The Blueridge Parkway passes through a tunnel near Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Aaron Burden)

Adventurous Things to Do In Asheville

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You won't get bored—or thirsty—with our Asheville insider's favorite adventure spots and watering holes.

Asheville, North Carolina, is a confusing city. On the one hand, it’s as refined as any town in the South, home to artists and creatives constantly pushing the boundaries of their fields. Heck, the number of James Beard-nominated chefs in a city this size is an embarrassment of riches, and don’t get me started on the beer. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. Maybe too good. 

But then you have the other side of the city, the wild side where some of the most technical mountain biking east of the Rockies hides in Pisgah National Forest. Where granite monoliths and boulders entertain climbers. Where Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, pierces the horizon.

Road cycling and cocktails. Trail running and art. There are so many adventures and so much culture, your only choice is to go all in and embrace both sides of this Southern gem.

I should know. I live here.

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1. Bent Creek Experimental Forest

1577 Brevard Road Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 667-5261
Bent Creek Experimental Forest

A mountain biker rides the trails in Pisgah National Forest. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

Asheville and mountain biking are practically synonymous, and Bent Creek Experimental Forest a major reason why. This distinct corner of Pisgah National Forest, which sits just 15 minutes from downtown, boasts more than 20 miles of trails traversing a thick hardwood forest. The close proximity, quality of singletrack and scores of nearby bonus trails have made it the city’s go-to for post-work rides and runs, but don’t let the crowded parking lots scare you off. If you head deeper into the forest, you likely won’t see another soul. Green’s Lick, a 1.9-mile downhill, is the forest’s signature ride because of its technical rock gardens and big jump lines, but I prefer Lower Sidehill, which also drops a series of berms and rooty sections, but has more flow, tighter singletrack and fewer people.

2. West Asheville

You can’t find a bad meal in West Asheville, an extremely walkable neighborhood with a de-facto main street lined with hip shops, restaurants and bars. The Admiral, for instance, helped redefine Asheville’s culinary scene when it opened 12 years ago with an inventive menu full of beef tartare and bone marrow. Foothills Butcher Bar, just down the street, is a legit butcher shop hidden in a strip mall that serves the best cheeseburger in town. Haywood Common has seasonal eats and vegetarian and vegan fare like a tofu poke bowl and a fried feta-and-artichoke sandwich. But if you’re only going to eat one meal, I recommend hitting the gas station. The Brew Pump is a working gas station that also has a backyard beer garden with cornhole boards and several beers on tap. There’s a rotating list of nightly food trucks, but look out for the fusion Mexican/Korean eats from El Kimchi. Your order? The bulgogi beef burrito.

3. French Broad River

French Broad River

Trees overhang a foggy French Broad River near Asheville. (Photo Credit: Karen Roussel)

You can find serious whitewater on the 210-mile-long French Broad River, but the section that curves around downtown Asheville is mellow, with just enough ripples and rocks to keep things interesting. Tubing the 2-mile stretch through the River Arts District has become the city’s preferred pastime on sweltering days. (Pro tip: Make a pit stop at Salvage Station, a riverside bar in the neighborhood with a sprawling lawn that feels like a park.) But if you want a quieter experience, head downstream and float the 3 miles of woods and shoals between Pearson Bridge and the Woodfin Riverside Park. (Water quality fluctuates, so I check Swim Guide, a non-profit whose volunteers test the river weekly in summer.)

4. Foundation Walls

339 Old Lyman St Asheville, NC 28801

Asheville embraced street art about a decade ago, commissioning murals throughout downtown, and today you’ll find everything from a massive portrait of Wonder Woman to realistic depictions of roosters hidden all over the city. But the most vibrant concentration is found at Foundation Walls. The 13-plus-acre former industrial site near the French Broad River allows artists to use its concrete walls as their canvas. Be sure to hunt for the black-and-white painting of Abraham Lincoln that morphs into Marilyn Monroe when you shift your viewing angle. Bonus: There’s a skate park, and one of Asheville’s oldest breweries, Wedge Brewing Co., has an outpost here.

