Asheville, North Carolina, is the biggest urban getaway in Southern Appalachia, but it feels like a little mountain town.
It has world-class beer and food scenes, but you can show up to 5-star restaurants in muddy hiking clothes, and no one will bat an eyelash.
It has easy access to the highest mountains in the east, some of the best whitewater in the country, and over 500 waterfalls. There are so many things to do in Asheville, NC that you could spend months here and never get bored.
Getting to Asheville
Part of Asheville’s charm is its relative isolation. The city is a relatively long drive from major urban centers, and the local airport is small.
Your best bet coming from anywhere outside the southeast is to fly to Asheville Regional Airport. You’ll probably have to connect through Charlotte. The airport is 15 minutes south of downtown – you can take a taxi or bus to your hotel or rent a car (which you’ll almost definitely want to do).
During COVID, it’s been challenging to get an Uber or Lyft, so don’t count on that option.
If you live in NC, SC, TN, or much of GA, Asheville is within reasonable driving distance for a quick trip. The city is at the intersection of I-40 and I-26.
As far as other public transport goes, options are limited. A few long-distance buses serve Asheville, but not from particularly convenient tourist destinations, making it hard to reach on a trip around the south. In addition, the city does not have a passenger rail system.
You’ll want to rent a car (or drive your own)
Remember how I said Asheville feels like a little mountain town?
The very thing that makes this city so charming also makes it highly car-dependent.
If all you plan to explore is downtown Asheville, you could get away without your own wheels. However, most of the best things to do in Asheville require a car. So if you aren’t driving to Asheville, renting a car is essential to make the most of your trip.
Luckily, driving in the city is easy (hardly any traffic compared to major cities!). You’ll have no trouble finding parking, and even the big garages downtown are free for your first hour.
You can also find free parking on the outskirts of downtown and on side streets in west Asheville – just be mindful that people depend on-street parking in front of their houses in residential areas, so don’t steal a local’s spot.
(If there’s no driveway for the home you’re parking in front of, that’s a cue.) Don’t leave anything in your car if you park on the street.
If you’re determined to avoid a car rental, you can try the local bus system. All buses start/end at the main ART terminal downtown.
You can take the bus to stops on major roads in outlying neighborhoods, but buses don’t run down side streets (they wouldn’t fit!). You can also reach Black Mountain by bus. Fares are cheap – $1 per ride – but service mostly runs at rush hour and ends early evening.
Things to do in Asheville NC
Okay, now let’s dive into the top things to do in Asheville and the surrounding mountains!
Go for a Hike
Within an hour of Asheville, you’ll encounter five major mountain ranges, two national parks, three national forests, four wilderness areas, and a half dozen state parks and forests. So do as the locals do and hit the trails!
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Asheville NC and you can find hikes for all difficulty levels around Asheville, but as a visitor, it’s best to start with easier hikes until you get familiar with trail conditions. You’ll find these mountains considerably rougher if you come from elsewhere in the Eastern US.
Popular day hikes include the 5-mile loop of Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and Ivestor Gap or the impressive effort vs reward ratio at Catawba Falls. But there are dozens of easy hikes near Asheville, depending on what you want to see.
Explore the River Arts District
Downtown Asheville is cool. But the River Arts District – known locally as the RAD – is way cooler and is a must-do item on our best things to do in Asheville NC list.
This sprawling neighborhood on the banks of the French Broad mixes industrial sprawl with hip murals with the best restaurants in town with over a dozen small art studios.
All the studios are free to visit, and there’s no pressure to buy anything. – If you’re looking for gifts or souvenirs, this is the place to go for those too.
Essential photo ops include the murals at Foundy Street, the railroad tracks (be careful they are actively used!), and the grain silo.
My favorite studios are Village Potters and NC Glass Studio, but there’s truly something for everyone. Studios have variable opening hours but are more consistently open in the mornings through mid-afternoon.
Don’t miss a stop at Summit Coffee – and Grind and Pennycup, in that order if you want more caffeine. Pennycup is the place to buy beans to take home.
