Long a destination for creative types and explorers, Asheville’s heritage continues to make it popular among travelers and transplants. The area is also a crucial ecosystem for some of the oldest flora and fauna on the planet—and what helped attract those original newcomers who made the place what it is today. One of the best ways to experience Asheville is get outdoors, while also learning about its wilderness areas, protecting them, and respecting the plants and animals that live there.
Take a coveted hike to Crabtree Falls
One of the most recognizable waterfalls in North Carolina, Crabtree Falls is at Milepost 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway about 45 miles north of Asheville. Located on the border of the Blue Ridge and Black Mountain ranges, the 70-foot veiled falls are nestled in hardwood forest featuring rolling topography and wild mountain streams. Visitors are treated to a scenic 2.5-mile trek (three miles counting the walk from the visitor center to the trailhead), which, in the spring, features a colorful palette of native wildflowers. During fall, it’s a first-rate leaf-peeping hike; and in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll have the route to yourself.
Dogs are welcome on the trail but must be always kept on a leash. That’s because these mountains are home to many species of wildlife such as birds, snakes, and large mammals including deer, elk, and bear. These animals don’t typically seek out human contact, but in certain cases—such as mating season or when protecting their young from perceived danger—they can act aggressively. Make noise (like whistling or engaging in light conversation with hiking buddies) so that you’re unlikely to startle any wildlife passing through the vicinity. When hiking in bear country, it’s also wise to carry bear spray and as always, a first aid kit.
Recreate on the French Broad, one of the world’s oldest rivers
At 260–325 million years old, the French Broad River is one of the oldest river systems in the world. Flowing south to north, more than 4,000 miles of rivers and streams (including the Holston, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers) feed into its path from the headwaters in Rosman, North Carolina to its endpoint at the Gulf of Mexico.
The section that runs through the center of Asheville and the surrounding national forests boasts numerous sites and activities to enjoy the water. Private boating is allowed, and a popular pastime for anglers who fish for smallmouth bass, musky, walleye, rock bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, carp, sauger, and a variety of other species who call these resource-rich waters home.
If you have your own kayak, paddleboard, kayak, or canoe, it’s easy to research access points from which to enter the river, or you can rent equipment or take a guided tour with a local outfitter. Paddlers can hone their skills and play in Class ll rapids at Ledges Whitewater River Park (part of the French Broad River Paddle Trail), which connects more than 140 miles of the river through paddle-in-only access sites.
The French Broad is also a popular spot for summer float trips with friends—just be sure to make room on your tube for a trash bag and follow Leave No Trace principles. This river is a vital ecosystem for native wildlife including birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.
Another popular way to enjoy the aquatic lifestyle is via Asheville’s French Broad River Park System, which consists of three adjacent riverfront parks connected by a 2.8-mile (relatively flat) greenway. French Broad River Park has a dog park, scenic overlook, and a half-mile walking trail, while Amboy Road River Park is great for families, with picnic tables and a shady paved walking path that skirts the riverfront. Carrier Park offers a wider variety of activities such as basketball and volleyball courts, an inline hockey rink, a playground, and even a velodrome—a former racetrack now used by cyclists.
Want to enjoy the French Broad in a more social way? Maybe meet some friendly locals? Make your way to Getaway River Bar, an ultra-inclusive hangout spot that boasts fun activities and themed events like trivia, drag shows, dance parties, standup comedy, karaoke, and more.
Take a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Whether in search of the best overlook to view the fall foliage, amazing hikes, or magical waterfalls, visitors will likely find themselves along the Blue Ridge Parkway at some point during their Asheville visit.
Running 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park outside Cherokee, many of the route’s most-photographed spots are near Asheville. However you like to enjoy the outdoors, it’s possible along the Blue Ridge Parkway: from art and music to family fun and culinary gems, the Parkway acts like something of a geographic spine, seamlessly bringing many aspects of Appalachian culture, history, and scenic spots together. The Parkway is also a popular destination for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts due to its thrilling curves and dramatic vistas.