Family Vacations to Asheville, North Carolina

Balloon Ride Asheville, North Carolina
Balloon Ride (courtesy, Asheville CVB)

Asheville Highlights

  • Tour the Biltmore, one of America's great houses and gardens.
  • Go horseback riding, mountain biking, and fly fishing at Biltmore's Outdoor Center.
  • Savor the woodland view from the top of 1,200-foot-high Chimney Rock.
  • See a 220-carat blue topaz and other gems at the Colburn Earth Science Museum.
  • Raft the mild French Broad River.

Asheville practically defines natural beauty. Three mountain chains—the Great Smokies, the Blue Ridge, and the Black Mountains—encircle the valley-nestled town and dominate the surrounding countryside, making Asheville a great base for hiking, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding.

The top man-made attraction in town is the Biltmore Estate, a 250-room mansion built in 1895 by George W. Vanderbilt and set on 8,000 acres. Biltmore reigns as one of America's great houses; but you'll have to be the judge about how much antique- and roped-off-room-viewing your kids can handle. What kids and teens will really like are the beautiful gardens plus the Outdoor Center. There you'll find garden trails to creeks, forests, and a pond, as well as sign-up for bicycling, horseback riding, carriage rides (great with young kids), fly fishing, and river-float trips. On select summer evenings, you might even be able to catch an outdoor concert. The only downfall to the Biltmore is the crowds; and you may end up holding little ones much of the time as stairs make strollers impractical and the elevators are sometimes difficult to reach.

The 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum also has peaceful paths through forests and along a creek, plus an interesting bonsai exhibit. Along with traditional tiny Japanese maples and Chinese elms, see miniature white pine and other plants native to the Blue Ridge. At the Colburn Earth Science Museum, find out why North Carolina is called the "gem state." The facility exhibits rubies, emeralds, aquamarines, and such eye-poppers as a 220-carat blue topaz from Brazil.

The Asheville region is also known for its folksy crafts scene. Galleries in town and at the Folk Art Center, five miles from Asheville on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, showcase handmade pottery, quilts, and baskets, as well as tables, beds, and rockers.

Chimney Rock Park, in the Blue Ridge foothills about 25 miles southeast of Asheville, has more than 1,000 acres for the family to explore. Take in a panoramic view of the lush countryside from 2,280 feet by climbing the park's namesake, 315-foot-tall Chimney Rock. Kids are often impressed to learn that the rock was here some 300 million years before dinosaurs roamed the earth. You can hike the 400-plus stairs to the top or walk through a 198-foot tunnel blasted through the rock to get to the 26-story elevator. Popular trails include Hickory Nut Falls, a three-quarter-mile walk to a 404-foot waterfall, and the Great Woodland Adventure, a half-mile trail created for kids that has discovery stations with information on chipmunks, owls, and other forest critters, and larger-than-life animal sculptures on which to climb.

Tip: The Nantahala Outdoor Center, in Bryson City, offers classes on canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Families can take private group lessons or parents can sign their kids up for a class and take an adult session at the same time. Afterwards, sign-on for a trip on the mild French Broad River, Class II-III, or, if you're ready, the wild Chattooga River, class III-IV.

Side Trips: Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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