Eat at 12 Bones (weekday lunch only but worth planning your trip around), Rosabees, or Bull and Beggar. Drink at Wedge (beer) or Pleb (wine).
If you’re around in the evenings, check what’s on at the Grey Eagle – the best local music spot in town. Tickets are usually in the $10-15 range, and it’s an excellent place to see genuinely fantastic bluegrass, as opposed to the more amateur stuff that you hear at touristy breweries.
You’ll come away a fan of the style, I promise.
You can reach these spots using the protected walkway/bike track along the river. Parking is ample and free in the RAD, but if you have a small car, be forewarned that some lots can be rough. Old Lyman St has the best paved lot.
Visit a Brewery
Asheville has the most breweries per capita of any city in the east – and is second only to Fort Collins, CO, in the nation. So, sampling some of the local beers is one of the best things to do in Asheville, NC.
The Wicked Weed/Funkatorium breweries, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, are popular with visitors, and the first two offer good brewery tours. Book the tours in advance in summer/October or on weekends any time of year.
But the locals frown at these mass-production facilities and prefer to drink at locally owned places. The South Slope neighborhood, just south of downtown, has a vast concentration of less-touristic spots next to the Wicked Weed madhouse.
Bhramari is a favorite, and everyone in your group will find something they like there, but Twin Leaf and Burial are more protected from the crowds.
If you’re willing to make the drive to East Asheville, Highland is the original – and still the best – local brewery. It’s worth the 15-minute drive to visit their huge campus with frequent live bluegrass rather than crowding into their small taproom at the downtown S&W Food Hall.
You can also join a brewery tour if you want to take in a few places and learn about the scene – this one comes highly recommended and gets more off the beaten path.
If you want to rub shoulders with locals, go on a weeknight or to a brewery within driving distance out of downtown. Locals avoid the South Slope and downtown on weekends.
For cider, skip Urban Orchard and head straight to Bold Rock. Their new downtown taproom is gorgeous and convenient, but the Mills River location has the best sunsets 20 minutes south of downtown.
Go on a Chocolate Tour
French Broad Chocolates is one of the sweetest parts of the Asheville experience. They offer bean-to-bar chocolates sourced from sustainable farmers around the world. It’s incredibly delicious.
There’s a shop and cafe downtown, a great pit stop while you walk around. The chocolate mousse is to die for, and my family swears by the chocolate-dipped ginger cookies.
But if you’re a chocolate aficionado, it’s well worth taking their factory tour in the RAD. (Don’t worry, there’s a cafe there too!) The tour costs $8 and lasts less than two hours. You get plenty of samples too, and a discount at the cafe! Book here in advance since this is one of the best things to do in Asheville NC.
Visit the Biltmore
The Biltmore – America’s largest private home and the legacy of George Vanderbilt – was the original Asheville tourism draw and is almost synonymous with the city. Many people consider it the sole reason to visit Asheville.
The gardens are stunning, especially if you can time your visit with the tulip bloom. The trails are a great option for morning or nighttime strolls, runs, and bike rides.
Solo female travelers may feel more comfortable here than on wilderness trails (unless you’re using the trails pre-dawn or at night, you do not need to worry about safety in the Carolina mountains).
If you visit, an audio guide makes the experience much more enjoyable. Prepare to spend at least half a day here, touring the house and gardens and ending with a wine tasting. Tickets start at $86; unless you visit January through March, they start at $66.
Staying overnight at the Biltmore may very well be one of the most memorable things to do in Asheville NC, and would be quite an addition to the regular tour.
“Shop local” is something you’ll hear and see a lot in Asheville. Locals are happy to pay higher prices on everything from groceries to clothing to homewares to support our community.
Get into the vibe by strolling downtown and indulging in some retail therapy at locally-owned shops. Just about everywhere in the downtown area – with the exceptions of Ben & Jerry’s and Urban Outfitters – is a small business.
The Grove Arcade is a charming place to browse. This European-style shopping center is an eclectic collection of craft shops, casual food joints, cafes, and more. The Battery Park Book Exchange is an essential stop, and the cookies at Well Bred are amazing.
