Asheville Happy Holidays Happenings

Downtown Asheville Christmas

Christmas Tree in downtown Asheville

This holiday season in Asheville, North Carolina, and the surrounding mountains will be busier and more festive than ever. Here are the Top Holiday Getaway ideas for things to do and events featured on our Travel Guide:

Christmas at Biltmore: Asheville’s biggest holiday event starts on November 7, America’s largest home is decked out in festive finery with 60+ trees and miles of garland. Candlelight Evenings are especially magical with live music. See the decorations through January 11.

Downtown Asheville: Make shopping more fun and relaxing while finding truly special gifts. Browse 200+ local shops and 30 art galleries. For a break, stop at one of the 50 restaurants or many coffee shops. And finish your day at a craft brewery or a wine bar!

Gingerbread Houses: For a real treat, see the amazing display of gingerbread houses from the National Gingerbread House Competition at the legendary Omni Grove Park Inn on November 19-January 1.

Polar Express: Ride the magical train to the North Pole with fun for all ages. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad conducts excursions on November 7-January 5, departing the depot at Bryson City.

Winter Lights: A new event for 2014 at the North Carolina Arboretum features a first-ever light display that transforms their gardens into a nighttime wonderland. It runs November 22-January 4 and advance reservations are required.

Comedy Tours: LaZoom’s holiday tours on their purple buses take you around Asheville with fun all the way.

Biltmore Village: Located across from the entrance to Biltmore, the Village is home to more than 40 boutiques. The area also has the best antique shops too! Visit the first weekend of December for Dickens in the Village.

Art: Asheville is a mecca for artists, so this is the place to find one-of-a-kind gifts. In addition to the galleries downtown and Biltmore Village, head to the Folk Art Center and the River Arts District.

Hikes & Waterfalls: For the best views of the year, take a winter hike to a mountaintop or a waterfall. With leafless trees, cool temperatures, less crowds and frequent bright blue skies, it may become your favorite time of the year to hit the trail.

Pick Your Tree: Visit a Christmas tree farm and choose-and-cut the perfect tree for your home. It’s a great holiday tradition for many.

Holiday Packages: Take advantage of a special or overnight package at elegant bed and breakfast inns, cabin rentals and hotels.

For more holiday things to do and a calendar of our favorite events, go to

Christmas at Biltmore Details for 2014

Biltmore House Christmas

Banquet Hall and 40-foot tree inside Biltmore House

It’s the most wonderful time of year at America’s largest home. Christmas at Biltmore daytime tours begin on November 7 and run through January 11. Candlelight Christmas Evenings run November 7 through January 3. See photos, videos, tips and the latest info on ticket discounts at

This year’s Christmas decorations inside the Biltmore House and throughout the estate draw inspiration from the theme “A Vanderbilt Christmas Celebration.” Décor will trend toward the opulent to create a sense of the Gilded Age, while incorporating elements that nod to George Vanderbilt’s legacy in Western North Carolina and the surrounding mountains. Vanderbilt hosted his first family Christmas celebration in Biltmore House in 1895, and this year’s celebration is modeled on that first Christmas.

The grand Banquet Hall will mix vintage and opulent accents with burgundy, red, gold and blue ornaments tucked into the centerpiece 34-foot tall Fraser fir Christmas tree. The annual tree raising is November 5, as guests watch Santa deliver the tree and workers maneuver this huge tree through the front doors to the Banquet Hall. Two additional 14-foot trees will flank the triple fireplace. A deep red velvet runner edged with holly and red berries will accent the Hall’s dining table, with potted poinsettias and fresh cut flower arrangements completing the look. The pipe organ plays on a regular schedule. Elsewhere inside the house, see 60 intricately designed and decorated trees. Miles of fresh garland and wreaths draped throughout the house.

On Candlelight Christmas Evenings, a 55-foot Norway spruce tree, lit by 45,000 tiny white lights, will be the focal point on the front lawn. Magical Candlelight evenings feature local choirs and small musical ensembles stationed in the Winter Garden and throughout the house. Included in these tickets is daytime admission to Biltmore’s gardens, Antler Hill Village and Winery.

In Antler Hill Village, Santa will visit with children of all ages. Cedric’s Tavern will host live music nightly. Tour the Winery, enjoy free wine tastings and purchase wines, including the limited release Christmas at Biltmore blend. Special wine seminars are available by reservation.

Biltmore’s floral arranging and gardening experts will conduct free, daily seminars at A Gardener’s Place retail gift shop from October 17 through January 11. Seminars are “Winter Wreaths” at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and “Front Door Swags” at 1 and 3 p.m.

