How To Spend 3 Days in Asheville, North Carolina: Hiking, Craft Beer & More
August 27, 2021
Asheville is a wonderful city known for live music, craft beer, America’s largest mansion, the Blue Ridge Mountains and an artsy and welcoming attitude among the locals. While you could easily spend a full week just in Asheville, one of things I love most about the area is the proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and endless hiking trails nearby.
For this itinerary, rent a car and spend some time driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in addition to exploring the city itself. This guide is for you if you enjoy craft beer and hiking, and love to fill your days with lots of adventures.
Asheville is located in Western North Carolina and is two hours away from the larger city of Charlotte. You can fly into the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) on Delta, Allegiant, American, United, JetBlue or Sun Country Airlines. The AVL airport is more convenient, but you will find many more flight options if you’re willing to fly into Charlotte instead.
Asheville has a variety of hotel and Airbnb options to suit your budget and needs.
For a budget stay, look at Brookstone Lodge. This hotel is about a 10 minute drive from downtown Asheville and includes free parking, an indoor heated pool and other amenities.
For a more centrally located hotel, consider Hotel Indigo. This hotel is within walking distance of many restaurants and great bars in the downtown area and each Indigo Hotel is uniquely decorated and modern.
There are several luxurious hotel options in Asheville if you would like to splurge. Consider the Omni Grove Park Inn for mountain views and a spa or the Grand Bohemian Hotel to feel as if you’ve stepped back into the 1920s with Tudor-style architecture.
If you prefer an Airbnb instead of a hotel, I really enjoyed my stay in this studio apartment. The hosts did a great job of providing a nice and well designed space. The bed was super comfortable, there was a small outdoor seating space, there were a few snacks and drinks in the fridge and they provided a binder of recommendations. Plus, it’s only a few minutes away from many of the popular locations in Asheville.
Asheville experiences each of the four seasons. The coldest month of the year is in January, when temperatures average a high of 47°F and a low of 28°F. The warmest month of the year is in July, with temperatures averaging a high of 85° and low of 65°.
Visiting in the spring, summer or fall are all good options if you would like to include hiking and outdoor exploring in your itinerary. The spring brings beautiful blooms and fall brings amazing fall foliage. I have been to Asheville in both July and August, and both times it was hot but not unbearable. Summer is also a great time to swim or tube in one of the many rivers around Asheville.
This three day itinerary is action packed with hiking trails, restaurants and craft breweries! All of the hikes listed are easy or moderate. If you’re new to hiking, check out my beginner hiking guide so that you’ll be confident on the trails.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the road that connects Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The road extends 469 miles and is managed by the National Park service. The incredible project of creating this road was done in the 1930’s helped the Appalachian region to climb out of the Great Depression. The road has many stretches of continuous views and has many trailheads leading to waterfalls and viewpoints along the way. One thing I liked about driving the parkway was that even though there are expansive views of the surrounding mountains, there are few areas with steep drop offs.
If you are a morning person, it’s worth getting up early to catch a sunrise on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll find many overlooks along the way, but one that I recommend is Laurel Knob. This small overlook offers expansive views of the surrounding mountains and was my favorite viewpoint right off of the road for this stretch of the parkway. Laurel Knob is located about an hour from Asheville.
After catching the sunrise, start your day of hiking off to an impressive waterfall, Crabtree Falls. Crabtree Fall is the furthest destination on this day’s itinerary, located about an hour and 15 minutes away from Asheville. I always like to go to the furthest destination first, so you can then work your way back to the city.
Note that the location of Crabtree Falls may not come up accurately on Google Maps. Double check the location on All Trails or navigate to the Crabtree Falls Campground to make sure you go to the right place.
Crabtree Falls is a 60-foot waterfall where water cascades straight down an impressive slab of rock. The trail to reach the falls is 2.6 miles with 577 feet of elevation and rated moderate. You will begin in a campground area and then descend down a rocky trail to reach the falls. The trail is a loop but I actually did the trail as an out and back to save a little bit of time. If you do the whole loop, you’ll have an easier time taking the trail counterclockwise, as you will go down the steepest portion instead of up it. The trail includes rocky portions, tree roots to step over, steps and might be muddy after rainfall. Wear proper hiking shoes and take your time!