Nani’s Chicken is a delicious, quick, and cheap meal. One of the galleries has unique local woodworking and painting. Shops tend to rotate in and out of here frequently, so you never know what you’ll find.
Other great places to shop are Malaprop’s (ask for book recommendations – they are excellent at it!) and East Fork Pottery, which sources globally but is locally owned and makes significant contributions to the local racial justice movement.
While you walk around, you’ll notice the city’s charming Art Deco architecture. But don’t miss Asheville’s very own Wall Street and Flatiron Building.
Go on a La Zoom tour
Asheville has a reputation for weirdness, and nowhere is that more evident than on a tour with La Zoom.
Two-hour tours on the big purple bus are an essential Asheville experience. The guides are hilarious and will make sure you have a fabulous time.
This is a comedy tour first and foremost, but it’s also a great way to learn the city’s history, and it’s so very ashevillian in its culture. I recommend doing it your first night in town so you get ideas of where to go back to for deeper exploration.
Tours take in the downtown area, Biltmore Village, and Montford neighborhoods. You’re allowed to bring drinks on the bus. The traditional tour is the best, but the ghost tour is fun too (and more funny than scary).
You can book here, but make sure you reserve well in advance on weekends in summer and October, especially for a group larger than two people. If you are looking for authentic things to do in Asheville NC, this is definitely one of them.
Play in the Rivers
Western North Carolina is home to some of the country’s best water playgrounds, especially if you’re a whitewater enthusiast. But even those looking for a mellower adventure have options.
Serious paddlers should head to Bryson City, where you can kayak thrilling Class V rapids. There are guided rafting options, too, run mainly by the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
For adrenaline-seekers without kayaking experience, try the option to run the Nantahala River – including Nantahala Falls – in a tiny dinghy that you paddle yourself. You’ll probably end up swimming the falls, and you’ll come away with a bruise or two, but it’s great fun.
The Ocanaluftee is the best beginning whitewater river. Rivers in this area are warmer in autumn – August through October is peak paddling time, although you’ll need to inquire about water levels after tropical storms.
The Green River is another high-intensity option. Kayakers come from around the country to run the Green River Narrows, a harrowing Class IV. Land-based visitors can watch them from the Pulliam Creek trail (but it requires a steep, rope-assisted scramble).
The Class II rapids on the Green are a popular tubing escape less than 30 minutes from Downtown, but be aware that this can be a terrifying drive.
If you want a more mellow whitewater experience, the section of the French Broad near Hot Springs is the region’s prettiest Class II-III+ float. There’s a branch of the Nantahala Outdoor Center that offers guided trips here as well.
Alternatively, you can rent paddleboards or sit-on-top kayaks and float on the many mountain lakes around Asheville. Lake Lure and Lake Junalooska are local faves, but if you’re willing to drive a bit further, Lake James is by far the most beautiful.
You’ll see plenty of operators offering the option, but locals don’t dare tube or paddle the French Broad in town due to the polluted waters.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
While the Blue Ridge Parkway views make Asheville famous, the area also boasts one of the most significant concentrations of waterfalls in the nation. There are over 500 major cascades within the region.
You don’t need to hike to see some of the most spectacular ones. Looking Glass Falls is roadside, and you can spot many large falls on a drive up Route 215 or Highway 64. Several are wheelchair-accessible.
But if you want to hike to waterfalls near Asheville, some of the top trails are in DuPont State Forest. Catawba, Moore Cove, Rainbow, and Linville Falls are startlingly beautiful and unique options on easy trails. Or head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and trek the Deep Creek Waterfall Loop.
You can swim in many of the waterfalls around Asheville – but always check safety with locals first. Unfortunately, several of the best swim spots were horrifically and forever damaged by Tropical Storm Fred in August 2021.
Skinny Dip Falls and Midnight Hole are among them, which were wildly popular but are currently not safe to swim.
Additionally, waterfalls provide some of the most fragile habitats for endangered species. A good rule of thumb is if you have to step on something green to get where you want to go, don’t do it.
