Asheville: Explore North Carolina’s Mountains

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

A Bounty of Activities Around Asheville

Craggy Pinnacle

Craggy Pinnacle

Amazing mountain views, inspiring scenery and the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S. greet visitors to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a drive, hike a mountain, raft a river, tee it up, get some culture, or hear a tale. Activities are bountiful in in these old and rugged mountains with cultural activities in the quaint towns from music, festivals, arts and crafts to fantastic theatre performances. So much to see and do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Explore the North Carolina Mountains with us.

View from Blue Ridge Parkway

View from Blue Ridge Parkway

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Covering over 200 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway (www.nps.gov/blri) winds and weaves along the majestic mountains of Virginia and North Carolina to the Smoky Mountains. Just outside Asheville, North Carolina, we take the Blue Ridge Parkway for a leisurely drive. A bright blue sky with a few puffy clouds gives us some spectacular views and scenes along the Parkway with summer flowers in bloom. Yes, this is “God’s Country!” Miles of breathtaking mountains! Each overlook gives a new scenic vista of the mountains. Lush trees cover the mountains, wildflowers bloom along the roadside, creeks tumble down the hillside and a bend in the road opens up to magnificent mountain vistas.

Views from Craggy Summit

Views from Craggy Summit

Hike to a Mountain Top
The Great Craggy Mountains boasts exposed rock surfaces and high peaks with breathtaking views of distant Appalachian ridges.” With a Visitor Center, a Picnic Area, and only 18 miles east of Asheville, Craggy Gardens is a great stop. From the Craggy Dome Overlook Parking lot, an elevation of 5,000 feet, we hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail as it ascends through a tunnel of rhododendrons, gnarled birch trees and wildflowers. Climbing the twisting trail, we arrive at the pinnacle’s stone walled viewing area. Fantastic! North, South, East and West– spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking down to Lower View point more vistas open up before us of mountainous landscape.

Scenie vista from Mt. Mitchell

Scenie vista from Mt. Mitchell

A Mile High Mountain beckons! More awesome views await us at Mount Mitchell State Park (mount.mitchell@ncparks.gov), just a few miles from Craggy Gardens. A paved path from the parking lot leads to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. At the summit magnificent breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling ridges and fertile valleys are a feast for the eyes. As a few clouds roll in below, lower peaks peep through creating misty “Islands in the Sky.” A Museum gives the enchanting and sometimes bizarre history of Mount Mitchell, as well as, its flora, fauna, and wildlife. Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell State Park are definitely two “Must Do’s” along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Plus it’s all FREE! Be sure to stop at Folk Art Center with its wonderful handwork and workmanship of creative mountain crafts of stunning items from pottery to weaving to paintings to sculptures.

Maggie Valley Golf Club

Maggie Valley Golf Club

Tee It Up!
Featuring a front nine Valley Course and back nine Mountain Course, the course at the Maggie Valley Club (www.Maggievalleyclub.com)is demanding, exasperating, and FUN. Beware! While the front nine with its wide open fairways appears gentle, it still has numerous hazards to avoid. Errant shots will find water or even be out of bounds and the large bent grass greens are challenging. The back nine greets us with an elevation rise of 800 feet along with panoramas of the valley and mountains. Putting is vexing as greens have undulations, tiers, slopes, and “mountain affect.”  Are we hexed? What appears to be the perfect shot to a green will gently or quickly roll off. Add to all this the nasty club-grapping rough along the fairway and around the greens. Despite our few grumblings, this is a super course that will provide an exciting day of golf and plenty of stories to share. The Pro Shop is excellent with beautiful selection of clothes for men and women. Blooming flowers along fairways and beds plus ornamental hardwood plants and trees add to the attractiveness of the Maggie Valley Club. 

