Conde Nast readers named Asheville, NC the no. 4 friendliest city in the US. While my family of six visited in 2013, we felt that southern hospitality! We also fell in love with the farm-to-table dining experiences, the eclectic mix of business and arts, and the breathtaking hikes and waterfalls. Here is your guide to family fun in one of the “Most Beautiful Places in America.”
Asheville TreeTops Adventure Park – Tie into a harness, and swing from the trees as you encounter obstacles such as dangling hula hoops, airborne kayaks, and tightrope wires – all from 12 to 45 feet in the air. There are over 50 challenges, spread over three levels of trails. In addition to the ropes course, explorers can take the Zipline Tour (save on a combo ticket) or bike the trails around the property. Don’t forget to wear closed-toe shoes, and bring a cooler for cold drinks or snacks during and after your high-flying expedition.
Chimney Rock State Park – Travel about 30 minutes east of Asheville to Chimney Rock State Park. Your reward: 75-mile panoramic views from atop this 535-million year old icon of North Carolina! The drive up the mountain takes about 10 minutes, and the stunning tree- and rock- lined road doesn’t begin to prepare you for the scene at the top. The view from the parking lot is magnificent, and it is worth the trip even if you are not prepared to climb the 500 stairs to the actual Rock.
If you are looking to explore Chimney Rock further, there are multiple trails for hiking, including kid-friendly trails near the entrance. There is also a trail to the mountain’s waterfall, but it is closed due to a mudslide brought on by the unusually wet summer this year. Great Woodland Adventure Trail features discovery stations for kids, each showcasing a locally-made sculpture. The trailhead is just beside the Animal Discovery Den, which houses several live animals for kids to enjoy.
The DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton is a great family hotel. There is a fridge in the suite, an indoor pool for year-round play, and a breakfast and snack bar ensure you get out the door on time each morning. It is only minutes from Biltmore and Downtown Asheville, and provides easy access to the interstate for day trips to the surrounding area waterfalls. As the nostalgic one in the family, one of my favorite things about this hotel is that the land it sits on was formerly part of the Biltmore Dairy. You can even find life-size Jersey cow and milk wagon art in the lobby! The current owner is a member of the Vanderbilt family, and ensures the hotel contributes to the rich history of the Asheville area.
Think Biltmore is just for adults? Think again! We toured the home at our own pace, which took a few hours. My teenagers loved the audio tour, as expected, but I was unsure my energetic kindergartener would hold up. Boy was I surprised! He adored the scavenger hunt that Biltmore made available for younger ones, but only part way through he had commandeered by audio tour and was engrossed in the rich history of each room. After an inside tour, don’t miss a walk around the grounds of the mansion. There are over 22-miles of trails. Younger kids will enjoy the three ponds of the Italian Garden; the lily pads and Kio will mesmerize them. Keep walking through the Walled Garden and down to the Conservatory; they can get the wiggles out and you can admire the gorgeous backdrop. If you have older kids then consider extending your walk into the Azalea Garden, or out into the woodland trails.
Tupelo Honey Cafe is all the rage around the south, popping up all over the place, but Asheville is where they call home! We had the pleasure of partaking in a breakfast smorgasbord while visiting Tupelo Honey Cafe. Biscuits and honey came to the table with our coffee; they rose high and melted in our mouth. We tried everything from the sweet potato pancakes to the eggs and bacon. You know you’re at a kid-friendly joint when there are ten selections on the child’s menu, and it (like the main menu) offers gluten-free and vegan options. The wait staff was awesome; even with a huge morning crowd, our server never missed a step.
I am most excited to share with you about the community work Tupelo Honey is doing for Asheville, and each of the cities where a Tupelo Honey Café resides. This non-profit employs the neighborhood kids of this underprivileged area of town, and teaches them job skills, organic agriculture, and entrepreneurship. If you are interested in learning more about Tupelo Honey and Mill Village, here is a great video.
Pisgah National Forest – Pisgah is huge – 500,000 acres! There is plenty to do including biking, scenic driving, camping and horseback riding, fishing and more. But most visitors, and a fair share of locals, find themselves at Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Looking Glass Falls is a must-stop on your way to Sliding Rock. It is a gorgeous waterfall visible from the highway, making it one of the most photographed waterfalls in the east. There is ample parking to jump out and take a picture; the adventurous will brave the stairs to the bottom and take a swim in the freezing waters. The water temperature in this area, in summer, hovers in the 50s, which doesn’t seem to detract the frolickers. Back in the car, head a few miles up the road to Sliding Rock. There is a small admission fee (cash please), which presumably covers the cost for the seasonal lifeguards on duty in this recreation area. Take a plunge down the 50-foot natural water slide into an eight-foot pool of icy water. There is usually a crowd, but the line moves fast and the wait is short.
DuPont State Forest – An easy 45-minute drive south of Asheville into the Brevard, NC area will reward you with breathtaking waterfalls and surreal scenic drives. Head to DuPont State Forest to see Hooker Falls and Triple Falls. Both are short hikes from the same parking lot and feature the forest made famous by the movie Hunger Games. A walk back up the hill and a short hike up an adjoining path provides a spectacular view of Triple Falls. There is not a way (that we found) to get down into Triple Falls, but the view is worth the hike. If you have smaller kiddos (or you are exhausted from your Hooker Falls adventure), then take the hike up only about half way. There is a clearing in the trees, complete with a bench for resting, that makes great photos with your crew. Looking for some Hunger Games excitement in Atlanta? Think about a trip to the Goat Farm.
Whitewater Falls – One the way back to Atlanta from Asheville is a waterfall that will take your breath away – Whitewater Falls. It’s the highest waterfall east of the Rockies! Park in the lot and take a short, pleasant walk to the overlook (although there are stairs.)