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Asheville Paddlefest returns to Lake Julian on Sunday, May 6, from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. The festival is about enjoying a paddle on the water (whether you’re a novice, expert, or somewhere between), encouraging new folks to join the WNC paddling community, and meeting new friends. While it’s easy to enjoy this paddlers’ party from the comfort of a kayak or stand up paddleboard, there’s plenty more to experience.

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1. Paddling

Okay, there is more to Asheville Paddlefest than just paddling, but it’s still the main event. Wild Wing Cafe’s beach has recently been expanded, allowing plenty of space to put in and explore the lake.

Diamond Brand Outdoors’ paddling experts will have our entire fleet of stand up paddleboards, whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, and recreational flat water boats to demo on the water for free. (Download your liability waiver HERE.) We’ll have PFDs for adults and kids, but if you bring your own, there will be far less time spent waiting. You’ll also have a chance to chat with industry experts from the companies listed below about paddles, boating accessories, and the best spots in the region to get on the water this year.

2. Giveaways

What’s a festival without schwag? Pick up koozies, compasses, and more. There will also be a free raffle with the chance to win gift cards and gear. What else? Oh, yeah! Everyone who attends will receive a coupon for 20% OFF the purchase of any kayak or stand up paddleboard at Diamond Brand Outdoors, as well as any paddling accessories. You’ll also receive free installation of any Thule car rack system or transportation solution purchased at our store.

3. Wild Food + Music

Asheville Paddlefest’s home base the past few years has been located on the north bank of Lake Julian near Picnic Shelter #4. The move to the beach behind Wild Wing Cafe (65 Long Shoals Road in Asheville) allows an expanded footprint with more vendors, a nonprofit village, and Wild Wing’s signature daily specials and live music from Jeff Anders + Friends. Make your day more than just the festival. Make it an adventure!

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4. LEAF Easel Rider

The LEAF Easel Rider‘s Teaching Artists will be on hand to lead nature-inspired crafts for free. This mobile art lab is always a hit and recently unveiled a new look. Fun for kids, adults, and families, you might surprise yourself with your own creativity.

5. Disc Golf

Lake Julian now hosts a full 18-hole course following its August 2017 expansion. This course is relatively flat compared to the other courses in the area and has everything from water-front holes to holes that weave their way through the dense woods. (Watch out for poison oak and poison ivy.)

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This free event is made possible by a partnership with our friends at Buncombe County Recreation Services. Kids and well-behaved pets with an owner on leash are welcome.

Asheville sits in a valley that’s surrounded by so many mountains it’s hard to keep track of which ones you’re looking at. Collectively, they’re the Southern Appalachians, but there are different ranges in every direction: the Black Mountains to the East, Black Balsams and Smoky Mountains to the West, Bald Mountains to the North and many, many more. Visitors to Western North Carolina are often looking for that million-dollar mountain view and it’s definitely out there. You just have to know where to look. It’s true: the hiking scene in Asheville is about as good as it gets. But here are 5 great spots with spectacular views to get you started:

1. Craggy Gardens

Image for Craggy Gardens

A summer view from Craggy Gardens by Selena N. B. H.

One of the closest hikes to Asheville with the best long-range views is Craggy Gardens at Milemarker 364.4 off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Because of its easy access, this is a popular spot. Although its never exactly crowded, you won’t be alone during the summer or fall. Come at sunset for unobstructed views over the Black Mountains. It’s a moderate 30-minute hike, so it’s family friendly.

2. Lookout Trail

Montreat is a private Presbyterian retreat center, but its 20 trails are open to all. The Lookout Trail is a steep — and at times rocky — half mile to the top, but the view is worth the effort. From the top, you can see what’s called the Seven Sisters of the Black Mountains. When you get to the top, there’s an optional loop that will take an additional 45 minutes. The nearby Graybeard Trail, also in Montreat, has amazing views of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

3. Max Patch

The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of Max Patch Mountain, offering views of the Appalachian Mountains.
Jason A.G.

