Before my partner Shai and I decided to live in Asheville for 6 weeks, we had been there once before. It had been on both of our US bucket lists for a long time, so we spent a long, rainy weekend in March of this year traipsing all around the area, trying as many beers and hiking trails as we could fit in. When we left at the end of that weekend we were both in agreement: we needed more time in Asheville. So, when we decided to travel around the US full-time, Asheville seemed like the most logical place to start. It wasn’t completely new to us, so we had some idea what we would be getting into, but it still was new enough to be exciting. We decided that 6 weeks, the longest we planned to stay ANYWHERE during our travels, was the appropriate amount of time for this stop. After all, would we ever really get tired of mountains and beer?
The answer to that question is still a resounding no, though we did get a little tired of Asheville - after 6 weeks in the city, we felt like we had seen it all. Don't get me wrong, we will likely still head back to Asheville for a long weekend or two for repeats of our favorites, but we will not be moving there anytime soon.
Asheville was also a test of the whole full-time travel trip idea. We knew that going from our old home (left) to traipsing around the country in our little SUV (right) would be a huge change, but would we be able to handle it? Did we pack everything we would need? Would we still like each other when we were our only friends? Would the dogs be terrified of moving?
Luckily, this whole full-time travel thing did actually work out for us! See below to learn about our experience at our first stop, Asheville, and get some help potentially planning your own trip!
To Do in Asheville
HIKE. It doesn’t matter what trail, just get out and hike. The Asheville area has some of the most beautiful hiking that I have done in the US. Wildflowers, cliffs, 360 vistas, dense forest… and that is just one hike.
My favorites were:
Looking Glass Rock (45 minutes outside of Ashville, 6.5 miles roundtrip, strenuous) – 180-degree views
The Pinnacle (22 minutes outside of Asheville, 7 miles round-trip, strenuous) – 180-degree views of Sylva and surrounding valley
Mt. LeComte & Alum Cave (1 hour and 45 minutes outside of Asheville, 11 miles round-trip, strenuous) – crowded trail to the 3rd highest peak in the Smokies, with interesting geological features and stunning views
DuPont State Forest Triple Falls Loop (50 minutes outside of Asheville, 3.1-mile round-trip loop, easy) – Despite the name, you will actually see five waterfalls on this hike down the Little River
Huckleberry Knob (2 hours outside of Asheville, 2.5 miles round-trip, easy) – If you have ever wanted to be in The Sound of Music, this is the hike for you! We spontaneously started singing as we crested the hill, and it was magical (and ridiculous, you don’t want to hear us sing).
And my ABSOLUTE favorites, Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob (1 hour outside of Asheville, 1-10 miles (we did about 3 miles each), moderate) – These trails share a parking lot, so you can do both at once! 360-degree unobstructed views across bald mountaintops, and fields full of wildflowers.
EAT. The food in Asheville was awesome. They have a bit of everything, southern comfort food, applachian homestyle cuisine, creative fusion restaurants, and everything in-between. Romantic Asheville has really good suggestions for not only food but also drink and activities for all travelers, not just couples (despite the name), but our favorites were:
Vortex Doughnuts – You have a weirdly large amount of doughnut shops to select from in Asheville, but you can’t go wrong with Vortex. It is right in South Slope, near a TON of breweries (like Catawba!), so makes a great snack in the middle of a brewery crawl.
Pack’s Tavern – This spot is great if you want some tasty bar food like fried green tomatoes or nachos.
Biscuit Head – Head to the location on Hendersonville Rd to avoid some of the crowds, but definitely make time to stop here for a breakfast while you are in town. I opted for the plain biscuit and some sides each time we went so I could load up on toppings at the butter and jam bar (!), but Shai tried some of their specialties like the fried chicken biscuit and said that was a solid option as well.
Smoky Park Supper Club – With an ever-changing menu and a spot right on the French Broad, this spot is great for a more upscale but still affordable meal.
DRINK. Asheville is known for its beer, and for good reason. In order to best help you plan a trip to Asheville, we drank our way through the area's best breweries and bars. Check out my recommendations below.
Omni Grove Park Inn – Grab a drink on the sunset deck before heading back to town for dinner. The view on their patio is definitely worth the high cost of a drink, but the food is not.
Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards – TABLE-SERVICE WINE TASTINGS. I don’t know if you can tell, but I got super excited about this. Normally, wineries only serve their tastings at the bar, and since dogs often aren’t allowed inside,we usually have to settle for getting glasses or bottles of whatever sounds the best (tragic, I know). But not at Saint Paul! They will let you taste any of their wines, or choose from a couple different set tasting menus, and will bring the wines out to you at your table, so you and your pups can enjoy a relaxing afternoon of wine tasting and live music next to rose bushes and a gorgeous vineyard.
Bywater – If you eat at Smoky Park Supper Club, this is right down the road, so an awesome spot to round out your evening. If you eat somewhere else, this is still worth a trip. It is a ‘private club’, so you have to pay a $5 membership, but that membership lasts you a year and gets you access to delicious beers, awesome live music, a great food truck, and an expansive property with a fire pit and lots of different seating areas. This is literally one of my favorite bars of all time.
