By Jason Frye
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- Trade Paperback (Revised) $16.99 $22.99 CAD
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- Flexible, strategic itineraries, whether you have a week to explore or just one day, designed for outdoor adventurers, foodies, history buffs, and more
- The best local flavor: Indulge in award-winning cuisine on a food tour, discover the microbreweries that earned Asheville the title of "Beer City USA," and catch a live show from a local band. Admire the art deco architecture downtown, gallery-hop in repurposed warehouses, or check out an indie bookstore
- Unique outdoor experiences: Hike through the mountains and meadows along the Appalachian Trail, take a dip in the hot springs dotting the hillsides, or break out the binoculars for some top-notch wildlife-watching. Set up camp in the Pisgah National Forest, peep the changing leaves in autumn, or go rafting, kayaking, or canoeing on the French Broad River
- Honest advice on when to go, where to stay, and how to get around from North Carolina local Jason Frye
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Thorough background on the culture and history, wildlife, and geography
About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.
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DISCOVER Asheville & the Great Smoky Mountains
5 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
Getaway to Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains
There’s an energy in the mountain town of Asheville that you don’t find in many other places in North Carolina. For more than a century, Asheville has been a hive of progressive thinking and a surprisingly cosmopolitan level of living. With all the writers, artists, musicians, dancers, and other eclectic personalities that have inhabited this town, it’s easy to understand how it earned the nickname “Paris of the South.”
Surrounding Asheville are The Great Smoky Mountains. Drawing more than 10 million visitors annually, the Smokies are laced with hiking trails, rivers, and waterfalls and populated with diverse wildlife—from rare salamanders to huge elk. The diversity is second only to the sublime mystery of the area. Throughout the 521,085-acre national park, you can find spots so remote they have stood undisturbed for untold lengths of time.
You’ll also find people as varied as the landscape they inhabit and histories as wild as the mountains themselves. Come join them.
5 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Admire Historic Architecture: Downtown Asheville is full of beautiful art deco and beaux arts masterpieces. Go check them out!
2 Hike in the Smokies: The best way to explore the woods, peaks, and waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains is by foot.
3 Taste Craft Brews: Asheville’s brewery scene is at the top of any beer geek’s list.
4 Seek Outdoor Adventure: Zip-line, paddleboard, or bellyak—there are tons of options for outdoor fun in Asheville.
5 Honor Indigenous Culture: The Cherokee people have lived in the Smoky Mountains for thousands of years. Learn about their history and traditions.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Asheville and the Southern Blue Ridge
Asheville’s a town chock-full of creative types: Artists, chefs, brewers, and musicians find inspiration here. A top beer destination and one of the South’s premier food cities, Asheville is filled with galleries, boutiques, and the general weirdness you expect from bigger cities. Art deco architecture, the famed and lovely Biltmore Estate, the wildly creative River Arts District, and a renewed embrace of Black creators and entrepreneurs are a few of the reasons to visit. Its location between the Blue Ridge and Smokies gives easy access to the mountains, especially the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where recreation opportunities abound.
Great Smoky Mountains
Straddling the border with Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a land of ridges, rocky rivers, virgin forests, and tumbling waterfalls. The most-visited national park in the United States, it’s a hot spot of trails, waterfalls, mountain vistas, and 500,000 acres of wilderness to explore. Visit appealing little towns like Bryson City, Dillsboro and Sylva, and Maggie Valley as well as the tribal seat of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, a casino, and the first (and only) fly-fishing trail in the United States.
Know Before You Go
Spring debuts in the Southeast as early as late February, then creeps into central North Carolina and up the coast, reaching the mountains a little later. Temperatures are a consistent 60-70°F by mid-April.
Summer is high season: Traffic is slow in the mountains. Heat and humidity can be brutal, so the cooler mountains draw visitors from far and wide. Rent your mountain cabins far in advance for the choicest of stays.
Autumn begins in the mountains. Fall foliage accounts for the mountains’ second high season, running late September-early November; it’s busiest in October, when cooler weather offers relief after sweltering September.
Winter is milder here than in many parts of the country, but many businesses in the mountains reduce their hours or close entirely.
Weather can change on a whim. It pays to layer, as temperatures in the 80s can drop into the 60s at night. Pack for chilly weather in the mountains, even in the summer.