When you reach the waterfall, there is a bridge that offers an amazing view of the falls. You can also carefully scramble over some rocks to get right up next to the falls.
Mount Mitchell State Park is home to the tallest point east of the Mississippi River. To reach the high point, there is a short, paved trail that is accessible to most. The high point is 6,684 feet tall and at the top you’ll see the grave of Elisha Mitchell, a geologist who made it his life mission to prove Mount Mitchell was the highest point. Unfortunately, he actually fell trying to reconfirm his measurements after a state senator challenged the fact that this was the highest point. Years later, his measurements were confirmed by a U.S. Geological Survey that this is indeed the highest point.
The paved trail to the top of Mount Mitchell is 0.2 miles each way with 92 feet of elevation gain. At the bottom of the trail, there is a small gift shop and restrooms. The view was not any more special than other views along the Blue Ridge Parkway and actually had more trees blocking the scenery, but it’s always special to say you’ve been to a high point! Plus, entrance to this park is free.
On your way between Mount Mitchell and Craggy Gardens, make a quick stop at the Glasmire Falls Overlook. The waterfall relies on recent rainfall and was not flowing during my visit, but if there is enough water, you can see it across the valley right off of the road.
Craggy Gardens refer to about a 5 mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway known for jagged rocks, amazing views and an amazing display of pink and purple rhododendrons in June.
There is a visitor with restrooms and information, a picnic area and several trails here. I recommend both the Craggy Pinnacle trail and the Craggy Gardens Trail. The Craggy Gardens Trail is a 2 mile out and back path that leads from the picnic area to an upper parking lot. The trail is mostly forested but has a great viewpoint with a bench closer to the upper parking lot. The total trail has 574 feet of elevation change, but I recommend starting from the upper parking lot and reducing the trail to about a mile with less elevation.
The Craggy Pinnacle trail offers better views if you only have time for one. The trail is 1 mile with 242 feet of elevation gain and has two separate viewpoints. You will have a view of the Blue Ridge Parkway down below along with the mountains in the distance. The view points were very foggy during my hike, but seeing the fog roll in and out over the mountains made the experience all the more special.
I recommend packing a lunch and enjoying it at the Craggy Gardens picnic area, which has several picnic tables and plenty of shade.
Make your way back to Asheville but be sure to stop at the Southern Highland Guild Folk Art Center before it closes (typically at 5pm). This art center is recognized as the oldest craft stop in the United States and includes art from members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild of Southern Appalachia. On the upper floor, there is a mix of rotating and permanent exhibits and the lower floor has artisan-made goods for sale. You can learn a lot from the exhibits and take home a special handmade gift for someone special.
During my visit, there were artist demonstrations that included fiber art and painting. Admission is free, so don’t miss this destination if you like art!
After a day of exploring outdoors, head to downtown Asheville to enjoy a fun night out. If it’s friday night, a stop to see the drum circle at Pritchard park is a must. Every Friday, musicians and free spirits alike get together, keep the beat on drums and dance. I found this to be such a wholesome and fun experience. Anyone can come and join and the people are lively, free spirited and welcoming.
Downtown Asheville is full of great nightlife, delicious food and street performances. It’s a fun area to walk around and hop between bars. If you want to enjoy some southern food in an eclectic space, check out the popular Mayfel’s right across from the drum circle.
Asheville is also known for its incredible beer scene. There will be more brewery recommendations for the coming days, but in short walking distance from the drum circle you can visit One World Brewing for a grungy vibe or walk a bit further to Wicked Weed Brewing Pub or Bhramari Brewing Company.
If you prefer dessert over a drink, enjoy a treat from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This charming cafe serves all manner of chocolates including ice cream, cakes, custards and much more. One of the most popular items is the liquid truffle drinking chocolate, made of thick melted chocolate. There is even a vegan version! French Broad Chocolate also offers tours of their chocolate factory during the day.