“Balds” are a unique feature of the Southern Appalachians: the climate is too warm for alpine growth but the elevation is too high for the trees that normally grow in the area. So instead of forest, there’s a big “bald” patch of grass like a high meadow. Max Patch is the best known bald near Asheville, about 20 minutes outside of Hot Springs: an easy mile roundtrip from the parking lot with 365-degree views. Plus, the Appalachian Trail traverses the top of it, so you can say you’ve hikes the A.T.!

4. Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob

These are two more balds with amazing views. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, go to Mile Marker 420.2 (Black Balsam Road), you’ve got access to two unforgettable views along the Art Loeb Trail, both on top of scenic balds. Both hikes are at over 6,000 feet in elevation. From the parking lot, take the Sam Knob Summit Trail (behind the signboard). It’s a 2.2 mile trail of moderate difficulty. The Black Balsam Trail is really just part of the Art Loeb trail that leads to Black Balsam Knob, and it’s also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail. So, follow the Mountains to Sea marker to the Art Loeb Trail and you’re on track. It’s about a 2.5-mile round-trip, but you can add on by taking the Ivestor Gap Trail at Tennant Mountain to make it a five-mile loop.

5. Hawksbill Trail

A summer storm rolling in over Hawksbill Mountain
A summer storm rolling in over Hawksbill Mountain
Frank Kehren

Linville Wilderness is one of the most rugged areas in Western North Carolina, encompassing around 12,000 acres around the Linville River and Linville Gorge, all of which is part of Pisgah National Forest. This area is known as one of the South’s premier climbing destinations, Table Rock and Little Table Rock in particular being big draws. From the Hawksbill Trail, the views of the gorge and Table Rock are phenomenal. It’s a three-mile loop trail, steep on the way up with a more gradual slope on the way down.

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Featured image provided by James Lautzenheiser

The French Broad is one of the world’s oldest rivers and one of the most important natural assets in Western North Carolina. In 2012, the 140-mile-long French Broad River paddle trail was completed, improving recreational access with eight paddle-in-only campsites every 12 to 15 miles. Environmental nonprofit MountainTrue developed and oversees the trail and is home base for Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. Each year the group hosts the French Broad Riverkeeper Float, a multi-day river adventure guided by Carson for fun and education on the river and the environmental issues surrounding it. MountainTrue provides boats for those who don’t have them and supplies all meals; just show up with a tent, jump in a boat and you’re off.

Boaters on the French Broad, Courtesy of Joanne Sullivan
Boaters on the French Broad (Courtesy of Joanne Sullivan)

The trip’s support team arrives at each stop in advance and gets meals set up and takes care of breakfast in the morning, too. The trip attracts people of all ages (kids are welcome) and it’s designed to be easy enough for newbies to paddling.

What sets the trip apart from solo adventures is the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look with the person who probably knows more about the river than anyone else. Carson has been the French Broad Riverkeeper for years, immersed in its ecological and political issues. Participants in the float learn about the effects that a industrial plants along the river have on water quality and may do a water sample along the way.

Paddling the French Broad Paddle Trail, Courtesy of Save the Float

Paddling the French Broad Paddle Trail (Courtesy of Save the Float)

The Float includes a paddle through Biltmore, as well as stretches of flat water, rural, urban, and remote parts of the river. There are small areas of class II and III rapids along the route, but nothing too challenging. There’s no shortage of outfitters along the French Broad, but the Float offers a unique experience that combines education, fun, and food along the water.

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Featured image provided by David Wilson

“Adventure Is Local” isn’t just a tagline — it’s a philosophy that guides the decisions that we make. A lot of things have changed since we opened Western North Carolina’s first outdoor gear shop, but our sense of community and commitment to enriching lives through outdoor connections remains the same. We’re proud to remain an independent, family-owned business. We’ve joined other local businesses, Asheville Grown Alliance, and Asheville Downtown Association for Love Asheville Go Local Week.

Learn the story of Asheville along the Urban Trail, rediscover your favorite restaurant or pub, and check out everything that’s new in Buncombe County’s living room. Take 10% OFF your entire purchase (including sale items!) when you show your ID with a Buncombe County address at our Downtown location on 53 Biltmore Avenue in Aloft Downtown Asheville the entire week of February 10-17. If you’ve got a Go Local Card, we’ll take 15% OFF! (We also sell the cards, so you can purchase one to support local independence and public education.)

