:30 daily, rest of Nov.-Christmas 10-4:30 Fri.-Tue., week after Christmas 10-4:30 daily, park remains open 1 ½ hours after ticket plaza closes; access to Rumbling Bald climbing area is free, but the main part of the park charges fees – adults, $15, children 5-15 $7, reduced fees off-season). Directions: From Asheville take I-240 East to Exit 9 (U.S. Hwy. 74A East). Stay on Hwy. 74A East for 20 miles to the park entrance, on the right.
The situation at Chimney Rock State Park in some ways is similar to that at Grandfather Mountain State Park. As at Grandfather, the state of North Carolina purchased, mostly from 2005 to 2007, much of a private tourist attraction and is gradually turning it into a traditional state park. At present, however, commercial management still operates much of the park and charges admission fees. Chimney Rock State Park currently occupies about 5,700 acres on both the north and south sides of Hickory Nut Gorge and efforts are underway to add additional acreage.
The eponymous Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is a 315-feet high outcropping of rock above Hickory Nut Gorge at an elevation of 2,280 feet. Most visitors ride the 26-story elevator to the top of the rock, although for a workout you can walk up the steep stairs and trail to the top. It has been a tourist destination in western North Carolina since a stairway was built to the rock’s summit in 1885. In 1902, Lucius B. Morse of Missouri bought the site. The Morse family developed park facilities including a tunnel and elevator to the rock summit, nature center and a network of hiking trails including one to the 404-foot-high Hickory Nut Falls. There’s a café and gift shop at the park.
Some scenes of the 1992 movie, Last of the Mohicans, were filmed at Chimney Rock.
Gorges State Park (976 Grassy Ridge Rd., Sapphire, 828-966-9099; www.ncparks.gov; Mar., Apr., May, Sep., Oct, 8 – 8, Jun.-Aug., 8 am- 9 pm, Nov. – Feb. - 8 – 6; free). Directions: From Asheville take I-26 East to Exit 9, NC Hwy. 280 toward Brevard. Turn west on U.S. Hwy. 64 and travel toward Sapphire. To reach the Frozen Creek access (east side of the park), turn left onto Frozen Creek Rd., 2 miles past NC 178. The east entrance is 3 miles on the right. To reach the Grassy Ridge access (west side of the park), turn south on NC Hwy. 281 in Sapphire; the western park entrance is 0.7 miles on the left.
In 1999, the state of North Carolina purchased more than 10,000 acres from Duke Energy Corporation in Transylvania County near the South Carolina state line, creating a 2,900-acre gameland managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and almost 7,500 acres for Gorge State Park. The park offers hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, waterfall overlooks, bass fishing in Lake Jocassee and trout fishing in streams. Horses and mountain bikes, as well as hikers, are permitted on the Auger Hole Trail from the Frozen Creek access to Turkey Pen Gap on the western boundary of the park.
Gorges State Park opened a new 7,100 square-foot visitor center and two large picnic shelters in late 2012. Six primitive campsites (free) are in the park at Lake Jocassee, with fire rings and picnic tables. Access is via the 5.5-mile Cane Brake Trail.
Lake James State Park (see Lakes section below).
Other Notable Outdoors Spots
Highest Mountain Peaks in Western North Carolina
1. Mt. Mitchell, Yancey County 6,686 ft.
2. Mt. Craig, Yancey County 6,637 ft.
3. Mt. Guyot, Haywood County 6,614 ft.
4. Balsam Cone, Yancey County 6,585 ft.
5. Blue Ridge, Allegheny County 6,581 ft.
6. Mt. Buckley, Swain County 6,568 ft.
7. Big Tom, Yancey County 6,568 ft.
8. Cattail Peak, Yancey County 6,516 ft.
9. Clingmans Peak, Yancey County 6,499 ft.
10. Mt. Gibbes, Yancey County 6,467 ft.
All the lakes in Western North Carolina are man-made. There are no natural lakes in the region. Keep in mind that some of the lakes, including Fontana, Chatuge and James, are used for power generation. At certain times the year, the Tennessee Valley Authority raises or lowers the water level, making a considerable difference in the size and shoreline of the lakes. That’s especially true for Fontana. Here are some of the WNC lakes of greatest interest:
Beaver Lake (bounded by Merrimon Ave. and Lakeshore Dr. about 2 miles north of Downtown Asheville) is a small, 40-acre lake in a residential area of North Asheville. Designed by noted urban landscape architect John Nolen and completed in 1923, Beaver Lake and the nearby Lakeview Park residential area are privately owned and maintained. The lake is used by local residents and guests as a place to picnic, walk or jog on trails around the lake or go birding. Swimming is not permitted, and fishing and boating (in canoes or kayaks) are by permit only. Pets must be leashed. There is a small parking area on the west side of Merrimon Avenue, just beyond the North Asheville Library, for the public to visit the 10-acre Beaver Lake bird sanctuary (free), co-owned and managed by the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society. From the sanctuary parking area, from dawn to dusk, you can bird watch on a 3/8-mile boardwalk through a wetland area and by the lake, with spots to sit along the way. Around 160 species have been sighted in the sanctuary, including 19 kinds of geese and ducks and four species of herons. Residential developments and communities near the lake include Lakeview Park, the Asheville Country Club, Reynolds Mountain and Ciel.
Lake Chatuge (U.S. Hwy. 64 and NC Hwy. 69, Hayesville, about 2 hours southwest of Asheville, 828-837-7395 for water conditions and information on TWA release times.) Directions: From Asheville take I-40 West. Take Exit 27 and merge onto U.S. Hwy. 74/19 West toward Waynesville/Murphy. Go 25 miles and take Exit 81 and merge onto U.S. Hwy. 23/441 toward Franklin/Dillsboro. This becomes U.S. Hwy. 64. Stay on Hwy. 64 for 28 miles and take left onto NC Hwy. 175 to Hayesville. In Hayesville, turn left onto NC Hwy. 17/69 and follow it to the end. Turn left onto Hwy. 76 to Lake Chatuge area.
In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority constructed a dam across the Hiawassee River, forming 7,200-acre Lake Chatuge (pronounced Sha-toog), which is about one-half in North Carolina and one-half in North Georgia. You can walk across the dam for a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains. With around 133 miles of shoreline, the lake has numerous fingerlike projections of land forming coves for fishing, swimming, boating and other water sports. There are three boat ramps on the NC side: Jackrabbit Mountain Campground, off NC 175; Gibson Cove Campground, off Myers Chapel Road and Ledford Chapel Wildlife access, on U.S. Highway 64. Bass fishing is the thing here, with largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and striped bass the main targets for anglers. Chatuge is around 144 feet deep at the dam, but lake levels vary by 9 feet or more, depending on TVA water releases.
Fontana Lake (Fontana Dam Visitor Center, Fontana Dam Rd., off NC Hwy, 28, 32 miles from Bryson City, TVA headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., 865-632-2101; www.tva.gov; dam visitor center open daily 9-7 May-Nov., lake open daily year-round; dam visitor center and boat access areas free, various charges for private marinas and services) Directions: From Asheville take I-40 west to the exit for U.S. Hwy. 74, a four-line divided highway also known as Great Smoky Mountain Expressway. Stay on U.S. Hwy. 74, and 8 miles past Bryson turn right on NC Hwy. 28. Continue on Hwy. 28 for 25 miles.
Fontana Lake is the largest lake in Western North Carolina, comprising about 10,300 acres. It lays along the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City. The lake is 17 to 29 miles long, depending the water level, and has around 240 miles of shoreline. Depth ranges to 440 feet and averages about 135 feet. Each September, TVA begins its annual draw down, which lowers lake levels as much as 55 to 65 feet.
More than 90% of the land around the lake is owned either by the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service, so shoreline development has been relatively limited.
Fontana offers boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing and beautiful views of the Smokies from the water. You can also take boats across the lake for great hiking and trout fishing in the Smokies. There are several public boat access ramps – on Old NC Route 288, Lemmons Branch, Cable Cove, Flat Branch, Lewellyn Branch and elsewhere -- plus several private marinas, including Fontana Marina, Alarka and Almond. The lake has some of the best bass fishing in the region, with large populations of black bass, white bass and smallmouth and largemouth bass. Some large walleye and muskie also have been caught in the cold, deep waters of the lake.
At 480 feet high, Fontana Dam is the highest dam east of the Rockies and the fourth tallest in the country. The Appalachian Trail crosses the dam, which stretches 2,365 feet across the Little Tennessee River.
The dam and reservoir were built by TVA from 1942 to 1944 during World War II to provide electric power for aluminum production by ALCOA. Today, the dam provides 241 megawatts of hydropower. What was once the construction village of 5,000 people working 24 hours a day for almost three years is now the resort and timeshare Peppertree Fontana Village Resort (300 Woods Rd., Fontana Dam, 828-498-2211 or 800-849-2258; www.fontanavillage.com; cabins cost around $99-$279 depending on size and time of year, lodge rooms are $79-$129, tent camping is $20-$30 and RV/trailer sites with hook-ups are $25-$40.) Fontana Village Marina at the resort has boat slips and rents pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks and jet skis.
Lake Junaluska (91 Lakeshore Dr., Lake Junaluska, 800-222-4930 or 828-452-2881; www.lakejunaluska.com) Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 West to Exit 27 onto US Hwy. 19-23. Drive about 3.5 miles on Hwy. 19-23. Take Exit 103 and go about 1 mile until you see Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center front entrance gates on the right. Bear right and follow the main road to the Bethea Welcome Center.
Lake Junaluska Assembly is a 1,200-acre conference center and retreat of the United Methodist Church on a small, 200-acre lake about 30 minutes west of Asheville. On the grounds are several inns, lodges, apartments, cottages, campsites and other accommodations with a total of about 400 rooms and spaces. Rates are moderate, but most accommodations are occupied by participants at conferences, which can total up to around 3,000 per day in summer. The Aquatic Center is open to the public daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and includes an outdoor pool and rentals of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats ($5 per hour) for use on the lake. On the grounds also are tennis courts, mini-golf and shuffle board.
Lake James (883 NC Hwy. 126, Nebo, about 45 minutes east of Asheville, 828-584-7728; www.ncparks.gov; state park facilities including swimming area, bathhouse, concession stand and canoe/kayak rentals are open May-Sep. Campsites open Mar.-Nov. Hidden Cove boat access is open Mar.-Oct. while Canal Bridge boat access is open year-round. Swimming, fishing and boating are free except for pertinent licenses.) Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 East, turn the Nebo/Lake James exit (Exit 90) and head north. After 0.5 mile, turn right onto Harmony Grove Rd. and follow for 2 miles to a stoplight. Proceed straight across the intersection past Nebo Elementary School to a stop sign. Turn right onto NC 126 and follow the signs to the park entrance 4.8 miles on the right.
Lake James is a 6,812-acre reservoir with more than 150 miles of shoreline, at the base of Blue Ridge mountains between Marion and Morganton, at around 1,200 feet elevation. An area on the west side of the park makes up Lake James State Park, but other parts of the shoreline are private. The lake was created between 1916 and 1923 as a source of hydroelectric power. Among the activities available at the lake are boating (the Canal Bridge boat access ramp is open year-round); fishing for large and smallmouth bass, walleye, bluegill, bream, sunfish, perch and others – a fishing license is required; lifeguarded swimming at Paddy Creek May-September 10-6 with a fee per day of $5 for adults and $3 for children 3-12; camping at 20 walk-in tent sites off Campground Road with fire circles and picnic tables March-November, fees $20 per day ($15 per day for those 62 and better) – reservations strongly advised; canoe and kayak rentals are $5 per hour for first hour, then $3 per hour for additional hours. Hiking also is available on several trails around the lake.
