Well known for many thriving scenes in its bustling, beautiful downtown, Asheville also offers thrilling adventures outside its city limits.
“We are truly fortunate to have adventure at our fingertips. So many possibilities await, quite literally, in our backyard here in the Blue Ridge,” says Explore Asheville’s Sarah Lowery. “Guided hikes, SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), and whitewater rafting all make for great group activities.”
Here are some of the outdoor adventures Lowery recommends:
Wai Mauna’s paddleboards fit six people and can serve groups of up to 40. Guided trips take stand-up paddleboarders down the French Broad River, one of the oldest rivers in the world. All paddle tours are private and can wind through the River Arts District or the NTA-member Biltmore Estate.
Guided rides on horseback take riders on trails through the estate’s woodlands and meadows, and private rides for one to four guests are offered as well.
Biltmore is home to more than 20 miles of freely accessible bike trails—from flat, paved trails along the French Broad River to woodland dirt paths. Guests can visit Biltmore’s Bike Barn and rent mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, Trail-a-Bikes, and trailers, or bring their own along.
This experience takes visitors through off-road obstacles in a Land Rover. One option lets a professional instructor lead the adventure over broken bridges, large boulders and rocks, and steep hills, and others put the guest at the wheel with a customized experience to fit the driver’s skill level.
Former National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” and Appalachian Trail record-setter Jennifer Pharr Davis will lead guided day trips to the Great Smoky Mountains this year with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company. She’ll also head up several new private group options combining half-day hikes with activities like jewelry-making and beer tastings. The day hikes offer gorgeous views of waterfalls and mountains from trails that extend from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and groups can take sunset hikes as well.
“Long known as an arts colony with connections to the American Craft Revival and mid-20th century avant-garde movements, the area features hundreds of folk and fine artists, performance venues, colorful arts neighborhoods, lively music halls, galleries, and myriad events that celebrate creativity,” she says. “Street performers entertain crowds on nearly every corner of downtown. The city’s rich architectural legacy, with its mix of Art Deco, Beaux Arts, and Neoclassical styles, is a fitting retro-urban backdrop for the collaborative, artistic energy that permeates every sector of local life.”
Just outside of downtown Asheville is the River Arts District, where more than 200 artists are established inside former industrial and historical buildings along the French Broad River. Art lovers can find works in paint, pencil, metal, fiber, and other mediums, and they can see the district through walking tours led by artists with Asheville Art Studio Tours.
“Visitors enjoy strolling through the district from gallery to gallery and interacting with the artists while they work. With an eye toward the future of their crafts, many local artists also keep a strong foothold in Southern Appalachian traditions, such as basket-weaving, quilting, woodwork, wildcrafting, and pottery,” Lowery says. “The area is also home to restaurants, breweries, theaters, music venues, and outdoor-recreation outposts.”
Here are a few of Asheville’s artsy stops recommended by Lowery:
The DIY workshop “Get Your Hands Dirty” puts visitors at the (potter’s) wheel to create a functional piece to take home after firing. The workshop is great for team-building and other large groups, and the experience can be customized.
Arts District Elevated
The River Arts District will be even more visitor-friendly when a major roadway and greenway construction is completed this year. New to the area will be a multi-use riverside path, additional parking, wider sidewalks, bike lanes, improved traffic flow, and public art installations from the district’s resident artists.
Described by Lowery as a hidden gem, this 11-acre campus includes Grovewood Gallery, nine working-artist studios, a sculpture garden, the North Carolina Homespun Museum, and Asheville’s only antique car museum. Biltmore Industries began at this site in 1917 and became the largest producer of hand-woven wool in the world by 1930.
Read Biltmore: A perfect mansion and garden combo, which recaps Jeff Quire's visit to Asheville's most famous landmark.
Top photo: Blue Ridge Mountain scene near Asheville
Photo by exploreasheville.com