Asheville’s location in the heart of Appalachia is ideal for setting out to explore some of the best outdoor scenery in the country. Stunning peaks; natural wonders; and forested mountain ranges combine with a vibrant historical and cultural past perfect for those looking to wander this lovely Blue Ridge Mountain region.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Millions of visitors visit the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway every year—and with good reason. Home to some of the most beautiful outdoor scenery and natural landscapes; the parkway is also known as a wonderland of diversity for flora, fauna, climate, and geology. The best way to explore the parkway is via a scenic drive, and the area around Asheville has some of the best views around. Though the road known as America’s Favorite Scenic Drive is over 460-miles long, visitors to Asheville can explore its stunning views during a well-planned day trip.
Blue Ridge Parkway Day Trip
Total Distance: Approximately 50 miles
Total Time (on the road): 1 hour, 15 minutes
How To Get There: There are four separate entrances to the parkway in the Asheville area. The following day trip has visitors entering the parkway via US Highway 70 near the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center.
Conveniently located in East Asheville, The Folk Art Center is a great spot to begin this Asheville day trip. A haven for local arts including three galleries; the nation’s first craft shop; and the Eastern National Bookstore, it’s a wonderful way to sample some of the region’s unique arts and crafts. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center is also an ideal spot to get pick-up maps, brochures, and valuable information about the Parkway and its attractions.
Location: Milepost 382
Distance from Asheville: 6 miles
From the Folk Art Center, continue on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Pisgah, one of Asheville’s most recognizable peaks. While the 5,721-foot behemoth can be seen from many locations in and around the city, to truly appreciate its spectacular views (including the nearby Cold Mountain), its best to get to the summit via the Mount Pisgah Trail. The trail is just under three miles and can be easily accessed from the parking area.
Location: Milepost 407.6
Distance from Asheville: 26 miles
Graveyard Fields is the next scenic stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway—a popular hiking destination, this spot is surrounded by the Shining Rock Wilderness Area and is known for its beautiful flower-filled meadows and sprawling, tree-filled forests. A great place to visit in the summer for blueberry picking and in the fall for leaf-peeping, there are a variety of family-friendly hikes to explore in this scenic area known for its distinctive landscape that includes two waterfalls.
Location: Milepost 417
Distance from Asheville: 37 miles
Long range vistas and panoramic views dominate Black Balsam, a favorite stop of both locals and tourists alike. Known as Black Balsam Knob, Black Balsam is just one of several area balds—Appalachian areas at high altitude that consist of low growing vegetation rather than taller alpine forests commonly found in higher mountain spots. Though the terrain is a bit rocky, the easy to moderate hike is worth it—if only to experience the stunning uninterrupted views of the surrounding area from Black Balsam’s 6,214-foot vantage point.
Location: Milepost 420.2
Distance From Asheville: 40 miles
The Blue Ridge Parkway is home to incredibly distinctive geological marvels such as Devil’s Courthouse, a steep, rocky series of outcroppings that reach up to 5,720-feet high at the summit. Though the rocks’ intimidating faces are said to have given this area its devilish nickname, according to Cherokee lore, the cave beneath the rock is home to legendary giant Judaculla. Though there are currently no giants there today, there is a paved trail that leads visitors to the overlook’s summit—where on a clear day, there are spectacular views that reach as far as South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons, as this area is known as a popular nesting spot.
Location: Milepost 422.4
Distance From Asheville: 42 miles
Visitors that have more time should plan on exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, as there are some spectacular sights in this area as well—including Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell—both known for their breathtaking views. Head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for approximately 20 miles to reach the soaring Craggy Gardens home to several hiking trails and the Craggy Pinnacle—known for its 360-degree views. Just a short 40 minutes from Craggy lies Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Part of Mount Mitchell State Park, this area is known for its scenic panoramic vistas and plethora of hiking options throughout the region’s lovely series of mountains and valleys in the heart of Appalachia.
The Singular Scenic Beauty Of Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest consists of over 500,000-acres of hardwood forested beauty that is an ideal day trip from Asheville. Combining scenic natural beauty and a myriad of outdoor recreational opportunities, Pisgah is the perfect place for nature lovers to experience the beauty and majestic loveliness of the region.
Location: 1600 Pisgah Hwy, Pisgah Forest NC
Distance From Asheville: 31 miles
How To Get There: Follow I-240 W and I-26 E headed toward NC-280W/Airport Road. Take Exit 40 to UN-280 W to US-276. There is also an access point to the forest less than 10 minutes from downtown Asheville for those who want to stay closer to the city limits.
Pisgah is a great place to explore on two wheels. With more than 300-miles of trails ideal for biking, outdoor adventurers can take their pick of forested areas to spend the afternoon. The Bent Creek Experimental Forest is a popular mountain biking spot with a variety of trails for riders of all abilities. Pisgah also offers numerous opportunities for day hiking, many of which can be accessed via the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Stunning waterfalls, panoramic views, and hikes of varying skill levels await the intrepid hiker looking for everything from an afternoon stroll to an hours-long challenge.
There are also plenty of opportunities for climbing, bouldering, and mountaineering in Pisgah National Forest. One of the most visited spots in Pisgah and a veritable climber’s paradise is the well-known Corner Rock. Located in the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah, Corner Rock is just 40 minutes north of Asheville. Available for climbing all year round, Corner Rock is a challenging spot for fans of extreme bouldering.
Waterfalls and Waterslides along The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
One of the best ways to explore Pisgah’s scenic beauty is via the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, a 79-mile loop that meanders through the Pisgah Ranger District and the surrounding countryside. Full of beautiful views, historic sites, and scenic natural beauty that includes everything from waterfalls to forested trails that take visitors into the heart of Appalachia.
Distance From Asheville: 30 miles
Getting There: From Asheville, take NC 280 south to Brevard. Turn right onto US 276. The Byway can be traveled in a loop via 276 W, 215 S, and 64 E
Looking Glass Rock and Looking Glass Falls are two of the most popular stops along the Scenic Byway. The 60-foot falls are some of the most beautiful in the area and can be easily seen from the roadside observation deck. More adventurous visitors can take stairs to the bottom for an even better look at the stunning falls. The nearby Looking Glass Rock Trail is also a great place to get some amazing views—but instead of a waterfall, its a steep, exposed rock that is a favorite of both hikers and climbers everywhere.
Sliding Rock is another popular spot that is a favorite of visitors of all ages. A 60-foot all-natural waterslide located in scenic Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is also close to other area attractions like the Moore Cove Falls Trail and John Rock—themselves home to beautiful waterfalls and hiking opportunities. The Cradle of Forestry is another lovely spot worth visiting along the byway. Home to the Forest Discovery Center and numerous paved walking trails, this site has numerous educational activities including interactive exhibits and guided tours meant to educate visitors about the area’s past and present endeavors in environmental sustainability.
There are a number of day trip opportunities within two hours (or less) of Asheville’s scenic downtown area. The city’s location in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains make it an ideal spot for both nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Scenic roadways such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Forested Heritage Scenic Byway make the journey from Asheville just as rewarding as the destination—whether its waterfalls that wow; geological marvels come to life; lushly carpeted mountain slopes and valleys; or panoramic views that seem to go on forever—Asheville and its surrounding areas are the epitome of natural Appalachian beauty in Western Carolina.