Lake Lure (2724 Memorial Hwy., Lake Lure, 828-625-1373.) Directions: From Asheville, take I-240 East to Exit 9 (Bat Cave/Blue Ridge Parkway) and continue on U.S. Hwy. 74A to Chimney Rock. Lake Lure is about 1 mile past Chimney Rock.
Lake Lure is a 720-acre lake with about 27 miles of shoreline near Chimney Rock. There’s fishing for bass and other fish, boating and swimming. A beach and water park, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, offers fun on the lake. Across the road from the lake is the 1927-vintage Lake Lure Inn (2771 Memorial Hwy. Lake Lure, 828-625-2525 or 888-434-4970; www.lakelure.com; rates for 69 rooms and 3 cabins vary but generally are overpriced; closed Sun.-Wed Dec.-Feb.), which was renovated in 2005 but is still nothing special. The 17-room lakefront Lodge at Lake Lure (361 Charlotte Dr., Lake Lure, 800-733-2785 or 828-625-2789; www.lodgeonlakelure.com, rates $135-$300), originally built in the 1930s as a retreat for North Carolina Highway Patrol officers, is more expensive but worth it. Breakfasts daily and dinner Wednesday-Saturday seasonally.
The 1987 cult movie Dirty Dancing was shot partially in Lake Lure. Many of the scenes were filmed at the old Boys Camp, which is now part of a private residential community, Firefly Cove. Boat tours from Lake Lure Inn (from $15) take you by the filming sites.
Though not a lake, Hot Springs (U.S. Hwys. 25/70 North off I-26), in the Pisgah National Forest in Madison County about 45 minutes north of Asheville, has 108-degree mineral springs. These are the only hot-water mineral springs known in the state. The area has been a resort for about 200 years and in the 19th century was home to the 350-room Warm Springs Hotel. After the hotel burned, the area went into decline, but Hot Springs -- at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the French Broad River -- has made something of a comeback, with B&Bs, new eateries, river rafting and funky mineral water “hot tubs.”
Many of the outdoor activities listed below are covered in detail in the PLACES sections of this chapter (above), and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Blue Ridge Parkway chapters. Please refer to them. Information on the activities below primarily relates to service providers and, in some cases, to our top picks for selected activities.
Baseball in Asheville
Returning Civil War soldiers supposedly brought the game of baseball to Asheville. Semi-professional baseball in Asheville dates back to at least 1897, to a team called the Asheville Moonshiners (who according to old-timers wore, of all things, purple uniforms). Pro ball in Asheville began in earnest in 1909. Other early names for the Asheville teams included the Redbirds, the Mountaineers and the Skylanders, and the Asheville Tourists name goes back at least to 1915.
Built during one of Asheville’s real estate booms, McCormick Field has been the home of the Asheville Tourists since 1924, except for a few years of hiatus during wars, when leagues folded or when the team suffered financial problems. The Tourists, then officially called the Asheville Skylanders, beat the Detroit Tigers 18-14 on April 3, 1924, the formal opening game in McCormick Field. Ty Cobb was center fielder and manager of the Tigers.
In April 1925, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees arrived in Asheville to play the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unfortunately, on arrival by train at the Southern Railway Depot Ruth was taken ill with a stomach ailment. By some accounts, he had consumed too many hot dogs and too much beer on the train. Even without the Babe, on April 7, 1925, the Yankees beat the Dodgers 16-8 at McCormick Field.
McCormick Field is located at 30 Buchanan Place off Biltmore Avenue just south of the main Downtown area.
As befits one of the classic minor league parks in the country, McCormick Field has a rich baseball history. Besides Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, baseball greats Lou Gehrig, Pee Wee Reese, Roberto Clemente, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Dizzy Dean have made exhibition appearances here.
In 1930, the Yankees with Lou Gehrig in addition to Babe Ruth returned to Asheville to play three exhibition games. Supposedly a New York sportswriter claimed that 2,000 people were inside McCormick Field and 15,000 outside the park watched the games. The Yankees won all three games.
A crowd of 5,500 including 2,000 African-Americans watched Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers play an exhibition game at McCormick Field in 1948, and the Dodgers returned for another game in 1951. Willie Stargell, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Sr. (sons Cal Jr. and Billy played Little League in Asheville) were with the Tourists in one capacity or another. Legendary manager Sparky Anderson won a league champion here, in 1968. University of North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams, who grew up in Asheville, was a batboy for the Tourists.
All together more than 400 players who played for Asheville have moved on, if only briefly, to the Bigs. Among the alumni of the Tourists who went on to the major leagues besides Stargell and Murray include Craig Biggio, Dennis Martinez, Todd Helton, Curtis Wilkerson, Danny Darwin, Shane Reynolds, Wayne Tolleson, Ian Stewart and many others.
Willie Stargell, who played for the Tourists in 1961, a year when eight Tourists players graduated to the major leagues, is the only former Tourist player in the Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted in 1988. As a first baseman and leftfielder, Stargell played 21 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A powerful hitter who at one time held the record for the longer home runs in almost one-half of all the National League stadiums, he was known for standing in the on-deck circle and warming up with a sledgehammer instead of a weighted bat.
Branch Rickey, legendary baseball executive, numerous times referred to Asheville’s McCormick Field as one of his favorite ballparks in the country, and Rickey made the Tourists a farm club for three different major league teams he was with, St. Louis, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh.
The Tourists played in the North Carolina State League until 1917, when the league was disbanded due to the war. Baseball came back to Asheville in 1924 (the team was temporarily called the Skylanders before reverting to the Tourists nickname.) The Tourists played in the old South Atlantic Association until 1930, before moving to the Piedmont League in 1932. After a couple of years’ absence, baseball returned to Asheville in 1934 when the Columbia, S.C., Sandpipers moved to Asheville, changing their name to the tried-and-true Asheville Tourists. The Piedmont League suspended operations in 1942.
After World War II, baseball returned to the Land of the Sky in 1946, when a new tourist franchise began playing in the Tri-State League. In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Tourists shared McCormick Field with the Asheville Blues, a Negro Southern League team. The Blues were owned and managed by C. L. Moore, a prominent baseball coach and teacher at Stephens-Lee, the segregated black high school in Asheville.
The Asheville High football team, then called the Maroons, played some home games at McCormick field during this period. The Maroons’ best player was Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, who went on to star at the University of North Carolina and with the Washington Redskins.
From 1955 to 1959, partly due to the popularity of the new medium of television, which kept people at home glued to the flickering black-and-white screens, again the city was without a professional baseball team. For three summers, from 1956 to 1958, McCormick Field was used as a stock car racetrack. A quarter-mile asphalt track was laid on the field and a concrete block wall was built around the park. Banjo Matthews, driving a ’37 Ford, was the local racing sensation, at one time winning 13 weekly races in a row.
In 1959, a new South Atlantic League (later the Class AA Southern League) team began playing at the remodeled McCormick Field. In 1968, the team won the Southern League championship under manager Sparky Anderson, who went on to manage the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. In 1972, the Tourists became affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s renamed the team the Asheville Orioles, under which name the team played until 1975, when the O’s moved its farm team to Charlotte.
In 1976, a new franchise took over, using the historic Tourists name, operating as a farm club for the Texas Rangers.
Over the years, the Tourists have been affiliates of various major league teams including the Detroit Tigers (1920s), Boston Red Sox (1934), St. Louis Cardinals (1935-42), Brooklyn Dodgers (1946-51 and 1953-55), Philadelphia Phillies (1959-60), Pittsburgh Pirates (1961-66), Houston Astros (1967 and 1982-93), Cincinnati Reds (1968-70), Chicago White Sox (1971, in the Class AA Dixie Association, a league that stretched from Albuquerque to San Antonio to Charlotte), Baltimore Orioles (1972-75) and Texas Rangers (1976-81).
Continuously since 1994 the Tourists have been a Single A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
In 2010, a prominent Ohio family, the DeWines, headed by former Republican Congressman and U.S. Senator and current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, purchased the Asheville Tourists Baseball Club. The team operates under the name DeWine Seeds Silver Dollar Baseball, LLC. The seeds name is a reference to Mike DeWine’s father, Dick DeWine, who with wife Jean built a national seed company. It is also a reference to an event that supposedly occurred during the 1939 World Series, when as the story goes Dick DeWine wrapped a ticket he had bought to the game around a silver dollar and threw the coin to a friend waiting outside Crosley Field in Cincinnati, enabling the friend to join him to see the Reds and Yankees play. (The Yankees won the game and swept the Series in four games.)
Brian DeWine, a son of Mike DeWine, is general manager of the Tourists. Joe Mikulik, a former minor league baseball player, is manager. Mikulik is possibly best known for a rant at a 2006 Tourists game with the Lexington Legends, when he pulled up second base and threw it down on the field and then threw bats from the dugout and poured water on home plate. The extended tirade went viral on the internet and on TV. Mikulik was suspended for seven days and given a $1,000 fine.
During Mikulik's tenure, however, some 60 Tourist players have gone on to the major leagues.
The team mascot is Ted E. Tourist. The latest logo illustrates a baseball flying over the moon, with an alternate logo being a moon-faced tourist in sunglasses swinging a bat with a hobo’s bag tied to it.
McCormick Field, the quintessential minor league stadium, was named after Dr. Lewis McCormick, an Asheville bacteriologist. Dr. McCormick gained a national reputation for his campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of the common housefly, called appropriately enough “Swat That Fly.”
Originally constructed mostly of wood, McCormick Field was remodeled in 1959 and more substantively in 1991-1992. The venerable stadium – which until then could claim to be the oldest minor league stadium and the fifth oldest stadium (after Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium and Yankee Stadium) in the country – was razed and rebuilt in concrete, with a brick exterior and metal roof. However, the playing field was left much as it had always been. After the 2012 season, new grass was put on the field, using a type of Bermuda grass that is supposed to hold up well to mountain weather.
The stadium seats 4,000, and most seats are sheltered from the rain and sun under a cantilevered roof. McCormick Field is a hitter’s park, with left field 326 feet from home plate, center field 373 feet and right field only 297 feet. The right field fence stands 36 feet high, only about a foot lower than Fenway Park’s Green Monster and 5 feet closer to home plate.
McCormick Field is said to be home to the closest-to-the-batter-box seats in all of professional baseball. These are box suites just to the inside of the dugouts, in front of the existing backstop, protected by netting completely surrounding the boxes. Additionally there are regular box seats. General admission seats are in plain concrete bleachers.
The stadium is set part way up a low hill. It doesn’t enjoy great views of surrounding mountains, but you can see part of 1920s-era Asheville Memorial Stadium, now used for local soccer and football. In 2012, a zip line was added running some 500 feet from Memorial Stadium down to McCormick Field. A fan or local celebrity delivers the game ball by zip line before the singing of the national anthem.
McCormick Field had a minor role in the 1988 film, Bull Durham. Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, is cut from the Durham Bulls but then breaks the minor league home run record as a member of the Tourists. Some scenes will filmed at McCormick Field.
One negative to McCormick Field is lack of parking. The stadium has only limited parking (mostly reserved for season ticket holders and VIPs) in front of the stadium. Fans park in the free lot at Memorial Stadium just above McCormick Field or on the street on Biltmore Avenue and nearby, or at the lots of businesses closed during the ballgames. For a well-attended game, you may need to walk quite a distance to the park.
In 2012, the Asheville Tourists defeated the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League championship series three games to one. This Sallie League title is the first won by the Tourists since 1984.
For more on the history of baseball in Asheville, see Bob Terrell’s The Old Ball Yard (1997) and Bill Ballew’s A History of Professional Baseball in Asheville (2007) in the Books section of Resources.
