Asheville is in the western tip of North Carolina, and one of the major cities near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is near the Pisgah National Forest and the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, has pleasant temperatures for most of the year, colorful spring and summer flowers, and beautiful fall foliage. One year, when it was time to plan a vacation, we just didn’t want to deal with air travel, so I got a map out to get some ideas. We live in central Florida and Asheville was within one day’s driving distance. Asheville has a thriving art community, good restaurants, and lots of outdoor activities, all of which we love, and it would be even more scenic with the fall foliage, which we don’t really have here in Florida. Well, we fell in love with Asheville and I am now planning our third trip back this fall!
Great Bed & Breakfast – the Bent Creek Lodge
If you are traveling as a couple and have no kids in tow, the Bent Creek Lodge is a wonderful place to stay in Asheville. They are practically next door to the North Carolina Arboretum, up a long, forested driveway. They serve a wonderful gourmet breakfast every morning and their deck overlooks a beautiful forested area, which is adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Delicious, freshly baked cookies also appear every afternoon! The hosts, Doug and Jodee, are very accommodating and will honor any special dietary requests, including a gluten-free diet, or working around any food allergies. [If you have a thyroid condition, this link talks about the correlation of gluten with autoimmune thyroid problems; if you have frequent hives or asthma attacks, this link is about yellow #5 food color, a common, but unsuspected trigger.] Doug and Jodee are also very knowledgeable about the area and can help you with any information you need. Their restaurant recommendations are always excellent, since Jodee is an accomplished chef herself. I work our vacation schedule around their room availability, because the Bent Creek Lodge is part of what makes our Asheville vacations great!
North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville
The North Carolina Arboretum has beautiful gardens, a large bonsai collection (the tiny trees have fall foliage too!), hiking trails, and is just a pleasant day trip. We love to hike the Bent Creek Trail in the fall, when all the leaves make such a pretty backdrop. The beauty of hiking in the North Carolina Arboretum is that it’s not truly in the wilderness, and there are benches to sit on at different points in the trail. The trail is fairly level but does go gently uphill and then downhill at times, but this is a rolling hill type of hike, not a steep mountain like in the west. You can choose a circular route and pass the main building with restrooms and food at some point, before coming full circle back to your car. It took us a leisurely 3 hours. One of our fondest memories was just sitting, relaxing on a bench in the Arboretum, when a leaf from above just fell on us. I guess that’s why they call it fall!
River Arts District, Asheville
The River Arts District near downtown Asheville is an old industrial area around the railroad tracks that has been turned into a working artist neighborhood. There are over 100 artists with working studios in the River Arts District, and you can see some of them at work when you visit. We have seen hot glass blown, a potter rolling out his porcelain dough, and met Jonas Gerard himself. I have seen very memorable, unique pieces here, and I always look forward to the day we spend at the River Arts District. Do wear good walking shoes, because the studios are quite spread out and you might be walking up and downhill at times.
The first year we visited Asheville, we walked up and down several streets on the east side of downtown. There must be a line we crossed (on Lexington Avenue?) where we ventured into the “hippie” side with stores reminiscent of the 60s. On the other side were high end art galleries, the antithesis of the hippie side. I remember one shop that had many antique relics—it would be a great source for props for movies set in the 1950s. Hard to believe, but young adults today are not even familiar with phonographs, vinyl records, rotary dial phones, and manual typewriters. We went down memory lane in that store for awhile—didn’t realize we had become antiques ourselves lol.
If you like art, downtown Asheville is definitely worth a visit, because there are several art galleries here. There are also some fabulous restaurants worth trying, and my favorite chocolate store, The Chocolate Fetish, is on the west side. I love their dark chocolate rounds with almonds and raspberries.
Lake Powhattan Recreational Area, Asheville, NC
The Lake Powhattan Recreational Area is adjacent to the North Carolina Arboretum and is another nice area for hiking around. While there is actually a trail that connects the two, there are actually two separate roads that lead to their respective parking lots. The Arboretum also has a fee for parking, while Lake Powhattan does not. The Arboretum is well-maintained, with real bathrooms and food available for purchase, while Lake Powhattan is a more natural area, where you can camp, fish, and hike. But it also has a lake, which is always pleasant to walk around. We hiked the area in early November, and most of the trees were already pretty bare, though it was a nice, easy walk (no elevation).
DuPont State Forest Waterfalls and Brevard, NC
DuPont State Forest, southwest of Asheville, is home to Triple Falls, High Falls, and other waterfalls (depending on your energy level), and a nice day trip from Asheville. We drove over one fall day, hiked around, took some pictures, and then drove on to the city of Brevard, North Carolina for a late lunch. Brevard has a main street with art galleries and assorted shops that we enjoyed visiting, and several restaurants for you to choose from.
Blue Ridge Parkway & Waynesville, NC
The Blue Ridge Parkway can be a scenic drive in late September/early October when the leaves are probably at their peak. When we drove it at the end of October, most of it was pretty bare, so I would recommend it earlier in the season. There was still color at the beginning of the drive, at the lower elevation closer to Asheville where we entered the Blue Ridge Parkway, but as we ascended, most of the trees became bare. Our destination for lunch was Waynesville, and there were quite a few people there the day we visited in October. Waynesville has a bustling main street with the usual art galleries and eateries and we enjoyed browsing. Leaving Waynesville, I-40 will take you directly back to Asheville.
Restaurants We’ve Enjoyed in Asheville
Rezaz – they say it’s Mediterranean food, but I just call this “new age” food, which is a blend of anything and everything that tastes good. Arugula salad with goat cheese and walnuts, mushroom risotto, and smoked duck breast are just a few of the dishes I’ve had. A favorite we always return to in the Biltmore Village.
Posana Cafe – Always gluten-free, yet always delicious. Their burgers are wonderful and they also serve one of my favorites—sweet potato fries. Downtown Asheville.
Salsa’s – Mexican Caribbean is how they describe themselves; whatever it is, it’s good. We had the special pork dish that day, which had spicy pork, tomatoes, cheese, cilantro, along with black beans and rice. It was delicious and definitely worth a return visit. Downtown Asheville.
Tupelo Honey – modern Southern cooking, we enjoyed their pork chops, collard greens with soy sauce, fried green tomatoes with cheese grits, smashed roots (not just potatoes!), and biscuits. South Asheville on Hendersonville Rd. There’s also a downtown location, but it’s usually more crowded.
Apollo Flame Bistro – Good food for the hungry after hiking the North Carolina Arboretum. They have Greek gyros, pizza, pasta, subs, etc. at reasonable prices. I think we’ll get takeout next time so we can eat outside and enjoy the view from the deck at the Bent Creek Lodge. On Brevard Road in the Centre at Biltmore Square.
Stone Ridge Tavern – Good food at reasonable prices, and one of the closest restaurants to the Bent Creek Lodge, it fits the bill when you don’t want to drive very far. They serve a typical American menu of pasta, burgers, steak, seafood, ribs, pork chops, chicken, etc. I enjoyed the Stone Ridge chicken with cheese, bacon, and mushrooms. On Brevard Road in the Centre at Biltmore Square.