Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Visit Asheville while in North Carolina for PASS Summit

One of the great things about the choice of Charlotte, North Carolina to host the 2013 PASS Community Summit is Charlotte’s proximity to Asheville and the surrounding area.  Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is approximately two and a half hours by car from Charlotte via the interstate.  Prior to moving to Charlotte, I lived in Asheville for ten years.  I still have family in the area, so I’m there frequently and know the area well.  This post is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide some ideas for those who might want to spend some extra time in the area and explore a great nearby destination.

Famous attractions

Asheville has become a fairly well-known tourism and vacation destination, and it’s not surprising.  For a smaller city, there is quite a lot to see and do, and the mountains are beautiful.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Biltmore House
    • If Asheville has a signature tourist attraction, this is it.  The biggest private residence in the United States. 
  • Downtown
    • Downtown Asheville is not huge, but very walkable.  There are lots of shops and restaurants, something for everyone.
  • Biltmore Village
    • Similar to downtown Asheville, but more upscale.  Less options for places to eat, but has the nicest McDonalds you’ll ever see. 
  • Grove Arcade
    • One of America’s first indoor shopping malls.  The Grove Arcade was renovated about 20 years ago if my memory serves me correctly.  Lots of little arts and crafts shops, be sure to check out the one that does live glass blowing.  The floors aren’t even close to level, interesting unless you are on crutches or roller skates…then just hazardous.
  • Folk Art Center
    • On the parkway, an art gallery with a focus on the traditional folk arts of the area.
  • Pack Place
    • Pack place is home to a number of different museums, galleries, and a theater.  The Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum is one of the more unique museums in the area. 

Bringing the kids?

Be sure to check out the Western North Carolina Nature Center  This is a good destination for all ages, but is a huge hit with kids.  The nature center has a great wildlife collection, mostly made up of species that are native to the North Carolina mountains.  The river otters are the star attraction.  This was a favorite of my sister and I when we were little.

Outdoor Fun

One of the keys to Asheville's popularity is the huge variety of outdoor activities available in the area.  I've put together a list of destinations that I've enjoyed over the years.

  • Navitat Canopy Tours
    • Navitat does a great zipline canopy tour.  I’ve done this one personally, and recommend it highly to the adventurous traveler.   Some of the runs are very high up, and very fast.
  • Sliding Rock
    • A natural water slide in Pisgah Forest.  Fun, but COLD!  Can get pretty crowded on the weekends.  In October, you’d want an unseasonably hot day for this.
  • Nantahala Outdoor Center
    • Popular destination for rafting, kayaking, climbing, or hiking.  Again, look for a hot day if you plan on getting in the water!  The mountain rivers get really cold.


Asheville is a very popular destination for all sorts of outdoor activities, but one of the biggest is hiking.  The mountains and forests in the area are covered with trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail.  The trails tend to be fairly well marked, and easy to follow due to the volume of traffic they get.  There is a wide range of difficulty as well.  Here are a few that I have first-hand experience with: 

Where to stay

Asheville has plenty of the usual chain hotels, and most are perfectly fine, but there are a couple of upscale options in town that are true standouts:

  • Grove Park Inn
    • The Grove Park Inn is a large historic luxury resort.  In addition to the hotel, there is a golf course, a spa, and excellent restaurant.  The restaurant is a worthy stop,  especially for their Sunday brunch buffet, even if you are staying elsewhere.
  • Grand Bohemian Hotel
    • Right in the middle of Biltmore Village, the Grand Bohemian (one of Marriott’s upscale designer hotels) is not only very nice, but in a perfect location for many of the other stops I’ve listed.  Every room is unique, and it doesn’t look like a chain hotel at all.

Dining in Asheville

This could quickly get to be a massive list, but I’ll just throw out a few great spots that might otherwise be overlooked.  None of these are going to break the bank either. There is certainly no lack of variety in Asheville's restaurant selection.

  • Asheville Pizza and Brewing
    • This is one of my favorites.  It’s a combination bar, restaurant, and movie theater!  Asheville Brewing Company owns it, and provides good food, good beer, and movies to watch while you enjoy them.  There are only two theaters, so your movie options are limited, but they usually have something good.  The movies showing are usually the blockbusters but just after they leave the major movie theaters.  The upside to this is that for about the same price as a normal movie outing with a snack and a drink, you get a full dinner and a craft beer.  How can you go wrong?
  • Tupelo Honey Café
    • If you aren’t from the area and want some really good southern cuisine, this is my recommendation.  Not too traditional, but true to the spirit of southern cooking, and a local favorite for good reason.
  • 12 Bones Smokehouse
    • 12 Bones looks like a dive, as the location was originally a gas station, but it’s one of the best places in town for ribs or barbecue.
  • Frankie Bones Restaurant & Lounge
    • Really good spot on the south side of town to get a bite to eat.  They have a very diverse selection, and an awesome Sunday brunch menu.
  • The Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café
    • If you’re looking for a healthier meal while on the road, this is a great spot.  I’m usually not the health food type, but I’ve eaten here with family a few times and always enjoyed my meal.

Scenic/Fun Routes from Charlotte to Asheville

If you’ve decided to head up to Asheville, you may want to consider one of these routes to get there as an alternative to the boring all-highway route your GPS will suggest.

  • Via NC 181, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC 80
    • Route map:
    • This is the car/motorcycle enthusiast route.  If you have other plans don’t use it!  This takes roughly twice as long as the interstate trip, but it is roughly ten times as fun in a sports car or on a motorcycle.  I regularly ride out to the end of NC80 then come back if I’m not going to be staying in Asheville.  This route keeps you off the interstate for most, if not all of the trip.  Some of the roads I’ve outlined are challenging, so take care the first time out.  If you are on a bike, watch for debris in the roads, as the rainy year we’ve had has washed a lot of junk into the road.  NC 181 is very well-known and is an absolute blast to run up, just watch out for NC Highway Patrol.  NC 80 aka The Devil’s Whip is a tight and highly technical road with loads of elevation change.  Be ready to have your photo taken if you’re there on the weekend, as Blind Kenny is usually out there.  This route also incorporates a nice chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I like to get off the Parkway at NC 80 instead of taking it all the way to Asheville.  Interstate 40 actually has a fun ascent up Old Fort Mountain (again, watch for speed traps).  You can double back on NC 80 (the uphill run is the most fun) and take the BRP all the way into Asheville if you want.
  • Via Chimney Rock and Lake Lure
    • Route map:
    • More relaxed than the route above, but still a great alternative to the interstate.  Highway 74-A has some really sharp curves as well, so be ready!  This route isn’t nearly the time investment that the first one is either, it only adds about 45-60 minutes to the trip versus the interstate.  The run up NC 226 and back down US 64 is not efficient, but it avoids a big chunk of US 74, and many stoplights and speed traps.  Highway 74A is the highlight of the trip, and runs right by both Chimney Rock Park and Lake Lure.  Both are good places to stop along the way.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway info is available here:
    • Be sure to check for closings, as some segments may be closed for maintenance or due to road conditions. 

I hope this list helps you with planning your visit to this area of North Carolina. Feel free to add your suggestions if you have ever visited the Asheville area.

photo credit: BillRhodesPhoto via photopin cc
photo credit: Mr G's Travels via photopin cc
photo credit: Xavier de Jauréguiberry via photopin cc

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