Ready to explore the great outdoors of western North Carolina mountains near Asheville? The breathtaking scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounds the city in all directions, with one million acres of protected forest and park land. There are so many places to go and things to do outside, including hiking the many trails and discovering beautiful waterfalls. Use the detailed guide for each of these, with plenty of photos and details so you can plan your vacation. Also, see our Top 300 Things to Do for many more ideas for indoors fun.
Waterfalls Top 60
Of hundreds of waterfalls near Asheville, we picked the most spectacular falls that are easy to find. Some can be enjoyed with a short walk or even roadside. Others require a scenic hike. See full descriptions for each, with plenty of photos! Also see Waterfall Drives & Maps.
Best 75 Mountain Hikes
There are thousands of miles of hiking trails near Asheville, many of which are in pristine national forests or parks. We picked our favorites and created extensive guides for each with photos and details. Find hikes for all skill levels in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.
Blue Ridge Parkway Top 50
Drive the Parkway north or south from Asheville and quickly climb the Blue Ridge Mountain ridge. You can reach elevations of 5,000+ ft. Our mile-by-mile guide of the Parkway covers the 193-mile section near Asheville. So many things to do along one of the most scenic drives in the United States.
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Hike, mountain bike or horseback ride a multitude of trails to see many waterfalls and lakes on 10,000 acres. Plus, picnic on mountaintops and swim at Hooker Falls. Visitor center, free admission.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Top 15
Explore the most visited national park in the country! With 520,976 acres to traverse, where do you begin? See our top places and hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville. Four entrances to the Park are within 60 miles of downtown Asheville.
Chimney Rock Park
See breathtaking 75-mile views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. The park also features a magnificent 404-foot waterfall and hiking trails. Shopping and dining located at the park entrance.
Tryon International Equestrian Center
Watch horse jumping competitions with the best riders in the country at this amazing new world-class equestrian resort south of Asheville. Free admission to many events.
Top 8 Zip Line Canopy Tours
Fly above the trees and experience the mountains' natural beauty from a bird's perspective. See our favorite zip line canopy courses to enjoy in the Asheville area of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. No experience is needed. Canopy guides provide all instruction and assistance. It's fun for all fitness levels!
Beech Mountain Biking & Hiking
Hike, bike and golf in the highest town in eastern America, and enjoy cool temperatures all summer long. Their 20-mile trail system is open year-round.
Pet-Friendly Guide - Asheville
Traveling with your dog? See our Pet-Friendly Guide to Asheville and the North Carolina mountains that includes lodging, hiking, Biltmore, kennels, dog parks and more.
Sliding Rock & Swimming Holes
Be a kid again and splash around in a cool mountain swimming hole. Ride down Sliding Rock, swim under a waterfall, sun on a mountain beach or pristine lake, or spend a lazy day tubing down a river.
Adventure Center of Asheville
Tucked away a mile from downtown is an outdoor lover's playground. Fly on 11 ziplines through old growth trees with skyline and mountain views. Test your skills in a treetop playground. Climb trees or mountain bike. Plus, bring the kids for the first-ever Kid Zip course. See our feature.
This pristine reservoir near Cashiers has the highest elevation of any lake east of the Mississippi. Signal Ridge Marina rents a variety of Bennington pontoons and tritoons, as well as tubes, paddleboards, skis, wakeboards and kneeboards. There's even a beach!
Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking
We are lucky enough to have six rivers near Asheville that are good for rafting and kayaking. Find professional companies that provide rafting guides, so no experience is necessary. You can even learn how to kayak in the rapids or paddleboard on a lake.
Drive to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This state park has an observation tower, plenty of hiking and a restaurant. Be prepared for much cooler temperatures at the top. Open year-round (except snowy days in the winter).
Asheville Outdoor Center
Kayak, paddleboard, raft or tube down the French Broad River in Asheville and through the Biltmore Estate. You can also rent a bike or mine for gems. Just five miles from downtown.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC's big Nantahala River campus offers rafting, zip lines, treetop adventures, paddleboards, hiking, biking, fishing and more for the whole family. It's like Disneyland for lovers of the outdoors! Near Bryson City.
Pigeon River Adventure Center
Enjoy outdoors exploration with whitewater rafting, zip line canopy tours or Jeep tours in the Great Smoky Mountains. Or do all three without moving your car with their "Triple Adventure!"
Diamond Brand Outdoors & Frugal Backpacker
Before you head outdoors for hiking, paddling or camping, get gear and expert advice at two Diamond Brand stores (one is downtown) and the Frugal Backpacker Outlet in Asheville. Whether you are an outdoors novice or advanced adventurer, they are the top outfitter in town.
Find the best places to tube down a river on a hot summer day, including the French Broad River through Asheville, Deep Creek in the Smoky Mountains and Green River Gorge - with rentals and shuttle services.
Navitat Canopy Adventures
Experience the zipline canopy tour USA Today called “one of the best in the nation!” Just 20 minutes from Asheville, Navitat has two very different courses with the longest zip line at 3,600 ft. long.
