Here’s a secret about the craft beer scene in Asheville, North Carolina: you can’t go wrong. With so much competition, each brewery has got to be at the top of its game in order to keep the doors open. Same is true for the outdoor exploration: whether you’re scouting singletrack, craving an airy mountain summit, or going in search of waterfalls, the Blue Ridge is brimming with big mountain adventure.
Still, when you’re aiming to experience the crème-de-la-crème of what this mountain town has to offer, it’s always best to ask. This three-day itinerary of trail to tavern activities in Western Carolina was brewed up by an Asheville local who excels in the fine art of pairing stout adventure with hoppy refreshment.
Paddling on the French Broad River near the Biltmore Estate. anoldent
Begin your long weekend with a drive along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest linear park. Half an hour from downtown Asheville, at milepost 364.6, you’ll find yourself at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. A brilliant section of the Great Craggy Mountain Range, the Gardens are characterized by steep rocky slopes, mile-high views, and high altitude meadows that blush pink with rhododendron in the summer.
Get your blood pumping with a hike to the top of the Craggy Pinnacle via the 1.5-mile round trip Craggy Pinnacle Trail. Twisted, altitude-stunted mountain ash, birch, and beech trees give way to a summit of exposed rock, a beautiful and fragile habitat for many rare plants. From there, the panoramic views of distant Appalachian peaks are sure to wet your appetite for more exploration to come.
As the morning rolls into afternoon, travel from the rugged mountaintops to the meticulous grounds of the Biltmore Estate, surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling meadows and wooded hillsides. Cruise alongside the peaceful banks of the French Broad River on a rented bike or wander along the extensive network of hiking trails to discover quiet fields, secluded forest groves and elaborate gardens.
It’s hard to believe that such pastoral beauty is only a four-minute drive from downtown Asheville, but when you’re done at the Biltmore, it’s time to head back. Allow yourself an hour just to wander through the bustling streets, browsing the local bookstores, cafés, chocolate shops and peruse the many art galleries.
For dinner, head over to Wicked Weed Brewery. You’ll recognize it by the crowds on the patio—a swarm of adventure-types nursing pints of Pernicious IPA around the fire pits. This insanely popular craft beer hotspot, housed inside a refurbished hardware store, was created by local climber turned award-winning brewmaster. The menu features ‘elevated pub gastronomy’ like a short rib burger and fried chicken sandwich, with an à la carte selection of classic southern sides.
Just south of downtown, the industrial buildings and former warehouses of the South Slope District (also known as Asheville’s Brewery District) have been chicly restored into restaurants, coffee shops, and no less than eight distinguished microbreweries. It’s hard to believe that this entire neighborhood claims only a couple of city blocks.
From the exclusively sour beers of the Funkatorium to the cult-following of Catawba’s Peanut Butter Jellytime Ale and Burial’s silky-dark donut skillet stout, each establishment in the Brewery District offers something fresh and tantalizing. Greenman is where the old-timers go, although its newly minted taproom is pretty hip, and Asheville Brewing Company’s lauded Ninja Porter is devastatingly delicious. Take our word for it—in one weekend, even the world’s thirstiest beer enthusiast could only scratch the surface of the illustrious South Slope.
Where to Sleep While there are plenty of hotels in the area, from the swanky downtown A-Loft and the Grove Park Inn to cheaper options on the outskirts, we recommend finding accommodation that’s more grounded in the local culture. A cursory search of Glamping Hub or Airbnb reveals a wealth of convenient, affordable, and off-beat lodging options in the Asheville area. Book a private cabin on the French Broad with Riverside Escapesor reserve a cozy cottage close to downtown at The Pines. Camping areas such as Montreat Family Campground and Big Creek Campground are quiet and entrenched in the wilderness, but will require a bit of driving.
Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres. Jeff Bartlett
Less than an hour outside of Asheville, the mountain town of Brevard is the jumping off point to some of the Southeast’s most popular outdoor recreation activities. Situated alongside the waterfall-studded DuPont State Recreational Forest, as well as the 500,000 acres of nearby Pisgah National Forest, you’ll have your pick of singletrack, multi-pitches, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
One of North Carolina’s most sought-after mountain biking trails, the seven-mile Ridgeline Loop Trail in DuPont State Recreational Forest is pure joy. It begins with a sustained, roundabout climb that never gets too steep or technical, unlike most of the trails in the area. The downhill is a flowing, curving plunge that gets delivered all in one shot. You’ll be tempted to lap it again and again, but try and pace yourself, the day is young.
Next, lace up your trail runners and throw a couple of extra power bars into your backpack—the journey to the top of Looking Glass Rock is a powerhouse. The trail, which totals 6.5 miles round trip, climbs 1,700 vertical feet over a series of serpentine switchbacks. At almost 4,000 feet above sea level, the summit is a rolling granite dome with unbroken views unfurling in every direction.
After a long day of adventure, it’s time to kick back and relax. Never before has craft beer and outdoor culture found such a perfect coexistence than at the Oskar Blues Reeb Ranch. Located just outside Brevard, the Ranch is a conglomeration of all things good: biking trails, a farmhouse-turned bed and breakfast, beer, food trucks. A daily pass to the Reeb Ranch Bike Park includes access to the Pump Track, Dual Slalom and two Jump Lines. It’s like summer camp for adults, and you’ll walk away wishing every brewery would invest in something equally awesome.
Perfectly positioned between Asheville and Brevard, the dazzling, castle-like campus of Sierra Nevada Brewery is the Hogwarts of breweries. Guided tours (available by reservation) offer a glimpse into the history, evolving tastes, and eco-friendly engineering of this extraordinary establishment. The small-plate menu takes a tapas approach to creative pub fare, with a seasonally rotating selection to match the growing season. As for the beer, don’t you dare invest in a full pour until you taste a flight or two!
The New Belgium Brewery is a bright and airy space to enjoy a pint. Kevin Stewart Photography.
Begin your final morning with a southbound cruise on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Your destination is Black Balsam Knob, whose lush, rolling scenery is the stuff of Appalachian daydreams. This high altitude meadow is a particularly gorgeous example of a mountain bald, a unique geological feature of the Southern Appalachians. Just under a half-mile on the Art Loeb Trail will lead you above the trees and onto an airy summit of wildflowers and waving grasses. For a longer hike, continue on the Art Loeb Trail towards the Shining Rock Wilderness.
As you follow the parkway back into town, you will pass the parking area to Graveyard Fields on the left (milepost 418.8) This mile-high valley, encompassed by 6,000-foot peaks, is home to two dramatic waterfalls and a number of wooden boardwalks. The area is popular for hunting wildflowers in the summer and wild blueberries in the fall. The best way to explore this unique landscape is by following the 3.2-mile Graveyard Fields Loop Trail.
Once you get back to town, it’s worth spending some time exploring Asheville’s River Arts District (RAD), a lively collection of art studios, pottery shops, and cafés on the banks of the French Broad River. Slick new eco-construction and crumbling brick warehouses comprise this eclectic neighborhood, brazenly decorated with street art, murals and statues.
Nothing exemplifies Asheville’s artistic, counterculture vibe quite like the Wedge Brewing Co. in the RAD. Order a pitcher of Iron Rail IPA and dig into a bucket of free salty peanuts. The RAD is filled with pizza shops and gastropubs, but we recommend eating dinner as the locals do—from one of the onsite food trucks like Melt Your Heart (grilled cheese) or El Kimchi, the beloved Mexican/Korean hybrid. In the age of renovated garages and art-deco interiors, the Wedge’s quirky aesthetics are a refreshing taste of authentic, old-school Asheville.
Across the French Broad River from the Wedge sits the gleaming campus of New Belgium. The tasting room, known as the Liquid Center, is bright and clean surrounded by bright garage door windows. It is a beautiful space to sit back, sip a cold pint of Fat Tire or Sunshine Wheat, and reminisce on the weekend’s many highlights. On a warm evening, sit outside on the deck to watch the French Broad flow lazily past, and begin planning your next visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.
Featured image provided by Melina Coogan, Wild and Bright Photography