From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
It’s tucked into an area with more waterfalls than just about any other U.S. region — and legend has it it’s got more breweries per capita than any other American city. Asheville, North Carolina is a treat for both urban and outdoor adventure lovers, and we’ve compiled the very best things to see, do, and explore while you’re there.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Asheville is lucky to have a wide range of state parks, preserves, and green spaces located right in its backyard. Here are just a few of the state parks worth checking out in and around Asheville, NC.
Along with the unique geological formation that is the park’s namesake, Chimney Rock State Park includes a whopping 8,000 acres of lush North Carolina countryside, and it’s all located just 25 miles southeast of Asheville. Along with miles of hiking trails and out-of-this-world views, this park is also a great spot for rock climbers, and home to an Animal Discovery Den that allows the kids (and adults!) to get up close and personal with some wild new friends.
Lying along the electric-looking borders of 6,500+ acre Lake James, Lake James State park is a swath of more than 3,700 acres of forested woodlands perfect for all sorts of outdoor recreation. Along with the draw of the lake itself, which is perfect for swimming, fishing, and paddling, the park is criss-crossed with over 20 miles of trail for hiking and mountain biking, and also offers many campsites.
At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and Mount Mitchell State Park celebrates and preserves it with interpretive signage, a museum dedicated to the mountain’s cultural and natural history, and a developed trail network to help bring visitors to the spots with the most epic views. A small campground for tent campers is available, and the park is also an entry point for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, beloved by serious backpackers.
With a vast network of trails built specifically for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians, South Mountains State Park is a truly wild landscape, all just a little bit over an hour from the urban conveniences of Asheville. Along with other geological attractions, the park is home to a remarkable 80-foot waterfall and is a great place to spot all manner of local wildlife… or to reel some in for dinner, if you go trout fishing in one of its mountain streams!
Hiking is easily one of the most popular pastimes in Asheville, and for good reason: this part of the country is blessed with some of the most stunning landscapes in not just the U.S., but the world, and it’s all waiting right outside your door. Here are just a few of the many hiking trails to tackle in Asheville, NC.
A great trail for beginner hikers just getting their legs under them, the Bent Creek Network: Wolf Branch Loop Trail runs about four miles altogether and sees less than 400 feet of elevation gain, so while you’ll climb some hills, it’s nothing insurmountable. Do be aware that this trail is also commonly used by local mountain bikers, so be sure to leave them some room when they come zipping by!
Short and sweet, the trail up to the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower only runs about three quarters of a mile one way — though you’ll climb 400 or so feet over the course of that distance, so it’s definitely a little bit of uphill work. Still, you’ll find it rewarding when you reach the namesake lookout tower, which provides even more stellar views provided you’ve saved some energy to scale its stairs.
A day-trippable segment of a much longer hike, the Mountains to Sea Trail: Folk Art Center to Haw Creek Overlook runs about five miles altogether and sees a little less than a thousand feet in elevation gain, putting it in the moderately challenging category and making it a good endeavor for a new-ish hiker. Although you’ll certainly work up a sweat, you’ll be rewarded by stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and Asheville itself, and you don’t have to drive very far at all to get to it.
In Asheville, you very much should go chasing waterfalls — and a couple of the most scenic in the area can be knocked out at once when you take on the Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls hike. Running just short of four miles altogether and seeing almost 800 feet in elevation gain, this hike is moderately strenuous and a great workout, but will certainly dish out rewards for your effort. Keep in mind that the path can get muddy from the waterfall spray, so wear sturdy boots!
If you’re looking for a longer and more strenuous adventure, consider the Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain Loop, which scales almost 1,800 feet over the course of more than 11 miles round trip. Although it’s certainly a full day’s effort, this hike offers ample incentive for devoting your time and energy: along with the sweeping views, you’ll also have lots of opportunity to spot local birds and wildlife.
One thing’s for certain: with all the fun there is to get into in Asheville, you’re going to have to have some good fuel on board to enjoy it all! Here are the very best restaurants in Asheville, from Mexican to Italian to vegan (of course) and everything in between.
The kind of old school joint that will remind you of a Brooklyn Italian eatery, even if you’ve never been to Brooklyn, Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian is just what it sounds like: fresh, delicious, locally loved Tuscan eats served up in a convivial atmosphere. Fresh, homemade food is washed down with beautiful, yet simple wines, and it’s all followed up by desserts you don’t want to miss.
From its tin ceilings to its mural-bedecked walls, Sonora Cocina Mexicana is as beloved for its delicious range of cocktails as it is for its large menu of freshly made and authentic Mexican eats. Including classic favorites like street tacos as well as more innovative moves, like a Mexican-style, bacon-wrapped hot dog, you could easily eat at this place every night for a week and not get the same thing twice.
You’d be right to expect Asheville to bring its A game when it comes to plant-based fare, and for the vegetarians and vegans in the crowd, Plant is the place to be. Using creative culinary tactics and a whole garden full of fresh ingredients, this place will make even the carnivores in your group take vegetarian dining more seriously.
While there are plenty of contenders for those on the search for the best Asian restaurant in Asheville, Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas is certainly a front runner. Serving up a wide range of Chinese and Japanese small plates, this spot is trendy, vibrant, and known for the freshness of its ingredients. In other words, you can’t go wrong.
Literally meaning “tea and water,” Chai Pani is slang in Indian for going out for a quick cup of tea and maybe a little snack on the side. It makes sense, then, that Chai Pani Restaurant is known for its chaat, or Indian street snacks, although full-size homestyle platters are also available. For dessert, there’s kheer — a delicious and creamy rice pudding dish that’s made with cashews, sliced almonds, raisins and cardamom. Yum!
