Written by Marla Hardee Milling
Friends just called and they are headed into town: Better think fast and be creative. As you brainstorm ways to entertain them, keep in mind that there’s a golden opportunity to pinpoint places and activities you might not try on your own, but know it will be a blast to participate. Things like jumping on a Pubcycle and pedaling through the downtown area, taking in some live bluegrass in a family-friendly environment, or wandering around in the caverns of an ancient mountain.
We’ve steered away from getting too detailed about the abundance of outdoor activities in Western North Carolina: whitewater rafting, ziplining, rock climbing, hiking, camping, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, visiting waterfalls, and slipping down Sliding Rock. We know you’re going to enjoy outdoor adventures even when guests aren’t in town. We’re sticking to places you might never try without your out-of-towners by your side.
Take a Tour
LAZOOM BUS TOUR
Hopping on LaZoom’s big purple bus is a frequent thought for many when visitors come to Asheville. Co-owner Jim Lauzon says a lot of people will call and say, “Yay! My friends are coming. Now I finally get to go.”
Lauzon elaborates, saying, “The first thing I ask is, ‘What is it you want to do with them?’ I have a city tour that parades you and your out-of-town guests through parts of Asheville you may not have been in before. We add in some history. It’s informative, but really fun. Some people ride and say, ‘Oh look, I never get to be shuttled around my town with a beer in my hand.’ If you hop on the bus first, you get the full overview and it helps make choices of different places to eat or visit for the rest of the weekend.” LaZoom also offers a nighttime haunted tour for those over age 17, a Band and Beer three-hour tour that takes riders to three different breweries, and a brand new kids’ Saturday morning tour that launched in May for ages 3 to 12. Lazoom.com
THE URBAN TRAIL
Getting your feet on the street is another option. The Urban Trail offers a self-guided tour that highlights incredible architecture, significant people, and events through bronze sculptures and plaques. There are 30 stations in all. Download a map or follow a guide around town as you hear more about the history and culture. Asheville By Foot tours run at 10AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, as well as by appointment. Ashevillebyfoottours.com
Before you say no to Biltmore Estate, thinking you’ll just be doing another tour of the massive house, there are chances here to think outside of the box and entertain yourself as well as friends. Have you ever surveyed the grounds from the roof of Vanderbilt’s mansion? Sign up for a rooftop tour and you can have a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. Stay closer to the ground by signing up for an off-road Segway tour or a horseback riding tour around the estate.
Other fun options: Enjoy a red wine and chocolate seminar at Antler Hill Village, or Afternoon Tea at the Inn at Biltmore. The seminar features four Biltmore red wines paired with four chocolate truffles from Chocolate Gems in Asheville. The Afternoon Tea includes the delights of a proper English tea—finger sandwiches, scones, breads, cheese tray, and pastries; it’s offered daily between 2:30PM and 4:30PM. All of these activities require additional fees to the regular price of admission. Biltmore.com
Hit The Trail
Even though we aren’t mentioning the best hiking trails in this article, there are some other trails you need to take notice of, and you don’t even need to lace up your hiking boots. These trails create a cohesive community of like-minded businesses, from beer and wine to music to art to cheese. The best part? You’re likely to discover something new as you lead your visitors around.
One of the newest is the Cheers! Trail in Henderson County that points people in the direction of nine businesses (two wineries, five breweries, and two cideries) in the county. “People like trails,” said Beth Carden, Executive Director of the Henderson County TDA. “It’s all put together for them in one document.” Download the Cheers! Trail map and take a self-guided tour, beginning with Sierra Nevada in Mills River. There are also plans in the works for several other trails in Henderson County, including a farm market trail, art gallery trail, and quilt block trail. Historichendersonville.org/cheers-trail.pdf
QUILT TRAIL OF WNC
Mitchell and Yancey Counties offer a chance to discover more than 200 quilt blocks on the sides of barns and other buildings. It’s not a random undertaking. Each quilt block has a connection through its pattern name to the history of the land, the building, or the family. Quilttrailswnc.org
BOONE AREA WINE TRAIL
Featuring Grandfather Vineyard & Winery in Foscoe, Linville Falls Winery in Linville Falls, and Banner Elk Winery in Banner Elk. Exploreboone.com/things-to-do/travel-itineraries/wine-trail/
BLUE RIDGE MUSIC TRAILS
Explores the traditional music of the North Carolina mountains and foothills. Blueridgemusicnc.com
WNC CHEESE TRAIL
Allows participants to meet area cheese makers, see where the cheese is crafted, and sample different varieties. WNCCheesetrail.org
Go Off The Beaten Path
The Western North Carolina area is ripe for exploration; and yet, you may not have seen or experienced some of its greatest treasures. Make a checklist and see if you can arrange time to enjoy with your guests.
