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The crisp mountain air of spring provides amazing long range views of the mountains, making it a perfect time for a scenic drive across the Blue Ridge. Pack a blanket, a picnic basket and your favorite person (or four-legged friend) and explore Asheville's beautiful backyard by car. Here are some of the best drives around the mountains.
Why go? Cruise along high peaks, while staying close to town so you can still make your dinner reservation.
Directions: Take I-240 east to exit 5B. Take a right onto Charlotte St. At the next traffic light, take a left onto College St. At the next light, take a left onto Town Mountain Rd. Follow this for about 6.3 miles, until you reach a crossroads. You may park here to access some hiking trails, or continue by taking a left before the stop sign which puts you on Webb Cove Rd. In 2.2 miles, yield left onto Beaverdam Rd. If you choose to follow this to the end, take a left onto Merrimon Ave., which will bring you back downtown.
You also have the option of, after just over 2 miles on Beaverdam Rd, making a right on Elk Mountain Scenic Hwy. Continue for just under 3 miles and yield left onto Ox Creek Rd. Ox Creek Rd eventually becomes Reems Creek Rd, which will take you to Merrimon Ave and back downtown.
Why go? N.C. 251 was built along old Indian trading paths, which the Indians used to cross through the mountains to trading posts and villages in the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys. Over the years, the river cut away at the rock valley walls leaving a relatively flat river bed. For the Indians, and later the settlers, river beds were the easiest places to build paths, roads and railroads. Look for mountain laurel and other wildflowers as you drive.
Directions: Take U.S. 19–23 north out of Asheville. Take the Weaverville exit to begin a 14–mile scenic drive along the French Broad Overview by driving along U.S. 25–70 Bypass toward Marshall. The road winds along the French Broad River, which was named for the French who inhabited the region in the 18th century. Turn left at the first stoplight onto Monticello Road, which is also State Road 1727. Follow Monticello Road for three miles through a rural residential area until it ends at N.C. 251. Turn right onto N.C. 251 near the town of Alexander. Continue on N.C. 251 after it meets with U.S. 25–70 Business until you come to Marshall. This little town is the seat of Madison County and was named for Chief Justice John Marshall in 1852. Stop in Marshall for lunch or have a picnic along the river. To return to Asheville, you can retrace your path along the French Broad Overview or follow US 25–70 Business until it reaches US 25–70 Bypass. Follow the bypass to U.S. 19–23 at Weaverville.
Why go? Hot Springs, named for the hot mineral springs there, is a haven for those seeking outdoor adventure, healing and relaxation, a romantic getaway or family vacation.
Directions: From Asheville, follow U.S. Highway 19/23 north. Take the Marshall exit to U.S. Highway 25/70. Stay on 25/70 until the highway turns toward the left between Marshall and Hot Springs. Immediately before this turn look for a place to pull off the road on your left. Stop for a leisurely walk along the Laurel River Trail. This trail, which lies on a flat railroad bed, follows three miles of the Laurel River to the French Broad River. After your hike, you might want to go into Hot Springs for dinner or a soak in the mineral baths. To get to Hot Springs, get back on 25/70 and travel five miles. From Hot Springs, return on Highway 209 south to Highway 63 south.
Why go? You will follow the Black Mountain Rag, a scenic route named for an old fiddle tune about the dark green Lauada Firs that give the Black Mountains their name. In musical terms, a "rag" is a tune with multiple twists and curves up and down the scales. This scenic route twists and turns through the mountains like the music itself.
Directions: Take exit 64 off Interstate 40 at Black Mountain. Coming from Asheville, turn right off the exit ramp at Black Mountain and follow N.C. 9 south towards Bat Cave. The road winds along the Rocky Broad River, joining Hickory Nut Creek near the intersection of U.S. 64, U.S. 74 and N.C. 9 at Bat Cave. Turn left and follow N.C. 9/ U.S. 64 east. You might want to stop for lunch in the town of Bat Cave, so called for a nearby cave inhabited by bats and other rare mammals, or you can continue on to Chimney Rock. At Chimney Rock State Park, you can hike to the top of the Chimney overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure or down to the base of Hickory Nut Falls. Look for indian paint brush, galax, white irisette and other wildflowers. Return to Asheville via U.S. 74, passing through the town of Fairview.