Southern Appalachian Anglers
Take a full-service, guided fly fishing or bass fishing trip near Asheville. You can enjoy the Appalachian Mountains by boating and/or wading in North Carolina's stream-fed lakes and rivers. Professional fishing guides ensure exciting fishing on the best pristine rivers in WNC.
Enjoy plenty of fishing spots, whether novice or experienced. Full- and half-day guided trips, tying classes and classes geared toward women.
Outdoors at Biltmore Estate
Daytime admission to Biltmore not only gets you access to America’s largest home, but also the opportunity to explore the estate’s 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Discover Biltmore’s rustic side with an array of outdoor adventures like biking, hiking, Segway tours, horseback riding, fly fishing, sporting clays and more.
This tiny town of around 800 residents is perhaps best known for its hot mineral springs. Located north of Asheville at the junction of the Appalachian Trail (goes right through downtown) and the French Broad River. Hike from town up to Lover's Leap for a great view of the town.
Find some of the most spectacular scenery with many hikes along the rim to peaks like Table Rock, Hawksbill and Shortoff. And don't forget Linville Falls!
Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures
This mountain bike guide service specializes in professionally-guided trips in Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest, customized to individual tastes and ability levels. Half, full and multi-day trips include a snack and lunch. Experienced and trustworthy guides create rides focusing on downhills, single-track or climbing.
French Broad River Outfitters
Kayak, canoe, tube or paddleboard down the river through Asheville. Start your trip near downtown at the area's largest paddle shop - with shuttle service, rentals, camping gear, disc golf supplies and more. Three locations along the French Broad River.
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Zip Line Tour
Take an exciting zipline tour in the Great Smoky Mountains. The 3-hour zip line flight is powered by gravity and a gradual 3 percent elevation change. The 1/2 mile air time canopy tour takes you through multiple ecosystems.
Asheville Treetops Adventure Park
Play in the trees with 50 elements from 12 to 45 feet above the forest floor, including climbing, zipping, walking, jumping, swinging and rappelling challenges -- all anchored to more than 30 trees. Near downtown Asheville, next to Asheville Canopy Tours.
Vagabond Vistas Photo Tours
You've invested in the fancy camera. You're surrounded by the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and the urban intrigue of Asheville. Now what? Why not invest in yourself and learn the tricks of the trade, and the lay of the land, with a local professional photography instructor?
Elk in Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains
Watch the elk in beautiful Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The best time is just before sunset. Take a picnic and tailgate. Also, tour historic buildings or hike.
North Carolina Arboretum
Stroll through a variety of gardens and on peaceful woodland trails, located in Asheville adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don't miss their impressive bonsai garden exhibit and many special events during the year.
So many options for mountain bike riders of all skill levels. Plus, bike the Blue Ridge Parkway or a greenway.
Top 20 Picnic Spots
Dine outdoors in nature! Plan a picnic at some amazing locations where you can enjoy sweet views.
Asheville Hiking Tours
Get picked up at your hotel or B&B in Asheville to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains. Walk under waterfalls, dip in a swimming hole, or take a safari-like tour of wild elk. Guides discuss elk biology, Cherokee villages and mountain flora. A variety of trips, hiking or driving, available every day.
Sleep under the stars in our national parks, forests or a campground. Or stay in a hostel.
South Mountains State Park
(2-40 miles, easy, moderate, strenuous) This state park near Morganton has 40 miles of hiking trails. Our favorite is High Shoals Falls 2.7-mile loop trail to a beautiful 60-foot waterfall. Combine several trails for a much longer hike.
Cradle of Forestry
Travel back in time with historic cabins, crafters, old logging equipment, guided tours, movies, food and shopping. Home of the first forestry school (opened in 1898) in America. In Pisgah National Forest. Open mid-April through October.
Nantahala River Rafting Guide
The most popular river for whitewater rafting and kayaking is about 12 miles west of Bryson City in the beautiful Nantahala River Gorge. The site of the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships, find class II and III rapids, along with calm sections perfect for a dip. Fun for ages 7 and up, with no experience necessary. Choose from nine outfitters, all offering a variety of options.
Outdoor Festivals & Events
Wild Food Foraging Tours
Take a "forage to table" tour with No Taste Like Home and play with your food. Our area is a Garden of Eden with over 300 wild edibles. During a guided tour, gather wild mushrooms, plants and other “extreme cuisine.” Then a chef transforms your finds into a delicious meal.
PARI: Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
This former NASA campus in Pisgah National Forest is now a fascinating space and science center open for tours. It boasts exhibit galleries, a gem and meteorite collection, as well as hands-on research and star gazing nights with astronomers (away from light pollution of cities).
Bryson City Outdoors
This well-equipped outdoor store in downtown Bryson City has everything for your adventure. Rentals include kayaks, paddleboards and camping gear. Take a guided hike in the Great Smoky Mountains, plus kayak and paddleboard tours on Fontana Lake. Their craft beer store has 225+ brews.
