The French Broad River is a signature Asheville landmark, winding through the city from south to north. It’s the third oldest river on Earth, or so they say. More importantly, its my favorite river. I understand not many people have a favorite river. But I do.
As winter turns to spring here in the mountains, the season will soon be ripe not just for hiking, but for enjoying all manner of water-based outdoorsery. Here I’ve collected five of the best things to do in conjunction with the French Broad, so that you too may one day consider it your own favorite river.
Rivers mean water and water means fish. Fish, in turn, draws the fisherman. Its pure science. I get the impression, however, that hiking overshadows this hobby, at least among locals. All the better for the fishermen, I say. Less competition.
Most of the French Broad’s denizens consist of trout and smallmouth bass, with a small contingent of muskies, some reaching as large as fifty inches. Further fish-lore and the requisite equipment can be acquired from local vendors at Hunter Banks, located on the outskirts of the Montford Historic District. You can try your luck at French Broad River Park or Lake Powhatan, both popular local fishing holes.
French Broad Facts: The river flows north into the Holston, then the Tennessee into the Mississippi. With a sturdy raft, you could ride it from Asheville to New Orleans.
Every good landscaper knows that a water element adds pizzazz to your parks. Following this logic, Asheville’s most pizzazzed parks lie along the French Broad River. By name, I’m talking about Carrier Park and French Broad River Park, linked by the 2.8-mile-long French Broad River Greenway.
On a warm day, or even a cool day, an afternoon spent at these parks is sure to both inspire and invigorate. Picnic by the riverside. Bike in circles at the Carrier Park velodrome. Bring your dog. Bring other people’s dogs. Listen to the soothing rush of water. Depart in the evening for dinner and amusements in downtown, just a ten-minute drive away.
French Broad River Facts: The river cannot speak French, nor does it possess French citizenship, despite what you may think.
From spring to summer, the French Broad fills with some of the most colorful river-fauna in the country: Ashevilleans and tourists in inflatable tubes. They pass in flocks from destinations unknown to destinations more unknown, to use that old impeccable phrase.
The only ones who seem to understand the true depths of these transitory creatures are the local tube-renters, such as Zen Tubing. You can reserve a place in this season’s migration with a visit to their website, followed by a drive to either their South Asheville location, or their location in the River Arts District for a slightly longer float down the Broad.
If you’re less of a floater and more of a paddler, Asheville Outdoor Center and French Broad Outfitters offer kayak and canoe rentals, with departure points which will send you past the Biltmore Estate’s placid riverside properties. French Broad Outfitters also offers opportunities to row past the River Arts District, for an ulterior view of one of Asheville’s most iconic districts.
French Broad Facts: The nearby Broad River (no relation) was once called the “English Broad River.” The two have a complicated history of strife and enmity, despite intricate cultural and political connections.
Perhaps you’ve read all this talk of “fishing” and “floating” and “relaxation” and thought to yourself: “Me, I’m tough stuff. Give me the river. The true river. The whitewater river.” Well, you asked for it.
French Broad Adventures—not to be confused with French Broad Outfitters—takes aspiring adventurers down to the Pisgah National Forest, where the French Broad cuts through the mountains with all the rigor of an ancient natural feature. That's exactly what you’ll need yourself to match its Class II to IV rapids. Mid-level in the grand scheme of whitewater rafting, but certainly no walk in the park.
A trip such as this runs from three to six hours. The season runs from March to November.
French Broad Facts: The river is home to the endangered Appalachian Elktoe Mussel. I learned of the existence of freshwater mussels approximately one and a half years ago, and I have never been the same since.
No visit to Asheville would be complete without some time spent in the River Arts District. Once an industrial district—using the river for its nefarious industrial purposes—today this section of Asheville hosts a slew of galleries, studios, and workshops, many open to visitors.
More in depth-information can be found right here, or at the RAD website. They’ve got events all throughout the year, including Second Saturdays, when local artisans throw their doors open for all manner of demonstrations, exhibitions, and all-around cultural enrichment.
French Broad Facts: The river is at least 260 million years old, pre-dating the establishment of the RAD by about 259 million years.
Hunter Banks Fly Fishing
29 Montford Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
220 Amboy Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
French Broad River Park
508 Riverview Dr, Asheville, NC 28806
608 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC 28801 (RAD)
1648 Brevard Rd, Asheville, NC 28806 (South)
Asheville Outdoor Center
521 Amboy Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
French Broad Outfitters
704 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC 28801
French Broad Adventures
12 Good Adventures Ln, Marshall, NC 28753
River Arts District
3 River Arts Pl, Asheville, NC 28801