Tucked into the palm of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tiny town of Asheville, North Carolina, never ceases to amaze visitors looking for an action-packed getaway in an unforgettable setting. From zip-lining to hiking to white-water rafting, Asheville’s adventure offerings are as seemingly endless as its options for amazing farm-to-fork dining. The area is filled with excellent parks. The welcoming downtown boasts a bevy of whimsical independent boutiques and family-friendly cafés, and nearby towns, including Black Mountain and Brevard, make for perfect side trips for those who like to wander.
Words by Kristen Manieri
Allegiant Air out of Sanford offers direct flights to Asheville with a schedule that’s ideal for long weekends away and at prices that are easy on the wallet. For those looking to drive, expect a straightforward nine-hour trip.
Anchor a weekend or weeklong stay by checking into either Aloft (from $150 per night) or Grove Park Inn (from $199 per night). Aloft is centrally located downtown, and its colorful modern decor and floor-to-ceiling chalkboard at check-in are popular with the kids. That being said, the palatial Grove Park Inn will give your brood the sense that you’ve checked into a colossal stone castle, complete with mammoth fireplaces, a sprawling golf course, a lavish spa and some of the best sunset views in the city. Both properties offer outdoor pools with stellar views of Blue Ridge’s shadowy peaks.
Families with kids under 7 years old will enjoy the dozens of kid-friendly hikes Asheville offers, including the 0.75-mile Natural Garden Trail, located at the 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum. Check in at the Education Center, where you can borrow Discovery Day Packs, which come with binoculars, nets and laminated cards detailing the trail’s flora and fauna. These are free to borrow and only require a driver’s license to reserve.
Kids as young as 3 years old can tackle the Lookout Trail, located in the quaint town of Montreat, about 18 miles from downtown Asheville. While the latter part of this 45-minute, 0.57-mile hike climb is fairly steep, the moderate exertion will be well worth the effort, as unforgettable views of the summit of Lookout Mountain await. While you’re in the area, don’t miss a visit to Robert Lake Park, loved by kids for its ample playground space and a winding creek that is ideal for splashing in.
A few other spots for the younger set include the free splash pad at Pack Square, the gemming experience at Elijah Mountain Gem Mine and the Western North Carolina Nature Center. This smallish zoo showcases such animals as bears, wolves, deer and foxes, and is easily tackled within a few hours.
Those traveling with kids 4 years old and up won’t want to miss Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, where a course comprised of 50 climbing, zipping, walking, jumping, swinging and rappelling challenges sits just minutes from downtown Asheville. It’s also home to the area’s only kid-friendly zip, which features nine zip lines and four challenging, but surmountable, climbing elements.
Rafting on the rapids of the French Broad River is easy, thanks to a handful of outfitters offering everything from gentle floats to heart-pounding white-water rides. The faint of heart may opt instead for river tubing, often offered by the same outfitters. Try Blue Heron Whitewater.
Finally, be sure to set aside a day to explore the Biltmore Estate, George W. Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre retreat, which continues to leave guests awestruck. Besides getting tours through the 175,000-square-foot French Renaissance chateau, guests can wander through 75 acres of gardens, visit the working farm and winery, and dine at the numerous restaurants that dot this stunning, sprawling acreage.
Asheville’s farm-to-fork food culture is a hugely flourishing cornerstone of this city. Nearly every restaurant touts its allegiance to the scores of local farms and breweries, so it can be tough to sift through the choices. Following are a few suggestions.
For date night: Blink, and you’ll miss The Admiral’s unassuming cinder block building. Don’t let the hole-in-the-wall veneer fool you. Chefs are cranking out culinary magic inside the very tiny kitchen. The ever-changing menu features dishes bolstered by creative flavors, lots of indigenous fare and a decadent series of cocktails that make the experience of this “gastro-dive” all the more delightful. Reservations are strongly recommended. www.theadmiralnc.com
For family night out: Asheville’s Mellow Mushroom is a site to behold. Inside the downtown dining room, a plethora of colorful objects—from airplanes to Cheshire cats—dot the interior for a kaleidoscope of color. The result is one of the best places to play I Spy with your kids while you wolf down delicious cheesy pizza and sip root beer by the pitcher. www.mellowmushroom.com
For your most memorable meal: If you’re looking for an unforgettable place for a late Sunday morning repast, the Grove Park Inn serves up the area’s best Sunday brunch. Spread across three entire buffet rooms, the feast features multiple carving stations, made-to-order omelets, eggs Benedict, freshly made chicken and waffles, chilled salads, bacon, sausage and more. There are also bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys, as well as an entire room devoted to desserts.
Kristen Manieri is the founder and editor of The Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll find the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide.