Celebrating Mount Mitchell State Park’s 100th

Mt Mitchell

View of Mt. Mitchell from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One hundred years ago this month, a bill passed the state legislature to make Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet, the first state park in North Carolina. In 1835, Grandfather Mountain was thought to be the highest point in the region. However, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, professor at the University of North Carolina, performed measurements that convinced him that the Black Mountains were taller. Mitchell studied barometric pressure readings and used mathematical formulas to determine that the highest point in the range was 6,476 feet, which was taller than Grandfather Mountain. Dr. Mitchell returned to perform more measurements and calculations in 1838 and 1844 and determined the highest peak was 6,672 feet – only a 12 foot difference from modern measurements! The mountain was named after Dr. Mitchell in 1858, one year after he fell off a cliff above a 40-foot waterfall there and drowned in the river below. His body is buried at Mt. Mitchell, right beside the observation deck on the summit.

Mt Mitchell Hike

Deep Gap Trail

Mount Mitchell is located in the Black Mountain range, approximately 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. There are lots of fun activities at Mount Mitchell State Park, from hiking, camping and picnicking to birding and just enjoying the plantlife and views. Our favorite hiking trails are the Deep Gap Trail, Balsam Trail, and the Mount Mitchell Trail. Deep Gap and Balsam are relatively easy, and the Mount Mitchell trail is longer and more strenuous. The park is open year round, as long as there is no ice or snow on the roads. The museum, restaurant, and concession stand will reopen on May 1.

Our Tips for Visiting Mount Mitchell:

  • Bring a jacket or an extra layer of clothes. Temperatures are usually 10-30 degrees cooler than in Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Take rain gear along if you are hiking.
  • Eight out of ten days, the summit is covered in clouds and fog. Watch the weather, and try to visit when skies are very clear in Asheville.
  • Allow plenty of driving time to reach Mt. Mitchell (at least one hour from Asheville). The entrance is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the traffic can be slow, especially on the weekends.
  • The park is open every day, year-round, however sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close during much of the winter between Asheville and Mt. Mitchell. During most of the winter, the only route is taking the Parkway south from NC Highway 80. The restaurant, exhibit hall and gift shop are open May through October. Admission is free.
  • Call the Park office at 828-675-4611 to check winter road conditions.

Happy 100th birthday! Read more about Mount Mitchell State Park

Biltmore Will Soon Be Blooming

Biltmore Tulips

Thousands of tulips in the Walled Garden

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.”
~ Ruth Stout

You couldn’t pick a better place to greet spring than in the magnificent gardens at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The first day of spring, March 20, will kick off the annual Biltmore Blooms festivities, which will run through May 25, 2015.

Biltmore Blooms will kick off with the blooming of the cheery daffodils at the entrance gate. Thousands of vibrant tulips, this year in hues of purple, pink, white, and orange, will follow quickly behind the daffodils. Azaleas, rhododendron, roses, and other colorful annuals and perennials will erupt across the Estate throughout the remainder of the season. Orchids will be the center of attention between March 20 and April 12, when visitors will be invited to enter the glass-domed Winter Garden to take in the hundreds of brilliant orchids on display.

In addition to the array of beautiful flowers, Biltmore will be hosting the “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times” exhibition.  Forty-five costumes worn by the actors on Downton Abbey will be featured throughout the House. “Dressing Downton” will run through May 25.

Specials offered for spring include:

  • March 20 – May 21: youth tickets are half the price of adult tickets
  • Purchase your tickets at least a week in advance and receive $10 off
  • Mother’s Day, May 10: Bring your mom to Biltmore – she gets in FREE

Other special spring experiences:

  • “Orchid Talks” — held each weekday at 11am, estate gardening experts will be on hand to discuss Biltmore’s history with orchids, as well as provide more information about the plants displayed in the orchid room.
  • “Ask a Gardener” — visitors will have the chance to speak to the Estate’s plant experts in the Walled Garden.
  • Gardening and Floral Demonstrations — “Exquisite Orchids for Beginners” is offered each day at 1:00pm, followed by “Nurturing Treasured Houseplants” at 2:00pm.
  • Annual Easter Egg Hunt, Easter Sunday, April 5 — held on the front lawn for children ages 2-9. There will be three hunts, at 11:00am, 1:00pm, and 3:00pm, with registration beginning two hours before and closing fifteen minutes before each hunt. There will be a variety of entertainment to enjoy in addition to hunting Easter eggs,, such as music, storytelling, magic shows, games, crafts, and photos with the Easter Bunny.
  • Easter Sunday Brunch will be served at Deerpark and the Dining Room at Inn on Biltmore Estate.
  • Cedric’s English Sunday Brunch will be served at Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village each Sunday from 11:30am – 5:00pm through May 24.
  • Have a taste of the Limited Release Spring Seasonal Wine offered each day at the Biltmore Winery.

For more information, go to RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide.

Burly Beers and Barleywines Festival comes to Asheville March 28th

Sierra NevadaThe North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild (NCCBG) is partnering with Sierra Nevada Brewing near Asheville to present the first ever Burly Beers and Barleywines Festival to celebrate the bold, malt-forward beers common in the cooler months. They’ve invited more than 50 breweries from across the country to gather at Sierra Nevada’s brewery in Mills River (south of Asheville) on Saturday, March 28, to pour a selection of their heartiest beers that will include at least one of the following: Barleywine, Stout or Imperial Stout, Barrel-aged beer or Spiced beer. 

The beer festival will be held 12 Noon until 4 PM with plenty of rare beer, live music and food. Featured breweries at the festival include Allagash Brewing Company-Portland, ME; Ballast Point Ales and Spirits-San Diego, CA; Boulevard Brewing Company-St. Louis, MO; Calfkiller Brewing Co.-Sparta, TN; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery-Milton, DE; The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery-Farmville, NC; Epic Brewing Company-Denver, CO; The Florida Brewing Company-Cape Canaveral, FL; Flying Dog Brewery-Frederick, MD; Fullsteam Brewery-Durham, NC; Great Divide Brewing Company-Denver, CO; Highland Brewing Company-Asheville, NC; New Belgium Brewing Company-Fort Collins, CO/Asheville, NC; North Coast Brewing Company-Fort Bragg, CA; Oskar Blues Brewing Company-Longmont, CA/Brevard, NC;  Red Brick Brewing Company-Atlanta, GA;  Ska Brewing Company-Durango, CO;  Sweetwater Brewing Company-Atlanta, GA; Thomas Creek Brewery-Greenville, NC; Wicked Weed Brewing-Asheville, NC; Wild Heaven Craft Beers-Decatur, GA; Wrecking Ball Brewpub-Atlanta, GA.

Festival tickets ($65 general admission. $30 designated driver) on sale now include a commemorative tasting glass, unlimited tasting pours, live music and food provided by the Sierra Nevada Taproom and Restaurant. All ticket proceeds benefit the NCCBG, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote the interests of the craft breweries of North Carolina and to promote North Carolina craft beer. 

“You can always cut the chill of winter with a big beer, and the options from American craft brewers are endless,” said Brian Grossman, second-generation brewer and co-manager of Sierra Nevada’s Mills River brewery. “Here in North Carolina, winters are a little longer and a little colder than we were used to in California, so we’re breaking out the Barleywines to celebrate that. We’re excited to see what our brewing friends bring for beer fans—what new twists they’ll use to give their brawny releases an extra edge.”

The North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild is a not-for-profit member organization whose mission is to advance the interests of the craft breweries of North Carolina and to promote North Carolina craft beer. North Carolina boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the American South, with more than 125 breweries and brewpubs. According to Margo Knight Metzger, executive director of NCCBG, “It’s going to be a stellar kickoff to NC Beer Month in April which celebrates our state’s burgeoning craft beer industry with special events and unique brews.”

Founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is one of America’s premier craft breweries, highly regarded for using only the finest quality ingredients. The pioneering spirit that launched Sierra Nevada now spans both coasts with breweries in Chico, California and Mills River, North Carolina at 100 Sierra Nevada Way.

Read more about Asheville Beer & Craft Breweries.

Valentine’s Weekend Events & Things to Do in Asheville

Winter Hike

It’s even more romantic in Asheville for Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015! Here are some of our favorite events:

Dressing Downton at Biltmore House
February 5-May 25, 2015: This new exhibition inside the Biltmore House features 40 costumes from the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey.” The clothing will be showcased in rooms in groupings inspired by the fictional show and by real life at Biltmore, the grand Vanderbilt estate of the same era. Including with Biltmore admission. See our Dressing Downton Guide.

Valentine’s Star Gazing & Tour
February 13, 2015: Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) special Valentine’s star gazing event includes a tour of the campus and PARI Exhibit Gallery and observing session. Begins at 7 PM. Reservations are required. $20 per adult, $15 for seniors/military.

Valentine’s Day Pottery For Couples
February 13, 2015: Odyssey ClayWorks is hosting a one night pottery class, 7-9 PM, in the River Arts District. Sip a glass of wine and nibble on chocolates while you and your partner explore the sensual aspects of clay. You can dig your hands in the clay, or work on a piece together. They’ll even help you re-enact the scene from Ghost! They will glaze and fire the work for you to remember the night. No experience necessary. $85/couple.

Valentine’s Day Drag Queen Bingo
February 13 & 14, 2015: This is not your grandma’s bingo. Back by popular demand, join Brother Wolf Animal Rescue for eight zany bingo games with prizes, refreshments, raffle items, and fantastic entertainment. Happy hour begins at 6 PM and games run 7-9 PM. Admission $25/person.  All proceeds benefit homeless pets.

Valentine’s Dinner Show Revue ‘Passion, Temptation and Tango’
February 14, 2015: An unforgettable date night at Lex 18 downtown as you travel to 1920s Argentina. The romantic restaurant, lit by candle light and fireplaces, will feature a Buenos Aires inspired four-course dinner, wine, craft cocktail, live tango band and passionate tango dance revue. $90/person.

Aphrodisiac-Themed Tasting Dinner
February 14, 2015: Chef John Fleer at Rhubarb restaurant in downtown Asheville has crafted a four-course, romantic dinner menu sure to impress that special someone. Choose one menu item from several options over the delicious four courses, featuring dishes like candied shallot crusted sea scallop, warm spice breast of quail and chocolate velvet sorbet. Reservations can be made beginning at 5:30 p.m. by calling 828.785.1503.

Mardi Gras Parade
February 15, 2015: Asheville’s Mardi Gras Parade is presented by the Mystic Mountain Krewe, an all-volunteer community based organization made up of New Orleans ex-pats, and aficionados of that culture! It’s fun for all ages.

February 15, 2015: Keep warm and run with the one you love! The WEDLOCK 5K™ is a competitive race that provides a unique running event to break from the typical dinner and a movie couple experience. “We Run for Love” is their motto. It’s designed to inspire, encourage, and motivate marriages and couples to have fun, work as a team, trust each other, and communicate with one another. Winners cross the Start/Finish line together symbolically renewing their commitment. Race benefits Helpmate Inc. of Asheville, provider of crisis-level services to victims of domestic violence. Takes place at Antler Hill Village & Winery at Biltmore Estate. The 3.1 mile race starts at 8 AM. Participants can register as a couple or team of two now until February 14, 2015 at http://www.active.com. Participants do not have to be married to run.

A Chorus Line
February 13-March 1, 2015: See the musical that redefined a genre at Asheville Community Theatre. This brilliantly complex fusion of dance, song and compellingly authentic drama runs Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM.

Read about these and other events and things to do (like hiking and waterfalls) in February and March in Asheville at www.romanticasheville.com/winter_in_asheville.htm.

