The East Coast is home to 36 percent of the nation’s population (worldpopulationreview.com). As a centrally located Blue Ridge city surrounded by the highest mountain peaks along the eastern seaboard, Asheville, N.C., is well-positioned for road-trippers looking to ease into travel with safety in mind. Blanketed by national parks and state forests in all corners and intersected by America’s Favorite Scenic Drive—the Blue Ridge Parkway—Western North Carolina offers fresh mountain air, wide open spaces and deep cultural connections.
Scenery & Fresh-Air Adventures on Mountain Balds: As one of the world’s oldest mountain chains, the peaks of Southern Appalachia are generally known for their rolling greenery and layers of misty blue. Also dotting the landscape are mysterious mountain balds—open spaces with rolling grass and blooming rhododendrons (June) at the higher elevations. See this list of mountain balds perfect for a picnic, hike or sunny day adventure.
Picnics with 360-Degree Views: Asheville’s award-winning indie restaurant scene has evolved with increased safety and flexibility for travelers. While restaurants slowly open with safety in mind, one trend that is here to stay is the increased array of gourmet take-out offerings perfect for a multicourse picnic packed with local flavor or a cook-it-yourself meal for your rental or campsite. James Beard-nominated chefs including Brian Canipelli (Forestry Camp, Cucina 24), Katie Button (Cúrate), John Fleer (Rhubarb, The Rhu), Ashleigh Shanti (Benne on Eagle), Jacob Sessoms (All Day Darling, Table and Tacos El Gallo) and others have opened up pantries and pop-up bodegas to serve diners with a range of provisions, gourmet meal kits and curated beverage samplers. See this list of restaurants offering take-out.
Hike Off the Beaten Path: With thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails surrounding the area, Asheville is known for its iconic hiking trails, expansive views and famous natural attractions. While some hikes don’t have household-name recognition, a lesser-known path offers the chance to explore the mountain landscape with solitude on a trail less traveled. See this list of lesser-known hikes.
- TIP | Check out the Asheville Hike Finder: Asheville’s Hike Finder tool helps trekkers choose their own adventures with suggestions based on difficulty, length, views, trail features and travel time.
Scenic Drives & Drive-By Waterfalls: The Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Asheville are home to winding mountain roads and thousands of beautiful cascading waterfalls. While most falls are in remote areas or require a hike to see, here are half a dozen waterfalls that can be enjoyed from the road. Travelers can also follow the bends of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway for sweeping views by car or hop on a trail. Bring a face mask and be prepared to hop off the trail to provide ample social distance as you meet fellow hikers. Check out this link for inspiration from Blue Ridge Parkway experts via Explorers of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Safer Fun & Soft Adventure | Attractions & Tours with Modified Operations: Social distance on the French Broad River on your own stand-up paddle board (SUP) with Wai Mauna Asheville SUP Tours and Rentals, explore Biltmore's 8,000 acres, go foraging or hiking in the woods on a private tour, try safety-first mountain biking or go flying through the canopy with increased sanitation and contact-free operations at the Adventure Center of Asheville. Check out this list of attractions with modified operations with safety and sanitation protocols in mind.
Views from Above the Clouds: The Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the best places in the world to behold a fascinating atmospheric phenomenon—the sea of clouds. It is called thermal inversion, where low-lying clouds rest in the mountain valleys and undulate with a wave-like motion. While this phenomenon is not unique to Asheville, the region’s climate, topography and abundance of streams, rivers and creeks make it one of the best places to see the magic of thermal inversion. Watch a sea of clouds video and make note of the top scenic spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway to try your luck at a view from above the clouds. TIP: Hit these spots very early in the morning to increase your chance of getting above the cloud line. An added bonus: Enjoy early-morning privacy in one of the area’s most popular natural attractions.
Stay: Your Own Private Mountaintop
Surrounded by 1 million acres of forest and the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, the Asheville area is ideal for travelers looking for private mountain accommodations. Perfect for luxury seekers or families/groups wanting to stay together, local rental properties offer expansive deck views of sunrise and sunset, hot tubs next to natural waterfalls, pools with mountain views, access to private hiking trails, solitude and the feeling of having a mountain all to yourself. Asheville-area cabins and cottage rentals can be found here.
- Historic Compound Retreat on 18+ Acres: Yonder Luxury Vacation Rentals offers Laurel Falls, a four-house rental that sleeps 18 people total. Four luxury homes were originally built by a Florida craftsman in 1924 as a mountain summer retreat. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the indoor spaces offer modern upgrades paired with original stone porches and fireplaces. Property guests enjoy natural waterfalls, streams, wooded hiking trails, rock outcroppings and stellar mountain views all to themselves. Yonder also offers the Scenic Mountain Retreat with a private pool and a sweeping skyline view of Asheville and the surrounding mountains.