5. Elk Mountain Scenic Highway

Elk Mountain Scenic Highway

The Blueridge Parkway snakes through the mountains near Asheville. (Photo Credit: Nathan Anderson)

Running for 469 scenic miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a bucket-list road ride for cyclists. But if you’re in Asheville, the quiet secondary roads that climb from town to that legendary blacktop are an even better option. Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, in particular, is a beloved litmus test for locals. (We judge our fitness based on our “Elk Time”—how long it takes to knock out the 5-mile, 1,500-foot ascent.) The road sits on the north side of town and climbs almost constantly until it peaks at Buzzard Rock, where you’re rewarded with long-range Appalachian views. Keep pedaling, and you’ll meet the parkway for the ride back into town.

6. Sierra Nevada

100 Sierra Nevada Way Mills River, NC 28732
(828) 708-6176
Sierra Nevada

Pisgah National Forest’s Looking Glass Falls is is just one of many famous cascades Western North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Russell Harrison Photography under CC BY-SA 2.0)

You’re gonna make a trip into the heart of Pisgah at some point—the lure of its waterfalls and singletrack is too strong to ignore. Just be sure you save time to hit Sierra Nevada Brewing on the way back to town. The California-based king of craft beers built its East Coast hub in Mills River on the edge of the national forest in 2013. The neighboring taproom always has at least one beer on draft that you can’t get anywhere else, so stopping for a pint while the mud dries on your tires is a must. The bar itself is gorgeous, but the real action is in the backyard where a large fire pit and multiple bocce courts wait.

7. North Mills River Campground

5289 N Mills River Rd Mills River, NC 28759
(828) 877-3265

There’s nothing wrong with pitching a tent in the North Mills River Campground. The small Forest Service facility has bathrooms with hot showers and tent pads with quick access to the river for fishing, as well as access to Trace Ridge, one of the most storied mountain biking trails in all of Pisgah. But if you want more solitude, drive nearby FS Road 1345 (aka Yellow Gap Road, aka The Endless Road) deeper into Pisgah. Go slow and explore every pullout—most of them lead to flat primitive camping sites hidden by the forest’s lush canopy. They’re first come, first served, so there’s no guarantee you’ll find a spot, but I’ve gotten lucky several times and scored primo sites on the banks of Bradley Creek with ride-out access to some of the region’s signature singletrack.

8. Kolo Bike Park

85 Expo Dr Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 225-2921

I like to keep my tires on the ground, but I’m slowly learning how to catch air, thanks entirely to Kolo, a privately owned bike park about 2 miles west of downtown. The park has 4 miles of flowy cross-country trail, multiple pump tracks and manmade features designed to progress riders through specific skills. My son and I spend most of our time running laps at the jump park, where three lines of progressively bigger table tops and gap jumps usually have us feeling like the Asheville Air Force. (Full disclosure: My son goes bigger than I do.) At $21 for a full-day pass, it’s not cheap. But Kolo runs a popular $5 after 5pm program on Tuesday evenings. Dial in your rig before getting sendy at REI Asheville’s suspension workshop, where you’ll learn the nuances of sag and rebound. Or if your current whip isn’t up to the task, Kolo has a rental fleet of mountain and jump bikes.