Cell phone signals are consistent, but there are rural pockets in the deep mountains where cell service and 4G, 5G, and LTET connectivity is spotty.
Getaway to Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains
Begin your journey in Asheville, where you’ll find streets lined with galleries, one of the nation’s largest collections of art deco architecture, and a growing array of chefs, brewers, and mixologists.
Head directly to the Biltmore Estate. Tour the Biltmore Winery, watch the blacksmith at Antler Hill Village make music with the anvil, and find lunch at Cedric’s Tavern. Head downtown and check into ASIA Bed & Breakfast Spa, freshen up, and get ready to roam.
Dine downtown at Cucina 24 or at Wicked Weed Brewpub, then head to nearby Orange Peel for live music. Make one last stop at Sovereign Remedies for a nightcap.
Start your day with breakfast at Early Girl Eatery. Window shop at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Woolworth Walk art gallery, and don’t sweat lunch: a food tour with Eating Asheville will fill you up and point you in a direction for dinner. Walk off your food tour at the Asheville Art Museum while you debate whether to dine at The Admiral, Cúrate, or Jettie Rae’s.
ASHEVILLE TO CHEROKEE
The winding section of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and the southern terminus in Cherokee is quite beautiful. Before you hit the road, down a giant biscuit at Biscuit Head. Continue down the Parkway and take in the view of Mount Pisgah. Hike to Devil’s Courthouse and stop at Richland Balsam Overlook, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Be sure to visit the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center for a four-state view and panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains. Head into Cherokee for the night where you can gamble, visit a spa, and grab a bite at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
CHEROKEE TO GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Before you start your short drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee. Stop at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian across the street and the Oconaluftee Indian Village just up the hill. During the summer months, catch an evening performance of Unto These Hills. Head into the park, reserve a campsite, and prepare for exploring and hiking tomorrow.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Take the 30-mile Newfound Gap Road through the park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee, eat lunch, and head back to North Carolina. You’re as likely to see a bear as a deer on this stunning scenic road, and you’ll also pass a number of trailheads. Trails range from short jaunts to overnight hikes leading deep into the forest. The trails in Cades Cove and around Clingmans Dome—the highest point in the Smokies—are popular. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, so take a stroll here if for no other reason than to say you’ve hiked on the AT. Fervent hikers may want to consider spending a few more days exploring the park.
Asheville and the Southern Blue Ridge
PLANNING YOUR TIME
SPORTS AND RECREATION
ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Southern Blue Ridge and Foothills
PISGAH RANGER DISTRICT
SALUDA AND VICINITY
CHIMNEY ROCK AND LAKE LURE
HIGHLANDS AND VICINITY
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
The “Paris of the South” was built on a series of hills around the confluence of the Swannanoa (“swan-uh-NO-uh”) and French Broad Rivers, commerce found its way here in the 18th and 19th centuries via water routes and a mountain stagecoach road. In the late 1800s the town experienced a boom as railroad lines began to bring vacationers by the tens of thousands. It was around that time that George Vanderbilt, scion of the massively wealthy Vanderbilt dynasty, began building his mountain home, the Biltmore, just south of downtown. From the 1880s to the 1930s the mountain town underwent a long and rapid expansion, eventually becoming a small city in its own right.
Surrounding Asheville are mountains and hundreds of years of folk traditions, with folk art, music, dancing, and customs that survive today. Old-time Appalachian string-band music (not to be confused with bluegrass, although bluegrass is alive and well here too) thrives in the hills and hollows among the descendants of the region’s early settlers, whose songs, instruments, and techniques have been passed down over many generations. Four- and five-string banjo pickers, guitarists, fiddlers, and other musicians have migrated here from all across the globe to be part of the music traditions and the thriving music scene. Asheville is one of the best places in the world to hear old-time and bluegrass music as well as a sidetrack genre known as mountain swing.
One of the epicenters for visual arts in the Southeast, Asheville draws from centuries-old Appalachian folkways and traditions like woodcarving, weaving, and other arts and merges them with elements of the modern craft and fine arts movement. The results from these seemingly disparate elements being put in Asheville’s pressure cooker together is a vibrant set of studios and galleries where art and craft of all sorts have a home. Arts organizations such as the Southern Highland Craft Guild (www.southernhighlandguild.org) help preserve the traditional arts, while places like the River Arts District and a number of small guilds, groups, and galleries support contemporary artists.