Moss harbors an unbelievable amount of life in these rivers, and dead trees house insects that provide essential food for larger wildlife. Avoiding damage means you won’t always get the perfect Instagram photo, but it’s worth it to protect the whole ecosystem.
Finally – never enter a river above a waterfall or attempt to climb a waterfall. Even swimming below cascades can be risky, as many of Carolina’s waterfalls have additional drops fed by strong currents just out of sight and downstream from the main visitor spots.
People die every year falling from popular cascades – Upper Catawba Falls is particularly infamous and dangerous, and even if you see people scrambling up what looks like a trail there, you should not go.
Bike Bent Creek or DuPont State Forest
Asheville has an enormous mountain biking community and a trail network to support it. MTB enthusiasts can find wild technical descents on trails like Avery Creek or plunge 4,000 feet down the Black Mountain ridge on Snook’s Nose.
But if you’re new to the sport, the trails at Bent Creek and DuPont State Forest provide the perfect introduction and is one of the most fun things to do in Asheville NC. Bent Creek’s convenient location right in town is a big plus.
You can find trails for all experience levels, starting from Rice Pinnacle or Hard Times in Bent Creek or from the main parking area in DuPont. These parking lots fill quickly – arrive by 8 am on weekdays or 7 am on weekends.
Hard Times has two entrances – one in the “bowl” and one on the Parkway – and the Parkway one has considerably more parking. It’s an unmarked parallel parking zone shortly before Walnut Cove Overlook, but there are always cars there; you can’t miss it.
You can rent bikes and join group biking adventures with operators in Asheville and Brevard. Pura Vida Tours, which is Brevard-based, is a fabulous operator.
You’ll get personalized service from the owner, who has decades of local experience. His joy and enthusiasm to share the trails are infectious.
Where to Eat During Your Asheville Adventures
With all the hiking, biking, and paddling you’re going to do in Asheville, you’re going to need to replenish some calories! Luckily, the food scene is top-notch.
Fresh local ingredients are the norm here, and eating out is remarkably good value for money. In fact, it’s one of the top things to do in Asheville.
Asheville restaurants are casual, with a few very narrow exceptions (I’m looking at you, Grove Park Inn). And I mean casual. It’s typical for locals to go straight from a wet, muddy hike to a world-class restaurant without showering or changing. So do as the locals do and dress down.
Many of the top restaurants in the city are a zoo on weekends and in peak tourist season. Not everywhere takes reservations, but if you have your heart set on a particular place, make reservations well in advance (like three months before your trip) when it’s an option.
Groups of more than 4 have virtually no chance of being seated together at most downtown restaurants.
Weirdly, considering its hippie-artsy culture, Asheville is not the greatest place for vegetarians and vegans. It’s not that you won’t find options, but you’ll miss out on the best dishes.
But if you’re a flexitarian, take heart knowing most places source meat from small sustainable farms like Hickory Nut Gap.
Wherever you eat in Asheville, consider tipping at least 20% if you receive good service. Unfortunately, tourists have a reputation for crappy tipping in this service-driven, extremely high-cost-of-living city.
Cheap and Chill
You can eat exceptionally well in Asheville for under $10. Here are some of the best options, all of which are veggie-friendly except Buxton and Rocky’s:
- Biscuit head: Get the pulled pork and skip your next two meals. You’ll thank me later.
- Taco Billy: Amazing breakfast tacos. Get the Migas.
- OWL Bakery: the bear claws are epic
- The Rhu: the sister cafe of Rhubarb. Seriously amazing sandwiches. A hidden, never-busy gem a block from Pack Square.
- Buxton Chicken Palace: it’s the same legendary fried chicken sandwich as Buxton Hall Barbecue, but $6 cheaper without a two-hour wait for a table. You want the Alabama barbecue sauce.
- Chai Pani: Indian street food. Hands down, the best value for money in the city. Everything is perfect, from the Desi salads to the bhelpuri to the paneer palak to the daal to the cocktails, and you can stuff yourself silly for $10 per person. Go in a group and eat tapas-style. No reservations, but you can usually get in without waiting for an 11:30 a.m. lunch on a Wednesday in January. It is worth the wait to stand in line for two hours here. It’s that awesome.