Walk across the mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather.com
Go INSIDE a mountain at Linville Caverns (take a sweatshirt – temperature is 52 degrees year round). Linvillecaverns.com
RICHLAND BALSAM MOUNTAIN
Drive to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway—Richland Balsam Mountain, which rises to 6,410 feet, in Jackson County.
JUMP OFF ROCK
View four states from Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville, where legend says a Cherokee maiden jumped to her death after finding out her lover died in battle. Visitnc.com/listing/jump-off-rock
CRADLE OF FORESTRY
Learn about America’s first school of forestry as you wind among the buildings and paths at the Cradle of Forestry near Brevard. Cradleofforestry.com
Examine the mysterious ancient drawings on the Judaculla Rock, located near Sylva. Judacullarock.com
With friends in town, now’s your chance to risk a few bucks at Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee. A wise plan is to set a firm limit on how much you’re willing to lose, but who knows? Someone might wind up cashing in on a big win. Harrah’s offers live table games like Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette, as well as slot machines and video poker. The 3,000 seat Event Center also hosts big-name concerts—check the calendar to see if there are any happening the weekend your friends visit. Caesars.com/harrahs-cherokee/casino
It’s only $13 for unlimited play on more than 30 pinball machines at the Asheville Pinball Museum. They also have a collection of video games, rifle gallery games, and a baseball pitch and bat. Note: Waiting lists are common on the weekends. Ashevillepinball.com
If you like your friends enough, you might consider being locked in a room with them for a set amount of time. It’s all part of the fun at the Asheville Escape Room where participants hunt for clues, solve puzzles, and look for a solution to getting out safely. There are different scenarios, some creepier than others, but you might find the scariest thing to be the fact that you have to give up your smart phone and other personal items while you’re in the room. A-escape.com
Explore The Unexplained
DARK RIDE TOURS
We know you don’t want to venture into the graveyard alone, so having guests in town is the perfect excuse to seek out a paranormal experience. Dark Ride Tours will lead you into Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery, but it won’t be in the dead of night. Instead, they book tours at 6:30PM because the city closes the gates on the Cemetery at 8PM (6PM in the winter months).
David Voyles and his son started Dark Ride Tours in October 2015. “I’m the undertaker host named Virgil Nightshade and my son is named Charon. That’s the Greek ferryman of the dead who takes spirits across the river Styx,” says Voyles.
Dark Ride Tours can take six guests at a time in the 1972 Cadillac Hearse they bought in Virginia and restored as a tour business, complete with flat screen TV inside. “I ride in back as the seventh person, and the spooky driver is my son. He never speaks,” said Voyles. “I tell people there are different kinds of ghost tours in Asheville. There’s a walking tour that’s very serious. There’s LaZoom’s haunted tour that’s comedy, and we’re somewhere in between with our storytelling. In the words of Mark Twain, we ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’”
In addition to the Riverside Cemetery Tour, they offer a Spirits on the River Tour, which begins at 8:30PM. Their regular schedule includes tours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but if there are 3 or 4 people who want to go, he’ll arrange a special tour time. Dark Ride Tours also has 20 minute short rides in the hearse. Darkridetours.com
HAUNTED ASHEVILLE GHOST TOURS
Asheville native Joshua Warren is world renowned as a paranormal investigator and expert. He owns Haunted Asheville Ghost Tours. Experienced guides lead brave souls through some of Asheville’s scariest history as they walk around town, beginning and ending at the Masonic Temple on Broadway, where Warren operates Asheville Mystery Museum in the basement. A visit to the museum is included with the tour. Hauntedasheville.com
THE BROWN MOUNTAIN LIGHTS
An unexplained event in Burke County might prove memorable if you and your guests get a glimpse. The Brown Mountain Lights are random and unexplained—“predictably unpredictable,” according to Ed Phillips, Burke County’s Director of Tourism. “Lights appear as soft yellow or soft orange or red, and move across Brown Mountain, usually below the ridge top. I think the most believed theory is some sort of plasma gas, but created by what, no one knows.” Brownmountainlights.com
To try and spot the lights, head up Highway 181 about 20 miles north of Morganton. They’re usually spotted between dusk and midnight. “If anyone does see them, send us a picture,” says Phillips. He adds that it’s good to start at the Visitor’s Center at 110 East Meeting Street in Morganton, where people can pick up a free guide to the Brown Mountain Lights and see the best picture of the lights ever taken, which is on display. Discoverburkecounty.com
If you want to risk a ghostly encounter during sleep, book a night in Room 545 at the Omni Grove Park Inn. It’s this room that seems to have paranormal activity from the so-called Pink Lady. Omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park
The Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock is also noted by ghost hunters. Greenparkinn.com
RIVER ARTS DISTRICT
Watching artists at work in the River Arts District (RAD) may inspire your own creative juices, but there seems to be a misconception among some people who live here that the bi-annual studio strolls are the only times you can walk through the studios and meet the artists. Truth is, everyone is welcome and encouraged to visit throughout the year.
