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Where Locals Go to Hike, Bike and Paddle in Asheville

Five tips on where to experience amazing outdoor adventures.

By Kevin Litwin on June 26, 2020

Asheville NC
Asheville / Lynne Harty

Nature-adventure seekers, welcome to Asheville, where connecting with the area’s beautiful greenways and blueways is part of everyday life.

Nearly 1 million acres of protected wilderness offer many places to hike, bike and paddle, highlighted by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the French Broad River, which offer rewarding outdoor adventure opportunities during all four seasons. Enthusiasts can enjoy activities like whitewater rafting, mountain biking, backpacking, ziplining and horseback riding.

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Living in Asheville means easy Blue Ridge Parkway drives to see native wildflowers or visits to Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Here are five tips on where to start your outdoor adventure:

1. Flowers are Flourishing

For a quick workday walk (or anytime), the Botanical Gardens at Asheville has a network of trails that is easily accessible and includes short loops. A creek runs through the 10 acres of property, where hikers are sure to appreciate the 700 species of plants native to the southern Appalachian Mountains, including wildflowers, herbs, grasses, aquatic plants, mosses and lichens. Parking and admission are free, although donations are encouraged.

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2. Hit the Trails

Montreat Trails near Black Mountain is a trail system above Montreat College that has more than 20 miles of hiking paths on 2,500 beautiful acres. Montreat Conference Center is a good starting spot where hikers can pick up a trail map, or maps are available online. The center also offers guided hikes that are $75 per group, up to 15 people. One of the most popular suggested hikes is a 5-mile moderate jaunt that goes along Graybeard Trail to Pot Cove Gap to the Trestle Trail to Walker’s Knob (4,780 feet) and back down the Graybeard Trail.

Asheville NC
Asheville / Brian McCord

3. Water, Water Everywhere 

For fans of the water, one of the most popular activities these days is stand-up paddle boarding along the French Broad River. Whitewater rafting enthusiasts can find world-class opportunities on the Green River just 35 miles from downtown Asheville. The river includes the upper, narrows and lower sections that offer something for every level of paddler. Narrows is most famous because of its challenges for the most experienced of kayakers. Also close are the Nantahala and Nolichucky rivers, also popular with whitewater rafters, canoeists and kayakers.

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4. Bike Your Way Around 

Asheville is a definite destination for many mountain bikers throughout the entire country, with biking trails lined with forests, waterfalls and wildlife. One of the more popular places is Bent Creek Experimental Forest, with 6,000 acres of wilderness only 15 minutes from downtown Asheville. Green’s Lick is a trail  at Bent Creek that will both test your legs and nerves as you descend 800 feet in 2.5 miles on an old roadbed. For beginner cyclists, try Asheville area pathways like Homestead Trail that runs along Lake Powhatan or the Deer Lake Lodge paved trail that starts at the Rice Pinnacle parking area.

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5. Consult the Experts

Pick up a copy of Five-Star Trails: Asheville, a book written by Asheville resident Jennifer Pharr Davis. After college, Davis hiked the Appalachian Trail, and 12 years ago she founded Blue Ridge Hiking Company in Asheville. Her book describes 35 of the best hikes in and around town. “Each hike is rated up to five stars, with the categories of physical beauty, solitude, child friendliness, scenery and more, all based on what you’re looking for,†Davis says. Her company offers guided daytrips along with weeklong backpacking trips. “Hiking can often be like walking through a museum,†she says. “You can enjoy it by yourself, or you can have a guide to tell you the special features and hidden trails for the full experience and perspective.”

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

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