All of this makes Asheville feel like a countercultural center. Elements of Haight-Ashbury circa 1968 mix with Woodstock, the Grand Ole Opry, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and a beatnik vibe, but with better food, to create an electric atmosphere.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Once the last leaf drops from autumn trees, many mountain towns close until spring. Asheville is vibrant year-round (although the pace does ease quite a bit when the snow falls). In winter, Asheville is less expensive; rooms at hotels, inns, and B&Bs are plentiful; and reservations at the hot-ticket restaurants are easier to score. Fortunately, the breweries and cocktail lounges don’t slow down, and some of the best bands roll through town in winter months. The city will see snow several times throughout the season, but it’s not generally a problem, despite the fact that it does occasionally shut down the Blue Ridge Parkway, and some of those higher mountain roads can be impassible.
Once spring breaks and bunches of wildflowers start to show up in earnest, so do the warmer-weather visitors. This is a prime time for wildflower hikes and visits to waterfalls (which can be quite impressive with snowmelt and spring rains), plus there’s an energy to the city as everyone and everything begins to wake up after the dark of winter. Spring at the Biltmore Estate is marvelous thanks to their outstanding gardens that are thick with tulips.
Summer, of course, is a great time to be in Asheville, as the elevation brings cooler air on the same day it will be sweltering across the Piedmont and Sandhills. Summer also brings a number of festivals and special events, and it’s the time when the greens and blues of the Blue Ridge are most vivid. Fall colors arrive at slightly different times each year, so you’ll want to keep an eye on leaf forecasts for ideal getaway times. Generally speaking, however, you can plan to see leaves start to turn in mid-September, peak in mid-October, and finish by the second week of November. Fall is prime season to visit Asheville, so make lodging reservations early and expect some delays on scenic routes like the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Asheville’s proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) makes it a natural launch point for trips into the park. Visiting the Smoky Mountains brings the same seasonal concerns as visiting Asheville. Fall is peak season and crowded with leaf-peeping visitors; things slow down in winter and pick up in spring as the wildflowers begin to bloom. Then summer brings the hikers and national park enthusiasts back in full force. The elevation of Newfound Gap Road, the only road across GSMNP, is such that it can have weather-related delays or closures, so keep this in mind when planning a visit.
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (www.blueridgeheritage.com) has a number of valuable trip-planning resources, but a preferred resource is Explore Asheville (www.exploreasheville.com), the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website. The site’s creators and the people at the Asheville Visitors Center (36 Montford Ave., 828/258-6129, www.exploreasheville.com, 8:30am-5:30pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-5pm Sat.-Sun.) take a lot of pride in their town and can help steer you toward new and old favorites in the area. For planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find many resources through Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP, 865/436-1200, www.nps.gov/grsm); of course, you’ll also find a number of resources through Asheville’s local visitor services.
Getting around Asheville isn’t much of a problem once you get oriented, and getting yourself oriented is no problem. Downtown Asheville sits at the center, on the crest of a couple of hills, and it’s here we find the largest concentration of hotels, restaurants, and bars. Just south of downtown is the South Slope and an assortment of places to eat and drink. The French Broad River flows to the west of Downtown, and the River Arts District sits here, between downtown and the river. In the warehouses and industrial facilities are hundreds of art galleries. Across the river is West Asheville, a destination with its own vibe and set of restaurants and breweries. The Biltmore Estate, and Biltmore Village (an actual miniature village built to support the workers on the estate, gardens, and house), sit at the foot of South Slope. South of here is I-40 and the rough dividing line between South Asheville and the rest of the area. To the north of downtown you’ll find the University of North Carolina Asheville and residential neighborhoods. The Blue Ridge Parkway wraps around the eastern and southern sides of the city.
In Downtown Asheville, pick a parking garage, or park at your hotel, and stow the car, then head out by foot. From Pack Square at the heart of Downtown, you’re only a few blocks or a few minutes away from galleries, boutiques, breweries, restaurants, and places to stay.
