Top Things to Do in Asheville, North Carolina
By Carly Eisley
One of my favorite East Coast destinations has to be, without a doubt, Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a quirky, bike-centric town in the mountains of western North Carolina with a young outdoorsy vibe, vibrant arts community, and phenomenal craft beer scene. The surrounding area is a hiker’s and mountain biker’s dream, with hundreds of miles of state and national forest trails to explore. Asheville is an ideal stop on any Eastern US road trip! Bonus – heading there in an a custom and stylish camper van is an incredible journey, so what are you waiting for? Go find your perfect campervan rental location!
The area surrounding Asheville is a mountain biking mecca for the East Coast. With something for everyone from novice to the best of the best, the trails here should be a destination for everyone who loves rocks, roots, and fat tires. Check out this brief round-up of the best trails in the area by Roots Rated for a rundown of the trail areas and what to expect. Stop into a local bike shop for a map, rental bike if you need it, and trail intel (we liked Beer City Bikes – friendly staff and a craft beer bar for a pint!).
Hiking and Trail Running
There are a TON of options for day hikes, backpacking, and exploring in the greater Asheville region.
- The hike up Mount Mitchell is a strenuous 12-mile round trip via the Mt. Mitchell Trail. You will reach the summit of Mt. Mitchell (elev. 6,684 ft), which is the highest point east of the Mississippi. Be prepared for tough climbing, breathtaking panoramic views, and possible chilly weather at the top!
- Go chasin’ waterfalls at DuPont State Forest just southeast of Asheville between Hendersonville and Brevard. There are a variety of hikes (mountain biking here too!) with waterfall views and varying terrain.
- The iconic Appalachian Trail passes along the North Carolina and Tennessee border, offering a variety of hiking options for those looking to spend some time on the AT. Pick up a guidebook and map, lace up your boots (or trail runners, of course) and hit the trail!
- The Blue Ridge Parkway has nearly 400 miles of trails along the way – so much to choose from!
- The Mountains to Sea trail runs all the way from, well, the mountains to the sea! Its entirety is 1,175 miles stretching from the Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. The trail runs right through Asheville, with many options to check out some sections.
I am SO not a climber. But I know there is some great climbing to be had in the southeast, and much of it is in North Carolina. Check outMountain Project’s North Carolina page for some info on local climbing areas. Meanwhile, I’m adding learning to rock climb to my to-do list.
With the French Broad River nearby and a myriad of local lakes and waterways, there are many different options for paddling and water sports in and around Asheville. From leisurely paddles, stand-up paddleboarding to whitewater adventures, there is something for everyone. Check out French Broad Outfitters for equipment rentals, guided trips, river shuttles, and more! They offer kayaking, SUP, and tubing adventures on the many waterways in the Asheville region.
Asheville is surrounded by the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, which offer a variety of campground as well as dispersed camping options. Check out the North Carolina National Forest site for more information on camping options and seasonal closures (there is often snow and ice at the higher elevations in Winter and early Spring, so plan accordingly!).
The Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the National Park Service and has eight campgrounds along the way with many options for hiking from the campsites. Linville Falls, Crabtree Falls, and Mount Pisgah are the closest camping areas to Asheville.
The North Carolina State Parks also offer a number of camping options in the area. Check out their website for a map as well as a list of state parks that is searchable by the type of camping and amenities you are looking for.
Attractions & Things to Do
So you’ve finally taken a campground shower and want to check out some non-adventure sights? There are plenty of options for a dose of history, arts, and culture in the Asheville area.
The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore is quite an experience. A 7,000-acre estate which includes a nearly 179,000 square foot mansion (built in the late 1800s), which is the largest privately owned residence in the United States. Start your visit with a step back in time and take a self-guided tour of the house. After exploring turn of the century furniture and decor displays, head outside! There are acres of gardens around the estate to explore with seasonal blooms depending on the time of year. From there, head over to the estate’s winery for a tasting, and grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants on site (we enjoyed some beers and appetizers at Cedric’s Tavern).
Arts and Culture
Asheville has multiple arts districts with a variety of galleries and mediums to explore.
- The River Arts District houses over 200 artists in a one-mile stretch of buildings along the French Broad River. There is a map to help guide you and free parking in the area. Take your time, peruse the galleries, and enjoy!
- The downtown arts district is made up of 25 galleries in downtown Asheville. Check out their First Friday art walks every month for a great way to experience the galleries.
- The Folk Art Center/Southern Highland Craft Guild is a unique arts/crafts experience along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I highly recommend stopping in for some beautiful handmade items. Bonus – take a run/hike along the Mountains to Sea Trail, which is accessible from their parking lot!
- Museums – while in town, check out the Arts Museum, Science Museum, or the aSHEville Museum (focusing on women and their achievements in the arts and more)
Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar – a used bookstore that is also a coffee shop and wine bar. I died and went to heaven.
Food and Drink
By now you must have worked up an appetite (and be thirsty!). Asheville has some fantastic restaurants, as well as a plethora of craft beer options (it’s not called beer city for nothing!). Here are a few of my favorite stops.
- White Duck Taco Shop. Because… tacos. Plus outdoor seating and local brews. We liked the River Arts District location.
- Wedge Brewery. The Wedge studios located in the river arts district was really cool – great outdoor area and low key vibe. top in here after your fill of artists and tacos!
- Lexington Ave Brewery now known as the CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective. The perrine black ale pull apart bread is to die for.
- Over Easy Cafe. DELICIOUS breakfast stop with a focus on supporting local farms.
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Desserts. Wine. Beer. Coffees and teas. Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. Don’t skip it.
- Highland Brewing. Expansive taproom, mountain views – great place to hang out and enjoy a pint. Catch some live music if you’re lucky.
- Wicked Weed Funkatorium. Wicked Weed brewing recently joined on with Anheuser-Busch, which really riled many craft beer fans and turned many off to the brewery. I’ll leave you to your own decisions, but if you are a sour beer fan, consider checking out the funkatorium location for your funky sour fix.
- Asheville Brewing. Beer, pizza, and movies! Great spot that is kid and dog-friendly.
- Double D’s Coffee Shop. A coffee shop inside a (parked) double-decker bus. A very cool place to sit and sip some cappuccino and people watch.
- The “big” breweries from out West who have expanded into East Coast territory in Asheville are all great spots to visit:
- Sierra Nevada Brewing. One of the big guys, that still stays true to their sense of craft and community. Their brewery tour is definitely worth it, it is an impressive operation! Have a bite in their on-site taproom – the food was fantastic! In nice weather take it outside to the patio/gardens.
- Oskar Blues Brewery. Just outside of Pisgah National Forest in Brevard. Mountain bike, hike, or run and then head here from the trails for bands, a food truck, and a post-adventure.
- New Belgium Brewing. A Colorado-based brewery’s east coast expansion with bike-centric beers, dog-friendly grounds, tours, and live music.
I hope you enjoy all that Asheville has to offer as much as we did! Get out, explore, adventure, and have fun!