Parking is free for the first hour in the Biltmore Deck, which is attached to our building. Lots of fun is planned to rekindle your love for Downtown Asheville including the annual Mardi Gras Parade, live music and art, and special deals at restaurants and retail shops. Check out the list online.

We hope to see lots of friends and neighbors supporting local, independent businesses in Downtown Asheville!

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The French Broad Paddle Trail is a series of campsites along the French Broad River connecting over 140 miles of river. It was created by MountainTrue, a non-profit in Western North Carolina that houses the French Broad Riverkeeper, who works to protect and promote the quality of the French Broad River and its tributaries. The paddle trail begins in Rosman, NC, taking paddlers over flat and whitewater. It passes through an incredibly beautiful geographical region of the Southeast.

What Makes It Great

The Cherokee used to call it the “Long Man,” and its tributaries, “Chattering Children.” Later, European settlers deemed it the “French Broad.” The world’s third oldest river has a majestic and ancient appeal. Flat water and whitewater paddlers alike will love the adventure the French Broad Paddle Trail provides. You can now paddle over 140 miles of the river from Rosman in North Carolina to Douglas Lake in Tennessee, staying at campsites all along the way.

The river begins in an area of rolling, shaded farmland, where the North and West Forks come together. As the river plunges through Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, it eventually opens up to reveal mountains rising out of the water’s edge. The river is perfect for all skill levels, with the first 75 miles consisting of mainly flat water paddling and the rest offering a mix of class I, II, and III rapids. You can easily spend one night or even several weeks exploring one of the world’s oldest rivers.

Starting in Rosman, the French Broad runs northwest through the funky and quaint Western North Carolinian towns of Brevard, Asheville, Woodfin. Weaverville, Marshall, and Hot Springs, as well as Del Rio and Newport in Tennessee. What’s great about this part of the country is the small town feel with an eclectic charm of mountain culture.

Who is Going to Love It

History and nature buffs. Some sections of the French Broad River make you feel like you’re in a prehistoric time. Other times, you’ll see a bald eagle and feel like singing the Star Spangled Banner. Still other times, you’ll float through a town and wonder how that place has been shaped by the river…and vice versa.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Visit French Broad River Paddle’s website for all your logistical needs. At the website you can make a reservation, look at a map, find access points, or read about the campsites. Campsites are $25/night, with no limit on the number of your entourage. Plan your trip ahead of time and know your river. There are three dams on the French Broad, and we discourage portaging all of them. These portages are very time-consuming and oftentimes dangerous. Try to plan your trip where you take out before these dams. Local Asheville outfitters Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker.

The French Broad Paddle Trail is open 365 days a year. Campsites are strategically placed, so that paddlers can reach their sites within a single day. The longest distance between sites is 15 miles. The campsites are paddle-in only, meaning you’ll be far away from car-camping glampers. Remember these campsites are paddle-in sites, so don’t leave a bunch of litter after your stay. It makes it very difficult for volunteers and French Broad River Paddle employees to clean up when they’re already carrying lawn mowers and weed-eaters to do maintenance. So, practice leave-no-trace principles wherever you go, and have a great paddle.

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Featured image provided by anoldent

The waters of Yellowstone Prong spring from the peaks of the Great Balsam Mountains and gather themselves in Graveyard Fields. Born from springs above 6,000 feet and purified through the 5,000 foot meadow, these waters run crisp and clean. The perpetually cool waters flow peacefully through the hanging valley before plunging down a raucous ravine which leads to the Prong’s confluence with the East Fork of the Pigeon River.

What Makes It Great

From the mouth of Graveyard Fields the Yellowstone Prong cascades over the mighty Second Falls and then the secluded Yellowstone Falls. A short distance downstream the Prong makes its most risqué drop over Skinny Dip Falls. At this popular swimming hole a series of cascades and plunge pools line the banks of a heavenly ravine. A short, half-mile walk from the Blue Ridge Parkway, leads to Skinny Dip falls where you can cool your body and refresh your soul in the wild waters of Appalachia.

