Trendy Asheville, NC is known for its vibrant arts scene, complete with art galleries and an exciting culinary scene. But we were drawn to Asheville as a base for some amazing family friendly outdoor activities, in fact hiking is one of the best things to do near Asheville.
Here is how we spent 3 days in Asheville with our kids (aged 3 & 5):
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Day 1 – Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock State Park has a little bit of everything for a family that enjoys the outdoors. There’s plenty of hiking trails with varying lengths and difficulties, amazing viewpoints, a super high waterfall and even a live animal exhibit featuring the fauna which call the park home.
Once you buy your ticket, you park your car and either hike to the top or wait for the shuttle bus. We always prefer to walk, so instead of taking the bus, we hiked up the Four Seasons Trail.
This moderate trail winds through a beautiful deciduous forest on its way up the mountain. The trail is about 1.4 miles (2.3km) long and has a gradual uphill slope. There are a few spots where the trail becomes stairs and it becomes a bit of a workout. This is especially true at the end of the trail as it ends in one long uphill staircase.
There was a park pamphlet at the trailhead with a scavenger hunt in it, so our daughter had fun trying to find all the items in it. This kept her interested and moving forward on the Four Seasons Trail, even though she was a little tired from a poor night’s sleep.
The Four Seasons Trail ends when it meets up with the moderately uphill Hickory Nut Falls Trail. At this point, you can turn left to go towards the main entrance (where the shuttle bus would have dropped you off), or you can turn right to hike towards Hickory Nut Falls. We turned right and continued our hike for approx 1 more mile until we arrived at the waterfall.
Featured in the Daniel Day Lewis film “The Last of the Mohicans“, the Hickory Nut Falls are an impressive 404 feet tall. We enjoyed the view from the viewing platform at the base of these beautiful falls.
To this point, the hiking had been all uphill and the kids had walked most of the way themselves, so the waterfall was a nice break for them. Once we were done admiring the towering waterfall, we turned back towards the main entrance.
Refreshed from their break and now hiking downhill, the kids literally ran back down the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. It wasn’t very long before we arrived at the long set of stairs leading to the main entrance. Our 5 year old daughter climbed the stairs all by herself, but our 3 year old son needed to be picked up for parts of it.
Once at the top, we stopped and had a break for lunch. We wanted to regain some energy for the big climb up the Outcroppings “Trail” to the Chimney Rock Lookout. The Outcroppings Trail isn’t really a trail, it’s mostly just stairs.
There is an intermediate viewpoint halfway up called Pulpit Rock which provides a little taste of what is to come. The trail sign claims the climb to the top is approximately 500 stairs, but to be honest it felt quite a bit shorter than that. (There is an elevator to the top if ~500 stairs seems too much for your family…).
It was a little slow going and we needed to use a lot of tricks (“there’s a butterfly waiting for you at the top of those steps”), but our kids made it to the top by themselves.
Chimney Rock is the park’s signature granite outcropping. It’s a massive, vertical circular slab that rises dramatically into the sky. Chimney Rock was kind enough to form with a reasonably flat top, so it made sense for someone to build stairs up there to use it as a viewpoint.
And what an amazing viewpoint it is! From up top, you will enjoy majestic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Soaking in the views with the kids at the top made all the effort feel worthwhile.
It is possible to continue hiking up top, but we felt the kids had had enough at this stage, so we walked back down the stairs (much quicker than going up!) to the main level below.
One of the bribes we used on the way up was to allow the kids to go into the Gneiss Cave for a bit. The Gneiss Cave is a bat cave found on the main level by the stairs up to Chimney Rock.
Upon entering the cave, you walk a short flight of stairs down to a small chamber. The cave smells pretty bad, and unfortunately the bats were gone when we visited, but it was nice and cold down there which was a nice break from the August heat outside!
By this stage, we had hiked a total of 3h 40m and had gone 3.6 miles (5.8km) with a total elevation gain of 1090 feet (333m). We could tell our kids were done, so we decided to take the shuttle bus down to the parking lot.
