I did not anticipate that my spring break would coincide with a global pandemic. Now I find myself with an abundance of free time, blooming flowers, and anxiety concerning the fate of the world. However, I’m fortunate enough to live in Asheville—the Paris of the South—and so I have many options for stress-relief, even while complying with the pertinent crowd-avoidance measures.
Many are not so lucky. Perhaps your visit to Asheville was prematurely terminated. Perhaps you’ve found yourself stranded in Asheville, with no idea of how to pass the time. Either way, I have endeavored to compile some excursions for spring in Asheville which both avoid large gatherings and posses a certain timelessness. I mean by this that they can be accessed this year, next year, or the year after that—whenever you are free to visit Asheville in the spring.
As of March 20th, Asheville’s famous Biltmore Estate has closed nearly all their buildings, yet their outdoor areas remain open. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—known for his work in Central Park, and throughout the United States—tickets to the estate’s sprawling gardens and grounds have been discounted to twenty-five dollars until the 31st. The estate’s expansive network of trails covers more than twenty miles and may enjoyed on foot, or bike, rented from the Antler Hill Barn, no reservation necessary.
Speaking of Antler Hill—the estate’s charming satellite village—their kitchens are offering take-out. After an afternoon of walking the Biltmore’s paths and settling down to enjoy a shepherd’s pie, one has the impression that things really could be worse.
An Anecdote for Troubling Times: Once my family was driving into Antler Hill. Traffic had backed up. If memory serves, everyone was waiting for a small, helpless animal to cross the road. My mother was at the wheel. She zoomed off-road, cut uphill through the lawns, and into the parking lot. It is said the wheel-ruts can be seen to this day.
Located thirty minutes north of downtown, this stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a seasonal favorite due to its abundance of flowering flora. The blooms reach their peak in June and a roundtrip to the garden’s pinnacle and back runs at about a mile and a half. Equipped with a picnic area and great mountain views, Craggy Gardens represents an opportunity to experience Asheville’s Blue Ridge in all its springtime glory.
However, the National Park Service advises to remember sanitary practices even on hiking trails. If a trailhead on the Parkway seems crowded, then to drive on to the next one. As a seasoned hiker of the Parkway’s trails, I recommend them all. Who knows what hidden gems lurk in those flowery depths?
An Anecdote for Troubling Times: While hiking in Craggy Gardens, I was struck by an astounding revelation. In Craggy Gardens, there are crags—that is, big rocks. There are also lots of flowering plants—like in a garden. I then understood that the area was named on account of the big rocks and the flowers. My hiking companions were not impressed by this insight.
Nestled in an unassuming corner north of downtown, nearby UNCA, Asheville’s Botanical Gardens offers a nice midpoint of outdoor activity between Biltmore’s manicured lawns, and Craggy Garden’s wilderness. A gentle half mile loop takes visitors through a variety of clearings and forested areas and past a terrifically photogenic creek. While the attached visitor center and gift shop have closed, p
arking and admission are free. The best blooms are said to occur in mid-April and mid-August.
An Anecdote for Troubling Times: As I child, I was once left to my own devices in the gardens. Of course, I waded into the creek—regardless of the prohibition against “climbing down banks at random”—and followed it to a damp, dark, tunnel. Where did the tunnel lead? I cannot say; I turned back. Perhaps a more courageous explorer will discover its secrets.
With all this talk of “walking” and “hikes,” it occurred to me that it may be equally fulfilling to stay at home, board up the windows, and watch movies for the next six months. I would suggest starting with Wes Anderson. I find that even his less acclaimed films have a certain intractable charm. Of course, the more pertinent consideration for such self-isolation is what to eat. I would suggest pizza, namely from Asheville Pizza and Brewing.
Although their restaurants are closed for dining-in, their Merrimon and Hendersonville locations offer no-contact delivery, and their outpost in downtown offers curbside carry-out. With a menu chock-full of salads, starters, quesadillas, beer, wine, and—of course—pizza, I calculate that it will take approximately three years to exhaust their options. By this time, hopefully world events will have righted themselves.
An Anecdote for Troubling Times: While watching Spirited Away at Asheville Pizza’s Merrimon theater-restaurant, I ordered a bottle of kombucha. My friend asked me what I was drinking, so I turned to show him. As a result, I managed to smash the bottle into the table, reducing it to smithereens. To this day, he still doesn’t know what was in that bottle.
Walks at Asheville’s Arboretum have been a mainstay in my life for as long as I can remember. The institution has come up often in previous blog-posts, but I do not believe I have ever detailed my favorite trail. The Arboretum has restricted access to its buildings, but the trail in question lies somewhat distant from them, and for that matter, from the Arboretum’s most popular grounds. Driving towards the campuses Education Center, one takes a right onto Greenhouse Way, and follows that road up to parking at the greenhouse itself. From there, the clearly visible trail-head leads you along shaded paths parallel to the Bent Creek. After a good spring rain, the most fascinating fungi spring up here.
Entry is free for card-holding members, or sixteen dollars for personal vehicles, with fifty-percent discounts the first Tuesday of every month.
An Anecdote for Troubling Times: On a whim, once my family and I decided to head off on an unknown branch of the path, through an ominous, unmarked gate. Some fifteen minutes of kudzu-trudging later, we found ourselves at the banks of Lake Powhattan. Who knew?
The Biltmore Estate
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
364 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Botanical Gardens of Asheville
151 W T. Weaver Boulevard, Asheville, NC 28804
Asheville Pizza and Brewing
675 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806