Attending a Game:
Asheville Tourists, 30 Buchanan Place, 828-259-5800, www.asheville.tourists.milb.com
Ticket prices: general admission $7 advance, $8 day of game; box seats $10 advance, $11 day of game; dugout box seats $29 advance, $30 day of game. Because the stadium is small and seating is close to the field, there are really no bad seats in this park.
The season runs from early April to early September. The Tourists play in the South Atlantic League along with Savannah, Greensboro, Charleston, S.C., Augusta and other teams.
Most Thursdays are Thirsty Thursdays, when beer at the park is only a buck ($2 for premium beers). Hot dogs usually are $1 on Fridays.
Bicycling and Mountain Biking
Asheville is an increasingly bicycle-friendly town. The area has many bike trails and an increasing number of designated bike lanes on city streets. Asheville currently offers more than 4 miles of developed greenways -- multi-use paths used for recreation and alternative transportation – and is working towards its goal of a 15-mile system composed of 12 interconnected corridors.
Keep in mind that the terrain ranges from fairly flat around town to hilly and rolling to screaming mountain climbs. For road cycling, the Blue Ridge Parkway is primo (see Blue Ridge Parkway section).
The Blue Ridge Bicycling Club (www.blueridgebicycleclub.org) is the area’s largest biking club, with more than 300 members. The club offers a variety of rides weekly and the club’s website has detailed information on some of the best rides in the area.
Among area bike shops are: Liberty Bikes (1378 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville, 828-274-2453, www.libertybikes.com); Pro Bikes (610 Haywood Rd., West Asheville, 828-253-2800, www.pro-bikes.com); BioWheels Asheville (81 Coxe Ave., Asheville, 828-236-2453, www.biowheels.com); Carolina Bike Mechanic (1500 Brevard Rd., West Asheville, 828-670-0091, www.carolinabikemechanic.com); FastLane Electric Bikes (362 Depot St., River Arts District, 828-545-7345, www.fastlanebikes.com); Motion Makers Bicycle Shop (878 Brevard Rd., West Asheville, 828-633-2227, www.motionmakers.com); The Bicycle Company, (779 Church St., Hendersonville, 828-696-1500, www.thebikecompany.net); and REI (Biltmore Park, 31 Schenck Parkway, South Asheville, 828-687-0918, www.rei.com).
Several of the bike shops also offer rentals – expect to pay around $45 to $65 a day for a quality mountain bike, usually less for a road bike.
The three main mountain biking areas in Western North Carolina are the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Pisgah National Forest just west of Asheville, DuPont State Forest near Brevard (see above) and Tsali Recreation Area near Fontana Lake in the Nantahala National Forest.
Bent Creek Experimental Forest (1577 Brevard Rd., Asheville, 828-667-5261, www.srs.fs.usda.gov/bentcreek/) has miles of mountain biking trails for beginning and intermediate riders in a 6,000-acre section of the Pisgah National Forest. It is easily accessible via I-26 and Brevard Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway off Milepost 393.
DuPont State Forest (www.ncforestservice.gov) has more than 80 miles of trails open to mountain bikers, as well as to hikers and horseback riders. Some of the trails, with steep inclines and big drops, are appropriate only for advanced riders. Parking for all of the bike trails in the 10,400-acre forest is at the Corn Mill Shoals Access Area on Cascade Lake Road.
Tsali Recreation Area (in Nantahala National Forest off NC Route 28 near Robbinsville, www.fs.usda.gov/) has a national reputation as a prime mountain biking area. There are more than 42 miles of trails open to bikes (as well as to hikers and horseback riders). The four main riding loops enjoy dramatic views of the Smokies and Fontana Lake. Due to the popularity of the area, biking is limited to only certain days, varying depending on the trail. Currently (and this may change) the Thompson Loop and Mouse Branch Loop trails are open to mountain bikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The Tsali Horse Trail (both the right and left loops) is open to bikers on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There is a $2 per day trail use fee. Directions: From Robbinsville take NC Hwy. 143 East. Turn right (south) on NC Route 28 and go about 8 miles. The Tsali Recreation Area entrance is on the north side of the road. Go about 1.5 miles to a parking lot with entrances to the various trail heads.
Birders will find an unexpectedly rich environment for birding in Western North Carolina, due to the large differences in elevation and habitats in a relatively small area. At the highest elevations, 4,500 to 6,500 feet and higher, in the coniferous forests (at least where the Fraser firs and red spruces have survived acid rain and alien infestations), you can find nesting birds that you would usually see in the northeastern U.S. and in Canada, including a number of warblers and owls normally seen farther north. Deciduous forests dominate most of Western North Carolina – 95% of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is forested, for example – but within these wooded areas are several different types of forests, each with different types of birds: elevated moist slopes with warblers, grosbeaks and vireos and dry slopes with chickadees and titmice and other birds common in the Piedmont; hardwood cove forests in the moist, fertile coves, home to many birds including tanagers; cool streams with hemlocks and an understory of rhododendron, where a variety of warblers live; lower-elevation dry slopes with Virginia and other pines and birds similar to those in the Piedmont of North Carolina including jays and chickadees; and, finally, cliff and rock faces such as Whiteside Mountain and Chimney Rock, home to ravens and even peregrine falcons and eagles.
More than 460 bird species have been identified in the state of North Carolina, and at least 300 in the Western North Carolina mountains. In Asheville and Buncombe County alone 266 species have been identified.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is popular for birders, because it traverses such a wide range of habitats and elevations. The Great Smokies and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests also are popular. Small land birds stream through the deciduous forests during spring migrations, and birding here is spectacular in the spring. Most of the fall migration, however, occurs on or near the coast, not through the mountains. However, the migration of hawks in the mountains in autumn is exciting, especially at areas such as Mt. Pisgah and Chimney Rock. Summer may not provide the same large variety of species, but the Smoky Mountains park alone has more than 120 nesting species, including at least 23 species of warblers. Even in winter there are many local birding opportunities, and you may see finches and buntings as well as many year-round species.
Here are a few areas of special interest to birders. For more ideas and information, check with local birding clubs such as the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society (http://emasnc.org), which is the Asheville chapter of the Audubon Society, and the Carolina Bird Club (www.carolinabirdclub.org), which has members all over North and South Carolina. Also refer to one of the excellent local birding guides, such as The North Carolina Birding Trail, Mountain Trail Guide, which describes 105 birding destinations in the mountains, and Birds of the Carolinas, which exhaustively describes the birds of both North and South Carolina. Both are published by the superb University of North Carolina Press. Also consider Birding North Carolina, published by Globe Pequot. The national field guides – Sibley, Stokes, Peterson and others – are also helpful. See Books in the Resources section for recommendations.
Birding Ventures Tours (828-253-4247, www.birdventures.com) runs day birding tours in the Asheville area. Some of the trips concentrate on a specific family of birds, such as woodpeckers or owls. One of the guides who operates Birding Ventures also is a co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited (1997 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville, 828-687-9433) a birding and bird-feeding store.
Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary (U.S. Hwy 25 North/Merrimon Avenue, about 2.5 miles north of Downtown Asheville) is a 10-acre bird sanctuary managed by the local chapter of the Audubon Society. It is notable for migrating waterfowl and some wintering waterfowl, including the great blue heron and green heron.
Biltmore Estate (off Exit 50 of I-40, with entrance in Biltmore Village south of Downtown Asheville) is an appealing spot for birding, as there are a number of different habitats – mature pine forests, hardwood forests, rivers, small lakes and wetlands, open fields, farmland, vineyards – in an area of about 8,000 acres. The downside is that you’ll have to purchase admission to the estate, expensive on a daily basis but a bargain for an annual pass that permits unlimited admissions to the grounds.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (3 miles south of Hendersonville in Flat Rock on Little River Rd. off U.S. Hwy. 225) is a 264-acre site, mainly oak and mixed hardwoods, with miles of hiking trails, but there are about 40 acres of pasture and two small lakes. More than 120 species of birds have been identified here. There is a small admission charge to tour the Sandburg home, but admission to the grounds and farm is free.
Chimney Rock State Park (on U.S. Hwy. 74A about 25 miles southwest of Asheville) has a 315-foot rock outcrop surrounded by hardwood cove forests and with a stream and waterfall. The touristy rock chimney is still privately managed, although the entire area is gradually becoming a more traditional state park. There are nesting peregrine falcons here, and the rarely seen Swainson’s warbler. In the fall, don’t miss the hawk migrations.
Craggy Gardens (along the Blue Ridge Parkway about 20 miles north of Asheville, between Mileposts 364 to 367) is a high-elevation area of spruce-first forests, hardwood cove forests and heath balds, home to a variety of breeding songbirds from May through September, especially warblers. Also look for sharp-shinned and other hawks and common ravens.
DuPont State Forest (southeast of Brevard off U.S. Hwy. 276) is a 10,400 acre forest area with some 80 miles of hiking trails with a variety of bird habitats. You can see bluebirds, warblers, finches, grebes along with wild turkeys, several kinds of hawks, bald eagles and a variety of waterfowl including herons and ducks. You do have to share most trails with mountain bikers and horseback riders, and hunting is permitted in the fall.
Grandfather Mountain (off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 305 near Linville) is one of the tallest mountains in the region. It is a nature sanctuary and most of the mountain is now a North Carolina state park. More than 200 bird species have been identified here. There is an admission charge to the privately managed Grandfather Mountain attraction, but the state park is free.
Heintooga Spur Road (off Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 458) is a remote, high-elevation area where you can see red crossbills, least flycatchers, pine siskins, ruffed grouse and many warblers. The best birding is May to early July. Heintooga is closed in winter, spring comes late and autumn arrives early.
Jackson Park (off East 4th Ave. near downtown Hendersonville) is a small park with a lot of songbirds, especially in the spring and fall. About two dozen different warblers have been identified here in a single day.
Max Patch (on Max Patch Rd. in northern Madison County, near the Tennessee line) is a grassy bald in the Pisgah National Forest at around 4,600-feet elevation. The bald has marvelous views. Look for swallows, hawks and bobwhites on the bald, with a variety of warblers and other songbirds in the hardwood cove forests and other woods below the bald.
Boat rentals and boat ramps are available at several of the larger lakes in Western North Carolina including Fontana, James, Chatuge, Hiwassee and Santeetlah. Marinas usually require boating experience for those renting boats. Under North Carolina law those under age 26 must have completed a boating education course before they can operate a boat with an engine over 10 horsepower. Unless otherwise stated, full-day boat rentals are for an 8-hour day.
Also see the River Rafting, Kayaking and Canoeing section below.
Alarka Dock, Fontana Lake (Lower Alarka Rd., Bryson City, 828-488-3841, www.alarkadock.com) offers pontoon boat rentals for $250 a day and small powerboat rentals for $50 a day (rates do not include fuel). Boat slip rentals are $75 a month or $400 for the season. Alarka also has fishing supplies and bait for sale and can arrange guides and transport to the Smokies side of the lake.
Fontana Marina, Fontana Lake (Peppertree Fontana Village Resort, 300 Woods Rd.
Fontana Dam, 828-498-2211or 800-849-2258, www.fontantavillage.com) has pontoon boats for rent starting at $60 an hour or $295 a day, bass boats from $35 to $40 an hour/$150 to $200 a day and jet skis for $85 an hour, along with canoes and kayaks for $50 to $75 for 24 hours. Uncovered boat slip rentals are $10 a day, $75 a week and $1,225 a year. The marina also offers lake cruises and transport to the Smokies side of the lake. The Fontana Village Resort has rooms, cabins, tent camping, dining and other resort services.
Chatuge Cove Marina, Lake Chatuge (2397 NC Hwy. 175, Hayesville, 828-389-6155, www.chatugecovemarina.com) rents pontoon boats for $220 to $270 a day including fuel and boat slips for $1,500 to $1,800 a year. It has boat and fishing supplies store and RV/trailer campsites.
