A close proximity to the French Broad River, Nantahala River and Nolichucky River has made Asheville one of the country's most sought-after destinations for whitewater-rafting enthusiasts. With a good mix of calm water floats, which are ideal for families, and exhilarating rapids perfect for thrill-seekers, French Broad Rafting offers trips for both the novice and experienced rafters. These guided trips, which range from half- to full-day jaunts, come complete with all equipment and knowledgeable guides who are happy to point out the wild blue herons, ospreys, and even the occasional bald eagle, rafter see along the way. They also offer zipline tours which traverse ten lines ranging in length from 75 to 1,000 feet long.
After the extraordinary success of French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which owners Jael and Dan Rattigan opened in 2006, it hardly seems surprising to watch this delicious empire grow even further. Located downtown on Buxton Avenue, this unique bean-to-bar chocolate factory and tasting room features weekend tours as well as classes and courses. Those coming in to taste and shop will find an expansive offering of house made chocolates, ice cream, take-out desserts and a new chocolate bar library, which features 150 different craft chocolate bars. This craft chocolate operation imports cacao beans from all over the world and then grinds, refines and tempers until their famed chocolate delights emerge.
A unique collection of working artist studios, art galleries, shops, restaurants and venues, the River Arts District is several city blocks of local culture. Providing the opportunity to peek in on artists as they work, peruse their finished products and generally take in the offbeat, laid-back vibes of Asheville, you could easily spend the day here. The River Arts District, or RAD as it's affectionately referred to by locals, offers special events throughout the year. Even better, parking in the area is free (just watch for towing areas) and it's family-friendly. Plan on snagging some sustenance at any number of the district's eclectic eateries, including area favorites such as White Duck Taco Shop, 12 Bones and Blue Kudzu Sake Company.
Chimney Rock Park has as its centerpiece a monolithic, jutting rock that rises 315 feet above the ground and affords astounding views of the surrounding terrain. Climb it (or take the elevator up) and then experience the rest of the beauty and breadth of the park and its waterfalls. A network of trails invites exploration, and you can look out over the landscape at sites like Inspiration Point and Peregrine's Rest. Located 35 to 40 minutes outside of Asheville, the drive winds along a two-lane road that slowly creeps upward in elevation until you arrive at the a 3,260-acre state park, which offers sweeping views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure far below.
You'll definitely feel like a tourist on board the LaZoom Comedy Tour but it's a great opportunity to learn about the area's culture, history and architecture in a way that's far from boring. This open-air purple bus departs on four different tours each day and employs an arsenal of actors to unfurl its wacky comedy skits along each route. The humor, which is definitely more oriented toward an adult crowd, turns out to be a fun way to learn about the area's neighborhoods and landmarks. Tours run March-December. During March, tours are Fridays and Saturdays. From April through December, tours are seven days a week.
Located just a few minutes from downtown Asheville, this convenient attraction offers a multitude of daring diversions, including ziplining, mountain biking and treetop adventure trails that give participants as young as four the chance to traverse 60 unique climbing, zipping, walking, jumping, swinging, and rappelling challenges anchored to over 30 trees and towering poles tucked into the picturesque wooded park. New in 2014 is KidZip, America's first zipline adventure course built for kids under 10 years old. With very little assistance from parents, even kids as young as four years old can giddily navigate the dozen or so speedy cables connected between platforms and landing zones throughout the course. Bigger kids and adults will love the added challenge of the full-size zipline course, which offers 11 ziplines ranging from 200 to 1,200 feet long stretched more than 70 feet above the ground. Asheville Treetop Adventure Park also houses a bike park with elements deigned to challenge mountain bikers of all levels. Bike rentals are available onsite.
Located about 30 minutes north of Asheville in the tiny town of Barnardsville, Navitat Canopy Adventures has long been known for its three-and-a-half-hour guided adventure high above the Southern Appalachian forest. The original 80-acre aerial trail features two sky bridges and 10 ziplines, including one that sends you 200 feet above the forest floor. Trail designers recently launched the new Blue Ridge Experience, an amazing ridge-to-ridge zipline tour featuring the longest and some of the highest ziplines in the Southeast. The new tour takes this thrilling jaunt to a whole new level with three sets of racing-style ziplines that have been creatively engineered to tap into our innate sense of adventure and competitiveness.
Western North Carolina's beauty and Appalachian culture take the stage at this public garden, located near the Blue Ridge Parkway. More than 60 acres of the arboretum are expertly cultivated gardens that showcase a variety of flora, including one of the most extensive bonsai collections in the US. Also on display are an ericaceous (acid soil-loving) plant collection with more than 16 species of native and hybrid azaleas and the Heritage Garden, which highlights plants pivotal to the region's craft industry. Ten miles of trails allow visitors to fully explore the unique landscape. Each season, the center hosts educational programs, workshops, and demonstrations.
It's not a destination – it's an experience. Considered "America's most scenic drive," the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway meanders through changing vistas of natural beauty, touching on stellar mountain views, hiking trails, and picnic campground sites. Seasonal changes along the parkway are dramatic, so return visits are a good idea if you want to see the entire panorama. Locally, key stopping points include the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, the North Carolina Arboretum and Pisgah Inn, where you'll enjoy epic views as far as the eye can see. The parkway intersects Asheville at US 25, 70, 74 and NC 191, and closes seasonally. Be aware that many sections of the Parkway close in winter months because of snow and ice.
Western North Carolina's beloved "castle on the hill" resides on an 8000-acre estate, complete with manicured gardens, woodlands, and an award-winning winery (the nation's most visited). Built in the late 19th-century by George Washington Vanderbilt II, the chateau-inspired home is an opulent example of the wealth acquired during America's Gilded Age. The magnificent 250-room mansion ranks as the largest private residence in the country and offers self-guided tours that can easily last for hours. Set aside at least a day, maybe even two, to really peel back Biltmore's layers, which can be enhanced by carriage rides, fly fishing expeditions, horseback riding and Segway tours.