Hike 100 Miles in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains Hiking Trail

Celebrate the National Park Service Centennial near Asheville and “Hike 100” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park Superintendent Cassius Cash has committed to hike 100 miles in the Smokies during 2016 and is challenging the public to do the same.

To complete the Hike 100 challenge, you must hike any 100 miles of maintained trail within the park boundaries between January 1 and December 6. The miles can include everything from the front country nature trails to the extensive backcountry network of trails. See our favorite Smoky Mountains Hikes for the North Carolina side.

The 100-mile goal is part of the “Smokies Centennial Challenge-Hike 100” program. This program aims to inspire all potential hikers to experience and gain a new appreciation and stewardship for their national park. Participants who reach the 100-mile goal will earn a commemorative “Smokies Centennial Challenge – Hike 100” pin and be invited to a park celebration hosted by Superintendent Cash.

As part of the Hike 100 program, the park is hosting hikes for several regional youth organizations throughout the year. These opportunities will provide a chance for groups, who otherwise face barriers to travel due lack of transportation or funding restraints, a chance to explore the Smokies. These groups will have the added benefit of hiking alongside Superintendent Cash, as well as experienced hikers from the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and Carolina Mountain Club.

The Superintendent is also providing a unique opportunity for the general public to hike alongside him on his way to reaching the 100-mile goal through a series of four hikes open to the public. Two front country hikes in August and December will be completely open to the public, while two backcountry hikes in June and October will be limited to 20 people each.

Read more about special events near Asheville to celebration the National Park Service Centennial during 2016.


Christmas in Asheville

Forest City NC Lights

Find much to do in Asheville and the mountains of western North Carolina during Christmas Weekend. Savor holiday buffets in many great restaurants, tour the Biltmore House or see the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum. There are plenty of options on Christmas Day – with even more during the weekend.

If you plan to dine or tour on Christmas Day, make your reservations in advance. Find many things to do with the family, including getting outdoors for a hike or to find a waterfall. Take a zany tour with LaZoom, go shopping downtown or Asheville Outlets, and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. Explore one of our favorite NC Mountain Christmas Towns decked out for the holidays and filled with local stores, breweries and galleries (like Forest City in the photo at top). Or relax with a massage in a spa or with a local beer at a craft brewery.

See our full list of restaurants open Christmas Day and many things to do.

Merry Christmas to all! Enjoy your time in Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains with your family and friends.


Thanksgiving Weekend Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Asheville NC invites visitors to join them for ranger-led hikes across the park on Friday, November 27, 2015. Hikes will be offered in the Cataloochee, Elkmont, and Cades Cove areas of the park providing an opportunity for people of all ages to #OptOutside and enjoy the park.

Rangers, park volunteers, and Friends of the Smokies staff will help visitors discover special cultural and natural resources along the hikes. Visitors may also choose to hike on their own and can come to any of the park’s visitor centers throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to receive information about hiking options including several short nature trails that are perfect for children.

The park has over 800 miles of trails to explore throughout the year with every season offering its own special rewards. During late fall and winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas revealing stone walls, chimneys, and foundations. These reminders of past communities allow hikers to discover a glimpse of history along park trails.

Friday, November 27 at 10:00 a.m. – Hike to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove
Join park staff for a 5-mile, roundtrip hike to one of the largest waterfalls in the park. The hike is rated moderate with several steep, rocky sections. Expect 4 hours total for the hike. Participants will learn about the parks 2,900 miles of streams, wildlife that depend on the stream, and the significance of Abrams Creek to the diversity of the park. Meet at the Abrams Falls trailhead, halfway around the Cades Cove Loop Road at 10:00 a.m. The program is subject to cancellation if the weather is bad. For more information, call Cades Cove at 865-448-4104.

Friday, November 27 at 10:00 a.m.  – Little Cataloochee Trail near Cataloochee
The 5-mile, roundtrip hike on the Little Cataloochee Trail is rated moderate but does have several steep sections. The trail follows an old road that provided access between Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee in the past. Stops on the hike include the Hannah cabin, the Little Cataloochee Church and cemetery, and the Cook cabin as well several former homesites. Read more about Cataloochee Valley and the elk.

The ranger leading the hike will have historic photos and maps of the area to share with participants.  The guided portion of the hike will end after 2.5 miles at the restored Cook family cabin. Participants can return to their cars at their own pace or further explore the area. Meet at the parking area on the left just after entering Cataloochee Valley. From there, participants will follow the ranger and drive 5 miles to the Little Cataloochee trailhead.  The best route into Cataloochee is Cove Creek Road which is accessible from Hwy. 276 near its intersection with Interstate 40. Participants driving to the area on I-40 should use Exit 20 (Hwy. 276 exit) and immediately turn right on to Cove Creek Road. The drive from Hwy. 276 into Cataloochee is 10 miles. Cove Creek Road is a winding, two-lane road and includes a four-mile section that is unpaved. For more information, call the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at 828-497-1904.