Start your day with a treat before exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway from the opposite side of Asheville. Hole Doughnuts is a popular doughnut shop in West Asheville known for perfectly light and fluffy doughnuts. The doughnuts were even named best dessert in the country in 2016! You’ll find 3 mainstay flavors: vanilla glazed, toasted almond sesame cinnamon and cinnamon sugar, along with a weekly rotating flavor. My favorite was the cinnamon sugar but they were all perfectly baked and delicious. However, what really sets this place apart is the service. You will order ahead online and then give your name when you arrive. The staff is super enthusiastic and does a fantastic job of remembering your name while you wait. Go early to beat the crowds but Hole is definitely worth visiting if you’re a doughnut lover.
After you’re fueled up for the day, drive a little less than an hour west to Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob is a great trail that offers amazing views and the option to continue hiking to a plane crash if you’re able to navigate an unmaintained trail. Without the plane crash, the trail is 1 mile round trip with 439 feet of elevation gain. The trail begins paved but is quite steep so make sure you have plenty of water and proper shoes. After about a half mile, you’ll reach Waterrock Knob and enjoy a beautiful view of the mountains in the distance.
Right before the Waterrock Knob viewpoint, there is a narrow forest path where you will exit the main trail if you would like to hike to the plane crash. In 1983, Ernest Martin and Centa Jarrett were flying just a bit too low. They hit the mountain and were killed immediately. Now, almost 40 years later, a large portion of the plane remnants remain in the woods. Seeing the crash is both eerie and fascinating. Please be respectful and do not vandalize (the park service has cameras and prosecutes anyone who does). To reach the crash, you will be hiking up and down over tree roots and rocks through the forest. There are some yellow dot trail markers along the way but do not only rely on them. I recommend saving the coordinates of the crash, 35°27'48.7"N 83°07'55.5"W, and downloading the offline maps on Google to make sure you headed in the right direction. When you are almost to the crash, you will see a blue arrow. Turn left and hike a little bit down the hill until you see it.
From Waterrock Knob to the crash is a little less than a half mile. Note that the trail may be very muddy and there are some drop offs. Make sure to be cautious, prepared and respectful if you attempt this adventure.
After Waterrock Knob, continue south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy incredible views and short hikes. There are many overlooks, but one not to miss is the Richland Balsam Overlook because it’s the highest point on the parkway at 6,053 feet.
If you are up for another hike, the Devil’s Courthouse trail is a steep 0.8 mile trail with 275 feet of elevation gain. After climbing to the top, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.
When the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses over the Pisgah Highway, turn off and take the highway south. The Pisgah National Forest also has some beautiful quick stops and several hiking options. Places to visit include the Cradle of Forestry, a museum all about forestry education in America and Looking Glass Falls, a beautiful waterfall located right off of the road.
If you enjoy breweries, there are three incredible breweries located south of Asheville. These are great to visit right after exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway since you’ll already be outside of the city.
The first stop I recommend is Sideways Farm and Brewery. Sideways is a small family owned farm that creates small batch brews using many ingredients that are grown on the farm. When you visit, you can walk around the farm and see a variety of plants and produce being grown, along with an area with animals. I saw sunflowers, pumpkins, herbs, goats, ducks and more. You can even pick your own flower bouquet during certain times of year! One unique beverage that Sideways brews is hard kombucha - they rotate through different flavors and I loved the elderberry. Another charming detail about this spot is that everyone refers to the woman you’ll pay affectionately as Grandma. If you are looking to visit a smaller brewery business, Sideways Farm should definitely be on your list!
Making our way towards Asheville, Bold Rock Mills River Cidery is a fun place to visit if you love cider. Bold Rock has a great atmosphere that includes both indoor seating and a lively outdoor space. They serve a large selection of ciders, seltzers, hard lemonades and even cocktails. I was also impressed with the food - I enjoyed the beyond burger with the fries. When I visited, they were having a honey festival and playing live music.
