This February I’ve focused on the most romantic things to do in Asheville, the most romantic town in this romantic part of the country. But, as I always say, my hometown has a little something for every visitor. It’s not all champagne bars and day spas. Although you could take the kids there, I suppose.
But for my money, there’s far better family-friendly attractions in Asheville NC. So, for this article, I’ve delved into the recesses of my past. I grew up here, after all. I was once a kid (allegedly). What would my child-self find entertaining, in the Paris of the South? Read on to discover the product of my ruminations, which you may count among the greatest family-friendly attractions in Asheville.
I always found the French Broad River fascinating as a child. Was it actually French? And if so, how did we know it was French? Where did the water come from, and where was it going? Questions like these demand answers and the best way to find them is through personal experience.
All that’s to say that some of the best family-friendly fun in Asheville can be found floating down the French Broad River. It’s something like a beach day, but instead of sitting on the shore, watching the water, you’re sitting on the water, watching the shore.
You can find some of the finest places to rent watercraft right here, along with some other ingenious ideas of how to best enjoy the French Broad River. But, to make a long story short, for this attraction in Asheville, I think your prime option if you have kids in tow is to go tubing. It makes for a breezy float, free of the demands of “rowing” or “paddling.” Plus, given my experience on the water, tubes are the most difficult craft to capsize. You’d really have to work at it.
The closest tube rallying point to Asheville Cottages is just five minutes down the road, operated by Zen Tubing. For an extra $5, you can even rent a cooler-carrier, perfect if you want to bring along a couple of cold ones for the chaperones.
For as long as humans have had legs, our young have wanted little more than to frolic through the trees and fields, training themselves for when they’re handed down the responsibility of hunting antelopes with little more than a pointy stick and some elbow grease.
Yes, kids love the outdoors. Adults, even, have been known to like some fresh air every now and again, regardless of how many antelopes they’ve caught that week.
With the Blue Ridge Parkway right around the corner, there’s no shortage of hikes to be had in Asheville. But when it comes to the hike I’d suggest as a family-friendly attraction, the NC Arboretum is the first and best that comes to mind.
Sporting more than ten miles of interconnected trails, and ranging in difficulty from the paved upper gardens to the aptly named Hard Times Road, a careful study of the Arboretum’s map will reveal a path perfect for your family’s level of endurance-training.
Personally, when I was growing up, I most enjoyed a circuit of the upper gardens, including the bonsai exhibits, the greenhouse, and the model trains. Since those halcyon years, with the rise of portable technology the Arboretum has instituted the ecoExplore program, which invites children of all ages to become citizen-scientists, documenting WNC’s wildlife using only a smartphone and boundless curiosity. Talk about enriching young minds.
Speaking of which, nothing enriches a young mind like ice cream. That’s where brain-freezes come from. It's all the neurons clinging together, new connections crystalizing into being, while the necessary energy-expenditure creates a localized heat-vortex which resulting in the sensation we call “cold.”
But you didn’t come here to learn about science. You came here to learn about the best family-friendly attractions in Asheville NC, and boy-oh-boy, if ice cream isn’t a crowd pleaser, especially after a long day on the French Broad, or out at the Arboretum.
There’s no shortage of ice-cream joints in Asheville, but if you want the most Ashevillean of them all, you should check out one of the Hop’s locations in North Asheville, West Asheville, and more recently, in downtown’s S&W food hall.
They’ve got milkshakes, coffee-shakes, sundaes, floats, waffle cones, vegan ice cream, and sugarless ice cream. They’ve even got ice cream for dogs. That’s not even getting into the flavors; there’s varieties of frozen delights at the Hop that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Like aztec chocolate. Or basil.
For eons, zoos have been a smash-hit in family outings. Every kid has a favorite animal. For me, it was the black bear. Still is. And the best place in Asheville to find this elusive creature, is—you guessed it—my backyard. They like the birdbath. As for the second-best place: the WNC Nature Center, one of my favorite attractions in Asheville.
Whereas your average zoo places an emphasis on animals from far-flung locals, the WNC Nature Center provides enclosures for the natural fauna of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in hopes of inspiring an appreciation for the animals we share the local environment with. At the wildest end of the spectrum, this includes red wolves, river otters, gray foxes, and a cougar known to be partial to frozen fish popsicles.
For an extra dose of youth-engagement, download their scavenger hunt ahead of time, with difficult-levels suitable for grades K-8.
If you happen to be visiting Asheville with your family from early August to October, then you’re just in time for one of the best family-friendly attractions in Asheville: apple picking season.
Consider the following: children like to climb trees. Apples grow out of trees. Children (usually) like apples. The solution is obvious. Send the children into the trees, as their simian ancestry compels them, and they will return with a glorious bounty.
Agricultural labor aside, apple picking season was such a constant in my growing up in Asheville that the mere mention of it conjures the exact smell made by the pale green mid-September leaves when crushed underfoot. It’s as idyllic an attraction as it sounds.
There’s plenty of orchards to pick from, and you can read more about it right here. For the true apple-loving families out there, be sure to visit Labor Day weekend for neighboring Hendersonville’s Apple Festival, chock full of fritters, live music, and small mountain-town charm.
Now that I’ve started down memory road, I find I just can’t stop, and by golly, I’m taking you with me. You ever heard the crack made by a geode split open by the crushing stress of an oversized bike chain? I have. And as a kid, it sure was impressive. It’s the kind of thing that makes you grow up thinking science is cool; after all, science can smash open rocks.
At the Asheville Museum of Science, it’s not just geology on display, although I still regard their mineral collection as particularly fascinating. They host all manner interactive exhibits meant to enrapture young minds with the wonders of the natural world, including astronomy displays, a diagram of the French Broad water table, and a replica dinosaur skeleton.
This attraction in Asheville is open from 10am to 5pm, every day except Tuesdays, and tickets are priced at a flat $10 per person, with kids two and under always free. Reservations recommended.
Once you’ve had your fill of family-friendly fun education, the museum’s location smack-dab on downtown’s Patton Avenue offers an excellent opportunity to try some of Asheville’s best restaurants. More on that here and here.
I think a family visit to Asheville NC ought to end with a bang, something the kids will always remember. And what better way to imprint such a memory than the unrivaled thrill of rocketing down Pisgah National Forest’s Sliding Rock, an all-natural waterslide fueled by pure mountain water.
As anyone familiar with such water knows, it tends to be pretty cold, making this attraction perfect for hot summer days. Lifeguards are on duty starting in late April weekends. Hours open up to seven days a week in May, and then back to just weekends in October.
Be sure to bring your entry fee ($4 per person), sturdy water shoes, and lifejackets for children who need them. The pool at the rock’s base is eight feet deep, so wading’s off the menu.
Once you’ve slid down the rock a time or five, and especially after a visit full of family-friendly attractions, I reckon the entourage is going to be plumb tuckered out. Luckily for you, Asheville Cottages offers some of the most comfortable and spacious rental cabins in WNC. So, what are you waiting for? Book your family stay in Asheville today!
The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806
The Hop Ice Cream Café
640 Merrimon Ave #103, Asheville, NC 28804
WNC Nature Center
75 Gashes Creek Rd, Asheville, NC 28805
Asheville Museum of Science
43 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Highway 276, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768