- Nine Mile: Jamaican-Italian fusion? I don’t know what to call it, but it somehow works. Look at the menu, and you won’t think it’s cheap, but the intention is to share meals. The Natty Bread will change your life, and if you can’t decide what to get, go for the jerk tofu-fettuccini Alfredo-pineapple magic that is the One Foundation. Great for vegetarians (not so much for vegans). The West Asheville location rarely has a wait.
- Rocky’s Hot Chicken: Giving Nashville a run for its money, anything above the medium seasoning will make your eyes water and your nose run. Cheerwine Barbecue is your sauce pick, and the mac & cheese and fried pickles are the top sides.
Farm to Table Awesomeness
These places take pride in excellent ingredients but tend to be pricey. Still, they’re among the city’s best restaurants, and it’s worth planning your eating around them. Budget $20 per meal plus drinks.
- Sunny Point: the #1 place you have to eat in Asheville. Get there 5 minutes before they open on a weekday in lousy weather, or wait in line for hours. Dinner is less busy and offers shrimp and grits, perhaps the best dish you can get in Asheville. Very veggie-friendly.
- Rhubarb: I’ve eaten here four times, and each one of them has counted among the best meals of my life. It’s modern Appalachian with seasonal menus, with fun options like foraged mushroom entrees in season and wild-caught trout from local streams. The cocktails are the bomb too. Far-in-advance reservations are mandatory. Good, but limited, veg options.
- Corner Kitchen: This is a good pick for brunch if you’re staying in Biltmore Village. Lots of veg options.
- Benne on Eagle: comes highly recommended with “Affrilachian” cuisine (inspired by the kitchens of Black Appalachia). Reservations are a good idea, especially for brunch. Brunch is ok for vegetarians, but dinner is not.
- Rosabees: Hawaiian fusion awesomeness. The desserts are 1000% worth it. The very local vibe and fabulous service. Not the best for vegetarians.
Yes, this deserves its own section. Asheville is one of the best barbecue cities in the world. It combines the best barbecue traditions from eastern NC, upcountry SC, Virginia, and Appalachia.
Pork is the name of the game here – don’t even think of ordering different meat. Veg options are unilaterally disappointing.
The Big 3 competing for best-in-town honors are:
- 12 Bones: line up on weekdays from 11:30-1 (go later, and they’ll be out of the best stuff) at this graffiti-covered hut in the RAD. Get the ribs with the blueberry chipotle sauce or a pulled pork plate with the SC mustard sauce. But the surprise star of the menu, and the best-kept local secret in town, is the turkey sandwich. Don’t miss the grits, and the cornbread is A++. They have some decent veggie options, including a side combo (pick any four except the collards, which aren’t veg). The South location has better hours and an on-site brewery. Good pie, too.
- Luella’s: when you need barbecue but 12 Bones is closed; this is a satisfying second choice. Appalachian in vibes and BBQ style, the pork sandwiches are the highlight, although the ribs are tasty. The top side dishes are the mac & cheese and chipotle green beans. Everything comes with hush puppies. Quality can slip a bit when busy, so avoid dinner time on weekends. They have a veg protein option, but it’s very polarizing – some folks love it, others say it’s terrible.
- Buxton Hall: Eastern NC whole-hog barbecue with vinegar sauce. That’s it; that’s the whole concept. Except it isn’t – the star of the show is the fried chicken sandwich with Alabama White barbecue sauce. The collards are the single best side in the city (not veggie friendly). A bit more upscale in vibe, and there’s always a wait for a table, but you can have a beer at Catawba Brewing next door in the meantime. I wouldn’t go here with vegetarians.
You’ll find less touristic (and cheaper) barbecue at local favorites like Little Pig’s and Bonfire. But, unfortunately, it’s a significant step down in quality.
The Latinx community is the fastest-growing demographic in the Asheville region, including more than 20 Latin American cultures represented. This Hispanic Heritage Month, and all year long, is an opportunity to recognize, honor, and celebrate the many contributions of the Latinx/Hispanic community.