Access to Skinny Dip Falls can be found right off the Parkway from the Looking Glass Rock overlook. Across the Parkway, from the overlook, a blazed spur trail leads into the woods. After taking this trail and entering the woods you will notice a “trail tree,” which was formed as a trail marker by indigenous tribes. Perhaps they also enjoyed taking a dip, skinny style, in the Yellowstone Prong? After passing the ornate tree – some say the face of a dragon can be seen in its gnarled bark – hikers will come to an intersection with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail. Veer left at this intersection and follow the rocky trail until reaching the swimming area. When you reach a wooden staircase leading to a bridge spanning the creek, you have arrived!

Enjoy the series of plunge pools, but please keep your clothing on if there’s a crowd. The falls are Skinny Dip by name only, not by nature during busy hours. A grouping of Boulders along the right side of the upper pool provides a platform to jump into the 6’ deep water. Use caution and make sure to hit your mark if you decide to take the leap off of the 8’-10’ rocks. The lower pools of Skinny Dip Falls are serenely beautiful and offer wading and lounging opportunities on their sun-soaked rocks.

Who is Going to Love It

Thanks to such easy access Skinny Dip Falls has become a highly popular area for families and adventurers. On warm summer days you are likely to share the water with a crowd. Fear not though, there are plenty of pools to spread the watery wealth. This swimming hole is in the vicinity of some incredible hiking trails. The Art Loeb, Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Black Balsam Knob, and Shining Rock are all within striking distance. Take a hike, then cap off your adventurous day by soothing your aching muscles in the waters of Skinny Dip Falls!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, catch the Blue Ridge Parkway. Head south on the Parkway towards the Looking Glass Rock Overlook, located by mile marker 417. Parking here is free but you may want to get there early on pretty summer days to find a spot. Dogs are welcomed, but should be kept on a leash until they are ready for a swim.

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Featured image provided by Jenn Deane

Skiing at Cataloochee Mountain.Lovely evening light settles over the ski slopes.
Timo Newton-Syms

1. Share Some Powder

Love birds by day, powder hounds by night: Hit the slopes of one of Western North Carolina’s ski resorts after dark for an out-of-the-ordinary romantic excursion. Most ski resorts offer both twilight (usually 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and night (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) passes for discovery of the distinct pleasures of skiing and snowboarding after sundown. Although the main trails are brightly lit, the real fun begins when you and your sweetie duck into the trees and find the powder stashes that are illuminated only by starlight.

2. Picnic on the Parkway

Kissing alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A romantic moment alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Melina Coogan

A picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway requires very little planning, which makes it a perfect spur-of-the-moment romantic outing. Simply choose which phenomenal view you’d like to share (we recommend Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417, which also happens to be the trailhead for Skinny Dip Falls) or cruise the parkway and take your pick of breathtakingly beautiful overlooks.

3. Camp Out at Crabtree Falls

Take a tiny vacation to the Crabtree Falls & Meadows Recreation Area, home of the gorgeous, 70-foot Crabtree Falls, one of the most photogenic landscapes near Asheville. Spend the night in one of the small, rustic cabins at the Crabtree Falls Campground. Then, make the easy, three mile out-and-back hike to the falls first thing in the morning. Bring a thermos of coffee to share with your sweetheart and watch as the first rays of sun penetrate the forest and illuminate the gauzy veil of water. If you’re an early riser, you may have that marvelous sight all to yourself.

4. Watch the Sunset from Linville Gorge

Sunset at the Linville Gorge.
Sunset from Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge.
JenjazzyGeek

With all the artistic allure of sunrise, but without the painful wake-up time, sunset is time of reflection, serenity, and romance. As the sun sinks and the sky erupts in colors, the world grows cold very quickly. Make sure and throw a blanket in your backpack so you can wrap it around the both of you, and pack a thermos of hot tea to share.

