Outdoor Activities in Asheville Give Residents a Natural High

Asheville and western North Carolina are a natural nirvana when it comes to things to do outdoors

Heather Donahoe
On Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - 06:20

For adrenaline junkies and casual hikers alike, Asheville is the sort of place that will have nearly any visitor dreaming of a permanent escape to the mountains. With a climate that beckons year round, Asheville has attracted scores of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, kayakers and rock climbers and plenty of aspiring adventurers all eager to explore the storied Blue Ridge beauty.

The Great Outdoors are Just Around the Corner

The easy access to outdoor action is not lost on most Asheville residents, many of whom put down roots in the "Land of the Sky" after they were dazzled during a visit. Playing outside, after all, is a way of life in Asheville, where the local Buncombe County Greenways, a convergence of paved trails, safely connect walkers, runners, and cyclists to the region’s parks, schools and communities.

“If you’re a hiker or a trail runner, I can’t imagine a better place to live than Asheville,” says Jennifer Pharr Davis, a writer and long-distance hiker, who holds the unofficial record for the fastest hike of the Appalachian Trail. “On most weekends, my family and I will head to the Mountains to Sea Trail, which runs straight through south Asheville. If we want to make a weekend of it, then we’ll head up the Appalachian Trail at Sam’s Gap or Hot Springs, N.C. There’s nothing better than spending a full day on the trail, then drinking some beer by the French Broad River or soaking in the warm natural waters of the Hot Springs Resort and Spa.”

Plenty of Activities and Choices

The only difficult part of enjoying outdoor pursuits near Asheville is deciding where to begin. Take Pisgah National Forest for example. The 500,000-acre park is spread with trails, rivers, waterfalls and the Bent Creek Area mountain bike trails, making Pisgah is the perfect spot for day hikes, weekend campouts and backpacking excursions with plenty leftover to explore on the next visit.

Still can’t decide where to start? John Grace, Asheville resident, former professional kayaker and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, has some simple advice: “Get a good map with topographic lines, learn to read it and just pick out things that look cool,” Grace says. “That’s always worked really well for me, no matter where I’ve been. One summer, my wife and I got in about 25 hikes we started looking for peaks within a few hours, and then we just kept trying new ones. All you really need is a good map and a hiking or biking partner.”

Or … a kayaking partner. For Grace, the Green River just south of Asheville was what initially drew him from Indiana to North Carolina, where he honed his skills on the river’s Class V rapids. Thanks to dam-release-controlled waters, the Green River typically can be enjoyed for about 300 days each year. The Nantahala and French Broad rivers also are great options for kayaking, canoeing and tubing with a range of serene stretches and wild rapids for everyone from the curious to the serious.

Asheville’s natural setting is certainly unique, but the community that embraces it is what makes it so special, according to Grace. “I like living around like-minded, active, healthy people,” he says. “We have four weeks in the summer when it’s really hot, and about four weeks in the winter when it’s really cold; other than that, you couldn’t ask for a better climate for getting out and exploring. I certainly have no plans to leave.”

There’s nothing better than spending a full day on the trail, then drinking some beer by the French Broad River or soaking in the warm natural waters of the Hot Springs Resort and Spa.

Jennifer Pharr Davis