Summertime in Florida and the living is
hot. We decided to head to the mountains of Western North
Carolina for a month of cooler temperatures and sightseeing,
something retired Floridians have been doing for years.
Chilly sunset on Pinnacle Peak -
Blue Ridge Parkway
It turned out to be a good choice this
year. We heard from
many of our Florida friends that the summer down south
was particularly hot and humid. On the other hand, the summer
was unusually cool and wet in North Carolina's mountains.
Once the decision was made to go north, the
question was how to keep busy in the Asheville, NC area for an
entire month. Queries went out to the
Asheville and Hendersonville tourist people (VCB) asking for
information and then the brochures started arriving.
After reading them, I realized we could ONLY skim
the surface in a month.
This article will highlight the area
surrounding Asheville. The City of Asheville is too large and
diverse to be included here.
It requires a separate article and we are already
planning our trip for next year to be able to concentrate solely
on this amazing city.
Western North Carolina
is famous for its mountains, cooler summertime temperatures and
a myriad of cultural and outdoor activities. The Asheville VCB
claims that Greater Asheville encompasses more than 2,000 miles
of wilderness trails for hikers, bikers and equestrian use. When
the western areas outside of metro Asheville are included, the
opportunities for adventure increase exponentially.
Hooker Falls - Dupont State Park,
South of Asheville is
everyone's favorite little city. This historic
city is meant to be walked which is easily done once your
car is parked.
Everything is centered on Main Street's seven blocks.
Starting with the Court House and Visitor's Center on the south
end, these jam packed blocks are the vibrant heart of the city.
Visitors can check for activities and
places of interest at the Visitor Center on Main Street. Parking
is free and if Main Street's parking spaces are full, a spot can
generally be found a short block or two away.
A plethora of restaurants, many with outside dining
areas, specialty retail shops, art galleries, and a historic
court house enliven both sides of the street.
A major highlight
on Hendersonville's Main Street, of which we were previously
unaware, is the Flat
Rock Playhouse Downtown.
The Flat Rock
Mainstage Theatre is a few miles south of Hendersonville in
of Flat Rock. This
theater has the honor of being the official
State Theatre of North
are first rate equity venues and the live performances at both
locations are every bit as good as anything you will see on
Flat Rock is a tiny crossroad village with
just a hand full of local restaurants. This is not a commercial
tourist hub. The
theater is the main attraction.
Across the street is the home of
Carl Sandburg the
famous American writer and poet and winner of three Pulitzer
Prizes. Open to the
public, his house is a collection of the memorabilia of his life
The Flat Rock Playhouse began in the 1950's
as a summer stock theatre.
I was told that in the early days of the theatre, Mr.
Sandburg could be seen playing his guitar on its stage.
Southwest of Asheville is the
City of Brevard in
Their Main Street is not as extensive as Hendersonville's
but it does have many restaurants, unique local craft shops and
historic sites. A
wonderful Visitor Center is located on Main Street and the city
boasts a world-class music venue in the guise of the
Author, Historic Hendersonville
Street Bear. A different one
on every corner.
We visited Brevard on a Sunday and
discovered most of the city shuts down for this day. Time your
Before departing the city, I did buy a
Transylvania County Bat
Decal for my car.
Brevard is one of the gateways to the
Pisgah National Forest
and the many public outdoor activities available. Nearby are the
famous Sliding Rock
waterfalls and almost endless hiking and nature trails.
Ridge Parkway, truly
a national treasure, runs all through the area.
The journey begins up in Virginia at Front Royal and
meanders south for almost 500 miles ending near Cherokee, NC.
The views are spectacular along its entire length.
In Fall the colors are absolutely breathtaking.
In Winter the views can be enjoyed without those pesky
leaves blocking it.
Slide Rock Recreation Area -
Pisgah National Forest
We set out to walk the famous
suspension bridge atop
Grandfather Mountain's 5,939 foot peak, but were
wind gusts, in excess of 70 MPH, the bridge was off-limits to
visitors. Perhaps we will make it on our next trip.
A couple of days later we did make
Pinnacle Mountain on
the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Scampering up to the visitor overlook on its peak, we
took in the 360 degree mountain views. While our friends back
home were locked up in their air conditioned homes, we were on a
mountain top simultaneously looking at a sunset and moon rise
while bundled up to ward off the chilly temperature.
A delightful day's outing for all is the
Great Smoky Mountains
Located in Bryson,
about an hour and one-half drive west of downtown Asheville,
this day long adventure is an exceptional experience. A round
trip in its comfortable historic cars takes 4 ½ hours.
Bryson, NC - All aboard!
Passengers have multiple choices of
accommodations and adventures.
There are open and closed coaches and the
Coach with a
moonshine bar is definitely unique. Strolling musicians play toe
tapping bluegrass music and a story teller entertains passengers
with stories of Appalachian history.
Opting for a one way ride through the
Nantahala Gorge, we
left the train after two hours and took a jeep ride on winding
back country dirt roads, used by moonshiners in the old days,
back to Bryson.
Most of the jeep ride was done in low gear while our
driver/guide offered a running narration of the countryside's
Optional combination trips on the GSMRR
allow passengers to hop off at the half- way point to enjoy
white-water kayaking, rafting, zip lining, the previously
mentioned jeep ride and other activities. After enjoying any of
these adventures, participants are transported back to their
vehicles in Bryson. The less adventurous can stay with the train
and see the scenery on the way back from the opposite direction.
The GSMRR programs change with the season.
Check their offerings for the time of the year you will
be in the area for their special events. This is a unique local
experience and highly recommended.
For model train enthusiasts, a visit to the
Smokey Mountain Train
historic train depot is a must.
This is one the largest private collections of Lionel
trains in the United States. The museum has rolling stock from
over 100 different railroads.
Owned by the same people who own the GSMRR,
the highlight of the museum is an impressive layout of life in
the Appalachian Mountains.
It features six active tracks on three levels with
operating steam engines, diesel engines, passenger and freight
piece of advice I will leave you with is that if you don't want
to stand out as a tourist, which is hard to do, try to pronounce
the name of the region not as you've been taught but as spoken
by locals. Local
Too soon our month was up and we headed
back to Florida.
Arriving home was like stepping into a combination blast furnace
and sauna. Our
thoughts were of where we would visit in Western North Carolina