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Asheville's Best Attractions: Adventure and Intrigue Abound in This Small Mountain Town



While few could argue with the Biltmore Estate’s power to lure thousands of visitors to Asheville each year, it’s by no means the area’s only major attraction. (PS Bilmore is great for kids!)

If, for instance, you've spent a day or two marveling at the Biltmore grounds but can't get enough of landscape design, stop by the North Carolina Arboretum and browse 60 acres of additional terrain, along with bonsai specimens and a superb azalea collection. More gardens are on view at the Smith McDowell House Museum, along with the structure that's considered the city's oldest home. The three-story brick residence, now restored, features beautifully crafted woodwork and period furnishings. If you've got kids along, make a point to visit Pack Place, an educational complex with a museum devoted to rocks, gems, and earth science.

Adventurists will want to check out the expansive, sky-high zipline tours offered by Navitat Canopy Adventures, which now offers the longest and some of the highest ziplines in the Southeast. Raft enthusiasts will want to explore Asheville area rivers, especially the nearby French Broad River where local raft companies can take novices and experts on thrilling tours. Finally, don’t forget to explore downtown on LaZoom Comedy Tour or munch your way through a tour of French Broad Chocolate Factory. The excitement and the intrigue spill far beyond Biltmore’s gates, as you’ll soon see.


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French Broad Rafting
Photo courtesy of Photo by: All Terrain Images


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Just a 30-minute drive from downtown, the French Broad River is the closest whitewater-rafting site to Asheville and offers a seamless one-day adventure.

Kristen's expert tip: All the gear is provided but rafters should still bring a towel, bathing suit, change of clothes, and sturdy sandals Besides multi-person rafts, the outfitter also provides inflatable kayaks as well as canoes which can be used in the calmer section of the French Broad River through the Biltmore Estate.

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French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room
Photo courtesy of Photo by: French Broad Chocolate Factory


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: You simply can't visit Asheville without a trip the French Broad Chocolate Factory or the French Broad Chocolate Lounge on Lexington Avenue.

Kristen's expert tip: Tours are only offered on Saturdays and they usually book up well in advance. If you're planning on adding this gem to your itinerary, give them a call a few weeks ahead of time to book your spot.

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River Arts District
Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This district embodies the creative verve and unabashed authenticity that has made Asheville such a special place to visit and live.

Kristen's expert tip: A good place to park during the week is the lot by White Duck Taco Shop. From here, you can walk to nearby galleries and then finish out the day with lunch at this famed fusion taco eatery.

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Chimney Rock Park
Photo courtesy of Kristen Manieri


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Views of more than 75 miles below and beyond plus a must-have Kodak moment make this national treasure such a popular day trip from Asheville.

Kristen's expert tip: Bring comfortable walking shoes if you plan on taking the 491 stairs to the top viewing deck. Or... just take the 26-story elevator to the top, which will get you there in just 30 seconds. Plan ahead: lines for the elevator can be long during the summer and fall.

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LaZoom Comedy Tours


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: These 60- and 90-minute tours are a fun way to get your local bearings, especially if you're only going to be in town a short while.

Kristen's expert tip: Passengers ages 21 and up are allowed to bring their own wine or beer on the bus. Due to adult comedy routines, riders must be at least 17 on the Haunted Comedy Tours and at least 13 on the City Comedy Tours.

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Asheville Treetop Adventure Park
Photo courtesy of Kristen Manieri


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Open all year long and located just a few miles from downtown Asheville, this adventure hub for all ages will wow everyone in your family.

Kristen's expert tip: Whether you're zipling, biking or traversing the treetop adventure courses, you're going to work up an appetite. Be sure to bring a hydrating beverage and some snacks to enjoy, especially if you are booking a combination of onsite activities.

Read more about Asheville Treetop Adventure Park →


Navitat Canopy Adventures
Photo courtesy of Navitat Canopy Adventures


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Views, thrills and the chance to breathe in the wide open air make this adventure worth the 30-minute drive from Asheville.

Kristen's expert tip: Pack a lunch or plan to stop off at a roadside Barbecue truck on the way back to Asheville. You'll be surprised by the appetite you'll have worked up after this three-and-a-half-hour escapade.

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The North Carolina Arboretum
Photo courtesy of Kristen Manieri


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For just a $12 parking fee, the entire family can gain access to one of the area's most picturesque places and best hike sites.

Kristen's expert tip: If you're traveling with kids, be sure to borrow one of the free nature packs from the welcome center. It comes with a net, maps, flora and fauna guides plus a few other handy tools budding explorers will love.

Read more about The North Carolina Arboretum →


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Biltmore Area
Blue Ridge Parkway


It's not a destination â€" 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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This beautiful scenic drive is the area's claim to fame and a must on anyone's visit itinerary.

Kristen's expert tip: The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, which is located about 8 miles east of downtown Asheville, features an easy but picturesque 1.2 mile loop trail families love.

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Biltmore Area
Biltmore Estate
Photo courtesy of 3/09 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/661732


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.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Great restaurants, a winery with free tours and tastings plus access to the astonishing 250-room French-Renaissance château make for an unforgettable day or two.

Kristen's expert tip: Biltmore offers a wonderful scenic drive from the château to other areas guests are permitted to explore. However, consider bringing/renting bikes to traverse the lush landscape. This slower pace will give you time to appreciate the vistas punctuated by wildflowers, rolling hills and, of course, the mountains in the distance.

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Meet Kristen Manieri

Kristen Manieri is a travel and food writer with extensive travel experience in the Asheville area. As a regular contributor to Virgin Atlantic, West Jet's UP!, Dreamscapes and Forbes Travel...  More About Kristen

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