Finally, the most famous brewery located right outside of Asheville is Sierra Nevada. This brewery is massive and located on a huge piece of property that even includes hiking trails. If you would like to dine inside, be sure to make a reservation. Without a reservation, you can still head to the back porch and order food and beer from the bar. I loved the Wild Little Thing sour beer and the green goddess sandwich. The back porch includes a stage for live music, large lawn chairs, a nice garden area and a kids area with activities like hop scotch and sand. Inside, there is a large gift shop, a more extensive menu and brewery tours. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable some of the gift shop items were.
Catawba Falls is a gorgeous waterfall located just over 30 minutes east of the city. I recommend visiting early in the morning because this trail gets super crowded.
The trail was originally used as a pump area for an energy company but people kept sneaking in to see the waterfall. After years of this, it was acquired by the national park service and opened to the public in 2010. The trail totals 2.3 miles and has a steady elevation until you reach the falls. There are a couple of river crossings along the way with rocks you can step on and views of the Catawba River.
When you reach the waterfall, there is an upper and lower section. To reach the upper portion, you’ll need to do some rock scrambling and it may be muddy and slippery. Make sure to wear proper hiking shoes if you would like to go up further. The waterfall is very unique and made up of a pile of boulders, some covered in moss. When I visited, it was ripe with greenery and beautifully dynamic. If you can beat the crowds, this trail is definitely worth adding to your Asheville list.
For some comforting southern food on your last day, head to Biscuit Head for brunch. The restaurant’s name comes from the use of cathead biscuits, giant biscuits that are formed by hand and seem to be the size of a cat’s head. The menu offers several creative ways to enjoy the biscuits. You can enjoy a biscuit and gravy, a biscuit and fried chicken, a biscuit with fried green tomatoes and more. I enjoyed the southern scramble that included scrambled eggs, potatoes and pimento cheese. I also love the cat motifs and decor all over the restaurant.
The River Arts District, known as RAD, is a creative area with art galleries, former warehouses, craft breweries and more along the French Broad River. Riverside Studios and Cotton Mill Galleries are great places to start: they are warehouses full of a variety of smaller galleries. Other things to do include walking along the paved riverside path, finding the painted silos for a cool photo opportunity and visiting the North Carolina Glass Center to watch glass being blown. The area is great to just walk around and see what you find. The district also has public restrooms and free parking available.
The Wicked Weed Funkatorium needs to be on your list if you love sours or creative brews. The funkatorium is the first tap room on the East Coast to be dedicated entirely to sour beer and they are always rotating through new flavors. You can pick from a variety of flights by category, such as a flight of barrel-aged sours and farmhouse sour ales. If beer isn’t your thing, The Funkatorium also offers wine and cocktails.
They also serve a great selection of food that is constantly rotating. I loved the giant soft pretzel and in general really enjoyed the lively atmosphere and creative brews at the Funkatorium.
Just a few minutes away, you can also visit the Wicked Weed Brewing Pub, which has less of a focus on sours and a whole different selection of food.
If cocktails are your go-to, you can also make a stop at Chemist Spirits. This distillery is right next door to The Funkatorium and has award-winning gin and an amazing selection of craft cocktails.
Here are some other fun activities in Asheville if you have more time!
- Visit the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in the United States. You’ll want to allot almost a full day to properly explore the grounds, tour the home, have a wine tasting and experience the giant property.
- Take in the view from Omni Grove Park Inn, a hotel known for its luxury spa and sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can enjoy a meal or a drink with a view even if you are not staying in the hotel.
- Go white water rafting in one of the rivers near the city. One company to look at is French Broad Adventures, which offers rappelling and canyoneering in addition to white water rafting excursions.
- The Botanical Gardens at Asheville are home to over 600 species of Appalachian plants and make a relaxing spot to get outside without venturing far from town.
- Take the LaZoom Bus, a comedic bus tour where you’ll get to learn about the city in a fun way. The tours include hilarious guides, comedic skits and it’s sure to be a memorable experience.
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