Find Biking Classes and Events in Asheville

9. Big Ivy

Appalachian Ranger District Pisgah National Forest, NC
(828) 689-9694
Big Ivy

Working a problem on the Corner Rock. (Photo Credit: Mountain Project contributor Brown Tater)

Big Ivy is a distinct section of Pisgah National Forest about 30 minutes west of downtown that’s stacked with lonely singletrack, more than 3,500 acres of old-growth forest and massive boulders that have only recently become the obsession of local climbers. Corner Rock, a large overhanging boulder that hovers near a small creek, has more than a 25 established routes alone, but they’re all stout with few options below V5. If you’re a mere mortal like me, hike the Walker Creek Trail where you’ll find a handful of trail-side crags with more beginner-friendly routes, including a V1 and a few V0s on the Sanctuary Boulder. (If you’re looking for a more established boulder field, you’ll have to travel a little farther and contend with the crowds at Rumbling Bald inside Chimney Rock State Park, where more than 300 problems lie in wait.) But even if you don’t plan on sending it, Big Ivy is still worth a visit. The area sees a fraction of the visitors that flock to other parts of Pisgah. So with a little luck, you can have 70-foot Douglas Falls to all yourself.

10. Ledges Whitewater Park

1598 Riverside Dr Woodfin, NC 28804

The French Broad River is scheduled to get its own manmade, world-class surf wave in the near future, but in the meantime, kayakers and paddle boarders have Ledges Whitewater Park. This completely natural collection of Class II drops and waves is only 8 miles downstream of downtown. The features aren’t huge, but the easy access makes it an ideal park-and-play destination for new boaters looking to hone their skills on friendly rapids.

11. French Broad River Greenway

The French Broad River Greenway offers the only flat running and cycling to be found in this hilly city. Along the way, it connects two large parks, one of which boasts an old NASCAR race track that’s been converted into a velodrome for cyclists. (The other features a popular dog park.) But this greenway’s most alluring attraction sits just beyond the pavement, where the routes of future extensions currently offer a bit of urban singletrack riding. Just continue past the path’s southern terminus to pick up the Hominy Creek Greenway, an unpaved, mile-long trail that follows its namesake stream through a 14-acre forest. Or hit the dirt at the greenway’s northern terminus near the dog park for a mile-long pedal along the river to New Belgium Brewing.

12. Burial Beer Co.

40 Collier Ave. Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 475-2739

Last time I checked, Asheville had roughly 80,000 breweries within the city limits, which roughly equals one per citizen. OK, a more accurate count places the number of metro-area breweries and taprooms at closer to 40, but if I had to pick just one to visit, it would be Burial Beer Co. It’s partly because the beer is great (pick any IPA and you’re set), partly because of the location (it’s hidden off a side street in the middle of the bustling South Slope neighborhood), partly because of the rooftop deck and backyard beer garden and mostly because there’s a large mural of Magnum PI and Chunk from The Goonies. Together. On the same wall.

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1. Bent Creek Experimental Forest

1577 Brevard Road Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 667-5261
Bent Creek Experimental Forest

A mountain biker rides the trails in Pisgah National Forest. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

Asheville and mountain biking are practically synonymous, and Bent Creek Experimental Forest a major reason why. This distinct corner of Pisgah National Forest, which sits just 15 minutes from downtown, boasts more than 20 miles of trails traversing a thick hardwood forest. The close proximity, quality of singletrack and scores of nearby bonus trails have made it the city’s go-to for post-work rides and runs, but don’t let the crowded parking lots scare you off. If you head deeper into the forest, you likely won’t see another soul. Green’s Lick, a 1.9-mile downhill, is the forest’s signature ride because of its technical rock gardens and big jump lines, but I prefer Lower Sidehill, which also drops a series of berms and rooty sections, but has more flow, tighter singletrack and fewer people.

2. West Asheville

You can’t find a bad meal in West Asheville, an extremely walkable neighborhood with a de-facto main street lined with hip shops, restaurants and bars. The Admiral, for instance, helped redefine Asheville’s culinary scene when it opened 12 years ago with an inventive menu full of beef tartare and bone marrow. Foothills Butcher Bar, just down the street, is a legit butcher shop hidden in a strip mall that serves the best cheeseburger in town. Haywood Common has seasonal eats and vegetarian and vegan fare like a tofu poke bowl and a fried feta-and-artichoke sandwich. But if you’re only going to eat one meal, I recommend hitting the gas station. The Brew Pump is a working gas station that also has a backyard beer garden with cornhole boards and several beers on tap. There’s a rotating list of nightly food trucks, but look out for the fusion Mexican/Korean eats from El Kimchi. Your order? The bulgogi beef burrito.