- Mountaintop Sanctuary: Angels Lookout, offered by Carolina Mornings, is a private, airy retreat with tons of natural light, surrounded by 82 acres of wilderness and accessed by a half-mile wooded drive. Outdoor seating areas offer multiple spots to catch the “sea of clouds” phenomenon that the Asheville area is known for, when mountaintops rise above a bank of clouds in the valley. Other private retreats from Carolina Mornings include Mountain Cove, a contemporary “earthy” décor with an expansive screened deck, and Red Wolf, a cozy mountaintop A-frame with no neighbors nearby.
- Secluded Cliffside Log Home: This spacious log home, Paradise on Cliffledge from Greybeard Rentals, is just under 5,000 square feet and located on 10 private acres. The craftmanship of the home is highlighted by the large interlocking logs on the exterior and throughout the interior spaces. Decks offering mountain views wrap around most of this large retreat. Other highlights from Greybeard include Blue Ridge Bliss set atop 10 wooded acres with sweeping, high-elevation views and modern amenities with rustic charm. More secluded mountain retreats from Greybeard Rentals can be accessed here.
Alternative Lodging: Glamping, Retro Resorts, Motor Courts & Restful Retreats
Asheville’s eclectic style and reverence for nature are apparent across its diverse accommodation options—travelers have their pick of mountainside resorts with Blue Ridge views, historic bed-and-breakfast inns with modern amenities, family-friendly resorts with attached adventure and luxurious downtown hotels with award-winning dining. Flying more under the radar are alternative lodging options including wellness retreats, campsites with class and rentals with retro vibes.
- It only takes a quick look at Instagram to see why Asheville Glamping is a lodging destination with private, whimsical options including secluded skylight domes, Airstreams, safari tents, chic tipis, a colorful vintage trailer and tree house. New on the glamping scene and minutes from Asheville is Pisgah Glamping at Lake Powhatan with adorable, fully furnished platform tents with covered decks just steps away from the North Carolina Arboretum and 6,000-acre Bent Creek Experimental Forest trail system, one of Asheville’s top destinations for hiking and biking.
- Colorfully restored 1950s campers, just 12 minutes from downtown Asheville, are available at JuneBug Retro Resort, a 50-acre property that transports visitors back in time to when folks vacationed in the original tiny houses.
- Listed on the National Register of Historic Places with original buildings dating back to 1917, Asheville’s Log Cabin Motor Court allows guests to travel back to the 1930s and the golden age of the American road trip. The one-story Rustic Revival-style saddle-notched cabins are precious, affordable and a beloved piece of local history, even appearing in the 1958 Hollywood Classic “Thunder Road.”
- OM Sanctuary retreat (reopening this fall) offers renewal with expertly curated and personalized wellness programs for travelers seeking holistic methods for stress reduction (yoga, sound therapy, forest bathing, hiking, meditation and numerous movement practices) and sustainable practices on a scenic 52-acre campus just above the French Broad River. Just minutes from downtown Asheville, the property offers garden-view rooms/suites, woodland cottages with private entrances and Sanctuary Pavilion sleeping rooms with skylights and nature views.
Asheville Cares Stay Safe Pledge + Businesses with Modified Operations
Asheville-area hotels, attractions and businesses have stepped up to protect workers and guests with safety measures that go beyond state guidelines, including the Asheville Cares Stay Safe Pledge, a shared commitment with travelers to keep everyone safe with extra precautions. Understand the extent of the protections that the Buncombe County hospitality industry is putting in place—click here to read the Asheville Cares Stay Safe Pledge. Explore Asheville is also keeping a list of businesses with modified operations with safety and sanitation protocols in mind.
City of Asheville Evolves Policies to Support Businesses in Safer Operations
As businesses, particularly restaurants, continue to work through capacity constraints and physical-distancing guidelines, the City of Asheville has launched both a “Temporary Parklet” and a “Shared Streets” program as tools to temporarily create more space for safe public and customer access. By allowing approved businesses and organizations to use one to three on-street public parking spaces adjacent to their storefronts for outdoor dining, merchandise or other safe-distancing measures while also converting entire blocks to “pedestrian priority” areas that enable outdoor seating and retail sales, the city hopes to support economic recovery with greater flexibility to align with health guidelines. More information about these programs is available at www.ashevillenc.gov/avlsharesspace.