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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.

By Rich Bailey on November 30, 2022

Richard Norris rides his skateboard with his son, Lyndon norris, on the Wilma Dykeman bike path in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC. His wife Denise Marbach Norris walks their dog, Olive, in the background.
Lynne Harty

Whether you are looking to spend a day out on the water, have your heart set on a hike, or really need to get your bike wheels going round and round, Asheville and its surrounding areas offer a multitude of ways to keep you active and entertained.

No matter the activity or whether you’re in the city or the woods, make sure to plan ahead and be prepared. Have the right equipment and a water bottle. Consider elevation changes that might make a hike or ride more strenuous than you realize. And remember, conditions can change quickly.

Whitewater rafting on the French Broad River in Asheville, NC.

On the Water

A huge range of water-related activities can be found in and near Asheville, including swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, tubing, whitewater rafting and paddleboarding.

“Right within the city limits of Asheville, there are ample opportunities to get on a kayak, in a canoe, go fishing, go tubing,” says Christine Elyseev, outdoor programs coordinator for Asheville Parks & Recreation. “The French Broad River runs right through the heart of downtown.”

Beaver Lake is just north of downtown, Lake Lure and Lake Powhatan are a quick car ride away, and the Pigeon River is about an hour away. Of course, what you want to do will influence the body of water you choose, so be sure to confirm what’s allowed. For example, Lake Powhatan is great for fishing or swimming, but power boats are not allowed, while power boats are welcome on Lake Lure.

Paula reed and Aaron Grau painting under tree along the French Broad River on the Wilma Dykeman trail in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC. Stephen Cohen walks by them with his dog, Hank.
Lynne Harty

Walk This Way

There are hundreds of miles of pathways in and around Asheville, from a strenuous hike to a quick walk. A few options include the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Reed Creek Greenway, French Broad River Greenway, the trail around Lake Tomahawk and Craven Gap Trail.

“We have trails within the city, and we’re surrounded by the Blue Ridge Parkway and two national forests,” Elyseev says. “The most popular hikes tend to be to waterfalls or swimming holes off of the main access that require you to walk in to get to those areas.”

One of the most popular waterfalls, Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest, reopened in spring 2022. This natural 60-foot water slide that ends in an 8-foot-deep pool of water was closed for months after Tropical Storm Fred caused flooding that left hazardous debris.

Richard Norris rides his scooter with his son, Lyndon norris, on the Wilma Dykeman bike path in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC.
Lynne Harty

Pedal Power Play

From mountain biking and road biking to family bike outings on a greenway, there are trails and roads and pathways for all levels of experience and difficulty.

“Bent Creek in Pisgah National Forest is probably the most popular area for mountain biking,” says Elyseev. “The Blue Ridge Parkway is popular for road biking in winter when traffic is a little slower, and sections are closed because of winter weather. In the city, the greenways are a great opportunity to get in a couple miles going from park to park along the river.”

Speaking of greenways, it’s no accident that you’ve heard so much about them.

“The majority of our public love our greenways,” says Lucy Crown, greenways program planner for the City of Asheville. “The city does a survey every year, and sidewalks and greenways are always one of the top priorities that residents want to see our tax dollars spent on.”

The two-mile Wilma Dykeman Greenway was recently completed along the French Broad River as part of the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project to bring a very old roadway up to modern standards and another half-mile directly across the river that furnishes a missing piece in an existing greenway. With about 8 miles of completed greenways, the city has plans for dozens more miles and for extending the greenway network into neighborhoods, both for recreation and to help people get around the city.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to learn more about the Asheville area, check out the latest edition of Livability Asheville, North Carolina

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