Also see Valentine’s Weekend packages at bed and breakfasts, cabins and hotels.

Asheville Top 20 Things to Do in 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway NCAccording to the two million readers of RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide during 2014, here are the Top 20 Things to Do and See during romantic getaways and family vacations to Asheville and the western North Carolina mountains as you plan for 2015:

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway: Unwind on “America’s Favorite Drive” and escape from your busy lives. Slow down to enjoy a leisurely drive with many scenic overlooks and attractions along the way. Hike, picnic, camp and meander without a schedule to keep!
  2. Waterfalls: Find cascades of all sizes from a never-ending list in the “land of the waterfalls.” Of the hundreds of waterfalls near Asheville, most are within state and federal parks with no admission fee. See our Top 60 waterfalls with guides for each.
  3. Hiking: Take a hike to fully appreciate the outdoor splendor. There’s a trail for all fitness levels, ranging from multi-day treks on the Appalachian Trail to short strolls in Nantahala National Forest. See our Top 60 hikes with detailed directions.
  4. Fall Color: Hunting autumn colors is definitely the favorite time of year for many visitors. With a leaf season that lasts 4-5 weeks, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy.
  5. Biltmore: Exploring America’s largest castle and most-visited winery, along with grand gardens, is a fairytale outing for sure. It’s the perfect spot to experience the “Downton Abbey” lifestyle, especially with the Dressing Downton costume exhibit that runs February 5 through May 25!
  6. Events: Attend a street festival, concert, play, art tour and other events. Check out our seasonal calendars for our favorites. Most are free.
  7. Downtown Asheville: Browse 200+ local stores, boutiques and art galleries, while enjoying the street performers, drum circle, and plenty of local food and brews. And don’t forget the many charming small towns nearby.
  8. Accommodations: Stay in an elegant bed and breakfast, hip hotel or secluded log cabin, providing the perfect romantic getaway with options for all tastes and budgets.
  9. Restaurants: Tasting your way through our booming culinary scene will keep you busy for weeks with many farm-to-table restaurants with local food and world-class chefs. See our Foodie Favorites guide to get your started.
  10. Sliding Rock: Gliding down this natural waterslide in Pisgah National Forest has been the favorite summer pastime for generations.
  11. DuPont State Forest: Hike, bike or ride a horse to beautiful waterfalls and mountaintops with panoramic views.
  12. Beer: Sample the local brews at dozens of craft breweries in Asheville and western North Carolina. Tour the new Sierra Nevada Brewery.
  13. Mt Mitchell: Drive to the top of the highest mountain in the eastern United States. See the views from the observation deck and walk through Alpine forests.
  14. Great Smoky Mountains: Discover this International Biosphere Reserve, home to rugged mountains, historic buildings, trails and 100,000 different types of plants and animals.
  15. Weddings: Get married and bring your friends and family for a memorable vacation. Destination weddings are booming in Asheville, and we have some amazing venues.
  16. Zip Lines & Whitewater Rafting: Fly through the trees in the morning and raft down river rapids in the afternoon.
  17. Chimney Rock Park: Ride the elevator through the famous rock formation to the top for spectacular views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Plus, hike to a 400-foot waterfall.
  18. Art: Get up close to artists and their work. Hundreds of galleries and artist studios feature many art festivals, shows and tours. Take a hands-on class in the River Arts District.
  19. Spa: Pamper yourself with a soak in natural hot springs or a massage in a tranquil setting.
  20. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad: All aboard for a scenic train excursion in the Smokies. Their Polar Express train during the Christmas season is their most popular ride.

For more information on all of these things to do, go to the 650-page online Asheville travel guide at www.RomanticAsheville.com.

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 RomanticAsheville.com 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 www.romanticasheville.com/holidays.htm.

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 www.romanticasheville.com/biltmorechristmas.htm.

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: www.romanticasheville.com/biltmore_christmas_photo_tour.htm. And see hotel packages!