“There are some people who have lived here all their lives and tell me they’ve heard of the River Arts District, but don’t know where it is,” says artist Jeff Pittman, who shares a studio/gallery with five other artists at 352 Depot Street. “But now that New Belgium is here, more people will find the studios.”
Pittman says he advises getting a guide and map of the RAD before heading down; that way you can pick and choose what you want to see. It also provides hours for specific studios—Pittman’s studio is open Tuesday – Saturday, but he will often go in Monday morning to work as well. It varies from artist to artist so plan ahead. Download a map and find other info online. Riverartsdistrict.com
ASHEVILLE GLASS CENTER
If you want to try your hand at creating something beautiful, there are studios in the RAD that offer classes and workshops. The Asheville Glass Center, located in the Roberts Street Studios, provides instruction and equipment for off-hand glassblowing, flame working, and cold working; it schedules short classes as well as weekend workshops. Ashevilleglass.com
Village Potters, in the Riverview Station on Lyman Street, is another place to get a hands-on experience. Some of the quick offerings: one and two-day demonstration workshops, and Raku Saturdays (four-hour workshop). Thevillagepotters.com
We know enjoying amazing food and drink will definitely be on your agenda when friends come to town, so be a bit adventurous and book an Asheville Food Tour. A guide will lead the group of six or seven handpicked restaurants where you can savor gourmet dishes, as well as talk with the chefs and restaurant owners. These tours run from three to five hours and each one is different. Ashevillefoodtours.com
Asheville is known as a foodie town, but surprisingly, there’s another town in Western North Carolina that’s becoming a culinary hot spot. For a town of only 1,100 residents, Banner Elk has an amazing array of dining options, covering everything from sushi to Italian to Vietnamese to new American to the traditional steakhouse. One of the restaurants, Artisanal, is ranked in the 100 Top Restaurants in America by OpenTable. Artisanalnc.com
A meal at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway will give you and your guests a chance to relax and soak in the stunning scenery. The menu features such items as fresh mountain trout, boneless North Carolina pork chops, southern corn fritters, and fried green tomatoes. Pisgahinn.com
THE HOP CREAMERY
If your guests are in town on a Friday night, you can take them to Flight Night at The Hop Creamery, on Haywood Road in West Asheville. “It’s always exciting and fun,” says co-owner Greg Garrison. “We’re creating new flavors every week, and it’s the kind of thing I would love for people to think about when they have guests from out of town.”
The flight consists of four small cups of ice cream on a board. Customers generally have eight flavors to choose from. “Of the eight, five are dairy and three are vegan,” said Garrison. “We also have a vegan flight night on the third Thursday of each month from 6 to 9PM”
Sometimes the flight night will be the only time a certain flavor will appear. Other times, it becomes part of the regular line-up at The Hop locations in West Asheville and North Asheville. Popular offerings have included Earl Grey with Lavender, Thai Coffee, Chocolate Toasted Quinoa, Peach Amaretto Sour, and Smoked Chocolate.