Mountain Harbour Marina, Lake James (9066 NC Hwy. 126, Nebo, 828-584-0666, www.mountainharbourmarina.com) has 18-foot pontoon boats for rent for $175 a day, uncovered boat slip rentals from $1,600 a year and covered slips from $2,400, a marine store and other services.
Mountain View Marina, Lake Hiwassee (Bear Paw Resort, 200 Dean Aldrich Dr.
Murphy, 828-644-5451, www.mountainviewmarina) has 20- to 24-foot pontoon boat rentals for $160 to $175 per day, not including fuel or tax, and rents boat slip for $10 to $15 a day or around $1,200 to $1,400 a year.
Santeetlah Marina, Lake Santeetlah (1 Marina Dr., Lake Santeetlah, 828-479-8180, www.santeetlahmarina.com, open Apr.-Oct.) rents pontoon boats for $280 to $320 per day and canoes and kayaks for $60 to $75 a day. Slip rentals are $20 to $50 a day, and a seven-month seasonal rental is $875 to $1,475. The marina also has a ship store with boat and fishing equipment, bait and snacks. Note that Graham County is a dry county, so you can’t buy beer or other alcohol here.
The two most popular areas for camping in the region, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway are covered in their own sections, with detailed information on camping opportunities and costs. There are many other popular areas for camping, including Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Mt. Mitchell State Park and DuPont State Forest. These areas offer both developed and primitive or backcountry camping. See information on those areas above.
Western North Carolina also has hundreds of private campgrounds. Most are focused on RV and trailer camping, with water and electric hook-ups and dump stations. It is beyond the scope of this book to list all the private campgrounds in the region. Woodall’s Campground Directory and Trailer Life RV Parks Directory merged in 2012 and now appear as a combined directory, the Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory, which includes some 16,000 listings in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. A version is available online, the Good Sam Trailer Life Directory (www.trailerlifedirectory.com).
Here are a few of the better private campgrounds in the immediate Asheville area:
Asheville Bear Creek RV Park and Campground (81 South Bear Creek Rd., Asheville, 828-253-0798; www.ashevillebearcreek.com) has 25 paved pull-through and 65 back-in spaces with 30 and 50 amp service, plus tent sites, a swimming pool, showers, game room, clubhouse, small laundry, Wi-Fi and other amenities. Sites are rather tightly packed together. Nightly rates are $44 to $60. The campground is easily accessible from I-40 or I-26 just west of Asheville, and one exit from Biltmore Estate. Open year-round.
Indian Creek Campground (1367 Bunches Creek Rd., Cherokee, 828-497-4361; www.indiancreekcampground.com) is off Big Cove Road near Cherokee. Rates are $28 to $34 for RV and trailer sites with 30-amp electric and water; some with water, electric, sewer and cable TV. Tent sites also available for $25 to $30 per site. Bath house, camp store. Trout fishing available in stocked stream beside campground (tribal permit required at around $10 per day). Small cabins available for rent. Open year-round.
Lakewood RV Resort (55+) (15 Timmie Lane, Flat Rock, 828-697-9523 or 888-819-4200; www.lakewoodrvresort.com) is near Hendersonville off I-26 about 30 minutes south of Asheville. It is limited to adults 55 and over. Lakewood has 69 pull-through and back-in sites, as well as permanent sites. Amenities include a swimming pool, gym, rec room, clubhouse, restrooms and showers, picnic tables, small pond, Wi-Fi and cable TV. Rates $35 to 40, with discounts for weekly and monthly stays. Open year-round and also offers apartment rentals.
Rutledge Lake Travel Park (170 Rutledge Rd., Fletcher, 828-654-7873; www.rutledgelake.com) bills itself as a “luxury” campground on a small lake, with a few lakefront RV and trailer sites, plus pull-through and back-in sites, along with tent sites. Most sites are gravel, not paved. There’s a swimming pool, rec room, park store, laundry, free cable TV and Wi-Fi throughout the campground. Rates are around $40 to $60 a night, depending on the site and time of year. Open year-round.
Turkey Creek Campground (135 Turkey Creek Rd., Almond, 828-488-8966; www.turkeycreekcampground) is a small campground in a beautiful rural setting near Fontana Lake and the Great Smokies. Shady tent pad sites, nice bathhouse, full hook-ups with 20- to 50-amp service, some on the creek. Rates $10 per person plus $4 per vehicle, maximum $40. Closed November-March.
Western North Carolina is not one of the major caving areas of the U.S., but there are numerous limestone and other caves in the mountains. Neighboring Tennessee has more than 8,000 caves, more than any other state. Bull Cave, White Oak Sinks and Gregory Cave are in Cades Cove area of the Smokies. Altogether the national park has 17 caves, plus two old mining shafts.
As of spring 2013, caves in the Great Smokies and in Pisgah and Nantahala national forests are closed due to the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats, to avoid spreading it further. The condition, named for a fungus around the muzzles and on the wings of hibernating bats, has killed millions of bats in the U.S., most in the Northeast and Southeast. That’s serious, because bats help control noxious insects such as mosquitoes. A colony of 100 bats can consume up to 600 million insects in a single year.
River & Earth Adventures in Boone (1655 Hwy. 105, Boone, 866-411-7238 or 828-355-9797; www.raftcavehike.com) offers trips to Worley’s Cave in East Tennessee and to other limestone caves for around $45-$75 per person, depending on the size of the group. High Mountain Expeditions (3149 Tynecastle Hwy., Banner Elk, 828-898-9786 or 800-262-9036; www.highmountainexpeditions.com) also has trips to Worley’s Cave for around $75.
The only commercial cave in WNC is Linville Caverns (19929 U.S. Hwy. 221, Marion, 828-756-4171 or 00-419-0540; www.linvillecaverns.com; open daily at 9 am Mar.-Nov. with varying closing times, open weekends only Dec.-Feb., adults $8, seniors over 62 $7, children 5-12 $6) near Linville Falls about 75 minutes from Asheville. Directions from Asheville: Take I-40 East to Exit 72 (Old Fort), staying straight off exit ramp onto U.S. Hwy. 70 East for about 12 miles. Turn left at intersection with U.S. Hwy. 221 and go north for 18 miles. The caverns entrance is on left. It is also accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 317 -- turn left onto US Hwy. 221 South for 4 miles.
Open since 1937, Linville Caverns inside Humpback Mountains offers 35-minute guided tours. The caverns have limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations and an underground stream. Temperature in the cave is a constant 52 degrees F. year-round. Most of the cave is handicap-accessible. White-nose syndrome disease has been found in a few bats in the cave, but it remains open to the public.
Western North Carolina has around 4,000 miles of trout streams with rainbow, brown and the native brook trout (locally called specks or speckled trout), and more than a dozen lakes (all man-made) with fishing for various kinds of bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye and other freshwater fish.
WNC has at least seven different kinds of trout stream and reservoir designations, ranging from stocked streams where there is creel limit of seven but no size limit or bait or lure restrictions to catch-and-release only streams restricted to single-hook artificial flies or lures. Some streams are open year-round, while others are closed in March to early April. Check with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (www.ncwildlife.org) and look for diamond-shaped signs that describe the type of fishing allowed.
Trout in some streams are rare as hens’ teeth, while other streams have trout loads of 4,000 or more per mile. Every angler will have an opinion on the best trout streams, but here are some considered by many as the best: Bradley Fork, Forney Creek, Cataloochee Creek, Deep Creek and Hazel Creek, all in the Great Smokies; Nantahala River (especially the lower reaches) in the Nantahala National Forest; Davidson River in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard; South Mills River, also in Transylvania County; Tuckasegee River in Jackson County; and Big Snowbird Creek in Graham County. The headwaters of this creek are good for native brook trout.
In general for native brookies you’ll need to hike to colder, purer streams at higher elevations. Once abundant here, they were almost wiped out by the money-hungry lumber company operators that clear cut thousands of square miles of the mountains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Brook trout are small, rarely over 8 inches in length and a half pound in weight, but they are considered even better eating than rainbow (which can weigh up to 6 pounds here) and brown (which go up to 4 pounds).
For lake fishing, most would agree Fontana, Santeetlah and James are top choices. Note, however, that the best bass fishing in North Carolina is at lakes in the central part of the state, not in WNC.
Except on your own private land, or on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, where you’ll need a tribal permit, anyone 16 and over must have a state fishing license to fish in North Carolina waters. For trout and other fishing consider a North Carolina comprehensive inland fishing license. You can order a North Carolina inland fishing license online from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (888-248-6834, www.ncwildlife.org), or you can buy one from fishing shops or from wildlife agents. A 10-day nonresident inland fishing license is $10, and an annual fishing license is $20, or $35 if you want to include coastal fishing. Licenses for North Carolina residents cost $5 for a 10-day inland fishing license and $20 for an annual license good statewide including coastal fishing. If you’re 65 or over and a North Carolina resident, you’ll enjoy a real bargain – a lifetime comprehensive coastal and inland fishing license plus comprehensive hunting license good for the lifetime of the license holder for just a one-time fee of $30.
An excellent website on Western North Carolina fly fishing is www.flyfishingnc.com, which has fishing reports and listings of dozens of fishing guides and outfitters in Western North Carolina.
Western North Carolina is rich in minerals and gems, especially in the Cowee Valley near Franklin and the area around Spruce Pine. Most of the precious and semi-precious stones – rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, garnets, kyanite crystals and others -- found here have only sentimental value, although occasionally a large and truly valuable sapphire, emerald or other gem is found. For example, in 2009 a 65-carat emerald was found on a farm in the rural community of Hiddenite, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte. It is said to be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
Gold was mined commercially for a time in the region. According to experts at N.C. State University, North Carolina was the nation’s only gold-producing state from 1803 until 1828 and continued as a leading producer until 1848 when gold was discovered in California. In the 19th century, although most of the gold mines were in the Piedmont around Charlotte, there were small gold mines in Ashe, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Henderson, Jackson, Transylvania and Watauga counties in Western North Carolina. You’re unlikely to find more than a few flakes, but you can pan for gold in privately owned mountain streams with the permission of the owner (it’s illegal in national park streams but may be permitted in national forests). It is said that the best places to find gold in streams is where they begin to widen or change in velocity, such as along the insides of bends or in slow-water areas below rapids. Gold also accumulates in crevices and potholes in rock under the streams.
However, let’s face it: Some of the commercial gem and gold mining outfits here, especially those that seed their buckets so you are “guaranteed” to find a gem or gold, are little more than tourist traps. You pay an admission fee, buy buckets of dirt often seeded with non-local stones, wash them in flume with a sieve and then get hustled to have your “find” mounted as a souvenir.
For a better experience, start with a visit to one of the leading gem and mineral museums in the region (most are free or have modest entry fees) so that you will know something about the type and quality of gems and minerals found in the area. Then, if you want to try your hand, go to one of the better gem mining operations. Kids especially will find them a lot of fun, and you might find a stone that you’ll want to have set, not for its monetary value but for its memory value.
If you’re serious about rock hounding and hunting for gems, you may want to join MAGMA, the Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association (www.wncrocks.com). The club has about 2,500 members from around the world, and standard membership is free. MAGMA members go on field trips and hold meetings in Western North Carolina and elsewhere in region. Most of these trips are digs on private land or old mines, and members do find interesting and sometimes valuable gems and minerals.
Also, see the book Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina by Richard James Jacquot Jr., which provides information on more than 50 locations for gem mining. See Museums section for gem museums.
Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine (41 Cherokee Mine Rd., Franklin, 828-349-2941; www.cherokeerubymine.com, adults $15, children 6-11 $10 including two starter buckets of dirt, additional bucks $2.50 each) does not salt buckets with out-of-area gems. You may find rubies, sapphires and garnets.