Catawba – I will only include one brewery on this list because it was by far my favorite (though I get away with adding my second favorite below because it is SUPER dog-friendly). Catawba makes beers that are to die for. Their selection of seasonals is so unique and delicious, and I have literally not had a bad beer there, and I tried almost all of them. If you are there around March, you have to check out their Peanut Butter Jelly selections – I LOVED all of them except for the Rhubarb, which was just okay. In the fall they have delicious pumpkin beers, and they also have a pretty tasty Tripel. My favorite beer of theirs has to be the Evening Joe, and it actually replaced the Westvleteren Tripel as my favorite beer of all time, and that beer had held that spot for years, so this is a BIG. DEAL.
EXPLORE. Romantic Asheville has lots of great activity options, so you should check them out! Some of our favorites (aside from the ones listed elsewhere):
If you are in town in the summer, make sure to visit the awesome Montford Park Players for a very fun, donation-based play at their outdoor theater.
If you want to get some exercise outside of all of the hikes that you will be doing, hit up one of Climbmax’s rock climbing gyms (we preferred the one in West Asheville) for some great indoor climbing.
Nearby towns like Banner Elk and Lake Lure (the location for the movie Dirty Dancing) make for great day trips
Wander around the two different sections of the River Arts District, and check out cool local galleries before heading to Wedge Brewing for a flight of beer.
Sliding Rock natural rockslide, swimming in Lake Santeetlah, Tubing at Deep Creek, and cliff jumping at Skinny Dip Falls are all worth a trip out of town if you are looking for outdoor activities that aren’t hiking.
To Skip in Asheville
DON’T BE A TOURIST. The Biltmore was cool, but if you are heading to Asheville for just a weekend I would skip it and the other popular tourist spots, even though literally everyone you meet will ask if you have gone there yet. Focus on eating, drinking, and hiking your way across the less-traveled areas of Asheville, and you will have a much better time. My least favorite hike was one of the most recommended and traveled – it was way too crowded for us to enjoy.
DON’T STAY TOO LONG. Asheville is wonderful, but I think it is better in smaller bites. When you stay too long, you start to notice things like a large amount of homeless people on the streets (where are your social services, Asheville?), and Asheville loses a bit of its appeal. I would recommend visiting for 1 week or less.
Asheville Dog-Friendly Spots
Explore Asheville and Asheville Blog both have pretty comprehensive lists to help you plan travel with dogs in Asheville, so I won’t recreate the wheel here. We used their resources to plan our own trip, so I know that they do the job. I do want to just let you know some of the tips and tricks that we learned, and the spots that we liked the best.
HIKING TRAILS. Almost all trails were dog friendly, though they do require you to keep your pup on a leash. You can get away with being off-leash at the less popular trails, but watch out for bears! Check out Asheville Trails for recommendations on all hiking trails, including specific info on which are dog friendly. Our pups LOVE hiking, but they especially loved being the only ones on the trail at Sam Knob.
BREWERIES. If a brewery serves food, you can likely only take your pooch to the patio. Avoid going to Sierra Nevada with your dog, because their patio only serves a small portion of the menu, and not the best items. Zillicoah is by far the most dog-friendly brewery we went to, allowing dogs throughout the lawn and on the covered patio, they just can’t go into the brewing area. Catawba also allows dogs, but it gets a little crowded so can be stressful for the dogs and their humans if you are there at night or on a weekend. Trips with Pets also has a pretty good list of what breweries allow dogs, so check them out, but still make sure to call the brewery in advance in case rules have changed.
BARS. Same rules apply for bars and restaurants as for breweries. If they serve food, pups are not allowed inside. Check Explore Asheville and Asheville Blog for great lists of where you can take your dogs, but if you are traveling with dogs you HAVE to check out Bywater. Plan to spend a few hours here, because you and your pups won’t want to leave. If you want wine, head a bit out of town to Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, and they will welcome you and your pups. The one exception that I found to the “no dogs allowed inside” rule was Battery Park Book Exchange, and it is definitely worth a trip with our without your dogs. You can browse lots of old and one-of-a-kind books before grabbing a glass of champagne and a cheese plate, and sitting down for some board games or live music.
RESTAURANTS. White Duck and HomeGrown both gave our dogs lots of love, but most restaurants will also allow your dogs on their patios, if they have one. Check Explore Asheville and Asheville Blog for some good spots, and make sure to call in advance!
I wasn't joking when I said this would be its own section of my post. We made sure to try all the top-rated spots in the city just for you, so when I say that the winner, hands down, is White Labs, you can trust me. White Labs is a team of biochemists that are striving (and succeeding) in advancing the art of fermentation and beer brewing. While they provide a lot of services for scientists, home brewers, and other breweries, my favorite service is their Kitchen & Tap for people like me, who just want to consume their products. They make wood-fired pizzas with their home-created liquid yeast, resulting in a slight tangy crust that is perfectly chewy and slightly charred. They offer lots of fun toppings, but you can never go wrong with a simple Margherita.
That about wraps it up for our trip to Asheville. Stay tuned for our trip to Minneapolis next in the #fulltimetravel series!
Have questions about full-time travel, or want to plan your own trip to Asheville or somewhere else, and still not sure where to start? Schedule a free consultation to get all your questions answered!