Friday, November 27 at 9:00 a.m.  – Cucumber Gap near Elkmont
This easy, 4.8-mile roundtrip hike follows the river through a beautiful, cove hardwood forest. Participants will learn about the rich history of the area including the logging operations of the Little River Lumber Company. Expect 3-4 hours total for the hike. One river crossing may be required. Meet at the Little River trailhead at 9:00 a.m., 7 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center in Elkmont. For more information, call Sugarlands Visitor Center at 865-436-1291.

Weather in the Smoky Mountains can be unpredictable, especially in the fall. Rangers recommend participants dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and bring rain gear. Participants should also bring a bag lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.

There are plenty of hiking trails for you to explore in the Smokies. See our Great Smoky Mountains Guide for North Carolina.

Christmas at Biltmore House 2015

Biltmore House Christmas

The biggest event of the year in Asheville has begun! Christmas at Biltmore runs through January 10, 2016. Biltmore’s design team has woven this year’s theme – “A Gilded Age Christmas” – throughout every element created for the season across the estate, incorporating grand and elegant details that are rooted in authentic Vanderbilt Christmas stories.

The towering 35-foot Christmas tree in the Banquet Hall is a nod to a tradition started by George Vanderbilt on Christmas Eve in 1895 when he opened his 250-room home to friends and family for the first time. As tradition dictates, the tree is decorated with 500 ornaments and wrapped packages tucked into its branches.

During the magical Candlelight Christmas Evenings, thousands of ornaments and over-the-top wreaths and garlands sparkle with the reflections of candlelight and cozy fires in the home’s fireplaces. Despite the home’s enormous size, sounds of choirs and musicians create an intimate atmosphere. Outside, a 55-foot Norway spruce tree, lit by 45,000 tiny white lights and surrounded by hundreds of hand-lit luminaries, welcomes guests for evening tours.

See photos of this year’s Christmas decorations inside Biltmore House.

Christmas at Biltmore 2015 Events

  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, daily: Christmas at Biltmore daytime experience
  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 2: Candlelight Christmas Evenings
  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, daily: A Gardener’s Place Holiday Seminars. “Decorate with Christmas Wreaths” is offered at noon and “Create Holiday Tablescapes” is offered at 1 p.m.
  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, daily: The Conservatory’s annual poinsettia and tropical plant display.
  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, daily: Complimentary wine tasting at the Winery. The “Red Wine and Chocolate” seminar is offered, as well as the “Biltmore Bubbles” tour. Additional price and reservations required.
  • Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, evenings: Live music in Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village.
  • Nov. 7 through Dec. 20, Saturdays and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., and on Friday, Nov. 27: Visits with Santa in Antler Hill Village.
  • Nov. 7 through Jan. 10, Saturdays and Sundays, 3 p.m., and on Friday, Nov. 27: Roving Holiday Carolers in Antler Hill Village.
  • Dec. 17, 18 and 19: Inn on Biltmore Estate’s Annual Gingerbread House Tea. Guests assemble gingerbread homes with the help of a pastry chef while enjoying afternoon tea. Additional price and reservations required.
  • Ongoing: Festive holiday meals prepared by award-winning chefs will be served in all of the estate’s restaurants.

Guests looking to extend their holiday stay at Biltmore will have several options. For a retreat with personalized service, the Inn on Biltmore Estate offers four-star accommodations with sweeping views in a private hilltop setting. Special holiday packages starting with Thanksgiving will be available during Christmas at Biltmore.

Biltmore’s newest lodging offering, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, opens December 1, 2015. Designed for the guest looking for a casual overnight stay, the hotel is located in Antler Hill Village. It is steps away from shopping, dining, the Winery, live music and outdoor activities. Special holiday packages will be available during Christmas at Biltmore.

See the complete Christmas at Biltmore Guide that includes ticket special offers, along with Asheville vacation packages.

Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center

Saturday Night Lights at Tryon International Equestrian Center

After a fantastic first year of grand prix competition, Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is concluding its fall season and “Saturday Night Lights” event series with two last show jumping competitions on Saturday, October 17 and 24, 2015. It’s an easy 48-mile drive from Asheville, and there’s free admission, entertainment and parking!

Event gates open at 5 PM and the grand prix begins at 7 PM. Kid’s activities include face painting, street performers and carousel rides. There are a variety of food options, ranging from carts with carnival favorites to restaurants that are open year round. Roger’s Diner, Legends Grille and Blue Ginger Sushi will remain open following the final grand prix giving locals and visitors ongoing ways to enjoy the equestrian center in the off season.

Each “Saturday Night Lights” evening culminates with a sponsored grand prix competition held under the stadium lights in the George Morris International Arena, with riders competing for $125,000+ of prize money.

Tryon Resort is one of the world’s premier equestrian destinations, and with onsite shopping, dining, entertainment and plans for more. This new facility opened in June 2014 with sanctioned horse shows and initial supporting amenities including 10 riding arenas, 850 permanent stalls, a covered riding facility and fitness center. Future expansion includes a sports complex, two hotels, sporting clay course, and an 18-hole golf course plus a full calendar of equestrian competitions and activities.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center is located at 4066 Pea Ridge Road, Mill Spring, NC (off Exit 170 on US Highway 74. From Asheville, take I-26 E / US 74 E, to exit 67, then US 74 E to Columbus/Rutherfordton. Drive 8 miles to exit 170.

