That’s a hard one. After all, as a local, I don’t have to pick and choose when I visit Asheville. I get the best of all seasons.
But time is a precious commodity, so if I had to recommend just one time of year to visit Asheville, what would it be? Here reach another roadblock; I am contractually obligated to answer “anytime.” Not helpful, but in a way, insightful. There are, after all, tremendous reasons to visit Asheville at all times of year.
What it comes down to is personal preference, and what exactly you mean to accomplish by visiting the Paris of the South. Fall for the leaves, of course. But then you’ve got summer for the French Broad River, and Winter for the Christmas lights. And that’s just scratching the surface. So, to discover the right time to visit Asheville for you, read on.
I’m writing in early spring, so if I seem overly fond of this season, you may trump it up to the opposite of hindsight bias. Now-sight bias? Sight-hind bias? The weather’s-good-and-I’m-feeling-breezy bias? Those eggheads in the university English departments better come up with a new word to describe what I mean, and fast.
Anyways, lets start with the weather. It's been straight sixties—more or less—for the past couple weeks, and hot weather is still a long way off. It's the perfect time for hiking, and what hiking there is in this glorious part of the country.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of hiking the Lover’s Leap Loop and Laurel River Trail, both about an hour north of Asheville near Hot Springs. This small mountain town is chock-full of hiking destinations perfect to pair with spring weather, including the Appalachian Trail, which runs straight through town. As to the hot springs themselves, visitors can find the waters piped into the local resort’s private soaking tubes, but beware: reservations are best made a couple weeks in advance.
As far as hikes closer to home, I’d like to mention Graveyard Fields. Starting in June—late in the season—this Blue Ridge hike simply explodes with wildflowers.
For more domestic flower-walks, I suggest the Biltmore Estate gardens. Come in April for prime tulip-season, May for the best of the rose garden, and June to find their tropical plants—usually sheltering in the greenhouse—set out beneath the sun. I can scarcely imagine a more romantic visit to Asheville, and if you intend to make the most of that quality, then you can read more on some of the best couple's outings right here.
A Perfect Spring Day. Brunch at Ivory Road, one of my favorite local cafes. A drive up to Graveyard Fields, followed by a stop at the Pisgah Inn for lunch.
Ah, summer. School’s out and the sun draws near. It’s the perfect time to ignore your obligations, and simply bask on a rock, like a well-to-do lizard.
Despite Asheville’s well-won reputation for even-keeled weather, I assure you there are basking opportunities, particularly in conjunction with a water-bound tour of the French Broad River. We’ve got tubing. We’ve got kayaks and canoes. We’ve even got whitewater rafting, if you’ve had just about enough of all this rest and relaxation.
If you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground, or if like me, you are an amphibian, then once again hiking better make it on your shortlist. You can read more about the best summer hikes here and here. Additionally, I recommend a visit to a local waterfall. It’s the perfect way to cool off, after sweating your way up a mountain.
Speaking of cooling off: ice-cream. It’s a crowd pleaser, and best enjoyed in the hottest of months. As always, the Hop makes it to the forefront of my recommendations. It’s a local institution, with locations in West Asheville, North Asheville, and downtown’s S&W Foodhall.
And finally, with summer break in full swing, this season is one of the best times of year to visit Asheville with the entire family. There’s no shortage of things to do with kids in tow. Escape rooms. Ziplining. Interactive museums. My favorite of all though, has got to be the WNC Nature Center, the best place in Asheville to see local wildlife.
A Perfect Summer Day. A float down the French Broad, followed by a visit downtown for shopping, outdoor dining, and a scoop or three of delectable ice cream, courtesy of the Hop. Dinner cooked at home, preferably prepared and eaten outside. You may have trouble with this last part if you’re staying at the typical hotel, but for those who stay with Asheville Cottages, furnished as they are with charcoal grills, you too can enjoy this staple of summer in Asheville.
This is the one that Asheville is known for. Generally, the leaves start turning in late September, and until mid-November the mountains and foothills are awash with all the warmest colors of the rainbow.
By the end of November, all the leaves have fallen down, and have become the problem of local property-owners who have to rake the dang things off the half-dead remnants of their lawn. But you don’t need to worry about all that. Take a drive up the Blue Ridge, and just soak in all that color. It’s a sight like no other.
As far as other amusements, it’d hardly be fall in Asheville without a little apple picking. It’s fun for the whole family. Throw the kids up in the trees. They’re best suited for finding the fruits, what with their keen senses and simian knack for climbing. The adults can shoulder the carrying bags.
I think one of my favorite things about fall in Asheville—besides the leaves, that goes without saying—is all the wonderful things that you can imbibe. Locally brewed cider. An americano at one of Asheville’s excellent cafes. Pastries, pastries, and more pastries, as I lay on fat for the coming winter. Baked goods do taste best in the fall, and our downtown bakeries bake the best. If that’s not a compelling reason to name fall the best season to visit Asheville, I don’t know what is.
A Perfect Fall Day. Begin with a drive far up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Black Balsam. When it comes to seeing the fall leaves, with three-hundred-and-sixty-degree views, few hikes can beat Black Balsam. Follow this up with a visit to downtown’s Old Europe café. Stay in the city’s center for a tour of the South Slope brewing district.
Often overshadowed by the attractions of fall, winter is still a strong contender for the best time of year to visit Asheville. It is my favorite season, for one thing, and each winter sees Asheville host a number of holiday attractions of national acclaim.
If you haven’t seen the historic Grove Park Inn’s gingerbread house competition, then you are missing out. Starting in late November and concluding after the New Year, at no other place and time can you view such a whimsical collection of edible displays. Truly, these gingerbread houses are a testament to mankind’s determination to build not just simple shelters, but true works of architectural art, even given the humblest of materials. At least that’s the way I see it.
Once you’ve had your fill of gingerbread (I mean figuratively, of course), I suggest a visit to the NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights display. Year after year, the light-workers at the Arboretum knock it out of the park, stringing their magnificent gardens in row after row of Christmas lights, turning into a veritable wonderland, complete with hot refreshments.
Keep in mind that a winter’s night in the mountains is no joke. I’ve lost a number of nostril hairs to frostbite myself. But this chilly weather need not be a deterrent to the prospective traveler. Rather, you could see it as an opportunity to visit all of Asheville’s best indoor attractions.
Christmas shopping at the Grove Arcade. A visit to the Asheville Museum of Art. Or perhaps just a steaming cup of hot cocoa, courtesy of the French Broad Chocolate lounge.
It’s cozy. It’s Christmassy. It’s one of the best times of the year to visit Asheville.
A Perfect Winter Day. This one’s tricky, as there’s so many good options. A visit to the Arboretum come nightfall is certainly in order. If you’ve got the energy for it, fill the daylight hours with a visit to some ski slopes. Otherwise, keep it easy with a visit to downtown’s galleries, boutiques, and plethora of restaurants.
Fine weather and flower blossoms in the spring. Hikes, river-rafting, and ice cream in the summer. Fall for the leaves, and winter for holiday cheer. What’s the best time of year to visit Asheville? The only way to find out for certain is to try them all, and see which one is best for you. So, no matter the season, book your stay now, and enjoy the myriad delights of Asheville NC.
Hot Springs Resort and Spa
315 Bridge St, Hot Springs, NC 28743
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
The Hop Ice Cream Café
640 Merrimon Ave #103, Asheville, NC 28804
Old Europe Pastries
18 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801
The Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806