Crabtree Emerald Mine at Emerald Village (331 McKinney Mine Road, Spruce Pine near Little Switzerland, 828-765-6463, www.emeraldvillage.com; open daily Apr.-Oct., admission for digging in emerald mine dumps $20 per day, admission to Mining Museum $7 adults, $6 seniors and $5 students) is owned by Mineral City Mining Company and leased to Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association or MAGMA. This mine produced emeralds from 1895 until it closed in the 1990s. The actual mineshaft went underground several hundred feet but is now flooded under a small pond. There are some extensive dumps around the mine, piles of dirt that were excavated from the original mine. Some emeralds were overlooked in these dirt piles. Dig through the dumps at Emerald Village for $20 per day, by permit only. You can also take a mine tour, visit the Mining Museum and buy prepared buckets for $10 and up.
Mason’s Ruby & Sapphire Mine (6961 Upper Burningtown Rd., Franklin, 828-369-9742; www.masonmine.com; open daily Mar.-Nov., adults $30, children 6-11 $15 for all day, cash only) is a mine that dates back to 1895. You dig your own dirt and wash it in one of four flumes. Native stones only.
Western North Carolina has more than 55 golf courses, if you include all country club courses, private courses at real estate developments and those at resorts where play is limited to guests only. Here we’ve provided detailed information only for public courses or those at resorts open for play by non-guests, with the emphasis on courses in and near Asheville.
The top private courses in WNC include Grandfather Golf & Country Club in Linville, designed by Ellis Maples; Elk River Club in Banner Elk, designed by Jack Nicklaus; Linville Golf Club in Linville, designed by Donald Ross; Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, another Donald Ross design; Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, designed by Tom Fazio; Linville Ridge in Linville, designed by George Cobb; The Cliffs at Walnut Cove in Arden near Asheville, designed by Jack Nicklaus; Lake Toxaway Country Club in Lake Toxaway, designed by Chris Spence; and Asheville Country Club in North Asheville, designed by Donald Ross. These are all highly ranked by leading golf and business publications. If you can wangle an invitation to play any of these clubs, go for it.
Asheville Municipal Golf Course (226 Fairway Dr., Asheville, 828-298-1867; www.ashevillenc.gov; open daily year-round, green fees including golf cart $36 during Daylight Savings Time, $31 the rest of the year) is an 18-hole, 6,420-yard par 72 course along the Swannanoa River in East Asheville. It was designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1927. The front nine has a flat, open layout, while the back nine is wooded and hilly and is generally tougher to play. After losing money on operations of the course for several years, in late 2012 the City of Asheville reached an agreement with Pope Golf, a private golf management company in Sarasota, Fla., on a seven-year contract to manage the public course. Rates and amenities may change.
Black Mountain Golf Club (17 Ross Dr., Black Mountain, 828-669-2710; www.blackmountaingolf.org; open daily, fees walking are $20 to $22 or $27 to $39 including cart for 18 holes depending on the day, lower rates for seniors and members) was designed in 1929 by Donald Ross as a 9-hole course and turned into an 18-hole course in 1962. The par 71 6,215-yard public municipal course is known for its well-maintained greens and low rates, as well as its inexpensive memberships ($550 for residents and $750 for non-residents). It’s also known for its 747-yard, par 6 17th hole, one of the five longest holes in the U.S. It’s about 30 minutes east of Asheville.
Connestee Falls Golf Club (98 Overlook Clubhouse Dr., Brevard, 828-885-2005; www.connesteefallsgolf.com; open year-round, rates for public are $40 May-Oct. and $30 the rest of the year) is a 6,440-yard par 72 semi-private course open for public play year-round. It was designed by George Cobb. It’s around an hour from Asheville.
Grove Park Inn Golf Course, an Omni Resort (280 Macon Ave., North Asheville, 800-438-5800; www.groveparkinn.com; open year-round, golf fees including carts and taxes are $140 for 18 holes weekdays and $160 weekends mid-Apr.-mid-Nov., lower off-season, resort memberships available), formerly the Asheville Country Club course, was designed by Donald Ross in 1926 and restored in 2001. The 6,720-yard, par-70 resort course, set just below the hotel in North Asheville, has tree-lined fairways, challenging bunkers and bent grass greens. While tee time preferences are given to resort guests, non-guests can play here. President Barack Obama played this course while on vacation in Asheville.
Mount Mitchell Golf Club (11484 State Hwy. 80 South - Burnsville, 828-675-5454; www.mountmitchellgolf.com; open Apr.-Nov., golf rates for the public are $49 to $80 depending on the day, with lower rates for seniors and early and late in the season) is a public course about an hour from Asheville. It has been ranked 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest and usually is considered one of the top 10 public courses in the state. The par 72 course is flat with bent grass greens and great views of the surrounding mountains. It plays to 6,495 yards from the blue tees.
Sequoyah National Golf Club (79 Cahons Rd., Whittier, 828-497-3000, www.sequoyahnational.com; open year-round to the public and Harrah’s Cherokee guests, golf rates including carts $65 to $110 mid-Apr.-Oct. and $35 to $65 rest of the year, depending on time of play and discount cards; 90-day advance bookings from $40) is the course associated with Harrah’s Cherokee Resort & Casino. Designed by Robert Kent Jones II and opened in 2009, Sequoyah is a par 72 course, playing to 6,600 yards, with bent grass greens and bluegrass fairways.
The Asheville area and Western North Carolina region are lucky to have thousands and thousands of miles of hiking trails. The Great Smokies National Park, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina Arboretum and Bent Creek Experimental Forest and DuPont State Forest are among the favorite areas for local hikers. Dozens of guidebooks have been written about the best trails. See Resources section for recommendations.
Here are some local hiking organizations that you may want to investigate, especially if you are an avid hiker.
Carolina Mountain Club (828-738-3395, www.carolinamountainclub.com) was formed in 1923 by a group of outdoor enthusiasts in Asheville. It is one of the most active clubs in the nation with a membership of more than 900. CMC has at least three hikes each week: two all-day hikes and a half-day hike. Membership costs $20 for an individual or $30 for a family. The club’s website provides excellent information on hiking trails, frequent hiking reports and opportunities to join group treks or to participate in trail maintenance work. You can participate in some of the club’s hikes even before becoming a member.
Asheville Amblers Walking Club (www.amblers.homestead.com), a part of the German-inspired American Volkssport Association, has around 200 members. They have relatively short hikes or walks and then often meet for a meal and perhaps a bier.
Asheville Hiking Group (www.meetup.com/asheville-hiking), founded in 2008, offers a couple of dozen hikes a month.
Great Smoky Mountains 900-Miler Club (www.900miler.com) is an elite club for those who have hiked all 900 miles of trails in the Smokies. Currently there are around 375 members.
Western North Carolina is one of the best places in the East for horseback riding. The area has many rent-a-horse stables. If you have your own horse there are horse camps in several areas. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has five horse camps and about 550 miles of trails open to horses. The Pisgah and Nantahala national forests have many old logging roads and bridal trails for horseback riding. The Tsali Recreation Area near Fontana Lake in the Nantahala National Forest is an excellent riding area with 18 miles of bridal trails, though you have to share the trails with mountain bikers. In the Pisgah National Forest the 12-mile Mills River Trail is a popular riding trail. Many of the 80 miles trails in DuPont State Forest, including some that go by waterfalls, are open to horses. You can even go horseback riding at the Biltmore Estate.
Horse shows are put on regularly at the WNC Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher, 828-687-1414; www.wncagcenter.org) across from the Asheville Regional Airport. The town of Tryon is known for its horse shows and for the Block House Steeplechase (www.blockhouseraces.com), a social as well as equestrian event that has been held annually in April since 1947.
Here are a few of the riding options in and around Asheville:
Biltmore Equestrian Center (Biltmore Estate, Asheville, 828-225-1454 or 800-411-3812; www.biltmore.com) has about 80 miles of riding trails. You can bring your own horse and ride on your own (a day ride pass is $25 plus regular estate admission, and an annual equestrian pass including estate admission is $220 for adults and $87 for youth 6-16,) or take a guided trail ride using Biltmore horses. Biltmore also offers lessons, riding clinics and dressage and endurance events.
Cedar Creek Stables (542 Cedar Creek Rd., Lake Lure, 828-625-2811
or 877-625-6773; www.cedarcreekstables.com) has guided trail rides from $35 to $65 per person. Weight limit 240 to 260 pounds. For young riders 8 and under there’s a pony ride for $10. Cedar Creek Stables also operates a gem mine.
Pisgah View Ranch (70 Pisgah View Ranch Rd., Candler, 828-667-9100 or 866-252-8361; www.pisgahviewranch.net) is a 2,000-acre “dude ranch” in the same local family since 1790. It primarily offers vacation packages that include lodging in cabins and cottages, meals and a variety of activities including horseback riding. However, non-guests can ride horses on an extensive network of private trails, with 24-hour advance reservations. One-hour rides are $40 and two-hour rides are $75. .
Sandy Bottom Trail Rides (1459 Caney Fork Rd., Marshall, 828-649-3464 or 800-959-3513; www.sandybottomtrailrides.net) has one- to four-hour guided trail rides for $40 to $150 on a remote ranch in Madison County. Longer rides include a stop at a mine to look for garnets.
Smokemont Riding Stable (135 Smokemont Riding Stable Rd., Cherokee, 828-497-2373; www.smokemontridingstable.com) is a concessionaire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near the Smokemont Campground, open late March through October. Rides of one to four hours in the park cost $30 to $100. Weight limit 225 pounds. Wagon rides also are available for $10 per person.
Smoky Mountain Trail Rides and Bison Farm (1959 Walnut Creek Rd.
Marshall, 828-768-9339; www.smokymountaintrailrides.com) offers one-hour rides for $35 and two-hour rides for $60. Longer rides are available. Also at the site in Madison County is a farm with buffaloes.
Hot Air Ballooning
Go up a mile high and experience Asheville and the nearby mountains from the sky.
Asheville Hot Air Balloons (909 Smoky Park Hwy., Candler, 828-667-9943, www.ashevillehotairballoons.com). Sunrise balloon flights -- winds are usually calmer at daybreak than at other times -- last about an hour, and the whole ballooning process takes about 2 to 3 hours. Cost for a shared flight is around $225-$250 per person. Private flights for a couple are more expensive, around $600.
Standup paddleboards — long (10 to 12 feet), wide (up to about 3 feet), surf-like boards on which paddlers stand and steer with a one-bladed paddle — have been around for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, probably starting on the ocean around the Hawaiian Islands. SUPs came to the mountains a few years ago and have since become increasingly popular.
Paddleboards are made of a variety of materials including plastic, foam, fiberglass and inflatable rubber. Most are designed to carry just one person. Paddleboards are more stable than kayaks but still require balance, core strength and concentration to operate. A three-hour paddleboard trip will give you a great core body workout.
In Western North Carolina, quieter rivers and creeks such as the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers and Hominy Creek, along with lakes such as Fontana adjoining the Smokies and Julian in South Asheville, are among popular venues for standup paddleboarding. Overall, the French Broad River is the most popular water for paddleboarding.
Tour and rental costs vary, but figure on paying around $40 to $60 for a three-hour rental and around $60 to $150 for a three- to four-hour guided paddleboarding trip, including equipment rental, basic skills instruction, guide and transportation. Often there are weight limits (around 280 pounds) and age limits (10 to 12 years-old).
These are some WNC businesses involved with paddleboards:
Asheville Adventure Rentals, 704 Riverside Dr,, West Asheville, 828-505-7371, www.ashevilleadventurerentals.com. Paddleboard rentals and sales.
Asheville Outdoor Center, 52 Amboy Rd., West Asheville, 828-232-1970, www.ashevilleoutdoorcenter.com. Rentals, instruction.