3. French Broad River

French Broad River

Trees overhang a foggy French Broad River near Asheville. (Photo Credit: Karen Roussel)

You can find serious whitewater on the 210-mile-long French Broad River, but the section that curves around downtown Asheville is mellow, with just enough ripples and rocks to keep things interesting. Tubing the 2-mile stretch through the River Arts District has become the city’s preferred pastime on sweltering days. (Pro tip: Make a pit stop at Salvage Station, a riverside bar in the neighborhood with a sprawling lawn that feels like a park.) But if you want a quieter experience, head downstream and float the 3 miles of woods and shoals between Pearson Bridge and the Woodfin Riverside Park. (Water quality fluctuates, so I check Swim Guide, a non-profit whose volunteers test the river weekly in summer.)

4. Foundation Walls

339 Old Lyman St Asheville, NC 28801

Asheville embraced street art about a decade ago, commissioning murals throughout downtown, and today you’ll find everything from a massive portrait of Wonder Woman to realistic depictions of roosters hidden all over the city. But the most vibrant concentration is found at Foundation Walls. The 13-plus-acre former industrial site near the French Broad River allows artists to use its concrete walls as their canvas. Be sure to hunt for the black-and-white painting of Abraham Lincoln that morphs into Marilyn Monroe when you shift your viewing angle. Bonus: There’s a skate park, and one of Asheville’s oldest breweries, Wedge Brewing Co., has an outpost here.

5. Elk Mountain Scenic Highway

Elk Mountain Scenic Highway

The Blueridge Parkway snakes through the mountains near Asheville. (Photo Credit: Nathan Anderson)

Running for 469 scenic miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a bucket-list road ride for cyclists. But if you’re in Asheville, the quiet secondary roads that climb from town to that legendary blacktop are an even better option. Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, in particular, is a beloved litmus test for locals. (We judge our fitness based on our “Elk Time”—how long it takes to knock out the 5-mile, 1,500-foot ascent.) The road sits on the north side of town and climbs almost constantly until it peaks at Buzzard Rock, where you’re rewarded with long-range Appalachian views. Keep pedaling, and you’ll meet the parkway for the ride back into town.

6. Sierra Nevada

100 Sierra Nevada Way Mills River, NC 28732
(828) 708-6176
Sierra Nevada

Pisgah National Forest’s Looking Glass Falls is is just one of many famous cascades Western North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Russell Harrison Photography under CC BY-SA 2.0)

You’re gonna make a trip into the heart of Pisgah at some point—the lure of its waterfalls and singletrack is too strong to ignore. Just be sure you save time to hit Sierra Nevada Brewing on the way back to town. The California-based king of craft beers built its East Coast hub in Mills River on the edge of the national forest in 2013. The neighboring taproom always has at least one beer on draft that you can’t get anywhere else, so stopping for a pint while the mud dries on your tires is a must. The bar itself is gorgeous, but the real action is in the backyard where a large fire pit and multiple bocce courts wait.

7. North Mills River Campground

5289 N Mills River Rd Mills River, NC 28759
(828) 877-3265

There’s nothing wrong with pitching a tent in the North Mills River Campground. The small Forest Service facility has bathrooms with hot showers and tent pads with quick access to the river for fishing, as well as access to Trace Ridge, one of the most storied mountain biking trails in all of Pisgah. But if you want more solitude, drive nearby FS Road 1345 (aka Yellow Gap Road, aka The Endless Road) deeper into Pisgah. Go slow and explore every pullout—most of them lead to flat primitive camping sites hidden by the forest’s lush canopy. They’re first come, first served, so there’s no guarantee you’ll find a spot, but I’ve gotten lucky several times and scored primo sites on the banks of Bradley Creek with ride-out access to some of the region’s signature singletrack.

