Craft Your Fall Adventure in Asheville
By Janet Moore
Discover WNC’s Craft Culture Along Area Byways
Fall in Western North Carolina brings leaf peepers from near and far who crave the sight of brilliant fall foliage; the crunch of a just-picked apple; and a cup of warm cider on a chilly evening. It also brings food fans who come for the wide variety of seasonal food, beer, hard cider and other tempting spirits. This is autumn in Asheville.
Western North Carolina is home to some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. The result is a long fall color season that changes with the elevation. In the alpine-like environment around Mount Mitchell, color begins in early October and gradually works its way down the mountains into the valleys and foothills.
One of the best ways to see these sweeping vistas of color is by traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. Often referred to as America’s favorite highway, the Parkway provides a bird’s eye view of fall color in the peaks and valleys. No one predicted the enormous impact the Blue Ridge Parkway would have on the success of Asheville's Folk Art Center, home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild and the Allanstand Craft Shop that sells guild members’ wares. During the busy fall season, visitors are treated to special daily craft demonstrations at the center, and the Guild holds its annual fall craft fair in mid-October downtown at the US Cellular Center.
As visitors wind along mountain roads splashed with the brilliant hues of autumn, it’s easy to understand the beauty that captured the hearts and imagination of artists and crafts people who visited then ultimately decided to live here. To make the most of a fall adventure in the mountains, grab a camera, pack a picnic lunch and get off the beaten path to meet some of the local artisans who have made Western North Carolina the center for handmade crafts in the United States.
Here are three suggested day trips, designed to point visitors to the most colorful areas for each part of the fall season:
- Early Fall – Elevate Your Senses in the High Country
From downtown Asheville, follow I-26 north to U.S. 19 E. A new four-lane highway takes you through the rich farmland of the Toe River Valley to Penland School of Crafts. This nationally-acclaimed school offers tours through November 7; the gallery stays open through the first week on December. Continue on to Spruce Pine and the Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) on Oak Street. Here you’ll find the work of TRAC members, many of whom teach at Penland, and a map showing where to find their studios throughout the surrounding area that includes small towns like Bakersville, Celo and Micaville. At Little Switzerland connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow it to Mt. Mitchell. At 6,684 feet, it is the highest peak in the eastern U.S. Close to Asheville (milepost 382), stop by the Folk Art Center. Continue south on the Parkway to the next exit, which is on the edge of Asheville’s city limits. (Asheville to Spruce Pine is approximately 90 minutes.)
- Mid-Fall – Explore In and Around Asheville
Explore the wide variety of galleries and studios in downtown Asheville, the River Arts District (RAD) and nearby Weaverville. The galleries of the Downtown Asheville Art District feature the work of local, regional and national artists. At the Lexington Glassworks, watch skilled artists create functional and sculptural glass, or sign up for a class to blow your own. In the River Arts District, visit the studios of working painters, potters, weavers, woodworkers and glassblowers during the River Arts Studio Stroll. From downtown Asheville, go to Kimberly Avenue, a maple-lined drive of ornate homes with a view of the historic Grove Park Inn. Follow Kimberly to Beaverdam Road and turn right for a drive through the scenic Beaverdam Valley to Weaverville where you will find Mangum Pottery Studios. Take I-26 to I-40 East and historic Biltmore Village. Here you’ll find shops and galleries in the pebble-dash stucco homes built for the workers of Biltmore Estate. Be sure to check out New Morning Gallery’s wide selection of art, crafts, jewelry and furniture and the Biltmore Village location of the Southern Highland Craft Guild Gallery. (Asheville to Weaverville is approximately 20 minutes.)
- Late Fall – Visit Apple Country and the Little Town that Rocks
From Asheville follow U.S. 74 East through Fairview and into Hickory Nut Gorge. This is apple country, and you’ll find plenty of road side stands selling fresh produce, apple cider, or pumpkins. Find woven and wood pieces at The Manual Woodworkers and Weavers in Gerton. Along the mountain road that parallels the Rocky Broad River, explore the eclectic mix of crafts in A Touch in Time, housed in a Victorian inn in Bat Cave. Continue on to Chimney Rock Park, the setting for the movie Last of the Mohicans, and take in the views of Lake Lure, where Patrick Swayze danced with Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing. Head back to Bat Cave and pick up Route 9, a true mountain road with spectacular views of the cliffs around the Lake. On the way, stop and see Eula Mae Lavender’s quilts and throws located just seven miles south of Black Mountain. Wind your way to Black Mountain where you can see on-site demonstrations of hand-forged works of art for garden and home at Black Mountain Iron Works. Then explore the many galleries and artisan boutiques that make this small town worth the stop. From Black Mountain, take U.S. 70 through the Swannanoa Valley back to Asheville. (Asheville to Chimney Rock is approximately 40 minutes.)