A dramatic spot to witness the closing of day is from the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Some 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, perch at the edge of the rock outcrop, and take in the view that stretches across the gorge to Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain. Remember to pack a couple of headlamps for the 1.5 mile descent back to the car.

5. Take in the Stars at Graveyard Fields

A starry night in the mountains.
The cosmos on a clear night, putting on the most romantic performance in the universe.
Anunturi Gratuite

If you’re truly looking to impress, treat your certain someone to the best stargazing in all of North Carolina. Graveyard Fields, a high valley in the heart of the Great Balsam Range, is best known for its hiking trails that meander through mountain laurels, blueberry thickets, and rhododendrons and provide the perfect overlook for two waterfalls that tumble down the Yellowstone Prong. In the evening, however, after most of the visitors have packed up and headed home, the settling darkness unveils a whole new realm of natural beauty above the quiet meadow.

Folded away in the Blue Ridge and far from the city lights of Asheville and Hendersonville, the sky above Graveyard Fields is one of the best places in the Southeast to view the Milky Way. And while this may be a lofty claim, that diamond-white spray of stars is arguably the most romantic spectacle in all of the visible cosmos.

6. Ride the Point Lookout Greenway Bike Trail

If you want to keep it casual with a brand new love interest, take a fun and flirty ride on the Point Lookout Greenway Bike Trail. This paved greenway, surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, makes for a pleasant eight mile out-and-back ride (including the half-mile dash from the parking area at the picnic area near Old Fort). If you choose to cruise together on a tandem bike, be warned that the trail gains 900 feet of elevation in 3.6 miles, so get ready for some teamwork.

7. Escape for the Weekend

On the front porch at a Smoky Mountain Getaways cabin.
On the front porch at a Smoky Mountain Getaways cabin.
Courtesy of Smoky Mountain Getaways

Just because you’re a permanent resident of the Blue Ridge Mountains doesn’t mean you can’t play tourist from time to time. Surprise your partner by a one-of-a-kind cabin or yurt and sweeping him or her away from the ubiquitous demands real life. Hide away at a rustic riverside cabin or indulge in the luxuries of a fancy mountainside cottage. A weekend of fresh views, hot-tub soaks, and some new perspective on a familiar landscape will do you both a world of good. Sometimes, even the most steadfast relationships need a little change of scenery.

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Featured image provided by Caleb Ekeroth

Doughton Park, located between milepost 238 and 246, is the largest recreation area along the 469 mile of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It also happens to be one of the most spectacular locations to soak up fall color changes in area.

It’s easy enough to stop at a lookout along the BRP and get the view you came for at Doughton — the scenic highway follows the ridge at the top of the park, putting you in a perfect position to peruse the panorama. But to get fully immersed in the landscape, walking some of the 30 miles of trails is the way to go.

The trail system at Doughton is pretty simple. The longest trek runs for about 16.5 miles and creates a ring around the entire park. If time allows, this is the best way to experience all the amazing views the park has to offer.

To make the walk a little easier and more in line with a day-hike time budget, use the trails that cut through the center of the park. The Grassy Gap fire road links to the Bluff Ridge primitive trail. Bluff Ridge is 2.8 miles of nearly straight uphill climbing, terminating on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A shelter sits right near the end of the trail and is a great place for lunch with a view.

While hiking is the main attraction, Doughton Park also offers some other amenities. The campground holds more than 60 tent sites and 25 RV sites. Rainbow and brook trout can be found swimming in Basin Cove Creek, just waiting for skilled anglers. And cross country skiing is allowed when the park is accessible in winter (even when other parts of the BRP are closed).

Back in the day, the late 1800s that is, the area was home to the bustling Basin Cove community. In 1916, however, a flood claimed most of the structures in the area. Two notable survivors are the Brinegar Cabin (circa 1885) and the Caudill Family Homestead. Both are accessible by trail and offer a glimpse into how this very tough breed of settlers once spent their days.

