I get asked a lot from friends visiting Asheville what recommendations I have for hiking trails in the area. To be honest, the suggestions have evolved over time, partly because my knowledge of the area has grown, and partly because Asheville’s gotten a lot (LOT!) more popular in the last 15 years, especially during and after COVID.

One thing I always recommend to people who are driving in and out of town is to hit trails along the way. That’s because it breaks up the drive but also because some of those hikes might be just far enough away from Asheville that they’re a bit less popular and crowded. A handful of those are…

  • The Appalachian Trail at Sam’s Gap on I-26 (30 minutes north of town)
  • Big Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on I-40 at the TN/NC state life (one hour west of town)
  • Big Glassy at Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina off I-26 (45 minutes south of town)
  • High Shoals in South Mountain State Park and Catawba Falls in Old Fort off I-40 (75 minutes or 35 minutes east of town, respectively)

They say the early bird catches the worm. And the early hiker gets the trail all to themselves. If you want to find parking on a weekend at Graveyard Fields, Catawba Falls, Rattlesnake Lodge, or Craggy Gardens, pretend you're a bird. But if there’s one thing Asheville’s known for besides it’s natural beauty, it’s our craft beer scene. If you’ve had a little too much fun the night before and need to sleep in- or are just excited about brunch- there are still great local hike options. You just need to shift your focus a bit. Here are some traditionally very popular hikes with their “kissing cousin”alternative…

  • Black Balsam, Tenant Mountain, and Ivestor Gap on the Art Loeb Trail (just off the Blue Ridge Parkway about an hour west of town) is one of the most beautiful and iconic stretches of trail on the entire east coast. It’s also one of the most popular and over-loved. If you want a great alternative that gives you epic views with a fraction of the crowds in the same general area, try the neighboring 6,000-foot mountain called Sam’s Knob. It’s a stiff climb but only a mile (one way) from the trailhead.
  • I mentioned Catawba Falls above. It’s a beautiful waterfall just minutes from I-40. The parking lot was significantly expanded several years ago, which is good news for finding a spot, but bad news because it seems like a lot of the spots get used on the weekends. My favorite alternative to Catawba Falls is High Shoals at South Mountain State Park near Morganton. It’s a little farther off the interstate and also farther from Asheville but the boardwalk around the falls is the most impressive I’ve ever seen, and the crowds are much, much smaller. Visiting South Mountain will also give you an excuse to hit the outstanding Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton when you’re done.
  • One of the most popular trails near Brevard, NC, 45 minutes southwest of Asheville is Looking Glass. It’s a stout climb to the summit but the views up toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and Black Balsam make it worthwhile. But the trail and the trailhead can get crowded. If you want a very similar hike without the cars and crowds, try Johns Rock instead. It’s right next door and when you’re up there by yourself you can wave at the hordes across the way at Looking Glass.

One more category of local day hikes I’ll give is the ones you can reach within a matter of minutes. Because something is better than nothing, right? If you’re short on time but long on adventure, access the Mountains to Sea Trail which can be reached in minutes from just about anywhere in town. Some of my favorite places to hop on are…

  • Lunch Rock (15-20 minutes east of downtown, on the Blue Ridge Parkway north of the Folk Art Center)
  • Rattlesnake Lodge (25 minutes northeast of downtown, driving up Town Mountain Road)
  • Where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the French Broad River (15 minutes southwest of downtown, head east for a mellow walk or west for a big, abrupt climb)
  • Or where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses Hendersonville Road (10-15 minutes south of downtown)

For more info or to book a day hike or backpacking trip with one of our amazing guides, visit our trip calendar or call 828 713 5451. Happy hiking and enjoy your time in the Asheville area!