S DOWNTOWN ARCHITECTURE
As beautiful as Asheville’s natural environment may be, the striking architecture is just as attractive. The Montford neighborhood, a contemporary of the Biltmore, is a mixture of ornate Queen Anne houses and craftsman-style bungalows. The Grove Park Inn, a huge luxury hotel, was built in 1913 and is decked out with rustic architectural devices intended to make vacationing New Yorkers and wealthy people feel like they were roughing it. In downtown Asheville is a large concentration of art deco buildings on the scale of Miami Beach. Significant structures dating to the boom before the Great Depression include the Buncombe County Courthouse (60 Court Plaza, built 1927-1929), the First Baptist Church (Oak St. and Woodfin St., 1925), the S&W Cafeteria (56 Patton Ave., 1929), the Public Service Building (89-93 Patton Ave., 1929), and the Grove Arcade (1 Page Ave., 1926-1929).
The Jackson Building (22 S. Pack Square, built 1923-1924) is a fine example of neo-Gothic architecture with a disturbing backstory. According to legend, on the day of the stock market crash in 1929 that started the Great Depression, one of the wealthiest men in Asheville lost it all and leaped to his death from the building. Three or four (depending on who’s telling the story) more of Asheville’s wealthiest followed suit. What is known to be true is that there’s a bull’s-eye built into the sidewalk in front of the building as a morbid monument to the story.
ASHEVILLE ART MUSEUM
The Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square, 828/253-3227, www.ashevilleart.org, 11am-6pm Tues.-Wed. and Fri.-Sun., 11am-9pm Thurs., $15 adults, $13 over age 60, $10 students, free under age 6) recently underwent two years of renovations to add new exhibition space and a fresh approach to their collection. They’ve been around since 1948, and in the intervening decades have enriched the art community of Asheville by displaying works by some of the most important, influential, and up-and-coming artists of the 20th century. The permanent collection includes a wide array of media and styles, including photo portraits, ceramics, statuary, and beautiful modern pieces. A large collection from the nearby experimental school, Black Mountain College, shows the highlights of works created by faculty and students.
South Slope and River Arts District
Restaurants, breweries, and nightlife make the South Slope a distinct destination. The former warehouses and industrial spaces turned art galleries make the River Arts District a great spot to spend a few hours, but the breweries and restaurants here make it easy to spend the day.
In West Asheville you might have trouble parking as this once entirely residential neighborhood continues to evolve. Popular restaurants and breweries, a number of boutiques and shops, and some vibrant murals make this a great place to grab a bite or spend the bulk of your weekend away.
S NORTH CAROLINA ARBORETUM
The enormous North Carolina Arboretum (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, 828/665-2492, www.ncarboretum.org, 8am-9pm daily Apr.-Oct., 8am-7pm daily Nov.-Mar., Bonsai Collection 9am-5pm daily, admission free, parking $16 cars, $50 RVs) is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the country. The 434 natural and landscaped acres back into the Pisgah National Forest, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Major collections include the National Native Azalea Repository, featuring nearly every species of azalea native to the United States as well as several hybrids, and the special Bonsai Collection, comprising more than 200 bonsai plants, many of the staff horticulturists’ own creation.
Bicycles and leashed dogs are permitted on many of the arboretum’s trails. Walking areas range from easy to fairly rugged, but with 10 miles of trails, you will find one that suits your skill level. To learn more about the history of the arboretum and its plants, as well as the natural history of the region, join one of the guided tours (1pm Tues. and Sat.). These two-mile walk-and-talk tours happen rain or shine, so dress for the weather. The arboretum also has a nice café, the Bent Creek Bistro (828/412-8584, 10am-4pm Tues.-Sun., $4-9), and gift shop, the Connections Gallery (10am-4pm daily).
Biltmore Estate and Village
The area around the Biltmore Estate includes the estate itself but also Biltmore Village, where workers on the estate, grounds, and home lived during and after construction. The estate is a kingdom unto itself, with a winery (it’s the most-visited wine tasting room in the United States, incidentally) and brewery in Antler Hill, amazing gardens and that stunning house at the center, a vineyard (it’s on the other side of the estate, the working side), nearly a dozen places to eat, a pair of inns, a whole slew of outdoor activities to get into, and so much space. It’s a beautiful place to explore. And Biltmore Village is no exception. This lovely little grid of brick and stone cottages is charming as can be and full of boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and more.
S BILTMORE ESTATE
Much of downtown Asheville dates to the 1920s, but the architectural crown jewel, the Biltmore Estate
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- On Sale
- Apr 25, 2023
- Page Count
- 184 pages
- Moon Travel