The mighty French Broad River starts as a small stream high in the North Carolina mountains and flows 200+ miles to Knoxville to help form the Tennessee River. It's the third oldest river in the world, even older than our mountains (formed some 300 million years ago)! Since it runs through the center of Asheville and the surrounding national forests, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it - including camping, hiking and biking along the shores or paddling on a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. There are many parks along the way with access points for fishing, bird watching, picnics and more. While the river is fairly flat through the city of Asheville (perfect for tubing and float trips), you'll find big rapids north in Madison County - a great place for whitewater rafting and kayaking!
Here are some of our favorite ways and places to enjoy the river, beginning at the source of the French Broad River (near Rosman, NC), and following the river downstream to the Tennessee state line:
Waterfall Trio: On the North Fork of the French Broad (that merges with the west fork at Rosman) along Highway 215, find three waterfalls near the roadside: French Broad, Shoal Creek and Cathedral Falls. Read more about these waterfalls. A short hike connects them. Read about these waterfalls.
Sierra Nevada Brewery: Much farther downstream, take a brewery tour or sample beers in the Taproom with lunch or dinner. They have trails and river access. Read all about the Sierra Nevada Brewery.
Asheville Outdoor Center: Hit the easy button and find your equipment, shuttles and expert guidance at this one-stop shop. They will shuttle you up river, and you'll end your trip at their riverside campus. Kayak, canoe, tube or paddleboard. Grab a beer at their taproom afterwards! (Pic at top of page) Read more about their many options.
Do-It-Yourself River Paddling: If you have your own kayak or canoe, along with two vehicles for shuttling, you can paddle seven miles through Biltmore Estate with the help of two river parks. Start your journey at Bent Creek River Park (1592 Brevard Road) and end at Hominy Creek River Park (104 Hominy Creek Road). Sent there's a gentle flow down river, the trip usually takes 2-3 hours. Park one vehicle at Hominy Creek, then drive to Bent Creek to put in your boats. Nearby are the North Carolina Arboretum and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's also a great tubing spot.
French Broad River Park System: The city of Asheville has three adjacent riverside parks: Carrier Park, Amboy Road Park and French Broad River Park
- Carrier Park (220 Amboy Road) offers a variety of impressive recreational facilities. The French Broad River Greenway follows the riverside. The most unique feature is the velodrome, a former racetrack that is now use by bicyclists. Inside the velodrome, find basketball courts, playground, inline hockey rink and volleyball courts. Other features is a lawn-bowling green, big picnic pavilion, walking nature trail. A sidewalk connects to Amboy Road Park, a riverside greenspace.
- The French Broad River Park (508 Riverview Drive) has a greenway, river overlook, half-mile trail and the popular dog park.
Biltmore Estate: Biltmore's Outdoor Adventure Center offers peaceful float trips down the gentle section of French Broad River through the estate. Paddle with your guide in a raft or get in a single or tandem kayak for a self-guided trip. All trips depart from Antler Hill Village inside the estate, so admission tickets are required. Trips offered April-October. Read more about river fun at Biltmore.
River Arts District: Visit the many artists that have studios in converted warehouses and industrial buildings along the river, just a few miles from downtown. Read all about the River Arts District.
New Belgium Brewery: Tour the amazing brewery and sample beers while watching the action on the river. Read more!
Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga: Take a class on a calm section of the river with Girls at Play. It's challenging, rejuvenating and relaxing for sure. Yoga on a SUP enhances your practice by strengthening alignment, core awareness and balance.
French Broad River in Madison County
French Broad Overview NC Scenic Byway: Drive NC Highway 251 to three riverside parks. This 17-mile Byway starts north of Asheville at I-26 at Exit 19. Take U.S. 25/70 toward Marshall and turn left at the first stoplight onto Monticello Road. Go three miles to N.C. Highway 251. Turn right and drive along the French Broad River to Marshall and Madison County.
- Ledges Whitewater Park (1080 Old Marshall Highway, Alexander): Watch paddlers practice in the rapids here or bring your kayak to build some skills. This two-acre park has grills.
- Alexander River Park (250 Old Marshall Highway, Alexander) has a one-mile walking trail and picnic tables.
- Walnut Island River Park (3042 Old Marshall Highway, Alexander) also have picnic tables and boat launch.
Marshall: Visit Blannahassett Island, home to a city park and the Marshall High Studios, an historic high school that is now home to many artists in 28 studios. Find picnic areas, walking paths, a fishing pier, a disc golf practice field and outdoor stage for concerts. Read all about Marshall.
Walnut: Go rafting with NOC at their French Broad Outpost with a half day ride of five miles with Class II-III rapids or a full day trip with eight miles that adds Class IV Frank Bell's. It's family friendly with no experience required. All trips are guided through a very scenic section through the Pisgah National Forest. Learn a little history and see wildlife. It's only 30 minutes drive from Asheville. Read more about NOC trips.
Hot Springs: The Appalachian Trail crosses the French Broad River here at the famous hot mineral water springs. Take a soak or hike from downtown Hot Springs to Lover's Leap for great views of the river. Read all about Hot Springs.