There are many dining options. Select from the Bistro, Deerpark Restaurant, Stable Café, Cedric’s Tavern or The Dining Room at Inn on Biltmore Estate. The Inn will offer its annual Gingerbread House Tea on December 18, 19, and 20. The four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate offers several packages for holidays, including special Thanksgiving, Candlelight Christmas Evenings, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve packages.

And don’t forget the variety of retail shops, all perfect for holiday gift shopping. Other activities include taking a horse and carriage ride; exploring acres of walking and biking trails and more.

See photos and a video of the decorations inside Biltmore House: And see hotel packages!

Top 20 Places for Fall Color near Asheville

Fall Mt. MitchellBeautiful fall mountain scenery abounds in North Carolina in October. The fall color season is a long one with the 5,000-foot elevation range in the Asheville area. In fact,  the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest-running fall leaf shows in the USA. Here are our top places to go and things to do to enjoy the colors. For more information on these and more things to do, go to Travel Guide.

  1. See the first autumn colors the first week of October on Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in eastern America, with panoramic mountain views from the observation deck. Colorful views into the valleys from the top extend into mid October. Take a jacket! It’s always cooler on the summit and there is often snow there by late October.
  2. The other spot for early fall color is Grandfather Mountain and the Rough Ridge hiking trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  3. Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of top scenic drives in the United States. Stop at many overlooks, have a picnic and take a hike. The best color varies with elevation throughout the month. So if you don’t immediately see color, keep driving!
  4. Watch the sunrise from atop Craggy Pinnacle at Craggy Gardens.
  5. Drive the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway from Brevard to the Blue Ridge Parkway in mid-October with great stops such as Looking Glass Falls and hikes to many other waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest.
  6. Stop at Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway the second week of October for the some of the most brilliant color in the mountains. Relax by the waterfall or walk through the mile-high valley.
  7. Near Graveyard Fields on the Parkway, walk across mountain balds at Black Balsam Knob for endless views.
  8. Drive US Highway 64 from Brevard to Highlands. Stop to walk behind Dry Falls and drive behind Bridal Veil Falls.
  9. Watch the Shadow of the Bear immerge from behind Whiteside Mountain near Cashiers just before sunset.
  10. Capture the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina, Linville Falls, surrounded by fall color in mid October.
  11. Speaking of Linville Gorge, see stunning views of the canyon with easy hikes to the top of Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain in Pisgah National Forest.
  12. Watch elk graze in the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains as the male elk make their legendary mating bugling calls, walk woodland trails and explore historic buildings.
  13. Also in the Great Smoky Mountains, enjoy views from Newfound Gap gap road and hike on the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion for spectacular views.
  14. Raft down the Nantahala River or French Broad River in early October for warmer temperatures!
  15. Take a zip line canopy tour through the colorful woodlands throughout October.
  16. Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad along Fontana Lake and Nantahala River on a train excursion.
  17. Take a short hike in DuPont State Forest to see three waterfalls, or hike to Cedar Rock for mountain views in late October.
  18. Explore the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate by foot, bike, car, river raft, horse or Segway. See colorful fall gardens, mountain views and colorful forests.
  19. Stroll through the gardens and see the tiniest fall color show with their bonsai collection.
  20. Ride the elevator or hike to the famous Chimney Rock with 75-mile views across Lake Lure. The peak fall color show there extends into early November.

For more details on these and the latest fall foliage week-by-week forecast for western North Carolina, events and festivals and many photos, visit the free 600-page online travel guide at

Labor Day Weekend Events & Festivals in Asheville

NC Apple Festival

There are so many things to do in Asheville and the North Carolina mountains during Labor Day Weekend. In addition to endless outdoors activities like hiking, waterfalls, rafting and zip lines, there are some free festivals to enjoy:

August 29-September 1, 2014: NC Apple Festival
Downtown Hendersonville features four days of fun including one of the most best known street fairs in the Carolinas with freshly picked apples, arts and crafts, food and plenty of entertainment on eight blocks of Main Street. The King Apple Parade is held on Labor Day. After the festival, visit nearby apple orchards. See our NC Apple Festival Guide.

August 31, 2014: LAAFF Festival
This popular downtown Asheville festival is back to celebrate local culture and creativity along Lexington Avenue from 11 AM to 9 PM.  Enjoy plenty of great local music, art, food, and beer and plenty of fun for the whole family. With three stages of music, fire dancing, belly dancing, and break dancing, circus acts, pop-up theatre and other interactive arts and kids’ activities, there will be plenty to see and do. See our LAAFF Festival Guide.

