Last night, I was looking through some old sketchbooks when a found a certain collection of watercolors. Each piece notes the date and location where it was made. Turns out the sketchbook’s a relic of an art class I took at the very end of high school. Just as summer was coming around, the class took off for outdoor studies at some of Asheville’s best nature areas.
Seeing as right now I’m huddled in a bathrobe, shaking my fist at the cold, cold sky, you can understand why I’d be interested in recollecting some of the best summer hikes I’ve had in Asheville. What follows is a list of all the hikes recorded in that sketchbook, along with one or two places that I wish I’d hiked at.
I reckon I mention the Arboretum just about every other blogpost, but what can I say: its one of the prettiest and most convenient hikes in town. If you’re a longtime follower of Asheville Cottages, then by now you’re probably aware of my favorite route, the shaded, two-and-a-half-mile Bent Creek trail. But did you know that the Arboretum has other trails? Shocking, I know. And while all those interconnected loops are worthy of your time, I’d actually like to focus on the upper gardens.
This manicured area speaks to a love of landscaping. The quilt-garden, seen from an elevated platform, demonstrates a blend of local culture and horticulture, while the bonsai garden is a testament to how much you can accomplish with some gumption, a sapling, and lots of wire. The stepped gardens behind the Arboretum’s education center hide one of the most impressive collections of local flora in the area, as well as mountain-vistas perfect for an Asheville photo-op.
For a summer hike in Asheville with plenty of variety, smooth trails, and easy access to the rest of the city, the North Carolina Arboretum has you covered.
How Far from Downtown? Under twenty minutes.
Of all the summer hikes on this list, Dupont has to have the strongest affinity for water. A four-and-a-half mile loop takes you through no less than three waterfalls, each unique enough from the others to warrant taking a break to admire them. The trail itself, if I remember, has quite a bit of up-and-down. Relative to theArboretum, its certainly a more difficult hike but nothing that can’t be handled with a little determination.
The waterfall hike, however, isn’t all Dupont has in store. With over eighty trails spread across ten-thousand acers, you could go hiking at Dupont once a week, and still not see it all by summer’s end. If you only go once though, I have to insist you take the loop through the waterfalls. Few summer hikes in Asheville offer the opportunity to see three at one go.
How Far from Downtown? Forty-five minutes. If you tack on about five or more, you could drive through Hendersonville on the way back, and stop for dinner at Umi Japanese, a personal favorite of mine.
The draw of Schoolhouse is similar to that of Dupont (waterfalls). However, a couple aspects set Schoolhouse apart. First off, there’s only one fall, reachable on just a two-and-a-half mile roundtrip. The walk itself is quite different too. It’s a measure more rugged than Dupont, with steep valley walls and one or two rocks of notable size.
Once you reach the falls themselves, you’ll find it ends in a broad, placid pool. As Schoolhouse lies further away from downtown Asheville than Dupont, there tends to be fewer visitors, meaning there’s a good chance you can find the pool all to yourself. All-in-all, this summer hike may be a little out of your way, but if you’ve got to get that waterfall-fix and want to delve a little deeper into the Blue Ridge, Schoolhouse Falls is the right choice.
How Far from Downtown? Over an hour. Pack snacks.
If that name strikes you as legendary, its no mistake. This hike follows the rhododendron-studded banks of the Linville River, switchbacking down a series of slender cascades and gorges carved out of the rock. A summer hike here really reveals the age and wildness of the Blue Ridge.
And speaking of wildness, even though this hike runs at just three miles, it can feel much longer due to the roughness of the trails and sparse signage. In fact, I’d call the trail downright difficult. If you’re really serious about your summer hike in Asheville, and want a slice of raw, stony nature, then Babel Tower’s the pick for you. Let me advise though: this trail is best suited for people with some real bushwhacking experience—I’m talking Eagle Scouts. Its either that or getting in touch with one of Asheville’s many hiking-guides.
How Far from Downtown? An hour and a half.
Now this might not technically be a hike, but it did show up in my sketchbook, and you do have to navigate it on foot. Add in my childhood experiences here, learning about local wildlife, and I can say I have no qualms about suggesting the Nature Center, regardless of whether it’s a “hike.”
If you’re totally unfamiliar with the Nature Center, I can tell you its something like a zoo, but not quite. Spanning forty-two acres, each species is given its own habitat carefully constructed to emulate natural environs. Nearly all the animals are either kept due to an inability to survive in the wild, or are part of the Special Survival Plan, an initiative to protect endangered species. What I’m trying to say here is the focus of the Nature Center is strongly on environmentalism and education.
With sixty local species ranging from black bears to hellbenders, the Nature Center is a perfect place to learn about Blue Ridge wildlife and soak up some summer sun. Tickets are $11 for adults and $7 for kids fifteen and under and the gates are open 10am to 5pm weekly.
How Far from Downtown? 10 minutes, tops. You could easily work in the Nature Center to a day of downtown shopping and dining.
The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806
633 N Main St, Hendersonville, NC 28792
WNC Nature Center
75 Gashes Creek Rd, Asheville, NC 28805