Nestled up against the Appalachian Mountains, western North Carolina around Bryson City and Asheville will fuel your desire to get outside. This is a place where nature lovers spend a lifetime working, exploring, having families, and retiring in the shadows of the mountains. And if you talk to them, they’ll tell you they live in the most gorgeous place in the world. There are hundreds of destinations to explore, and now that the weather has warmed up, it’s time to grab your pack and head outside.
Nobody knows this region better than the staff at Nantahala Outdoor Center. With locations in Bryson City, NC; Gatlinburg, TN; and Asheville, NC, adventure is literally around every corner. The Asheville store is located right along the water, which is perfect as it’s primarily a rafting company. Since 1972, the store has employed 22 Olympians, and is now made up of a hearty group of individuals whose passions range from hiking and climbing to rafting, kayaking and everything in between.
If there is an awesome place to explore, the staff here will know it and help you get there. The store also carries great gear, including the newest packs like the game changing Osprey Poco for nature loving families with young children. If you need to carry your child on your back, there is no greater backpack than this one.
You can try it out it right away just outside the store where the Appalachian Trail (AT) bisects the property of Nantahala Outdoor Center. Whether you are looking to take on an easy day hike or are thru-hiking, the 95.7 miles of the AT in North Carolina is one of the most beautiful, and gives dedicated hikers the opportunity to traverse 6,000-foot peaks. There is no doubt that the AT is tough, but if you have the right gear and are dedicated to adventure and pushing your limits you will be sure to discover more about yourself and your connection to the historic wonderland of the Appalachian Mountains.
In addition to hiking, Nantahala Outdoor Center is also close to amazing mountain biking at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. With miles of trails for bikers of all levels, including children, everyone will find something fun and challenging. New riders will enjoy the smooth and relatively easy 1.75-mile Boyd Branch Loop, while those looking for something epic will be pushed along the 18-mile Left and Right Loop Tsali trails. With nearly 15 different trails to choose from you are guaranteed to fall in love with the ride and the beautiful views along the trails. If you love waterfalls, forests, and awesomeness, bring your bike and your Osprey Hydration pack here.
If this destination seem too intense, you can never go wrong with biking the three-mile path around Carrier Park in Asheville. This is the perfect kid-friendly introduction to riding bikes away from your neighborhood while still taking in gorgeous views and the French Broad River.
Outside of Asheville, weathered 6,000-foot mountains stand tall, giving your legs a workout and your eyes a smorgasbord of panoramic views. The most popular peak is Mount Mitchell, just a few miles east of town. The tallest peak east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell has up to its peak, including extremely short hikes for those unable to put on serious miles or elevation.
The best (read burliest) route up this mountain is from the Black Mountain Campground. You’ll weave your way through stands of old-growth timber and Red Spruce before reaching the jaw-dropping view from the top. This trail gains 3,689 feet in 5.7 miles (remember this is only one-way), and gives your quads and calves a great workout. It’s recommended that you carry plenty of water on this hike as you will get very thirsty working your way up the trail. Osprey makes great hydration packs that would be perfect for this steep haul.
If this seems intense, it is, but don’t let it deter you and your family from exploring the peak. There are plenty of family-friendly routes where you can easily nestle your child into a kid carrier and make the summit.
Another popular and easier family-friendly hike is the Wesser Bald Fire Tower. About two hours west of Asheville, this round trip hike is just 2.8 miles. It is perfect for families of all ages, as well as those looking for stunning views and a romantic sunset. Standing 4,627 feet above sea level, the fire lookout is a historic structure on the Appalachian Trail that should be visited as often as possible. Whether you are single and looking for a spot to ponder life, in a relationship and looking for somewhere fun to hike with your significant other, or a new family hoping to get your child to fall in love with the great outdoors, this trail has you covered.
For dozens of awesome destinations for hiking, biking, and climbing in Western Carolina, check out the Western North Carolina website.