August 30, 2014: Shindig on the Green
Bring your lawn chair or blanket and enjoy an evening of mountain music and dance at Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. Local groups perform a couple of numbers each, so there’s a big variety of talent. Walk around to enjoy jam sessions away from the main stage. It’s definitely a showcase of Southern Appalachian culture. Read more about Shindig on the Green.

August 30, 2014: Spruce Street Market
This small art market in downtown Asheville features a variety of local art from 10 AM until 6 PM near Pack Square Park along Spruce Street.

August 30, 2014: RockFest
Emerald Village near Little Switzerland has free live music 11 AM-4 PM, guided tours of hidden mines, gem mining, gold panning, and the one-of-a-kind underground Black Light Mine Tour at 8:30 PM. This unique attraction is home to seven real mines and has been featured on the Travel Channel.

August 30, 2014: Founders Day Fair
Have fun while learning a little about local history at The Museum of Transylvania County Heritage in Brevard with music, clogging, food, crafts, art, authors, Civil War encampment, walking tours and more.  The museum is located at 189 West Main Street.

August 31, 2014: Kite Festival
The 12th annual Mile High Kite Festival takes place in the Beech Mountain town meadow. Located at more than 5,000 feet in elevation, the meadow makes it easy to sail kites more than a mile above sea level – with one area for demonstrations and one for visitors. The festival includes kite-flying music and announcing provided by Terry Murray and Will Smoot of the Richmond Air Force Kite Club from Virginia. Prizes will be awarded for the biggest kite, smallest kite and best decorated kite. Other activities include races with kids pulling parachute kites, face painting, and a variety of craft and food vendors. There’s also a street dance Saturday from 7-9 PM in front of town hall.

For many more things to do on Labor Day Weekend, go to Travel Guide.

Fall Events at Chimney Rock Park

Chimney Rock FallFall is definitely a great time to explore Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park! In addition to the beautiful fall colors that peak in late October into early November, they have some very fun events. Not to mention, soak in the spectacular 75-mile views from atop the Chimney and hike to the 400-foot Hickory Nut Falls. Speaking of hiking, they have guided hikes every Saturday. After a day of adventure, relax and enjoy craft beer and burgers along with live, local music at Beats, Burgers & Brews at the Old Rock Café, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Annual Passholder Fall Sunrise Breakfast
Saturday, October 4; gate opens 6:15am for 7:25am sunrise
Few sights in Western North Carolina are as spectacular as watching the sunrise over Lake Lure! The Park opens early for Annual Passholders with a continental breakfast and the best seats in the area. To RSVP, please call 800-277-9611 by October 1. If you are not a Passholder, you can become one for this event.
Cost: $5 Annual Passholder, free for kids under 5. Advance registration required.

Rockin’ Naturalist Guided Hikes
Saturdays, October 4, 11, 18, 25; 11am-noon
Explore Chimney Rock’s trails with a park naturalist or state park ranger to learn about plants, wildlife, geology and more along the way. Or, head “off the beaten path” to discover less-traveled areas of the park. Topics vary. Limited to the first 15 people.
Cost: Included with Park admission

Grady’s Wildlife of WNC
Every Saturday & Sunday in October; 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26; 2pm
Meet some of Grady the Groundhog’s live woodland friends or possibly our birds of prey, a Red-tailed hawk and Great Horned Owl. Their resident education animals are the stars of the program, which explains each animal’s role in our ecosystem, how they came to live at the park and lessons on what we can do to help protect wildlife. Held in the Outdoor Classroom on the Meadows, weather permitting.
Cost: Included with Park admission

Naturalist Niche Series: Fall Big Basswood Hike
Saturday, October 11; 9:30-11:30am
Up and down a bit of slope, between a few boulders and shrubs and weaving beneath towering fall foliage, hike into a hidden forest cove. Renowned naturalist Ron Lance will guide you to where the state’s largest basswood tree lives, with a circumference of more than 13 feet! Several other large trees are its neighbors and wildflowers carpet the forest floor. This two-hour-plus hike is moderately-strenuous and not suitable for children under 12. Limited to 15; advance registration required.
Cost: $22 Adult (includes Park admission), $10 Annual Passholder

Naturalist Niche Series: Fall Ridge Hike with Ron Lance
Saturday, October 25; 9:30-12:30pm
Soak up fall colors on the most scenic hike all year long at the park! Venture high atop the ridges 1,500 feet above the valley floor, and enjoy dramatic views surrounded in a sea of fall leaf colors. Led by renowned naturalist Ron Lance, this three-hour hike is moderately strenuous. Limited to 15; advance registration required.
Cost: $22 Adult (includes Park admission), $10 Annual Passholder

For more information, see our Chimney Rock Park Guide and our NC Mountain Fall Color Guide.

