Our little corner of the world offers amazing access to the outdoors, music and art, picturesque mountain main streets, and the best friends and neighbors anyone could ask for. While you may be headed to the beach or out of town for a summer vacation, there’s plenty of local adventure to occupy a weekend or an afternoon in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Grab your kayak, lace up the hiking boots, and make your summer bucket list.
While May technically falls within spring, Downtown After 5 serves as an unofficial start to summer in the city. Celebrating its 29th year, this monthly concert series from the Asheville Downtown Association began as a way to draw locals into a largely abandoned city center in the late 1980s. The first DA5 concert featured a Mardi Gras theme and, in a nod to that history, the May 19 concert features dynamic New Orleans funk and RnB band the High & Mighty Brass Band and local opening the Josh Phillips Big Brass Band. Why not make a day of it and explore the city’s history on the Asheville Urban Trail, stopping at galleries and public houses along the way?
Summer officially arrives on June 21. What better way to celebrate than by participating in the Great American Campout? The National Wildlife Federation has tools that can help you host a public campout in your neighborhood or community. Buncombe County Recreation Services is planning a June 24 campout in Lake Julian Park with guided hikes, stargazing, morning yoga, s’mores, and campfire stories. Even if you don’t take a pledge to join the GAC, heading out with a group of friends is a great way to unwind and reconnect. Lake James State Park is just under an hour away from Asheville and offers scenic vistas of the Appalachian Mountain range, hiking, boating, biking, and hot showers.
Thru-hiking for months on end is out of reach for many of us. Luckily, the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of shorter hikes that offer the same experience. Art Loeb Trail is just west of Asheville. This 30-mile-long footpath is a highlight reel of the Southern Appalachians with rhododendron tunnels, waterfalls, swimming holes, 360-degree views, and much more. There are plenty of spots to set up camp – or pick a spot in one of the shelters. Three to four days offers ample opportunity for side trips off the main trail. You can also beat the July heat with a stop at Sliding Rock on the way back.
Parts of WNC are uniquely positioned to witness the contiguous United States’ first total solar eclipse in 38 years on August 21. Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson and Transylvania counties are a handful of places in the world that will be plunged into total darkness as the Earth, moon, and sun line up so that the moon completely obscures the sun for about two minutes. Mountain towns are bracing for ten times the number of guests as usual and Clingman’s Dome is hosting a special ticketed viewing, so it’s best to reserve a campsite or cabin as early as possible. Depending on where you end up watching the eclipse, it’s a perfect chance to explore towns like Murphy, Cherokee, or Brevard. Events are also planned at UNC Asheville and in Pack Square Park, but Asheville will only see a 99% eclipse.
Just as summer begins with a festival, it comes to an end with the Asheville Outdoor Show on September 17. Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker host outdoor experts and leaders at this annual event that showcases everything new in hiking, camping, kayaking, outdoor clothing, and technology. With workshops, music, and the chance to chat with representatives from top brands like Patagonia, Prana, Mountain Hardwear, and Kelty, it’s a reminder that even as fall comes to the mountains, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors in comfort and style with your favorite folks.