Kids in Parks is a growing network of TRACK (Trails, Ridges, Activities and Connections for Kids) educational trails with free activity guides for children - perfect for family vacations to Asheville. Together, you'll engage with the outdoors by identifying trees and birds, viewing the forest from the perspective of animals and searching for natural features. Download or pick up self-guided learning brochures with maps for hunting. Children can record their adventures online and receive prizes.
TRACK Trails include hiking, biking, geocaching, paddling and even nature trail disc golf courses. In addition to getting prizes in the mail, you can TRACK your adventures in your own online nature journal and see how many trails you have visited, how many miles hiked and more.
The maps, brochures and prizes are free thanks to many generous partners. Kids in Parks began in Asheville in 2008 by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and National Park Service. Today, it has grown to 190+ trails in 12 states.
Here are our Top 10 Adventure Trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville - all locations have free admission:
- Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center: Located at Milepost 384 in Asheville, stroll a 1.5-mile loop with your choice of adventures including "Nature's Hide & Seek", "Birds of the Blue Ridge" and "Bug Out". Pick up activity guides inside the center, see exhibits and watch the film about the Parkway. Plus, ask a ranger about the upcoming National Park Service Junior Ranger programs. The center is about a mile south of the US 70 intersection and about 8 miles east of downtown Asheville.
- Lake James State Park: This popular park east of Asheville has a 3/4 mile Holly Discover TRACK Trail, along with other trails, sandy beach, picnic areas, camping, mountain bike trails and boat rentals. They also have many ranger-led hikes perfect for the family.
- Mt Mitchell State Park: Head to the highest peak in eastern USA for the "Islands in the Sky" Track Adventure. Stroll through the lush spruce-fir forest on the Balsam Trail and see the 360-degree views from the observation tower. Find a nature museum, picnic tables and summer concessions.
- Pisgah National Forest: The Andy Cove TRACK Trail is located at the Pisgah Ranger District Visitor Center (1600 Pisgah Hwy, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768) near Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls. The 3/4 of a mile loop trail features a canopy boardwalk, swinging bridge, stream and four different self-guided adventures. Inside the Visitor Center, read more about the forest. Cradle of Forestry (10 miles away) has many more things for kids to do and explore.
- Rutherfordton: For a small town stroll, the "Main Street Safari" Trail is a 0.5 mile route that takes you past historic landmarks and the fantastic KidSenses Childrens Museum. Discover the history of the gold rush in North Carolina and see where the nation's first $1 gold coin was minted at the Bechtler House.
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site: Located in Flat Rock near Hendersonville, the farm and home of this famous writer has much to explore. The TRACK Trail brochures "Farm, Field and Forest" and "Need for Trees" were designed for use on any of the trails here, ranging from a mile to 1.5 miles. Tour the fascinating home, visit the goats in the big barn, and explore rolling pastures, flower and vegetable gardens, and more.
- Orchard at Altapass: This must-stop for families on the Blue Ridge Parkway has a network of trails through their historic apple orchards. Take the TRACK Trail adventure "Apples, Animals and Appalachian History". Take a wagon ride, learn about monarch butterflies, enjoy live mountain music and try some fudge. Free admission. Open May through October.
- Gorges State Park: Find an easy 2/10 of a mile loop through the forest beside the visitor center with many kid-friendly exhibits to learn about trees, birds, bugs and more in this temperate rain forest. Rangers are always delighted to answer questions.
- Marshall: This charming small town has a unique island park in the middle of the French Broad River. The half mile TRACK Trail is a loop on Blannahassett Island, home to picnic areas, fishing and the restored Marshall High Studios. Adventures include "Music from the Mountains" and "Animal Athletes". Walk or drive across the river to stroll downtown. Brochures can be picked up at the Town Hall at 180 S Main St.
- Bakersville: Their TRACK Trail follows the 6/10 mile Creek Walk trail along the Cane Creek (26 South Mitchell Avenue) - with multiple adventure brochures "Nature's Hide & Seek" and "Hikin' to Find Lichen". If you head south on the trail, you observe a variety of plant life along the creek, including ferns, many types of trees and a few rhododendron. Head north for more open field where there is a playground and fishing pier. Nearby is Roan Mountain with super scenic hikes on the Appalachian Trail perfect for older children and youth.
Go to their website to read more and download free guides (see a snapshot of one below).
The beautifully illustrated guides can be downloaded for free and used anywhere! Often you can find printed guides at Parkway, State Park & National Forest Visitor Centers.
Visit the Kids in Parks website to register and get more details on adventures and prizes for kids.