Luckily, you don’t have to work nearly has hard as the Caudill’s to get your dinner. Once you’ve finished stuffing your eyes with panoramic scenery, it’s time to stuff your belly with some classic Carolina feed. Featured on BBQ with Bobby Flay, the Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery is the perfect place to help you balance out all the calories you burned at Doughton. Pulled pork is the star of the show, but this North Wilkesboro eatery also offers ribs, chicken, country ham, fish, and a whole pile of other choices including their signature side dish, Brushy Mountain Caviar.

Saving room for desert is a requirement. As the name suggests, Brushy Mountain makes their own ice-cream which is then generously applied to shakes, sundaes, and cakes.

If you want a peak at peak Blue Ridge leaf season from the top of a peak, then Doughton Park in late October and early November is where you need to be.

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Featured image provided by Rob Glover

On any given summer weekend in Hot Springs, North Carolina, pack-laden hikers and paddlers in wetsuits can be seen traversing the sidewalks of this tiny, no-traffic-light Appalachian Trail town, population 575. Acoustic music drifts from the open doors of taverns and the occasional train whistle echoes through the valley.

Surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs is only about 25 miles (40 minutes) from Asheville, but it feels a world away. Adrenaline may be pumping on the Class III rapids of the French Broad River which runs through the center of town, but on the main drag, Bridge Street, the pace is nothing but slow Southern town, with a certain mountain charm that has to be experienced to be understood.

Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover's Leap
Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover’s Leap
Joanne O’Sullivan

And it’s no surprise that people have been experiencing this place for over a century. The mineral springs, for which the town is named, first brought tourists here in the 1880s, but it’s the Appalachian Trail, which literally runs down the main street here, that has given Hot Springs a reputation as an outdoor destination.

As a home base for exploring the river, the national forest, or the many nearby trails, Hot Springs has everything you need. Here are the essentials for a Hot Springs visit:

Gear Up 

Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker have been supplying AT thru hikers and daytime visitors with provisions since 1964. Not only do they have gear, food, maps and all other kinds of supplies hikers might need, they also have a world of knowledge and local expertise.

Fuel Up 

Considering the size of the town, there are an impressive number of places to eat in Hot Springs. The Spring Creek Tavern describes itself as ‘hiker friendly,’ (which means they don’t mind if you smell like sweat and dirty socks), and with 12 beers on tap as well as excellent pub standards like burgers and wraps, it’s a great place to refuel. The covered deck next to the creek has prime seating and is usually full on weekend nights. Just next door, Still Mountain Restaurant and Tavern has more of a bar-pub feel and menu, and they often have musical acts playing into the night on their outdoor patio.

If you really clean up well, Mountain Magnolia Inn is primarily a romantic B &B, but it’s also an upscale restaurant with amazing views and is open to the public.

Get Out There 

The French Broad River next to Hot Springs
The French Broad River next to Hot Springs
David Wilson

There are about a dozen rafting concessions near Hot Springs, including an outpost of the Blue Heron Whitewater and Hot Springs Rafting Co. Each outfitter offers something a little different. Some offer kayaks, canoes, and funyaks. Some offer tubes, with guided and self-guided trips depending on the area of the river (the French Broad near Hot Springs has everything from Class I to Class IV). Of course, you can bring your own gear, too.

If you’re seeking a hike, the Appalachian Trail runs down the sidewalk in Hot Springs then back into Pisgah National Forest, but there are plenty of other local trails, depending on what you’re interested in. The local library has plenty of information. One of the most popular hikes in Western North Carolina is just 20 minutes from town at Max Patch, a Southern Appalachian bald with 360-degree views and great picnic opportunities.

Wind Down

After a long day on the trail or fighting the rapids, the outdoor mineral baths at Hot Springs Resort and Spa might be just what you’re looking for. The tubs are spaced far enough apart to allow for privacy, and the optional spa services menu includes everything from integrative massage to hot stone and mud bath therapies. The resort also has tent and RV camping sites along the river, plus cabins.

If you’d rather unwind with a drink, Iron Horse Station might be more your speed. The restaurant and tavern offer a varied menu, wine, beer, and acoustic music. It’s located in a historic building across from the railroad track and there are upscale hotel rooms located upstairs.