Mount Mitchel Golf Course and view of Mt. Mitchell

Mount Mitchel Golf Course and view of Mt. Mitchell

Ranked as a Top Ten Public Course in North Carolina, Mt. Mitchell Golf Course (www.mountmitchellgolf.com) winds along and crosses the Toe River. A virtually flat valley course it offers beautiful views of the Black Mountain Range and Mt. Mitchell – towering over us at 6,000 feet. Wear comfy shoes! It’s cart path only today and always, as Mt. Mitchell Golf Course has bentgrass greens, fairways, and tees. No blind shots here but plenty of good ol’ exciting valley golf with some elevation on a few holes. The #11 Par 3 presents the most dramatic elevation change with the tee box high above the postage stamp green, making for a challenge in proper club selection. Pay attention to the score card graphics or get a yardage book to see exactly when the tumbling Toe River bisects or parallels a fairway to avoid losing a ball in the water.   The Mount Mitchell Golf Course offers plenty of challenge and fantastic scenery. We highly recommend for anyone visiting the Asheville area wanting to experience a very good course to play, comparable to a private course. A good Pro Shop, plus a bar and restaurant are onsite.

Raft the French Broad River- FUN!

Raft the French Broad River- FUN!

Go Rafting!
The third oldest river in the world, the French Broad River winds through the mountains in western North Carolina A scenic and free flowing river, the French Broad begins west of the Eastern Continental Divide flowing in a northwesterly direction through the Appalachian Mountains and through the city of Asheville. Seeking adventure and excitement, we recommend the more challenging nine mile trip with the French Broad Rafting Outpost (http://www.frenchbroadrafting.com), the closest rafting to Asheville. The rapids on our trip are primarily Class I, II and III. The scenery is spectacular with beautiful scenic mountains and shoreline. Rafting the Rapids of Turtle Rock, Big Pillow and Steel Rods is thrilling. Be sure to climb up to Jump-Off Rock and take the 10 foot plunge into the River below. Lunch is included of hot dogs, hamburgers, and delicious home-made cookies. Rafting the French Broad River is truly fun!

Encore! Enjoy the Theatre
Asheville’s performing arts are thriving. Visitors and locals relish the variety of live performances and productions. One of the oldest community theatres in the nation, the Asheville Community Theatre (www.ashevilletheatre.org), delights audiences with high quality performances. We enjoy a fun evening of entertainment at their excellent production of the humorous play within a play, “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Providing Western North Carolina with a magnitude of theatrical experiences the Asheville Lyric Opera’s (www.ashevillelyric.org)repertoire encompasses styles from the light operatic comedies of Mozart to the drama of classics of Verdi and Puccini. We are thrilled to be in town to attend their special performance of “Carousel.” The beautiful Diana Wortham Theatre, in the heart of downtown Asheville is the perfect venue as we are mesmerized by the rich music and songs of “Carousel.”

Just outside of Asheville is Mars Hill College where The Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) is located. Celebrating 39 years SART (www.sartplays.org) is a professional theatre providing old favorites, new works and recognizes the heritage of the Southern Appalachians. The historic Owen Theatre is an intimate setting with several rows of seats in a semi-circular around the stage. Be sure to check out their calendar, as SART offers a variety of plays.

The Flat Rock Playhouse (www.flatrockplayhouse.com), the State Theatre of North Carolina, is considered one of the “Top Ten Theaters” in the Country. While it began with just a few weeks of summer performances, today it boasts an eight month season of plays including world premieres and standard Broadway musicals, comedy, drama and youth theatre Renowned for its Broadway quality plays, we are enthralled by their phenomenal production of the powerful drama “Les Miserables.” Bravo!

Catawba Rhododendrun at Craggy Gardens

Catawba Rhododendrun at Craggy Gardens

If you go:
Be sure to begin your visit at the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.exploreasheville.com) to decide your activities. They have a great website for pre-planning but also stop at the Visitor Center. It has a wealth of information to assist in planning your visit. Asheville truly does abound with activities from many historical sites, fantastic outdoor activities, great shopping, and magnificent arts and culture. Whether it is rafting, tubing, hiking to a waterfall or mountain top, shopping, browsing huge antique barns, attending a play, seeking out unique arts and crafts, going to a festival, or visiting the small quaint towns, Asheville has it. Visitors will definitely enjoy a “taste” of Asheville with its microbreweries, wineries, and restaurants. Now have a fun visit to these amazing mountains!

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.