During my trip south from New York to Atlanta in 2017, I couldn’t wait to spend some time in Asheville, North Carolina. Immediately I felt like I was in a miniature Austin, but without the technology sector overshadowing the quirkiness. Moreover, Asheville is spread out – you’ll need to drive or ride-share to get from place to place.
Asheville is a 45-minute drive southeast from the Appalachian Trail’s crossing at Tanyard Gap on US-25. Just another three miles up the road from Tanyard Gap is Hot Springs, a funky trail town with actual hot springs, plus an annual festival celebrating the AT.
If you’re looking to hike some of the AT while in the Asheville area, I suggest a visit to Max Patch. It’s a 50-mile drive or so to the trailhead, accessed from Little Creek Road, or NC-1182 (35.796174, -82.962521). The 1.5-mile hike goes up 430 feet to a wide bald where people hang out and enjoy life. Of course, you can always continue on the AT north or south to get more miles in.
If it’s your first time in Asheville and you have two full days, here are three must-visits:
Biltmore Estate: The estate (1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, http://www.biltmore.com, 8:30am-6:30pm daily, varies by season, $50-$60, $25-$30 ages 10-16, reservations may be necessary for weekends, varies by season) is an entity unto itself, separated from the city in its own neighborhood. Seeing 1.4 million tourists per year, it’s a necessary sight that’s home to a winery, farm, restaurants, trails and gardens, and of course, a 178,926-square-foot house that epitomizes America’s Gilded Age.
Botanical Gardens at Asheville: On the grounds of the University of North Carolina Asheville, the gardens (151 W. T. Weaver Blvd., 828/252-5190, http://www.ashevillebotanicalgardens.org, daily during daylight, free) have spring wildflowers like trilliums and geraniums. It’s worth it just for hanging out for an hour or two, relaxing, and reading a good book.
McCormick Field: Crash Davis from the film Bull Durham plays for the Asheville Tourists at the end of his career; the team exists today as a single-A affiliate of baseball’s Colorado Rockies. That means some of tomorrow’s stars could find their way at this ballpark (30 Buchanan Place, 828/258-0428), a mile south of downtown and home to fun theme nights, affordable food specials, and of course, fun baseball.
EATS & DRINKS
It’s also worth it to visit the RiverArts District, home to some great art galleries and an artistic spirit. Check out Wedge Brewing Company (37 Paynes Way, 828/505-2792, http://www.wedgebrewing.com, noon-10pm daily, under $20), which produces beer on the lower level of a cool building leased out to local artists. The brewery hosts regular events and brings in food trucks.
There are plenty of great places to eat and drink in Asheville. The best is Curate (13 Biltmore Ave., 828/239-2946, 11:30am-10:30pm Tues.-Thurs., 11:30am-11pm Fri., 10am-11pm Sat., 10am-10:30pm Sun., under $60), pronounced Coo-rah-tay, and among the best restaurants in North Carolina, serving up Spanish tapas. Also visit Jargon (715 Haywood Road, 828/785-1761, http://www.jargonrestaurant.com, 5-9pm Mon.-Sat., 10am-2:30pm, 5-9pm Sun, under $40 dinner, under $20 brunch), a solid new-American neighborhood spot with great cocktails.
Breakfast is necessary in Asheville. You should visit the original location of Biscuit Head (733 Haywood Road, 828/333-5145, http://www.biscuitheads.com, 7am-2pm Mon.-Fri., 8am-3pm Sat.-Sun., under $20), which offers a whole slew of biscuit meals. I didn’t do the gravy flight when I was there, and I regret it. For great Southern comfort like shrimp and grits and a big ol’ bowl, head to Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St., 828/259-9292, http://www.earlygirleatery.com, 7:30am-3pm Mon.-Wed., 7:30am-9pm Thurs.-Fri., 8am-9pm Sat.-Sun., under $20 breakfast, under $25 lunch, dinner).
I stayed at Bon Paul & Sharky’s Hostel (816 Haywood Road, 828/775-3283, http://www.bonpaulandsharkys.com, under $35) and had a nice stay. You can shack up in a bunkhouse by the back deck, or get a private bedroom in the main house. For something more like a traditional hotel, visit the Cedar Crest Inn (674 Biltmore Ave., 828/252-1389, http://www.cedarcrestinn.com, $150-$250), a tried-and-true Victorian with a separate cottage and carriage house.
As for what else to do over a weekend? You’ll just have to buy Moon Drive & Hike: Appalachian Trail to read my full Asheville guide!