Read more on RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide.

Asheville, NC

Asheville, NC

Looking for free things to do in Asheville, NC? With a 5,000-foot elevation change, our area of the lush Blue Ridge Mountains has one of the longest-running fall color displays in the country. You don’t have to spend a bundle to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Here are ten vacation getaway ideas for all of us on a tight budget:

  1. Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the top scenic drives in the country with breathtaking views from overlooks, walking trails, and great spots for picnics.
  1. Take a hike with trails for all fitness levels, from short walks in the woods to strenuous hikes up to mountain peaks. Find hundreds of trails along the Parkway, and in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.
  1. Experience Downtown Asheville with hundreds of locally-owned boutiques and art galleries. Enjoy street entertainers, great people watching and the Friday night Drum Circle.
  1. Drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Rockies, and enjoy panoramic views from the observation deck. Take a jacket! It’s always 15-20 degrees cooler up top.
  1. Discover lots of art since this is one of the top arts destinations in the country. Galleries abound in downtown Asheville and in Biltmore Village, along with artist studios in the River Arts District. The Folk Art Center has galleries and daily craft demonstrations.
  1. Find waterfalls in free state and federal parks. At Dupont State Forest, take a short hike to see three waterfalls. Other waterfalls include Looking Glass Falls, Rainbow Falls and Linville Falls. We have guides to our 60 favorites.
  1. Watch elk graze a short distance away from your car in the Cataloochee Valley section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are two additional entrances to the park within 50 miles of Asheville with many free historic sites, hiking trails and more.
  1. Tour the Estes-Winn Antique Automobile Museum with collection of 20 classics, just a few miles from downtown.
  1. Explore architecture, art and history on downtown Asheville’s Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile walking tour.
  1. Enjoy the fall foliage from your bicycle on many mountain bike trails in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

For more details on these and the fall foliage forecast and reports, go to our 700-page free online Asheville NC travel guide.

20 Must See Waterfalls near Asheville NC

Graveyard Fields

The Asheville area of the North Carolina mountains is home to hundreds of waterfalls, many of which are easily accessible and offer beautiful sights year-round. Enjoy cascades framed by colorful foliage in the fall, wade in cool base pools during spring and summer months, and drink in unobstructed views of often-hidden areas of the falls in the winter.

The online travel vacation guide RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide recommends 20 waterfalls to enjoy in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains:

High Falls & Triple Falls
A three-mile easy hike takes you to the base of three waterfalls in DuPont State Forest. High Falls is a powerful 150-foot drop and Triple Falls was a film location for The Hunger Games. Nearby is Hooker Falls.

Looking Glass Falls
You don’t have to get out of your car to see this 60-foot waterfall, located on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway between Brevard and Blue Ridge Parkway.

Linville Falls
The most photographed waterfall in North Carolina is on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take a moderate 1.6-mile hike with four overlooks to enjoy a variety of views of the falls and Linville Gorge.

Dry Falls
Located near Highlands, this 75-foot waterfall allows the rare treat of walking safely behind it. Nearby, drive behind Bridal Veil Falls.

Sliding Rock
In the summer months, cool off as you slide down this 60-foot cascade in the Pisgah National Forest, near Looking Glass Falls. During cooler weather, enjoy the setting from viewing decks.

Graveyard Fields
The highland meadow on the Blue Ridge Parkway features trails to two waterfalls. Second Falls is just 1/3 of a mile from the parking area.

Rainbow Falls
This 150-foot waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest is accessed by a hiking trail in Gorges State Park. Slide and swim at nearby Turtleback Falls.

Crabtree Falls
This beautiful 70-foot waterfall, near Linville Falls, is along a 2.5-mile loop woodland hiking trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Upper Whitewater Falls
The upper section of the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi plunges 411 feet and is easily viewed via a short paved trail.

Skinny Dip Falls
This refreshing swimming hole on the Blue Ridge Parkway has several cascades, perfect for a hot summer day dip. And it’s a beautiful setting to enjoy any time of the year.

Pearson’s Falls
This 90-foot waterfall in a beautiful glen is located between Saluda and Tryon. It’s a must stop if you are driving on I-26 to/from South Carolina.

Soco Falls
This spectacular twin waterfall is easy to miss. Located along busy Highway 19 between Maggie Valley and Cherokee, there are no signs for the small parking area. A short walk takes you to an observation deck.

Deep Creek Waterfalls
See three waterfalls (Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls and Juney Whank Falls) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a beautiful hike near Bryson City.

Mingo Falls
Located near Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains, this 200-foot waterfall is a short walk from the parking area.

Hickory Nut Falls
This 404-foot waterfall in Chimney Rock Park was featured in the movie The Last of the Mohicans. Take the easy hiking trail to its base.

Catawba Falls
Just three miles from I-40 near Old Fort, hike 1.5 miles to the lower falls, a 100-foot cascade with best views in the winter since leaves hide the top of the falls.

To find even more in the North Carolina mountains, see the Top 60 Waterfalls near Asheville.