Enjoy scenic horseback trail rides in the Asheville area with miles of trails, experienced guides and gentle horses. For the more experience riders, there are hundreds of miles to explore.
Nantahala National Forest
The largest national forest in North Carolina (531,286 acres), Nantahala covers much of the western tip of the state. Find a wealth of outdoor activities and plenty of scenic views, hiking trails and waterfalls.
Pisgah National Forest
This 500,000+ natonal forest surrounds Asheville and features some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery. Not to mention, the best recreational opportunities in eastern North America with whitewater rivers, waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails.
Scenic mountain beauty and a pleasant climate provide a magnificent setting for a day of golf. Lush fairways, sprawling bent grass greens, cool breezes and a gently undulating terrain.
This beautiful lake town near the Great Smoky Mountains is home to trails, boat tours, golf, gardens and a big variety of lodging options, including lakefront hotels and cabin rentals for a Methodist church retreat.
Lake James State Park
This state park has a wide beach with a nice pavilion with changing rooms, open for swimming May-September. Also enjoy hiking, mountain biking, fishing and more.
Stand-Up Paddleboard Trips
Find the best places to stand-up paddleboard in and near Asheville on the pristine waters of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rent SUPs, take lessons and even take a guided river trip. Fun way to see fall color, too!
Fontana Lake & Dam
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy fishing, boating, camping and swimming in this beautiful lake. Or walk the Appalachian Trail across the highest dam east of the Rockies.
Farmers Markets & Local Farms
Get out early to sample local fruits, vegetables, pastries, jams, jellies and more. The big Western NC Farmers Market is open every day. Many tailgate markets on Saturday morning.
Asheville Urban Trail
(1.7-mile loop, easy) This outdoors museum is a self-guided walking tour on the sidewalks of downtown Asheville, leading to 30 sculptures that depict local history.
Tsali Mountain Biking
Find mountain biking heaven in the Nantahala National Forest with 40 miles of trails overlooking Fontana Lake. Located near Bryson City, where you can find bike rentals and supplies.
Appalachian Trail Day Hikes near Asheville
Take a "walk in the woods" in the most scenic sections of the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail near Asheville, high in the North Carolina mountains. See our favorite six-day hikes for all fitness levels.
Waterfalls & Wine Tour
Find six waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, with short, guided hikes "off the beaten path" with the Pisgah Field School, and end with a wine tasting. 2018 dates: Thursday & Fridays May 10-Aug 10 & Fridays October 5-26, 11 AM-3 PM. Small groups, book in advance. $65/person.
Gem mining has been a favorite activity for visitors to the mountains of North Carolina for many years. Most gem mines in the Asheville and Franklin areas are open from spring through autumn. Also tour several gem and mineral museums.
Western NC Nature Center
Learn about the area's natural resources, see animals in their native habitats and view various exhibits on this 40-acre site. Open daily.
Botanical Gardens at Asheville
This 10-acre garden near the University of North Carolina in Asheville features Southern Appalachian plants, and includes peaceful hiking trails in the middle of the city.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
See the amazing Monarch Butterflies as they migrate 2,000+ miles each fall to Mexico, passing through the Asheville area in September and early October. Find the best spots to see them along the high passes of the Blue Ridge Parkway and special events to learn more about them.
Discover nature on a different level on this rugged mountain, with endless vistas, great hiking and wildlife habitats. Walk across the famous swinging bridge. Located 75 miles north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
This bird sanctuary is a wonderful wildlife oasis in the very busy north Asheville area. Walk a 3/8-mile boardwalk through a wetland area and by the lake, complete with sitting areas along the way to soak up the views and watch birds.
16 Scenic Drives
See gorgeous countryside, mountain views and charming communities on a windshield tour via national and state scenic byways near Asheville. Lots of opportunities for stops along the way.
Ski & Snowboard
Hit the slopes for plenty of winter of fun. Since we have the highest mountains in eastern America, you will find plenty of snow, either natural or man-made, for sking and snowboarding.
Hike the Appalachian Trail at Max Patch or Lover's Leap, soak in natural hot springs, go horseback riding, raft down whitewater rapids, ski, bike, fish, camp and explore the unspoiled mountains just north of Asheville.
Fun for Children
There are plenty of outdoor adventures for children of all ages, including a special KidZip, educational trails, nature centers and more.
For a fascinating stroll through history, head to this sprawling cemetery near downtown Asheville, with 87 acres of rolling hills and flower gardens. The cemetery dates to 1885 and holds more than 13,000 burials and 9,000 monuments. It is the burial place of noted authors Thomas Wolfe and William Sidney Porter, better known as O. Henry.
Find one of the biggest varieties of wildflowers in the country. The Great Smoky Mountains alone is a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity with more than 1,660 kinds of flowering plants. Take a hike deep into Pisgah National Forest or enjoy wildflowers from your car as you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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Outdoors gear can be very complicated! Before you head outdoors for hiking, paddling or camping, stock up with supplies and expert advice at Diamond Brand and the Frugal Backpacker stores in... read more