Bunk Down

Hot Springs Cabin
Hot Springs Cabin
David Wilson

In addition to the other lodging options mentioned, there are a number of local campgrounds. Appalachian Trail hikers favor the Sunnybank Inn, operated by Elmer Hall, a man who has hosted hikers for over 30 years. If you’ll be heading toward Max Patch and want a more private retreat, try Kana’Ti Lodge, a small eco-lodge with spectacular surroundings.

If you’re looking for a perfect outdoor weekend getaway in the southeast, Hot Springs should definitely be at the top of your list. 

 

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Featured image provided by David Wilson

Why waste the winter months hibernating indoors? Snow, ice, and frosty temperatures provide plenty of fodder for outdoor adventure from moderate to extreme. When winter weather rolls into the Southeast, North Carolina’s wild spaces are briefly and beautifully transformed, with much more to offer beyond black diamond downhill runs.

1. Snowshoeing

Requiring far less finesse than downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is ideal for ski school dropouts — and sturdily-built snowshoes can go places skis can’t. In the High Country just north of Boone, Elk Knob State Park consistently gets a more-than-generous dusting of snow. Even better, the park remains open throughout the winter, Elk Knob’s trails are prime for exploring by snowshoe after a coating of fresh powder.

In Beech Mountain, the loftiest town in the eastern United States (sitting at 5,506 feet), visitors can explore 30 miles of maintained trails, and snowshoe rentals are available at the Beech Mountain Resort. Novices can warm up on the recreation center’s 1/3-mile loop, while pros can head for the 8 miles of alpine tracks at the Emerald Outback, the town’s picturesque trail park. Tentative snowshoe converts can ease into the sport with a guided tour at Sugar Mountain Resort outside Banner Elk.

2. Winter Hiking

Explore Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Christopher Sims

Head for North Carolina’s most popular trails when temperatures plunge, and less hearty hikers have gone home to roost for the winter. Waterfalls are among the state’s most popular hiking destinations, and in winter, most cascades are equally stunning, transformed into gravity-defying ice sculptures. Outside Brevard, head for Moore Cove Falls, in the Pisgah National Forest, accessible after a brief 0.7-mile hike. Or strike for the state’s most popular flume, Linville Falls. You can hike there via the trails that begin along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 316). Even when the parkway is closed for winter weather, the falls are still accessible courtesy of trailhead located off NC 183 (on Wiseman’s’ View Road, NC 1238), outside the town of Linville Falls.

Or you can set out for one of the state’s most popular peaks, Max Patch, without the fall and summer crowds. An iconic southern Appalachian bald outside the town of Hot Springs, the 4,629-foot Max Patch is crowned with more than 300 acres of airy alpine meadows. The view-laden summit is accessible via a number of approaches, including the Appalachian Trail, but the most direct route is the 2.6-mile loop beginning at the parking area on Max Patch Road (SR 1182).

 

3. Rock Climbing

Some crags are better in winter, including some of North Carolina’s premier routes, which are best tackled after autumn’s crisp chill arrives. Slopes too toasty in spring and summer become climbable. Rising dramatically above a thickly wooded expanse of the Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock, just a few miles outside Brevard, is one of the largest monoliths in the country, providing unparalleled climbing opportunities. The massive granite dome is best climbed in fall and winter. For bouldering aficionados, Looking Glass also has plenty of problems, primarily collected along the base of the North Side of the monolith, accessible along the North Side Trail.

Southeast of Asheville in Chimney Rock State Park, the southern cliffs of Rumbling Bald make for another ideal winter climb, and the Rumbling Bald Trail also meanders past three boulder fields loaded with nearly a thousand problems.

 

 

4. Canopy Tours

North Carolina’s stunning landscapes become even more spectacular when viewed from above, and for outdoor-lovers immune to frosty temperatures, canopy tours aren’t just limited to spring or summer. Soar above the snow-frosted landscape in the North Carolina High Country with the two-hour Snowbird Tour at Hawksnest outside the town of Banner Elk. Or get a bird’s eye view of southern Appalachia with a winter zipline adventure at Navitat or Treetops Adventure Park in Asheville.

5. Ice Climbing

North Carolina is one of only two states where Fox Mountain Guides offers ice-climbing.