Sliding Rock Insider Tips

Watch a video of the fun!

15 Tips for Visits to Sliding Rock, NC

Sliding RockThousands of people visit and slide down Sliding Rock every week each summer in Pisgah National Forest. A favorite for generations, it’s the most popular swimming hole in the North Carolina mountains. The 60-foot waterfall is about 35 miles from Asheville and about 10 miles from Brevard. Visitors of all ages patiently line up and wait their turn to slide and splash into an eight-foot deep pool. Here are some tips for your visit:

  • The chilly mountain water runs 50-60 degrees, so it’s definitely refreshing on a hot summer day!
  • Lifeguards are on duty through September 1, 10 AM-6 PM. Changing rooms and restrooms are open when lifeguards are working.
  • Cost is $2/person when lifeguards are on duty. Children 6 and under are free.
  • The parking area fills up and closes periodically on summer weekends. Avoid peak visiting hours of 11 AM-3 PM on Saturday and Sundays. The parking area also fills up on some July weekdays.
  • Do not slide during high water or thunderstorms.
  • Even if you are not getting into the water, it’s fun to watch from the observation decks.
  • The pool at the bottom of the falls is eight feet deep. So know how to swim!
  • Children under seven years must slide with an adult.
  • Lifejackets are the only flotation device allowed.
  • Blue jean or thick shorts and water shoes are recommended for sliding on the rock slope.
  • Slide in sitting position only.
  • No alcohol is permitted.
  • Pets are allowed at Sliding Rock, but they must be on a leash and cannot slide down the rock.
  • To avoid parking lot congestion, no picnicking here. You’ll see lots of picnic tables roadside and nearby Coontree picnic area.
  • The nearest food service is the café at Cradle of Forestry near Pink Beds (four miles west) or at the edge of Brevard (7.5 miles east).

Directions: Don’t count on GPS. From Asheville take I-26 East to Exit 40 for Highway 280 (Asheville Airport). Take a right onto Highway 280 West and go 16 miles toward Brevard. As you enter Brevard, you will see a big shopping center on the right with Wal-Mart. Just past the center, turn right onto US Highway 276 North (Forest Heritage Scenic Byway) and go  7.6 miles to a parking area on the left. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, take US 276 South about 7.5 miles.

For more info, go to

Cool Off in NC Mountain Swimming Holes near Asheville

The western North Carolina mountains near Asheville has some great natural swimming holes that are so refreshing on a hot summer’s day. Here are three of the favorites of readers of Travel Guide:

Sliding Rock NC

Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest has been thrilling kids and adults of all ages for generations and is a summer tradition for many. This 60-foot natural waterslide flows over a smooth rock slope into an eight foot deep pool with chilly mountain water! Through Labor Day, there are lifeguards on duty every day and changing rooms are available. While lifeguards are on duty, there is a $2/person admission fee. Other times, you can slide for free. Be sure to have heavy duty shorts since the rock can tear thinner fabric! Nearby is Looking Glass Falls, a must stop waterfall along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. It’s about 38 miles from downtown Asheville on US Highway 276 in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. Read more about Sliding Rock.

Skinny Dip Falls

Skinny Dip Falls is a locals favorite that most drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway miss. There are no signs for this beautiful setting with multiple cascades and pools deep in the forest. Jump off an overhanging rock into a pool or find a spot to wade or soak in the cool mountain water. From the Looking Glass Rock overlook on the Parkway (Milepost 417), hike a half mile trail from the parking area. It’s about 23 south of Asheville (from the Highway 191 exit on the Parkway). Read more about Skinny Dip Falls.

Deep Creek Tubing

Go tubing on Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. There are several tube rental companies nearby, just outside the park boundaries. Float past a waterfall and through a dense forest. The Deep Creek ride consists of two sections: The upper “whitewater” section for adults and good swimmers flows from Indian Creek with a wild, bouncy ride. The lower section is wider, easier going and more appropriate for all ages.  From downtown Bryson City, take Depot Street east to Deep Creek Road and turn left. Drive 2.3 miles to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance, and then another half mile to the parking area. It’s about 65 miles from Asheville. Read more about Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Enjoy! Remember to be very careful around waterfalls. Do not get in the water above a waterfall or rapid and watch for slippery rocks.