October 5, 2012

Explore the Plentiful Outdoor Recreation Areas Near Asheville, NC

Asheville is an ideal hub from which to experience the mountains of North Carolina, offering easy access to numerous state parks, hiking trails, and scenic drives. Boasting the highest peaks on the Eastern Seaboard, the North Carolina mountains will delight you with tremendous views that seem to stretch forever. Pristine rivers flow through the valleys, perfect for fishing, rafting, and tubing, and nearly every mountainside has delightful waterfalls tumbling down a rocky slope.

A Stunning View of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Four seasons of beauty await you in Asheville. Fall brings the magic colors of the changing leaves; winter offers white mountaintops and snow-blanketed valleys, but also a cold that is short-lived and tolerable for hiking; spring blooms forth with an astounding display of wildflowers and bright green trees; and summer provides a welcomed escape from the heat with a quick drive up a mountain peak, or a dip in the chilly water of a river swimming hole.

Everyone can find a way to experience the mountains surrounding Asheville that is suitable for their fitness level, ranging from relaxing to challenging. A scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a day filled with breathtaking views and plenty of opportunities for nature photography. There are hikes that take it easy alongside winding rivers, like North Mills River in the Pisgah National Forest, as well as hikes that climb to rugged peaks like Mount Mitchell, presenting a chance to traverse challenging terrain, rock climb, and even hang glide. If your recipe for the best mountain day is fly fishing for rainbow trout in a peaceful stream, or enjoying a family picnic with an unbeatable view, Great Smoky Mountain National Park has dozens of ideal destinations.

Below are descriptions of just a few of the many amazing outdoor recreation areas in the Asheville, NC area.

Pisgah National Forest

The Granite Face of Looking Glass Rock

Established over a century ago and encompassing more than a half million acres, Pisgah National Forest spreads across Western North Carolina, divided into four districts with Asheville at its center. Heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, you'll come across the gorgeous NC Arboretum, a restaurant and picnic area atop Mount Pisgah, the majestic Looking Glass Rock, scenic waterfalls at Graveyard Fields, and The Cradle of Forestry. Northwest of Asheville is The Appalachian Trail and adjoining trails that head out from Hot Springs, taking you along the gurgling river and up a mountainside to long-range views at Max Patch. Also north of Asheville is the expansive and rugged Linville Gorge, which offers many opportunities for outdoor adventures such as hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking. To figure out which direction you'll head in to explore Pisgah National Forest, visit the USDA Forest Service website, which breaks down the districts by which outdoor activity you're pursuing, including fishing, horseback riding, climbing, and water activities.

Blue Ridge Parkway

A Fall Day on the Parkway

A 469-mile paved road with astounding views, plentiful overlooks and picnic areas, and hundreds of trails, as well as no stoplights or stop signs, no commercial vehicles or billboards, and no construction, residential or commercial. Sound like a dream? The Blue Ridge Parkway is heavenly, climbing over mountains, through tunnels and clouds, and traversing wide valleys full of wildlife and winding rivers. And on its journey from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina, it runs right through Asheville.

Whether you're driving south to Mount Pisgah or north to Craggy Gardens, stop off first at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, just eight miles east of downtown Asheville, offering a year-round interactive educational experience, along with maps, guides, and advice to help you plan your exploration. The Visitor Center is located at milepost 384, one mile south of the US 70 intersection (Tunnel Road), or one mile north of the US 74-A intersection. The Folk Art Center is two miles further north, housing a delightful collection of arts and crafts by local artisans, all available for purchase. Find out more about specific milepost activities along the Parkway on the Blue Ridge Heritage website.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Farm Museum in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Over a half million acres of land make up the most visited national park in the U.S.: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Accessible by four entrances all within an hour of Asheville, the national park has several distinct attributes that draw visitors, including its designation as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. 100,000 different types of plants and animals coexist within the park, as well as mountain peaks over 6,000 feet high, historic homesteads dating back to both the native Cherokee Tribe and the Scotch-Irish settlers of this land, and more than 800 miles of trails. Learn about activities, access, and park programs on the National Park Service website, and read about the annual elk rut in Cataloochee Valley in this Carolina Mornings article.

Chimney Rock State Park

A View of Lake Lure from Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock State Park is a popular outdoor attraction located 40 minutes southeast of Asheville. The park's 404-foot waterfall and 535-million-year-old monolith, which offers 75-mile views over nearby Lake Lure and a vista of the wild beauty of Hickory Nut Gorge, make this a terrific option for a day trip. It's your choice whether you want to ride the 26-story elevator to the top of Chimney Rock or get in shape climbing up 500 steps. Activities in the park include hiking trails with "discovery stations" along the way, rock-climbing clinics, bird-watching tours, fishing streams, and a restaurant where you can pick up to-go sandwiches for a picnic. Most famously known as the site where the movie "The Last of the Mohicans" was filmed, there is a $15 fee for entrance to the park, well worth it considering the range of possibilities for adventure and the memorable view. More information is available on the Chimney Rock State Park website.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell's Observation Deck

Take the ultimate scenic cruise across mountain peaks and through changing terrain: An hour drive north from Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway brings you to Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. The park spans nearly 2,000 acres and offers visitors 360-degree views from the easily accessible observation deck at the mountain summit. Surrounded by breezy mists and suspended clouds, Mount Mitchell State Park includes a gift shop and restaurant that are open May through October, a picnic area with grills, and hiking trails for all levels of difficulty. Bring a jacket - it's 10-30 degrees cooler up there than it is in Asheville! Visit the NC Parks website for details about Mount Mitchell State Park.

DuPont State Forest

Triple Falls of "The Hunger Games" Fame

DuPont State Forest has received a lot of attention since the popular movie "The Hunger Games" was filmed there in 2011, but locals have known it as a favorite outdoor recreation area since its establishment in 1996. This 10,000-acre tract of dense woods and granite-domed mountaintops is located 40 miles southwest of Asheville, just past Brevard. A three-mile roundtrip hike through Du Pont State Forest takes you past Hooker Falls, High Falls, and Triple Falls, which was featured in "The Hunger Games." Stand at the base of 150-foot High Falls and you'll experience the exhilarating thrill of a waterfall's immeasurable power while cool mist sprays in your face. There are three additional waterfalls in the forest, and plentiful opportunities for swimming, fishing, picnicking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The Du Pont State Forest website provides guides for main attractions and policies for public use.

Where to stay during your mountain adventure

Carolina Mornings wants to help you discover the beauty of the North Carolina mountains by providing a comfortable home base for your adventures. Offering dozens of luxury vacation rental cabins in the Asheville area, many of them pet-friendly, Carolina Mornings boosts the possibilities for outdoor exploration with the complimentary Mountain Discovery Pass, which is included with every rental.

The Mountain Discovery Pass includes a free ticket to golfing, whitewater rafting, skiing, and city bus tours for every day of your stay. Depending on which season brings you to Asheville, you'll enjoy the slopes at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, a thrilling rafting adventure with French Broad Rafting Expeditions, a picture-perfect round of eighteen holes of golf at Reems Creek Golf Club, and a hilarious tour of the city of Asheville on the LaZoom Comedy Bus Tour.

Call Carolina Mornings today to start planning the mountain adventure of a lifetime!


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