Here are a few recommendations for restaurants to celebrate Hispanic heritage in Asheville this month and year-round:
- Little Chango– Owner Iris Rodriguez runs this small eatery in South Slope that specializes in arepas honoring food traditions and flavors from across Latin America. The cardamom-infused tres leches cake is not to be missed.
- Pupuseria Patty– Patty Saenz’ menu is a reflection of her heritage that straddles two countries – Nicaragua and El Salvador. Patty’s generously-sized pupusas are served with homeland curtido (fermented cabbage) and are made to order with a variety of fillings, like black beans, chicken, and loroco – an edible flower.
- Mamacita’s– This family-run taqueria in downtown Asheville is a local favorite, consistently voted best burrito in town. Their soft corn tortillas are made fresh daily, and their seasonal taco specials ensure no two visits are the same.
- Guajiro Cuban Comfort Food – A red food truck anchored in the River Arts District serving classic Cuban fare, like lechon asado and pastelitos. Guajiro is the childhood dream of owner and founder Christian Barroso, a second-generation Cuban American who grew up cooking authentic Cuban meals with his grandmother, Nana.
- Mikasa Criolla– Chef Santiago Vargas is passionate about sharing food traditions from his native Peru, to include Chinese and Japanese influences from a wave of migration in the 19th century. Mikasa pairs Peruvian classics, like aji gallina, and Santiago’s unique creations, like shrimp and grits empanadas. Located inside the S&W Market.
Where to Stay in Asheville
Asheville, a major tourist destination, has accommodation options for all budgets and travel styles. You’ll find top-end luxury in town or at rural mountain lodges. Mid-range B&B’s in the Montford area come with incredible charm and easy access to downtown.
Budget digs are mostly concentrated on Tunnel Road in East Asheville, but you’re better off camping at that point.
Luxury: the Omni Grove Park Inn
Not only is this the most beautiful property in Asheville, but it also has the best sunset views from the terrace.
Rooms are comfortable and stylish, the staff is top-notch, and there’s a good restaurant on the premises. It is highly recommended to come in December for the gingerbread house display.
This is the one place in Asheville where you’ll need to clean up a bit – the vibe is very high-end.
It’s in the Montford neighborhood, surrounded by gorgeous historic homes. You can park on-site and drive downtown or to the RAD in 5 minutes.
Mid-range: The Lion and the Rose B&B
This gorgeous bed and breakfast in the heart of the Montford historic district is the ideal place for a romantic weekend getaway. It has just a handful of rooms in a historic mansion, four blocks from downtown.
The included breakfasts are superb, featuring locally grown produce. And they deliver coffee to your room each morning – how’s that for service?
Montford is a much quieter neighborhood to stay in. There are no breweries, party buses, or late-night music events. But you can still safely walk home if you want to go out for after-dinner cocktails.
There are a bunch of B&B’s in the Montford area, but you will like the Lion and the Rose for their affordable rates, which start from just $130/night.
Budget: The Mountaineer Inn
Ahhh, the Mountaineer. It’s a local institution, although it arguably shouldn’t be.
Rooms are pretty grim, but it’s a step up from a hostel for about the same price (starting at $45). It’s kitschy and fun as hell.
Travelers should be aware that this isn’t the safest area of Asheville. Don’t leave anything in your vehicle, and don’t wander aimlessly on Tunnel Road at night.
In addition, some guests have reported drug activity on the premises/in the parking lot. The sense is that’s more of a derogatory assumption about the homeless population than it is a genuine concern.
It isn’t typically fully booked, so take a look at a room before committing.
You can’t miss it driving down Tunnel Road – it’s the low-rise motel with the lumberjack statue out front and the inevitable neon “vacancy” sign, ’80’s style.
Camping: Lake Powhatan Campground
If you want easy access to the city but the feel of being in the woods, or if you’re just trying to travel cheap, this campground in Bent Creek is a good bet.