Why go? Founded in the early 1800's, Waynesville is known for its rich history. It was the scene of the last battle in the eastern theater of the American Civil War, and is just northwest of Cold Mountain. Brevard is known as "The Land of Waterfalls," but also has a vast music culture.
Directions: Leaving the Asheville Visitor Center, head southeast on Montford Ave. Merge onto I-240 W, then merge onto I-40 W. 20 Miles later, a slight right onto US–74 W will lead you to Waynesville 6 miles later. From there, US–74 N leads you directly to Brevard (in about an hour). Take 280 E to I–26 W to head back towards Downtown Asheville.
Why go? Spend the day by the lake and the night by the lights.
Directions: From Lake Junaluska, take US–19/23 S/US–74 W to 441 N. Along the way, you can visit the towns of Waynesville and Sylva. After spending time in Cherokee, the drive back is when the adventure really starts. US–19 N, also known as Soco Rd, is one of the more scenic routes. Bring a camera and prepare for wildlife!
Why go? This is a nice place for a picnic lunch and a stroll around the lake. Time your visit for early evening for a beautiful sight as a large patch of evening primrose begins to bloom before your eyes as the sun sets.
Directions: From Asheville take I–240 east to I–40 east. Take the Black Mountain exit (exit 64). Turn left on Highway 9. This road will turn into Broadway and Montreat Road. Follow Montreat Road about 2 miles. Shortly after you enter the Montreat Conference Center gates, you will see Lake Susan on your right. Stop at the Convention Center to pick up a map of hiking trails in the area. Retrace your drive on Montreat Road until you see Laurel Circle Drive. Turn right and continue until you reach Lake Tomahawk. Leave Lake Tomahawk on Laurel Circle Drive. Return to Asheville by taking Montreat Road back to I–40 west, to I–240 west.
Why go? View the native animal habitats, enjoy hiking and picnicking and test your courage on the Mile High Swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain.
Directions: From Asheville take I–40 to Highway 70 at the Old Fort exit. Continue east on 70 to 221 north. Take 221 to the Linville Falls area. At the intersection of 181 and 105, look for a billboard directing you to Grandfather Mountain.
Why go? Venture out to the North Carolina Arboretum for a calming day outdoors. Situated on 424–acres, the Arboretum is surrounded by the 6,000–plus acres of the Bent Creek Research and Demonstration Forest. Take a hike or bike along one of the nature trails, visit the state–of–the art Greenhouse complex or attend one of the educational programs and workshops.
Directions: From Interstate 26 east take exit 33. Go south on NC Highway 191 for about two miles and follow directional signs to the North Carolina Arboretum. Frederick Law Olmsted Way winds along Bent Creek to the Arboretum's core gardens. Throughout the spring and summer, the Arboretum is filled with various flowers, as well as blossoming shrubs and trees.
Why go? To see the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, a 10–acre nonprofit nature preserve dedicated to conserving and displaying the native flora of the Southern Appalachians.
Directions: From downtown Asheville, take I–240 east to Charlotte Street. Turn left on Charlotte Street and then left again on Edwin Place. Continue on Edwin until it turns into Kimberly Avenue past the stop light. At the end of Kimberly Avenue, turn left on Beaverdam Road and then right on Merrimon Avenue. Beaver Lake will be on your left. Stop here to enjoy the sanctuary and lake. From the lake turn right back onto Merrimon Avenue. Turn right on Weaver Boulevard to visit the Botanical Gardens, located next to the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Continue along Weaver Boulevard and turn left on Broadway to return to downtown Asheville.