Enjoying the delicious dining in town and the incredible outdoor spaces in the surrounding areas are just the beginning of the fun things there are to do in Asheville, North Carolina. Here are some more of our top tips, no matter who you’re exploring with or what you’re into.
Asheville is an incredible place for the whole family! Here are some of the best kid-friendly attractions to tackle.
Tucked inside the Bent Creek Experimental Forest of the Pisgah National Forest, the North Carolina Arboretum is a unique and accessible way to discover the wonders of the great outdoors in this area — without having to go very far from town at all. Open every day of the year except Christmas, the arboretum will enchant adults while giving kids ample room to stretch their legs, all while learning more about the rich diversity of plant life that surrounds them.
Odds are you haven’t been to a “museum” quite like this one! While offering a look into pinball history, the real attraction of the Asheville Pinball Museum is the opportunity to play on the machines yourself — and entry prices are reduced for kids 10 and under. Huzzah!
While there’s no shortage of things to keep you occupied in Asheville during the day, there are also plenty of wonderful things to get into once night falls. Here are some of our favorite after-dark opportunities.
What’s better than sitting back with a great book? Sitting back with a great book and a fine glass of bubbly — which is exactly what you can do at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. One part used bookstore and one part fancy drinkery, this spot also serves up light bites, beer, and non-sparkling wines by the glass.
As fun as movie night can be, the big box cinemas can get old… which is why those in the know in Asheville head to Grail Moviehouse, the alternative theater that screens a curated selection of independent, foreign, and otherwise noteworthy films. Along with the show, you can also enjoy a wide variety of snacks including alcoholic beverages. As far as things for couples to do in Asheville, it’s tough to do any better.
Want to enjoy Asheville without having to take out a second mortgage? We hear you — and we’ve got some options.
While sitting in a coffee shop for an afternoon with your laptop or a good book at your side is a common inexpensive pastime, when in Asheville, we highly recommend trading your cup of joe for a cup of tea — even if you’re not usually the type. Dobra Tea has two locations in town and is known for its extensive tea menu and knowledgeable waitstaff. We can just about guarantee you’ll find something you haven’t tried yet!
The kind of local bookstore big chain shops make you long for, the only thing Malaprop’s has more of than fine written volumes is character. Hosting a variety of community events year round and staffed by folks who actually do have specific recommendations and opinions on their selection, this spot will turn even a skeptic into a bookworm.
Want to get familiar with Asheville without spending a dime? Believe it or not, there are ways to do so! Here are our favorite free things to do in Asheville, NC.
Not every city can enjoy the unique advantage of being located directly along the Blue Ridge Parkway — so while you’re in Asheville, you might as well take advantage of that fact! Taking a scenic drive (or bike ride, for the brave) along the Blue Ridge Parkway is an excellent way to take in some views on a day you’re not quite feeling a whole hike. And, of course, it’s totally free of charge… except for the gas you have to put into your tank, of course.
With ten beautifully manicured acres of gardens filled to the brim with examples of plants native to the Southern Appalachian area, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville is so lovely, it’s hard to believe it’s free to enter… but indeed, it is. While donations are gladly accepted, you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy this beautiful locale, which also hosts events, classes, and plant sales.
We could all use some pampering from time to time. Whether you need a massage after a long and strenuous hike or just a new ‘do, here are the best day spas and salons in Asheville.
Salt caves have been all the rage lately, with devotees praising their unique healing and detoxifying properties. But the Asheville Salt Cave offers more than just the opportunity to kick back and enjoy a glowingly pink salt room: they also offer massage therapy in a wide range of modalities, as well as a hammam where you can steam, exfoliate, and purify.
Offering classic spa services like massage and skincare as well as a full range of salon treatments including hair care and color, nail care, waxing, makeup, and even microblading, Suraj Spa and Salon is something of a one-stop shop for beautifying and rejuvenation in Asheville. No matter what you’re looking for, chances are you can find it here!
Staying fit will help you climb the mountains that surround this beautiful town… as well as the mountains day-to-day life can throw your way. Here are the very best gyms and yoga studios for those looking to get a sweat session in while in Asheville.
Fitness goals can feel a lot more achievable when you’re supported by a group, community effort — and Underground Fitness Asheville is exactly the place to find that kind of support. Offering a range of challenging and engaging classes that focus on high-intensity intervals that get the most of your time and effort, this is the perfect spot for those who want to get a lot done in a short amount of time.
Helping you achieve balance, both physically and mentally, Asheville Yoga Center is a beloved local studio offering a wide range of practices, all led by patient and empathetic yogi’s who’ve been on both sides of the mat. Special events and teacher trainings are also available for those looking to ramp up an existing practice to the next level.
While you certainly don’t have to get far from Asheville to have a good time — quite the contrary — it’s true that there are some incredible opportunities in the surrounding areas! Here are our favorite day trips from Asheville.
Not every city can say it has a national park right in its backyard, but Asheville, NC can! It’s just a couple of hours to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is chock-a-block full of incredible hiking trails, rivers, mountain peaks, and everything your outdoor-loving heart could ask for. Take the RV and camp for a weekend — or a week!
Looking for a different kind of Southern experience? Cross the border into Tennessee to explore Knoxville, a unique city known for its delicious comfort food, friendly faces and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Looking for even more to do while you’re in town? Check out our full guide to Knoxville here!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Asheville that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Asheville? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.