Presented in partnership with Explore Asheville.
When the gods were making the Earth, they were very generous with North Carolina, filling it with mountains and forests and flowers and wildlife. Smart government and private initiatives have since preserved the area, which is why Asheville is surrounded by a bounty of national and state parks.
For sheer natural drama, nothing beats a waterfall, and there are so many amazing ones near Asheville. See and feel them roar down a 60-foot rock face at Crabtree Falls. It’s a pretty, mile-long hike into Blue Ridge Park, with the option of a slightly longer (and easier) 1.6-mile return trip. Parking is easy, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Farther down the Blue Ridge Parkway is Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest, so named because when the falls freeze in winter, they give the appearance of a mirror. Ice climbers like to get an up-close view of their reflection. At all other times, the mighty falls cascade down 60+ feet, landing in a pool at the base. It’s easy to get close to the falls and even wade in (those cold temperatures sure are refreshing), and the surrounding boulders are a great place to sit in the sunshine and listen to the water rushing. Because the falls are so easily accessible, they can get crowded, so off hours are best if you want some privacy. Park on the side of the road, and take the stairs down to the falls.
If scaling up the waterfall in the winter isn’t mighty enough and you want to go behind the scenes — literally — make your way to Douglas Falls in Big Ivy (also in Pisgah National Forest) to walk behind the 70-foot waterfall. The easy way in is by car along the unpaved forest road, followed by a half-mile hike. The vigorous route – experienced hikers only, please — is a 6.6-mile hike that starts at Craggy Gardens Visitor Center.
Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a nature oasis as close as can be to town, is ideal for trail running, mountain biking, or just a forest bath and a simple stroll. The easier trails are Hardtimes Connector and Deer Lake Lodge; Lower Sidehill, Green's Lick, and Ingles Field Gap are more challenging. What makes the forest “experimental”? The fact that it’s a great center for research around forest management, sustainability, and restoration.
For a guided journey into the Blue Ridge Mountains, sign up for a group or a private yoga-and-hike experience with Asheville Wellness Tours. They offer two group hikes per day, as well as sunset hikes in the warmer months, from May through October. Another offering, guided forest bathing, is an especially mindful and meditative way to connect with Mother Nature.
Take the adrenaline up a notch along the old growth tree canopy, spend the day ziplining at Navitat Cavity Adventures. The longest of the six zips on their Treetop Tour is a heart-pumping 1,250 feet. The Mountaintop Tour gives riders a side-by-side option and a 3,600-foot zip. With speeds that can hit 65 miles per hour, Mountaintop’s three zips are among the world’s longest and fastest. Buckle up!
It’s an altogether different high in the Black Mountains. Deep Gap Trail (also called The Black Mountain Crest Trail) connects the two highest peaks in the eastern United States, Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mount Craig (6,647 feet) in the Black Mountains. The two-mile hike isn’t strenuous, but you’ll want to pack an extra layer, as it can get much colder here than in nearby Asheville.
Wherever you find yourself in nature, remember to always always follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stick to the trails, trash your trash, leave it as you find it, be careful with fire, keep wildlife wild, and be considerate of others. This is the golden rule of being in nature, and ensures that future visitors will have as much fun as you did.
But wait, there's more! You can discover wildlife (from birds and butterflies to bears and otters). You can go hiking. And horseback riding. And fishing. And take it easy on a scenic drive. And, and, and. Nature is your wonderland around here.