Diamond Brand Outdoors, 1378 Hendersonville Rd., South Asheville, 800-459-6262, www.diamondbrand.com. Paddleboards and outdoor gear sales.
Girls at Play, 828.333.4482, www.watergirlsatplay.com. Tours, instruction, rentals.
Mind Body Paddle, 828-333-4484, www.mindbodypaddle.com. Paddleboarding instruction, yoga instruction and paddleboarding yoga.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, 13077 U.S. Hwy. 19 W., Bryson City, 828-488-7230, www.noc.com. Rentals, instruction and sales.
Second Gear, 444 Haywood Rd., West Asheville, 828-258-0757 or visit http://secondgearwnc.com. Consignment shop specializing in used outdoor gear, clothing and accessories (sometimes has paddleboards for sale.)
Wal Mauna Asheville SUP Tours, 159 Riverside Dr., River Arts District, 808-264-3005, www.waimaunaashevillesuptours.com. Tours and rentals.
WASUP (West Asheville Standup Paddle Boarding), 604 Haywood Rd., West Asheville, Manufactures and sells paddleboards.
White Squirrel Paddle Boards, 4469 Hendersonville Hwy., Pisgah Forest, 828-553-7329, www.whitesquirrelpaddleboards.com. Sales, rentals, instruction, tours.
Asheville is not exactly a mecca for rock climbers, but there are enough places to keep you occupied on weekends:
Linville Gorge (nearest town is Morganton) is a 14-mile, 2,000-foot-deep gneissic gorge in the Pisgah National Forest with dozens of climbing routes from single- to multi-pitch. Table Rock (off NC Route 183 and Ginger Cake Rd.) in the Linville Gorge is one of the most popular climbing areas in the gorge, with several rock faces and traditional climbing of mostly moderate difficulty.
Looking Glass Rock (near Brevard, of U.S. Hwy. 276 and Fish Hatchery Rd.) is a white granite cone with mostly traditional climbing.
Rumbling Bald (near Lake Lure, off Boys Camp Rd.) has boulder, traditional and sport climbing. It is especially well known for its bouldering.
Shiprock Mountain (near Blowing Rock, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 303) has climbing for those of all skill levels.
Snake Den (near Barnardsville, off Dillingham Rd. at the end of a Forest Service dirt road in Pisgah National Forest) is a small rock outcropping about 150 feet high.
Whiteside Mountain (near Highlands -- from U.S. Hwy. 64 between Highlands and Cashiers follow Whiteside Mountain Rd., then follow signs to parking area and trailhead) has a large wall with many pitches.
A couple of local climbing guidebooks, including Selected Climbs in North Carolina by Yon Lambert and Harrison Shull, and Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guide by Chris Dorrity, will be helpful. See Books in Resources section.
ClimbMax Climbing (43 Wall St., Asheville, 828-252-9996; www.climbmaxnc.com) is the region’s leading climbing store. It has an indoor climbing center and also offers guided local, national and international climbs, classes for those of all ages and skill levels, summer climbing camps and other activities. Owner Stuart Cowles is an expert guide who has been involved with climbing for more than 25 years.
Appalachian Mountain Institute (21 Cherry Ridge Rd., Pisgah Forest, 828-553-6323; www.appalachianmountaininstitute.com) offers climbing instruction and guided trips for climbers of all skill levels.
River Rafting, Kayaking and Canoeing
In 2006, Outside Magazine named Asheville the number one white water town in the country, and the region is afloat with rafting and other water activities.
There are many companies that do river rafting in the region, and some that offer rafts, kayak, canoe and other rentals, but the granddaddy of them all is Nantahala Outdoor Center (Nantahala Outdoor Center, 13077 U.S. Hwy. 19 West, Bryson City, 888-905-7238 or 828-488-2176; www.noc.com). NOC offers rafting on seven rivers in the region, including the Nantahala, Oconee, French Broad, Pigeon, Cheoah, Nolichucky and Chattooga. It also offers river float trips, lake kayaking, mountain biking, ziplining, jet boat rides, wilderness survival schools, hiking and other activities. NOC’s rafting trips leave from several different locations, but NOC’s 500-acre main campus in the Nantahala Gorge near Bryson City has lodging, restaurants, shops and rental gear.
Among other rafting, canoeing, kayaking and tubing outfitters and providers in the Asheville area are 1-866-USA-RAFT (13490 U.S. Hwy. 25/70, Marshall, 866-872-7238; www.myusaraft.com); Asheville Adventure Rentals (704 Riverside Dr., Asheville, 828-505-7371; www.ashevilleadventurerentals.com); Asheville Outdoor Center (521 Amboy Road, Asheville, 828-232-1970 or 800-849-1970; www.ashevilleoutdoorcenter.com); French Broad Rafting Expeditions (9800 U.S. Hwy. 25/70 Bypass, Marshall, 828-649-0486 or 800-570-7238; www.frenchbroadrafting.com); Huck Finn Rafting (158 Bridge St., Hot Springs, 800-303-7238; www.huckfinnrafting.com); Wildwater Adventure Centers (10345 Hwy. 19 West, Bryson City, 866-319-8870; www.wildwaterrafting.com).
River rafting rates vary according to the outfitter, river, length of trip and season, but expect to pay $45 to $80 for a half-day trip and $65 to $150 for a full-day, guided trip. Family-friendly rafting trips generally have a 7- to 8 year-old and 60-or 70-pound minimums, while more adventuresome white water trips typically have a 13- to 16-year-old minimums.
Part of the fun of exploring the Asheville area and Western North Carolina region is striking out on your own. You’ll find many rural roads and byways with a quiet beauty. To help you get started, here are some of the best scenic drives in the region, but don’t limit yourself to these popular routes. Remember, many of these routes are narrow and curvy mountain roads. Most of the time, it will take you longer than you expect to drive these roads, especially if you stop along the way to enjoy the views, as you should.
Blue Ridge Parkway For mile-high views and dramatic mountain scenery, a drive on the parkway tops any other route. Especially scenic is the section from Asheville south past Mt. Pisgah to the terminus of the parkway at Cherokee. This is around 85 miles, depending on where in Asheville you enter the parkway. Plan on 2 ½ hours, plus stops. Another highly scenic, high-elevation section is from Asheville north to the Blowing Rock/Boone area, a distance of about 95 miles. Expect this drive to take close to 3 hours, plus stops.
Cades Cove Loop, Great Smokies This 11-mile, one-way loop road circles Cades Cove on Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll pass a number of preserved old houses, barns, churches, schools and a working gristmill. Along the road and in the broad fields of the valley, you’ll likely see deer, wild turkeys and, often, black bears. Although the loop is relatively short allow at least two to three hours to tour Cades Cove, longer if you walk some of the area’s trails. Some 2 million people visit Cades Cove each year. A visitor center (open daily), restrooms, and the Cable Mill historic area are located half way around the loop road. Numerous hiking trails originate in the cove, most with backcountry campsites, and there also is a large developed campground and picnic area near the start of the loop. Only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the loop road until 10 am every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September. Otherwise the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise until sunset daily, weather permitting.
Cataloochee Valley, Great Smokies From Asheville take I-40 West to Exit 20. Go 0.2 miles on U.S. Hwy. 276. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow the signs about 11 miles into the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first 1.5 miles of Cove Creek Road are paved; the remainder are hard packed dirt. This narrow route, mostly one-lane, is not recommended for large RVs. Bear right for an extraordinary drive past old homesteads, a school, church and barn that were here when the park opened in the early 1930s. These buildings have been preserved as they were in the early 20th century. Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, the Cataloochee Valley was one of the largest settlements in what is now the Smokies. Some 1,200 people lived here before the coming of the park. In Cataloochee you also are likely to see elk, deer, wild turkeys and possibly black bears. From Asheville, the roundtrip mileage is around 80 miles and requires at least two hours, plus stops. Bring a picnic and spend the day. Several hiking trails with primitive campsites begin in Cataloochee, and there’s a popular developed campground and horse camp (advanced reservations required for both).
Cherohala Skyway connects the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee with the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, so you can guess where the name came from. Begin the Skyway drive (also known as NC Route 143) at Santeetlah Gap near Robbinsville in Graham County and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. It winds its way westward along mountain ridges, with a number of overlooks with beautiful views. The Skyway in North Carolina is around 45 miles in length and takes around 1 ½ hour. If you like, you can continue your drive in Tennessee. Tractor-trailer trucks are prohibited on the Cherohala Skyway, and it is not recommended for large RVs.
Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway A short, 17-mile (about 35 minutes without stops) section of this Scenic Byway follows U.S. Highway 276 between the town of Brevard (junction of U.S. Highways 280 and 64) and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 412. The route passes the Cradle of Forestry, home of the first forestry school in America, the Davidson River and the Pink Beds picnic area. Just off this route is the Pisgah Wildlife Education Center and Trout Hatchery. You can extend this drive to the full 79-mile route, which with stops takes essentially a full day, by adding the section from Brevard to Rosman on U.S. 64, then Balsam Grove, Sunburst, Lake Logan and connect back with U.S. 276 near Waynesville.
General Store Drive Start this drive in Cranberry in Avery County and follow NC Route 194 through the Elk River Valley to Banner Elk. The road then descends into the Watauga River Valley and passes through Valle Crucis, home to the original Mast General Store, one of the most authentic of old general stores in the mountains, and the 19th century Mast Farm Inn. The route ends in the Watauga County community of Vilas at the intersection of N.C. 194 and U.S. Highways 321/421 north of Boone. The drive is about 17 miles in length and takes from 45 minutes to an hour.
Interstate 26 from Mars Hill to Tennessee State Line You don’t usually think of an interstate as a scenic drive, but this 9-mile section of I-26 from around Exit 3 at Mars Hill through Madison County to the Tennessee line offers beautiful mountain vistas. You get an even better view coming from Tennessee toward Asheville. You can do the out-and-back in about half an hour, plus stops. The North Carolina Welcome Center has an overlook with views of Mt. Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Near the Welcome Center is the highest point on any interstate in North Carolina, Buckner Gap at around 5,000 feet. The Appalachian Trail runs under the I-26 highway at the North Carolina-Tennessee line.
Nantahala River and Gorge Drive The 7-mile river drive on U.S. Highway 74 runs beside the Nantahala River through the Nantahala Gorge. The river part of the drive is between the communities of Nantahala and Wessner. In the warmer times of year, you’ll see many rafters on the river, and even in cold weather you may see canoes and kayaks. You may also spot the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad train, which snakes through the gorge on a route that begins in Bryson City. If you wish to drive the entire Nantahala Gorge, it runs about 43 miles between the town of Marble near Murphy to Whittier near Cherokee and takes about 1½ hours to drive, without stops.
Newfound Gap Road Through Great Smokies U.S. Highway 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, is the only east-west main road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though it can be crowded with cars, especially on summer and fall weekends, it’s a beautiful drive with scenery that changes dramatically depending on elevation. As it often said, driving this 33-mile road is like driving from the Upper South to Canada in less than an hour. The highest elevation is at the North Carolina-Tennessee line at Newfound Gap, and a 7-mile spur road to Clingmans Dome takes you to the highest elevation peak in the Smokies, at 6,642 feet. Newfound Gap Road is sometimes closed in winter due to snow and ice.
Pisgah Highway This route combines rural landscapes with a curvy mountain drive through heavy forest and ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Pisgah. Begin at the intersection of NC Highway 151/Pisgah Highway at U.S. Highway 19/23 in Candler, at what is locally known as Boone’s Corner. Drive 12 miles on the Pisgah Highway, past many small farms and rural homes in the South Hominy community. At around the 7-mile point you’ll enter a heavily forested area and the road turns steep, with many sharp curves and switchbacks. Avoid it if your passengers easily get carsick. The Stoney Point Park picnic area on the left at around mile 7 is claimed by some to be haunted. The Pisgah Highway then enters the Pisgah National Forest and ends at Milepost 405 on the parkway, about 3 miles from Mt. Pisgah.
