Road Tripping: Asheville, North Carolina
So, you want to drive slightly further than the grocery store or local restaurants, but don’t have any ideas about where to go? If you have not discovered Asheville, North Carolina, it might be time to head south and find this gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There are plenty of ways to get there, so for a variety, you could take one route there and a different route back.
No matter which route you take, your journey will take you through the Appalachian Mountains, the chain of mountains that run from Canada to Alabama, and features the largest peak east of the Mississippi River. Rising to 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is less than an hour from Asheville and less than five miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But once you get to Asheville, you might not want to leave. It offers the perfect blend of pictorial panoramas with a casual downtown, despite being the largest city in western North Carolina. Here are some things to check out once you arrive in town.
The Biltmore House
While nature brings in visitors and keeps the locals, it is a house that attracts the most attention to the city, bringing in more than 1 million visitors a year. Built in the late 1800s for George Washington Vanderbilt II, the Biltmore House is the largest privately owned house in the United States, with more than 135,000 square feet of living area. The 250-room mansion was completed in 1895 and includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Besides the house, the 8,000-acre estate is home to lush gardens and forest trails.
After Vanderbilt finished his French Renaissance home, he brought in Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the master of American landscape architecture, to design the estate’s gardens. Olmsted had already made his mark by developing New York’s Central Park and the surroundings of the U.S. Capitol.
The home, owned and operated by Vanderbilt’s descendants, offers daily tours of the house and gardens, as well as other special events. But you are advised to get your tickets early as some days are more popular than others.
The Omni Grove Park Inn
Around the time Vanderbilt was finished with his estate, Edwin Wiley Grove’s dream also was being fulfilled. A Civil War veteran, Grove was in the pharmaceutical industry and his Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was a household name. He landed in Asheville, fell in love with the climate and started building a resort. In 1913, the Grove Park Inn opened after less than a year of construction. Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters custom-made more than 700 pieces of furniture and hand-hammered 600 copper lighting fixtures for the Inn and much of it remains, creating the most extensive collection of items from the Arts & Crafts era.
The Inn, purchased by Omni Hotels in 2013 and renamed The Omni Grove Park Inn, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as 10 presidents have spent the night there, from William Howard Taft to Barrack Obama. Other notable guests have included Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Sir Anthony Hopkins, George Gershwin, Harry Houdini, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Margaret Mitchell. Rooms in which famous people stayed are marked by plaques on the door saying who stayed there and when.
Since 2001, The Omni Grove Park Inn has earned Four-Diamond status from AAA. Even if you don’t plan on staying in one of the original guest rooms, you can take a guided tour, which is offered Wednesdays through Saturdays. Or you can kick back in the Great Hall and let the history of The Omni Grove Park Inn wash over you.
Take a Walk Downtown
Since much of Asheville’s history has to do with the outdoors, it seems only fitting that city’s history museum is outdoors along the sidewalks of the town. Asheville’s Urban Trail has 30 stops and maps can be found in various places around downtown and online. Each stop features a piece of art and a plaque telling stories of Asheville. The route is more than a mile and a half and can be completed in about an hour, but it might take a bit longer as you also will be discovering the food and bar scene of Asheville.
If you’re one of those people that everything looks good, but you are not sure where to eat or drink, consider one (or all?) of the city’s many food and drink tours. This will give you a taste of many of Asheville’s restaurants and then you can return to your favorites for a full meal later. Some of these sell out quickly, so plan accordingly.
Head to the Mountains
On a sunny day, take a drive up on the famous scenic Blue Ridge Parkway to get the breathtaking mountain landscape’s full effect, especially during the fall as the leaves are changing colors. The colors will depend on what time of year you are visiting, but the change starts moving down the mountains in mid-October and reaches downtown Asheville by early November.
The Asheville area is a popular place to hike, with trails to satisfy all levels of hikers, with the bonus of waterfalls to gaze at either at the trails’ end or along the route. But if you are not into hiking or have little ones that you don’t think could handle it, the folks at ExploreAsheville.com have a list of six waterfalls that can be experienced from the safety of your vehicle. Head to tinyurl.com/DriveFalls to discover the “6 Drive-By Waterfalls.”
AAA’s famous TripTik Travel Planner provides comprehensive driving directions. Contact your AAA Mid States Travel agent by stopping in your local office, calling 1-800-222-1469 or visiting AAA.com.