During icy winters, the land of waterfalls becomes a frozen wonderland, making North Carolina of the best ice climbing destinations in the south. For novices, Fox Mountain Guides operates in Pisgah National Forest and offers expert-led trips. North Carolina is the only state aside from New Hampshire where the climbing school offers ice-scaling expeditions.

For experts, when wintery conditions prevail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ice-glazed bluffs and crags of Doughton Park (milepost 240), provide an abundance of climbing options, including tackling the rock ledges framing the iconic roadway (climbing is permitted when the parkway is closed to vehicles). In the Nantahala National Forest, just outside Cashiers, the soaring cliff faces of Whiteside Mountain appear glazed with ice year-round. However, when the cliffs truly are iced over, Whiteside is transformed into one of the East’s top destinations for unflappable, peak-bagging pros — with options like Starshine, an iconic 200-foot route.

6. Cross-Country Skiing

While snowy forecasts may keep drivers off roadways, predictions of wintery weather will have cross-country skiers chomping at the bit. When snow and ice render North Carolina’s most stunning roadway — the Blue Ridge Parkway — inaccessible for vehicles, the thoroughfare is transformed into an extensive Nordic track for cross-country skiers. The High Country section of the parkway skirting Grandfather Mountain between Blowing Rock and Linville is beloved by local Nordic enthusiasts. Near the parkway’s southern terminus, the stretch of roadway around Soco Gap can also become skiable, loaded with close-ups of the frosty peaks of the Great Smoky and Plott Balsam mountains. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 292.7), the more than 20 miles of carriage-roads lacing the 3,500-acre Moses Cone Memorial Park morph into Nordic wonderland with a blanketing of snow.

7. Backpacking

The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of Max Patch Mountain, offering views of the Appalachian Mountains.
Jason A.G.

Winter camping makes for a singular outdoor adventure. Familiar landscapes can take on a different dimension—and present new challenges. Tackle a bite-sized thru hike in western North Carolina on the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, rambling through the Shining Rock Wilderness and over some of the loftiest peaks in the Black Balsam mountains. The trail can be broken up into shorter sections for backpackers wanting to cut their teeth with a quick winter overnight.

For ambitious backcountry snow-bunnies, the Bartram Trail, named for 18th century naturalist William Bartram, winds through North Carolina and Georgia for 100-miles, mingling with the Appalachian Trail several times. The western North Carolina stretch rambles through pristine expanses of the Nantahala National Forest, culminating at the summit of 5,062-foot Cheoah Bald.

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Featured image provided by Adam Fagen

Events

Stay tuned for BIG changes to this one-of-a-kind community driven event celebrating all things outdoors! There will still be plenty of local gear makers and national innovators showcasing the latest trends in outdoor recreation, but you’ll find far more diverse offerings of interactive demos, educational workshops, and informative speakers.

Check out pictures from last year!

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Kids are welcome at this free public event. There’s even an awesome Family Adventure Zone!

If you’ve been on to our Backpacking Basics class or have a couple of overnight trips under your belt, find out how to maximize your overnight backpacking excursions or prepare for a thru hike or section hike. Feel free to bring your pack for a “shakedown” by our backpacking experts.

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This event is free and open to the public. Kids and well-behaved pets with owner on leash are welcome.

This workshop is sponsored by KEEN. The first 25 folks to arrive will receive KEEN branded stainless steel pint glasses. The KEEN team will also be on hand with some cool schwag and fun conversation.

A map and compass isn’t always top of mind when we’re used to navigating with an app, but it’s a skill every outdoor enthusiast should know. Diamond Brand Outdoors’ team of experts will teach the fundamentals in this class that’s great for all skill levels.

We’re getting outside our stores with summer by hosting some outdoor skills classes on Highland Brewing Company’s rooftop bar. What better place to be than surrounded by a 360-degree view of Western North Carolina? In case of bad weather, we’ll move to the Tasting Room.

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Hiking with a Map + Compass is free and open to the public. The Rooftop is a 21 and older space, so this class is limited to those age 21+.