Tail of the Dragon, near Robbinsville Definitions of the start and end of this extraordinarily winding and curvy drive on U.S. Highway 129 vary, but we say it begins in North Carolina at Fugitive Bridge, from which Harrison Ford jumped in the 1993 movie The Fugitive. The Dragon ends 14 miles ahead across the mountain in Tennessee at the Tabcat Creek Bridge. The Tail has more than 350 curves and switchbacks. It has become a popular drive for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts – expect at least 1,000 vehicles a day on the road in season. The speed limit on The Tail has been reduced to 30 mph, so figure it will take you at least 30 minutes to drive one-way. There are few crossroads or pullouts, so keep your eye on the road.
Whitewater Falls Byway This short (9-mile), scenic drive begins at the intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and NC 281 in Sapphire and passes several waterfalls. Follow NC 281 through Nantahala National Forest to reach the entrance to Whitewater Falls Scenic Area about 8.5 miles from Sapphire. An overlook for this 411-foot waterfall, the highest in the East, is a short stroll from the parking area. Drive time is around 20 minutes, without stopping to visit any waterfalls.
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway begins in Highlands and follows U.S. Highway 64 and NC Route 28, Old Highway 64, State Road 1310 and U.S. Highway 19, first going through the Cullasaja Gorge in the Nantahala National Forest, past several waterfalls including Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls to Franklin, then climbing to Wayah Gap passing Nantahala River and Nantahala Lake and ending at Fontana Lake. A short side trip to nearby Wayah Bald is worth it for its display of flame azaleas in late spring to early summer. The total route is about 61 miles and requires at least two hours, not including stops and detours.
Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads by Carolyn Sakaowski is the unmatched, and probably unmatchable, guide to drives in the region. It was originally published in 1995 and is now in its third edition. Note that it does not include drives in the Smokies or on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (See Books in Resources section of this guide.)
Running in Asheville is no cakewalk, due to the hilly and mountainous nature of the terrain. Many roads and streets don’t have sidewalks, much less jogging and walking trails. Still, there are many runners in Asheville, and most visitors find a good place to jog.
Many hiking trails are also good for running. In fact, a local writer, Trish Brown, has authored Asheville Trail Running, a guide to running on trails around Asheville. See Resources section. Many of the best running trails near Asheville are in Bent Creek Experimental Forest and the North Carolina Arboretum just southwest of Asheville, and these are covered extensively in Brown’s book. One of her easy running trails is the “Obama Hike Out-N-Back,” (3.48 miles), Craven Gap to Rice Knob/Ox Creek Road north of Asheville, a part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. President and First Lady Obama hiked this section in 2010.
About a dozen parks in Asheville maintained by the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department have fitness walk or jog trails. Richmond Hill Park, a 183-acre city park north of Asheville on Richmond Hill Drive off Riverside Drive, has a number of jogging trails. Carrier Park on Amboy Road near West Asheville has a multi-used paved track and paved and unpaved jogging and walking trails. The French Broad River Greenway Extension, a 2.8-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that connects Carrier Park with French Broad River Park and Hominy Creek Park in West Asheville, has on-road and off-road sections and winds along the north bank of the French Broad River, providing views of the Biltmore Estate. The Botanical Gardens at UNC-A also has jogging trails.
The Asheville area hosts many 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon races. The Asheville Track Club (www.ashevilletrackclub.org) maintains a list of races and provides other running information.
Asheville has its share of young skateboarders, but skateboarding technically is illegal on Downtown sidewalks, parks and streets. An effort to allow skateboarding failed in a 4-3 vote by the Asheville City Council in mid-2012. Fortunately for enthusiasts, there’s a state-of-the-art skateboard park in town. Food Lion SkatePark (50 Cherry St. N., Asheville, 828-225-7184, www.ashevillenc.gov; daily until dark, but time of opening varies from 10 am to noon, $2 residents/$4 non-residents weekdays, $3 residents/$5 non-residents weekends and holidays) is a 17,000 square feet concrete skateboard park just north of Downtown at Cherry and Flint streets. It has three areas: the beginner bowl, intermediate street course and an advanced vertical bowl. The Asheville Parks and Recreation Department operates it; there isn’t actually a Food Lion supermarket at the site. North Carolina regulations require helmets and pads to be worn by skaters. The area has several skateboarding shops, including Flipside Skateboards (88 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville, 828-254-9007, and 1712 Asheville Hwy, Hendersonville, 828-693-0900; www.flipsideboardshop.com).
The elevation of Asheville itself is too low for skiing, but some of the high mountains around Asheville, at higher elevations and with more natural snow, have ski resorts. All the resorts, most of which opened in the 1960s, have snowmaking equipment, but to be candid the snow skiing is Western North Carolina isn’t usually up to the standards of New England, the Rockies and Northwest. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and most of the resorts are within a short drive of Asheville.
Ski season in the mountains around Asheville typically is mid-November or early December through late March, but warm weather can interrupt skiing at any time, especially at the beginning and end of the season. Typically, the six ski resorts in the area get in about 100 to 125 days of skiing a year. Several of the ski areas offer snowboarding, snow tubing and ice skating. One former ski resort, Hawksnest, is now entirely devoted to snow tubing. In warm-weather months, some of the resorts offer golf, mountain biking, tennis, ziplining or other sports. All of the ski areas rent skis, poles and other equipment if you don’t have your own.
Cross-country skiing also is possible in some high-elevation areas. Clingmans Dome Road in the Smokies, closed to vehicles winter, is one area where people come to try out their cross-country skis and snow shoes.
Here are the ski resorts in the WNC mountains:
Appalachian Ski Mountain (940 Ski Mountain Rd., Blowing Rock, 828-295-7828 or 800-322-2373; www.appskimtn.com; open Dec.-late Mar., weather permitting, day ski tickets 9-5 $56 weekends, $37 weekdays, day/night tickets 9 am-midnight $65 weekends, $45 weekdays, reduced rates for seniors, children under 12 and in late Mar., season passes available) near Boone has been operating since the winter of 1962. The resort is at elevations of 3,635 to 4,000 feet, a vertical drop of 365 feet. It has 12 slopes, with the longest run about one-half mile. There are three chairlifts and two conveyor and one tow lifts. Beside snow skiing, App Mountain offers snowboarding, ice skating and rentals of all kinds. Chalets near the slopes are offered for rent, and there’s a 46,000 square feet clubhouse with shops, restaurants, fireplaces and other amenities.
Beech Mountain (1007 Beech Mountain Pkwy., Beech Mountain, 828-387-2011 or 800-438-2093; www.beechmountainresort.com; open mid-Nov.-late Mar., full-day or evening weekend ski/lift tickets are $63 for adults, $45 for seniors 65-69 and children under 13, weekday tickets are $35 and $30, lower prices for half-day tickets, and seniors 70 and over ski free anytime) is the highest ski resort in the East, at up to 5,506 feet, with a vertical drop of 830 feet. It has seven lifts and a total of 16 ski trails, with an extensive array of snowmaking equipment in all ski areas. Opened in 1967, Beech also offers equipment rentals, several restaurants, two terrain parks for snow boarding and an ice-skating rink. In warm weather, Beech offers mountain biking. Rental chalets and condos are near the slopes. Special bargain alert: Geezers and geezerettes 70 and better ski free.
Cataloochee Ski Area (1080 Ski Lodge Rd., Maggie Valley, 828-926-0285 or 800-768-0285; www.cataloochee.com; open early Nov.-late Mar., weekend tickets are $50 to $79 for adults and $37 to $59 for children, with reduced rates early and late in the season, season passes available) was the first ski area to open in Western North Carolina back in the early 1960s. It is at elevations of up to 5,400 feet, with a vertical drop of 730 feet. Cataloochee has 17 slopes, the longest of which is 3,500 feet, with three chair and two conveyor lifts. Rentals are available and the ski area has two different types of snowmaking equipment. The ski area is about 40 minutes from Asheville, depending on weather and road conditions.
Sapphire Valley Ski Area (127 Cherokee Trail, Sapphire Valley, 828-743-7663; www.skisapphirevalley.com; full-day ski/lift tickets any day of the week are $36 adults and $16 for children 12 and under, lower rates for those staying on-site) is the smallest ski area in the region, with just two slopes, two lifts, about 8 acres of ski area and a vertical drop of just 200 feet; however, it also has the lowest rates. While Sapphire Valley is a timeshare resort, its ski area is open the public. There is a ski rental shop and snowboarding. A separate 700-feet frozen course for snow/ice tubing is open to the public for $24 for a 1¾ -hour session.
Sugar Mountain Resort (1009 Sugar Mountain Dr., Sugar Mountain, 828-898-4521 or 800-784-2768; www.skisugar.com; open Nov.-Mar., full-day ski/lift tickets weekends $68 adults, $45 children under 12, weekdays $41 and $32; lower rates for half-days and twilight, for North Carolina and Tennessee college students and for March) opened in 1969 and now has 20 slopes and trails – the longest 1½ miles – on 115 acres, five chairlifts and two surface lifts. Elevation is 4,100 to 5,300 feet, a vertical drop of 1,200 feet. Sugar also has snow tubing on a 700-foot course and a 10,000 square foot outdoor ice skating rink. Equipment rentals, shops, bar and cafeteria food service are in the base lodge. There are chalets and condos for rent at the slopes, along with a number of other rentals and motels nearby.
Wolf Ridge Ski Resort (578 Valley View Circle, Mars Hill, 828-689-4111 or 800-817-41 17; www.skiwolfridgenc.com; open Dec.-mid-Mar., weekend ski/lift rate for adults 18-64 is $54 and $49 for students 9-18, weekdays $39 and $34, seniors 65 and over ski free, reduced rates for twilight skiing, half-days and consecutive days) is the closest ski resort to Asheville, around half an hour depending on weather conditions. The resort is 5 miles off Exit 3 of I-26. It has 21 ski runs, four chair lifts and one surface lift. There are two ski lodges, one at the base and one at the top of the mountain. Both have rental equipment, gift shops and food service. The elevation ranges from 4,000 to 4,700 feet, with 72 acres of ski area and a vertical drop of 700 feet. Wolf has two snow tubing courses near the ski resort, each 800 feet long; a two-hour session is $35. A few townhouse rentals are available at the slopes. Wolf Ridge is in Madison County, one of North Carolina’s few remaining dry countries where alcohol can’t be sold. Another big bargain for seniors: Those 65 and over ski free anytime.
Hawksnest (1058 Skyland Dr., Seven Devils, 828-963-6561 or 800-822-4295; www.hawksnesttubing.com; open Nov.-Apr., sessions are 1 ¾ hours; rates are $30 per session weekends and $25 weekdays, and $32 for two sessions Mon.-Thu., discounts for military and in Mar. and Apr.), formerly a ski resort, is now entirely devoted to snow tubing and claims to be the largest snow tubing park in the East, with 20 lanes from 400 to 1,000 feet in length and two conveyor lifts. Hawksnest also has a zipline (www.hawksnestzipline.com) that operates year-round, even when it’s snowing, with 19 ziplines and what it says are 4 miles of lines over 200 feet high with speeds of up to 50 mph.
If you’re a frequent skier and are in the area over the winter, check out the Gold Card season pass from the North Carolina Ski Areas Association (828-898-4521, www.goskinc.com). The Gold Card allows unlimited skiing and snowboarding at all six North Carolina ski areas for $800. However, only a small number of these passes are available each year. The cards go on sale to the public in early August; previous cardholders can buy cards in July.
