The Most Amazing Outdoor Adventures in Asheville, North Carolina
With its historic art deco buildings, hip indie sensibilities, thriving restaurant scene, and strong sense of community, Asheville is a burgeoning progressive Mecca in a traditionally red state. But what makes the city truly extraordinary is the fact that it’s surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty.
Here are seven awesome outdoor activities available within a hour’s drive of Asheville’s bustling downtown:
Fish the Linville River
Go see the Linville Falls and then fly fish in the river below. (Photo: Jim Liestman/Flickr)
Known as “the Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” Linville Gorge is one of only two wilderness gorges in the Southern U.S. In addition to bears, foxes, raccoons, hawks and other wildlife, the area is also a haven for fly fishermen hoping to hook their limit of well-stocked brown, brook and rainbow trout. Hiking down into the gorge in an intense, all-day affair. But there’s much easier access near the 45-foot drop of Linville Falls (about 70 minutes from Asheville), where the Linville River intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway.
How with Endangered Red Wolves
See the rare and beautiful Red Wolves. (Photo: iStock)
Native to North Carolina, the Red Wolf is one of the most critically endangered canid species in the world. They were officially declared extinct in the wild back in 1980. But thanks to captive breeding programs they’ve slowly begun to recover, with around 130 in the wild and 250 others in captivity. The Western North Carolina Nature Center is home to nearly a dozen of these rare beauties, who have been known to howl in unison when the mood strikes.
Related: How to Spend the Perfect Weekend in Asheville, North Carolina
Kayak (or Raft) the French Broad River
Paddle up and hit the rapids on the French Broad River. (Photo: Nantahala Outdoor Center)
The French Broad River winds its way through the heart of Asheville, and is lined with parks perfect for picnics and recreation. The Nantahala Outdoor Center has been offering guided rafting trips here longer than anyone else, with half-day tours aimed at beginners (ages 8 and up) and full-day, 8-mile intermediate tours that tackle more challenging Class IV rapids. Hardy kayakers will love hitting the river in the off-season, when the water is high and tourist traffic on the French Broad is relatively low.
Mountain Biking in Pisgah National Forest
Scenic Pisgah National Forest is a biker’s dream come true. (Photo: Aurora Photos / Alamy)
One of the first national forests in the eastern United States, Pisgah encompasses more than 510,000 acres of the southern Appalachian Mountains. This gorgeous haven for hiking and camping is a playground for mountain biking, and Pisgah Mountain Biking Adventures offers half-day, full-day, multi-day, and even nighttime tours guided by locals who know the area like the back of their hand. Best of all, they can customize your adventure to match your style and ability, whether you prefer climbing, downhill or single-track riding.
Related: Bike, Bike, Baby: Coolest Destinations for Fat Tire Biking
Rock Climbing at Chimney Rock State Park
Grab your gear and climb the iconic Chimney. (Photo: Visit Asheville/Facebook)
Made famous by the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans, this park 25 miles outside Asheville boasts sheer cliffs, rock walls and boulders to challenge climbers. Fox Mountain Guides & Climbing School (the only school in the Southeast certified by the American Mountain Guide Association) offers one-on-one instruction and guided trips for skill levels ranging from beginner to expert. Check out Rumbling Bald Mountain, which features 1,100 acres of world class technical rock climbing and an estimated 1,500 boulders to conquer, all easily accessible by car.
Watch the Elk Rut in Cataloochee Valley
The Great Smoky Mountains are full of majestic elk. (Photo: Tim Lumley/Flickr)
Great Smoky Mountains, America’s most visited National Park, boasts a bevy of wildlife species, but the most noteworthy is its expanding elk herd. Elk once roamed the North Carolina hills by the thousands, but were killed off in the 1700s. Thanks to a 2001 reintroduction program, there are now over 150 elk in the park, and Cataloochee Valley (which is surrounded by 6000-foot peaks) is the best place to see them. These massive megafauna are found along the road into the park, and helpful park volunteers can typically tell you where the herd was spotted last.
Related: Their Name in Lights: Fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains Are a Huge Tourist Attraction
Ziplining the Blue Ridge Mountains
There’s no better way to experience all that beautiful mountain scenery than by flying through it. (Photo: Navitat/Facebook)
Putting an eco-friendly spin on typical zipline tours, Navitat speaks for the trees and encourages guests to respect the beauty of nature. The Asheville company’s Moody Cove Adventure is perfect for first-timers, combining 10 ziplines (one 1,100 feet), two bridges, two rappels and two hikes. The Blue Ridge Experience is bigger, higher and faster, with one zip measuring 3,600 feet long and 350 feet high, at speeds up to 65 mph. Adrenaline junkies will love the Ultimate, which combines both packages for six hours of invigorating action and incredible mountain views.
Veteran freelance writer/editor Bret Love is the founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
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