Keepin’ It Weird on an Asheville, North Carolina Family Vacation

In 2011, a state senator labeled Asheville, North Carolina a “cesspool of sin.”  If Tatooine’s Mos Eisley spaceport is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, perhaps Asheville is the Mos Eisley of North Carolina.  Earlier this year, I attended a conference at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and got just a small taste of this beautiful destination.  The visit whetted my appetite to return with my whole family someday.  Asheville truly has a little something for everyone: outdoor adventures, history and culture, and a funky little downtown full of shops, art, restaurants, and beer.  And as far as the “cesspool of sin” goes, Asheville is more likely a “quarter of quirkiness” at best.  So grab the kids and continue reading for more details and photos of what makes Asheville, North Carolina a fantastic family vacation spot.

Asheville, North Carolina

Outdoor Adventures

Asheville is probably best known as an outdoor destination, whether it’s ziplining, white-water rafting, mountain biking, hiking, or just enjoying the forest, it’s all easily accessible using Asheville as the hub.

Asheville, North Carolina

There are quite a few entrances to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway National Park right in Asheville, North Carolina.  This National Park corridor stretches from North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park 469 miles up to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.  The route designed to “lie gently upon the land” offers spectacularly scenic mountain views and tons of opportunities to hike.

Just a short drive from Asheville up the Blue Ridge Parkway is Mount Pisgah, the former private hunting grounds of wealthy industrialist George Vanderbilt.  Mount Pisgah is now open to all and welcomes visitors to the Pisgah Inn and Restaurant.

Asheville, North Carolina

Navitat Canopy Adventures, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains just 20 minutes north of downtown Asheville, recently opened the Blue Ridge Experience mountaintop zipline course consisting of three side-by-side “racing-style” ziplines with automatic braking systems; four scenic hikes; and 360-degree views and long-range vistas nearly 20 miles to the West and north into Tennessee.

Ziplining at NAVITAT CANOPY ADVENTURES

Ziplining at Navitat Canopy Adventures, image courtesy Navitat

 

The Nantahala Outdoor Center provides whitewater rafting and kayak tours of the nearby Nantahala River (and others).  These outdoor adventures would certainly appeal to our teens excited about ziplines and ropes courses, while my wife and I would love sitting back in a rocking chair gaze at the mountain vistas.

Asheville, North Carolina

History and Culture

Asheville offers its share of historical attractions too including America’s largest home, the Biltmore Estate.  George Vanderbilt’s 250 room mansion and 8,000 acre back yard and gardens are open for tours, and can easily occupy your family for a day (or two).

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, image courtesy Biltmore

 

One of America’s most acclaimed writers, Thomas Wolfe, spent much of his childhood in the downtown Asheville homestead.  The house itself and the boarders who visited comprised important characters and contributions to his novels.  The house provides a glimpse of life in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s, and has served as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial since the 1950’s.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Asheville, NC

After touring the highbrow and high culture sites, how ‘bout a little down home Prohibition-era moonshine?  Pack’s Tavern in Pack Square Park provided alcohol to bootleggers during the 1920’s.  Need a stiff drink?  Then come to the secret underground passages beneath Pack’s Tavern to get your illegal Carolina whisky.  Pack’s Tavern is now a full-service restaurant and bar with 35 different beers on tap.

Pack's Tavern, Asheville, NC

Funky Quirky Town

Speaking of beer, Asheville, North Carolina was named “Beer City, USA,” and is home to no less than 20 craft brew houses.  You can find beer tasting, beer flights, micro-brew souvenirs, and even a Brews Cruise to experience Asheville’s beer scene.  Complimenting Asheville’s “Beer City” scene is a burgeoning “Foodtopia” – a creative culinary community made up of farm-to-table, slow food, local cuisine, and food adventure advocates.  There’s over 250 independent restaurants, cafes and bakeries in Asheville to satisfy your family’s tastes.

Asheville, North CarolinaAsheville, North Carolina

In addition to the beer and food scene, Asheville has a thriving art community that dates back to the aforementioned author Thomas Wolfe and his contemporaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Throughout the town you can find art galleries featuring Western North Carolina crafts as well as art studios producing contemporary pieces.

Asheville, NC

You can find local craftspeople, boutique shopping, and some unique dining at Grove Arcade – the glass roof covered architectural landmark dates back to the late 1920’s, and is a site to behold even if you don’t end up buying anything.

Grove Arcade, Asheville, NC

I loved what I saw during my short visit to Asheville, North Carolina, a vibrant community that embraced creativity, quirkiness, and just being plain weird.  It was refreshing to see a town filled with unique spirit reflected in the buildings, people, arts, music, food, and drink, and best of all, it’s all found in a drop-dead gorgeous part of the country.  Yes, Asheville, I’ll be back, but next time, I’ll be sure to bring my family with me as well.

Asheville, North CarolinaAsheville, North Carolina

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.