Summer camps for boys and girls are a major seasonal industry in Western North Carolina. The area has more than 60 camps. Most of the camps, around 50, are in just three counties: Buncombe, Transylvania and Henderson. The camps draw more than 55,000 campers annually. The North Carolina Youth Camp Association (P.O. Box 282, Black Mountain, NC 28711, 828-669-2145, www.nccamps.org) maintains a list of camps, mostly in Western North Carolina.
Asheville has about a dozen public tennis court facilities operated by the City of Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, with a total of 30 courts. There also are six public courts at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The largest public facility is Aston Park Tennis Facility (313 Hilliard Ave, Asheville, 828-251-4074; www.ashevillenc.gov) near Downtown, with 12 lighted Har Tru outdoor clay courts. Fees are $5 an hour for city residents, and $7 an hour for others. Season passes are available for unlimited play ($160 for resident individuals or $200 for families; $130 for senior individuals or $160 for senior families). Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ins are accepted when possible.
The private Asheville Racquet Club (828-274-3361 or 828-253-5874; www.ashevilleracquetclub.com) has two locations, one south on Hendersonville Road and one at the Crowne Plaza Resort just west of Downtown, with a total of 46 indoor and outdoor courts. Fees vary, but a comprehensive family membership is $120 a month, plus a one-time $250 enrollment fee. Indoor courts have fees of $30 per court per hour. Depending on availability, non-members can play for $40 per court per hour, plus a $15 guest fee.
The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville Crowne Plaza, Country Club of Asheville, Biltmore Forest Country Club and several apartment complexes in Asheville also have private tennis courts. Some may be open to guests. Resorts, lodges and real estate developments in the mountains around Asheville including Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock, Greystone Inn at Lake Toxaway, High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, Sapphire Valley Resort in Sapphire, Hound Ears Club in Blowing Rock, Bear Lake Reserve in Highlands, Yonahlossee Resort in Boone, among others, also have tennis courts.
We doubt that anyone knows for sure exactly how many waterfalls there are in Western North Carolina. The Great Smokies Park has at least 40. The Pisgah National Forest has more than 250, Nantahala National Forest has several dozen and Du Pont State Forest has at least a half dozen. Many more are on private lands.
Several guidebooks have been written to the waterfalls of the region. (See Books in Resources section for recommendations.)
Here are some of the roadside waterfalls you can see from your car or with just a short walk:
Looking Glass Falls, on U.S. Highway 276 between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Brevard, is 60 feet high and easily viewed from a roadside parking area.
Dry Falls is a 75-feet high waterfall on U.S. Highway 64 west of Highlands about 3 miles from the junction with NC Route 106. It’s called Dry Falls because you can walk behind it without getting wet. At least sometimes that’s the case.
Soco Falls is a beautiful double waterfall (the higher of the two is 120 feet tall) just off U.S. Highway 19 between Maggie Valley and Cherokee. From the roadside parking area, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the viewing platform.
Bridal Veil Falls on U.S. Highway 64 about 2.5 miles from Highlands is unusual because you can drive your car on an old road behind the falls.
Viewing these waterfalls requires a hike:
Abrams Falls is a 5-mile roundtrip hike from a trailhead on Cades Cove Loop Road in the Smokies. Although the falls is only 20 feet high, it has a huge volume of water. The pool below the falls is beautiful, but it can be dangerous to swim in, due to undertow. Several swimmers have died here.
Crabtree Falls, off Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 339.5, requires a 2.5-mile loop hike of moderate difficulty. The area gets its name from the crab apple trees in the area. The falls are about 70 feet high.
Graveyard Fields at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 418 has a 4-mile loop with two accessible waterfalls, Second Falls and Upper Falls.
Hickory Nut Falls is about 400 feet high. It’s accessible via an easy ¾-mile hike at Chimney Rock (admission to the park required).
Laurel Falls is a 2.6-mile roundtrip hike on a paved trail (figure two hours or more) off Little River Road on the Tennessee side of the Great Smokies. Laurel Falls is about 80 feet high.
Linville Falls is a very popular 90-feet high waterfall off Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 316.4. There are several trails totaling about 4 miles with five different views of the falls.
Skinny Dip Falls is about a 1/2-mile fairly easy hike from Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 417, the Looking Glass Overlook. While actual skinny-dipping isn’t encouraged here (it’s a popular site, and there are families), there is a beautiful swimming hole with a jump-off rock and a few areas that are somewhat secluded.
Whitewater Falls, at 411 feet, is among the tallest waterfalls in the East. To get to the falls, an hour’s drive from Asheville, take I-26 East to U.S. Hwy. 64. Continue on Hwy. 64 past Brevard to NC Route 281 at Sapphire and go south about 8 miles to the parking area for the falls. There’s a paved 1/4-mile walkway to an upper overlook, accessible to wheelchairs and those with limited mobility. A lower overlook requires walking down (and back up) 154 wooden steps.
The diverse habitats and differences in elevation around Asheville and in Western North Carolina contribute to the abundance of wildflowers from early spring to late fall. This short list only begins to highlight some of the flowers you’ll see through the year. Early in the spring (or even in late winter) you’ll see the white blooms of several different wildflowers including bloodroot (the name comes from the color of the sap of the root, used by the Cherokee in baskets), wood anemone, hepatica and Carolina spring beauty. As spring progresses and any lingering snow leaves the ground, you’ll spy more colorful wildflowers including several varieties of trilliums (yellow, red and other colors), firepinks (crimson), larkspur (blue or purple), columbine (red and other colors) and dwarf crested iris (purple).
Later in spring and early summer come some of the showiest wildflowers, including mountain laurel (pinkish white), flame azalea (intense bright orange) and other wild azaleas (in a rainbow of colors) and purple, white and pink Catawba, rosebay and other rhododendrons in bold, wonderful profusion. Later in the summer in open fields look for the showy orange butterfly weed and the quietly beautiful phlox, of which there are nearly a dozen species in the area, ranging from spreading beds on sunny rocks to tall phlox. As summer gets long in the tooth, look for the brilliant red cardinal flower in boggy places and the happy yellow of black-eyed Susan in open fields.
Fall is just about everyone’s favorite season in the mountains. Autumn brings a surprising measure of lovely wildflowers, including several species of asters (mostly blue or violet, including the beautiful but invasive chicory, a sky-blue aster that is prolific on roadsides), the bright goldenrod (contrary to popular opinion few people are allergic to it), the tall, gangling purplish Joe-Pye weed that stands higher than almost any other field plant, bittersweet with its orange berries (we have a native version, but the alien Asiatic bittersweet seems to be taking over) and the dwarfish mountain ash tree with stunning orange-red berries (not a true ash but a member of the rose family that grows only at the highest elevations).
As to where to go to see wildflowers, the better question is where can you NOT see them? Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway or the main or back roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stop frequently and walk among the native wildflowers of the season (but do NOT break the law by picking them!) More than 1,600 types of wildflower and other flower plants are in the Smokies alone. The North Carolina Arboretum and the Asheville Botanical Gardens also are great places to see flowers.
A five-day Wildflower Pilgrimage is held annually in late April in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. More than140 different hikes, classes and events explore the park's unique fauna, wildflowers and natural ecology. Most programs are conducted on the trails in the park, rain or shine, while indoor classes and events are held in Mills Conference Center and Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Registration is $50 for one day and $75 for two to five. For information, visit www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park with more than 800 square miles of protected wilderness is without a doubt the top spot in the region for wildlife spotting, including black bear, elk and white-tailed deer. Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley are two top areas for seeing these large mammals. But on just about any hiking trail, riverside or country road you may stumble upon raccoons, possums, bobcats, coyotes, beavers, otters, red and gray foxes, skunks, groundhogs and red, gray, flying and fox squirrels.
The Asheville area has several ziplines:
Asheville Treetops Adventure Park and Asheville Zipline (1 Resort Dr., Asheville, 828-225-2921 or 877-247-5539; www.ashevilletreetopsadventurepark.com; daily spring to fall, open in winter on Wed., Fri. and Sat.; the zipline is $79, with discounts for groups, the adventure park is $49 adults and $44 youths and a combo pass to both the zipline and adventure park is $99.) The newest zipline in the area, and the only one within the city limits of Asheville, opened in late 2012. The zipline, on 125 acres, is just west of Downtown, across the French Broad River adjacent to the Crowne Plaza Resort. It includes 10 zipline sections, up to 1200 feet long, nine treetop platforms, three tower platforms and three sky bridges. Besides being up close and personal with trees, you’ll also see views of Downtown. The zipline is part of Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, at the same site, which has about 50 climbing, walking, jumping, swinging and rappelling facilities. The park contains four trails to choose from with various levels of difficulty. Each trail includes 10 to 15 different challenges to complete the circuit. To participate you must be at least 10 years old and weigh 70 to 250 pounds. The Asheville company is owned by Adventure America, the largest zipline company in the Southeast. It also operates ziplines in Nantahala and Pigeon River.
French Broad Ziplines (9800 U.S. Hwy. 25/70 Bypass, Marshall, 828-649-0486 or 800-570-7238; www.frenchbroadrafting.com), associated with French Broad Rafting, plans to open a course in Marshall with 8 ziplines from 400 to 1,000 feet. Details not available at press time.
Hawksnest (2058 Skyland Dr., Seven Devils, 828-963-6561 or 800-822-4295; www.hawksnestzipline.com) operates year-round, even when it’s snowing, and advertises 19 zip lines and 4 miles of lines over 200 feet high with speeds of up to 50 mph. Two zip tours are available, one with 10 and one with 9 ziplines, with per-person rates of $70 to $85. The Eagle Tour with 9 lines and a swinging bridge is limited to those at least 10 years old, weighing no more than 220 pounds and with a waist line of 40 inches or less. The Hawk Tour with 10 lines is limited to those with a waist of 40 inches or less. C’mon, give us a break! Formerly a ski resort, Hawksnest has now gone totally tubular (www.hawksnesttubing.com) in cold weather, with snow tubing on 20 lanes open November or December through early April, weather permitting.
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours (10320 US 19 West, Bryson City, 866-319-8870; www.wildwaterrafting.com, daily Mar.-Nov, $79 with discounts for groups) has 13 zipline sections and 8 swinging bridges on 20 acres in the Nantahala Gorge. To participate you must be at least 10 years old and weigh 70 to 250 pounds.
Navitat Canopy Adventures (242 Poverty Branch Rd., Barnardsville, 828-6263700 or 855-628-4828; www.nvavitat.com; open daily late Mar.-early Nov., $99 weekends, $89 weekdays, group, military and local resident discounts available, night tours $109). Located on 242 acres in Madison County about 25 minutes north of Downtown Asheville, Navitat offers a 3 ½-hour experience that includes 10 zip lines (the longest is 1,100 feet, though a longer mountain-top to mountain-top line is being planned), 2 bridges, 2 rappels and 3 short hikes. You must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 90 and 250 pounds.
NOC Zipline Adventure Park (888-905-7238; www.noc.com; daily year-round, $49.99) is the newest addition to the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s list of adventures. It opened in mid-2012. The zipline is located near NOC’s 500-acre main campus in the Nantahala Gorge near Bryson City. It takes about 2 ½ hours to complete and includes ziplines, spider webs, sky bridges and tight ropes. Participants must weigh between 75 and 275 pounds.
Pigeon River Canopy Tours (10320 US 19 West, Bryson City, 866-319-8870; www.wildwaterrafting.com, daily Mar.-Nov, $59 for the Pigeon River zipline and $79 for a gorge canopy tour, with discounts for groups) has two different options, a gorge option with 12 ziplines, 4 sky bridges and a cliff perch, on 15 acres along the Pigeon River, and a shorter river option with 7 ziplines. This is operated by the same company that has ziplines in Asheville and the Nantahala Gorge. Participants must be at least 10 years old and weigh 70 to 250 pounds.
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We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.