8. Kolo Bike Park

85 Expo Dr Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 225-2921

I like to keep my tires on the ground, but I’m slowly learning how to catch air, thanks entirely to Kolo, a privately owned bike park about 2 miles west of downtown. The park has 4 miles of flowy cross-country trail, multiple pump tracks and manmade features designed to progress riders through specific skills. My son and I spend most of our time running laps at the jump park, where three lines of progressively bigger table tops and gap jumps usually have us feeling like the Asheville Air Force. (Full disclosure: My son goes bigger than I do.) At $21 for a full-day pass, it’s not cheap. But Kolo runs a popular $5 after 5pm program on Tuesday evenings. Dial in your rig before getting sendy at REI Asheville’s suspension workshop, where you’ll learn the nuances of sag and rebound. Or if your current whip isn’t up to the task, Kolo has a rental fleet of mountain and jump bikes.

Find Biking Classes and Events in Asheville

9. Big Ivy

Appalachian Ranger District Pisgah National Forest, NC
(828) 689-9694
Big Ivy

Working a problem on the Corner Rock. (Photo Credit: Mountain Project contributor Brown Tater)

Big Ivy is a distinct section of Pisgah National Forest about 30 minutes west of downtown that’s stacked with lonely singletrack, more than 3,500 acres of old-growth forest and massive boulders that have only recently become the obsession of local climbers. Corner Rock, a large overhanging boulder that hovers near a small creek, has more than a 25 established routes alone, but they’re all stout with few options below V5. If you’re a mere mortal like me, hike the Walker Creek Trail where you’ll find a handful of trail-side crags with more beginner-friendly routes, including a V1 and a few V0s on the Sanctuary Boulder. (If you’re looking for a more established boulder field, you’ll have to travel a little farther and contend with the crowds at Rumbling Bald inside Chimney Rock State Park, where more than 300 problems lie in wait.) But even if you don’t plan on sending it, Big Ivy is still worth a visit. The area sees a fraction of the visitors that flock to other parts of Pisgah. So with a little luck, you can have 70-foot Douglas Falls to all yourself.

10. Ledges Whitewater Park

1598 Riverside Dr Woodfin, NC 28804

The French Broad River is scheduled to get its own manmade, world-class surf wave in the near future, but in the meantime, kayakers and paddle boarders have Ledges Whitewater Park. This completely natural collection of Class II drops and waves is only 8 miles downstream of downtown. The features aren’t huge, but the easy access makes it an ideal park-and-play destination for new boaters looking to hone their skills on friendly rapids.

11. French Broad River Greenway

The French Broad River Greenway offers the only flat running and cycling to be found in this hilly city. Along the way, it connects two large parks, one of which boasts an old NASCAR race track that’s been converted into a velodrome for cyclists. (The other features a popular dog park.) But this greenway’s most alluring attraction sits just beyond the pavement, where the routes of future extensions currently offer a bit of urban singletrack riding. Just continue past the path’s southern terminus to pick up the Hominy Creek Greenway, an unpaved, mile-long trail that follows its namesake stream through a 14-acre forest. Or hit the dirt at the greenway’s northern terminus near the dog park for a mile-long pedal along the river to New Belgium Brewing.

12. Burial Beer Co.

40 Collier Ave. Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 475-2739

Last time I checked, Asheville had roughly 80,000 breweries within the city limits, which roughly equals one per citizen. OK, a more accurate count places the number of metro-area breweries and taprooms at closer to 40, but if I had to pick just one to visit, it would be Burial Beer Co. It’s partly because the beer is great (pick any IPA and you’re set), partly because of the location (it’s hidden off a side street in the middle of the bustling South Slope neighborhood), partly because of the rooftop deck and backyard beer garden and mostly because there’s a large mural of Magnum PI and Chunk from The Goonies. Together. On the same wall.

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