You can be downtown in 10 minutes or on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 5. There’s a lake beach on-site and direct access to Bent Creek’s hiking and biking trails network.
This is a Forest Service campground, so expect very basic facilities. For something a bit more posh, you’ll need to head to Davidson River Campground in Brevard.
If you don’t have (or can’t bring) your own gear, you can rent it at French Broad Outfitters.
Head for the Backcountry
Roughly 27% of the land around Asheville is public lands and wilderness. If you want to experience what it has to offer, spend a night camping in the backcountry. It won’t cost you a dime!
To avoid damaging the wilderness, you should always camp at established sites. The closest option to town is a few minutes hike east of Craven Gap on the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Another good, hidden site east of the Beaverdam Gap overlooks the Mountains to Sea. But for more seclusion, head deeper into Shining Rock Wilderness or Pisgah National Forest.
You need to be completely self-sufficient in terms of food and gear, including a bear canister in most areas. Weather in the mountains changes rapidly, and Asheville is exceptionally wet, so a rain fly is crucial, and cowboy camping is a bad idea.
Temps often drop below freezing between September and May, but there have been nights in the ’30s in August.
You need permits to camp in Linville Gorge or the Smokeys, but elsewhere, simply show up and pick a site. For safety reasons, it’s a good idea to avoid areas within a mile of a paved road.
Backcountry car camping is not common in the Asheville area. There are spots on Old NC 105 in Linville Gorge, but it’s a laughably rough road that’s currently essentially a jeep track, and even after it gets regraded, it’s always 4×4 high-clearance.
All-wheel drives with high clearance can also try for sites on Gingercake Road. You may see people doing it, but it’s illegal to car camp at Parkway overlooks, and there have been at least two violent incidents in the last year on the Parkway at night.
You can rent all gear from French Broad Outfitters, including bear canisters.
Responsible Tourism in Asheville
The Southern Appalachians are among the most biodiverse places on the planet and the most culturally rich destinations in the US.
But the region has been heavily impacted by over-tourism, disrespectful visitors with ugly stereotypes about the people, and climate change. Please consider the following sustainable travel tips before your visit:
- Asheville is a major bachelorette party destination – but large-group travel is disruptive to local culture and the natural environment. Most Asheville businesses have difficulty accommodating large groups, and the trails suffer from overcrowding. Consider visiting in a group of four or fewer people. If you must have your bachelorette party here, be mindful of your alcohol consumption and the impacts of drunken parties on the locals who live in urban neighborhoods.
- Practice leave-no-trace principles on the trails. Don’t cut switchbacks, don’t touch or move natural features (such as wildflowers, rocks or sticks), and don’t walk on moss in wet areas. Southern Appalachia’s amphibian population is struggling, and something as simple as stepping in a puddle in the spring can disrupt endangered salamanders’ breeding patterns.
- There are many accessible hiking destinations in the Asheville area, but tourists underestimate these mountains every year and require emergency rescue. Bring the ten essentials on any hike you undertake and prepare for highly variable weather conditions, especially when gaining elevation. On a two-hour hike, you can go from sunny-70-degree weather to 30-degrees-and-snowing-with-60-mph-winds.
- Many people from outside Appalachia think that this corner of the rural south is all hillbillies and hicks. Asheville does get real rural, real quick outside of the downtown area, and it can be a culture shock for folks from big coastal cities. But please respect the rich cultural traditions that abound in these mountains. Don’t mock locals’ accents, make fun of bluegrass, or talk about how it’s like Deliverance out here (all things locals hear regularly!). Participate in cultural tourism, ask questions about local traditions, and support local craft folk. The Folk Art Center is a great place to start, but if you’re interested and respectful, you can talk your way into old-school moonshine operations, secret ramp harvests, and all-night square dances. Locals love sharing their homes with people who genuinely want to learn.
- Of course, racism and hate are genuine and dangerous parts of life in the rural South and deserve all the condemnation you can bring. But there is also a pretty strong racial justice movement in some pockets here, a deep tradition of progressivism, and a powerful feminist movement – so don’t make assumptions about people based on how they look, dress, or speak.