Garrison lists the Friday Night flavors on social media. There are often themes, as well as the insanely popular doughnut sandwich night. The Hop gets doughnuts from Hole, located across the street, and fills them with fresh ice cream. These delicious treats always sell out. Thehopicecreamcafe.com
Oskar Blues Brewery makes it easy to drink while leaving the driving to someone else. On Saturdays, a trolley picks up riders at the Aloft Hotel in Asheville at 5PM and takes them to the brewery in Brevard, and then returns them to Aloft. It’s free to ride, but Rainbow Sipe, Oskar Blues office manager, says it’s required to sign up on Event Brite so they can contact people in case of delays. “We also just got a new Yakima bike rack for the trolley. It can hold four bikes outside and there’s usually room for a few inside,” Sipe said. “People just need to secure bikes on themselves.” http://bit.ly/23HJId4]
The Aloft Hotel is also a starting point for the Amazing Pubcycle, which has an additional pickup point at the Renaissance Hotel. There’s room for three pedalers and three non-pedalers on the bench seat. The tours run 1 1/2 hours and make a couple of stops at local breweries. It’s BYOB, and masks, costumes, and decorations are encouraged. Amazingpubcycle.com
You might not think of taking a chairlift to a bar, but that’s exactly the plan at Beech Mountain. Skiers and snowboarders are familiar with the 5506’ Skybar at the top of the mountain (Capital at Play also featured it in our February 2016 ski feature), but it’s open year-round. In warmer months, you can ride the chairlift for $10, have a drink, and enjoy great views, cooler temperatures—it doesn’t get above 80 degrees in the summer—and laughs with friends. Beechmountainresort.com
It’s a no-brainer to lead your crew to the Drum Circle on Friday nights in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park, or Shindig on the Green (now in its 50th season; Folkheritage.org) at Pack Square Park on most summer Saturday nights. Both are free and family friendly, and visitors can even participate in the Drum Circle or in the impromptu bluegrass pickin’ sessions that spring up at Shindig. But there are also some other opportunities to hear great music in the mountains.
SONGWRITERS IN THE ROUND
Balsam Mountain Inn hosts a monthly dinner with live entertainment featuring some of Nashville’s best songwriters. Balsammountaininn.net
FEED & SEED MUSIC
It’s common for folks to gather at the Feed & Seed in Fletcher, but they aren’t thinking about gardening. They visit on Friday and Saturday nights to hear some great live bluegrass and old-time music, and there’s no cover charge. The Feed & Seed is also part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina. Feedandseednc.com
BREVARD MUSIC CENTER
Celebrating its 80th anniversary this season, the Brevard Music Center hosts its opening weekend June 24 – 26, featuring pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet on the 24th and special guest artist Amy Grant on the 25th. Brevardmusic.org
There are several long-running outdoor dramas in the mountain region, but many residents have never seen them. Consider this another great opportunity to experience something new while entertaining guests.
HORN IN THE WEST
Touted as the nation’s oldest Revolutionary War drama, this outdoor play in Boone opened in 1952. Since then, more than 1.4 million people have witnessed the lives of settlers who came to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the struggles they faced. Horninthewest.com
UNTO THESE HILLS
The story of the Cherokee people is told nightly from May 31 to August 16, at the 2,800-seat Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee. It began in 1950 and has entertained more than six million people. Cherokeesmokies.com/unto_these_hills.html
MONTFORD PARK PLAYERS
Live Shakespeare is presented on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings at 7:30PM in Asheville’s Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre. Montfordparkplayers.org
There are also opportunities to see unique stage plays indoors:
FLAT ROCK PLAYHOUSE
Designated as The State Theatre of North Carolina, Flat Rock Playhouse began in 1940 with a few weeks of summer performances. This year’s lineup features The Music Man, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, The Diary of Anne Frank, Beehive, and A Christmas Carol. Flatrockplayhouse.org
Opened in 1947 as The Burnsville Playhouse, the name changed to Parkway Playhouse in 1979. The 2016 Mainstage Season features The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Little Shop of Horrors, You Can’t Take it With You, and The Great Gatsby. Parkwayplayhouse.com
HAYWOOD ARTS REGIONAL THEATRE
The HART was founded in 1984 and continues to delight audiences by showcasing the talents of the region. The current lineup of plays includes Legally Blonde, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Jesus Christ Superstar, All My Sons, One Slight Hitch, Into the Woods, and The Mystery of Irma Vep. Harttheatre.org
After a flurry of activities to entertain your friends, there will come a point where you will crave some quiet time, so there are places to go that will give you (and them) a well-deserved break.
ASHEVILLE SALT CAVE
It’s a bit unsuspecting to find a healthy oasis beneath a parking deck in Asheville, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at 12 Eagle Street. This is the only Spa Therapy center in the United States crafted from all natural materials—salt, wood, and water. There are many health benefits to sitting in a salt cave, but it’s also a chance to just close your eyes a bit and forget your worries. Ashevillesaltcave.com
If you really want to sink into peace and quiet, climb into a sensory deprivation tank. The Float Lab tank at Stillpoint Wellness in Asheville allows you to float effortlessly (thanks to 1500 pounds of Epsom Salt) without any distractions at all—no light, no noise, nothing. Just you and your thoughts. It’s said to bring states of deep relaxation. Stillpointwell.com
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