Once at the bottom we took the kids to the Animal Discovery Den to see some of the critters that live in the park, such as groundhogs, turtles, snakes, etc.
We figured at this stage the kids would be dying to go back to our awesome Airbnb and watch cartoons, but when given the choice they wanted to do the Great Woodland Adventure hike.
This trail is a super short 0.4 mile (0.6km) loop which has many fun and educational stops along the way. Some examples were showing how far a jumping spider could jump if it was human sized (the length of a school bus!) and then encourages the kids to see how far they could jump in comparison.
They also loved climbing under a large turtle shell and playing turtle. We stopped and read each sign and played each game. The kids loved it and I’m really glad they wanted to do it.
Day 2 – Triple Falls in Dupont State Forest
Today we drove to the Dupont State Forest south of Asheville to hike the very popular Triple Falls Trail. We arrived at the trailhead around 9am and managed to get a parking spot. (When we left around 1:30 the parking lot was full and there were cars parked for a great distance along the highway).
Triple Falls Trail is a fun, family friendly trail which winds through a mixed forest and gives reasonably easy access to multiple large & impressive waterfalls.The first waterfall is Triple Falls, which is a 120′ tall, beautiful, three-tiered waterfall.
Further up the trail is High Falls, which is also 120′ tall but is a single fall. Both waterfalls offer viewing areas viewing areas above and below the waterfall.
The hiking trails here are nice and wide which makes for a fun family hike as everyone can walk together side-by-side. The trail can get steep at parts, but not for very long distances.
It can also get wet near the lower waterfall viewing areas, so watch your little ones closely to ensure they don’t slip and fall into the river or a large puddle. There are multiple covered picnic areas for lunch or snack breaks.
What’s great about this area is that it is full of hiking trails, so you can do as much or as little as you want. The trails are well marked, but we used our AllTrails app to plan our route ahead of time. We did the Triple Falls Loop and added on a secondary loop to go see the covered bridge which crosses the river just above High Falls.
There is also a short hike from the parking lot to yet another waterfall called Hooker Falls. We were going to do this hike as well, but it started to rain pretty hard, so we got in the car instead.
All together we walked 4.5 miles (7.3km) in just over 4 hours (including lunch and snack breaks). The trail was easy enough that both kids walked every inch of this hike, making it one of their longest hikes yet!
Day 3 – Looking Glass Falls and Graveyard Fields
We drove to the Pisgah National Forest first thing after breakfast and stopped at Looking Glass Falls. These beautiful 60′ falls are very close to the highway and can be reached by descending a few flights of stairs. There is a paved viewing platform here for all to enjoy the falls and even if this is all you do, it’s worth a stop to see these impressive falls.
But there is an opening in the platform so people can get onto the rocks and closer to the falls. We noticed online that there were some shallow pools at the base of the falls where people can get into the water and enjoy themselves.
Our kids love splashing around in these shallow river pools, so we wanted to treat them to some time to just play and have fun in the water. The locals were all complaining about how cold it was, but coming from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we know what cold mountain water is, and this isn’t it.
It was chilly, but very bearable and the kids didn’t complain about the temperature once. They had a great time exploring, throwing rocks, sticks and leaves and just being silly kids. A great stop!
From there, we jumped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the popular family friendly Graveyard Fields hiking area near milepost 418. This hiking area boasts several modest waterfalls and a nice hike through a river valley. There are several trails in the area which give a variety of options for lengths and difficulty.
It was a nice enough hike in its own right, but what made this hike special was the ripe wild berries! We had read that this hike has massive amounts of wild blueberries and blackberries which ripen in late August.
We visited on August 19th and the berries were just starting to get ripe. Normally when we are in bear country, we try to leave wild berries for the bears to eat, but the information sign in the parking lot made it clear that personal consumption was ok.
The kids had so much fun looking for ripe berries (although our little guy just liked picking anything off the tree). Although most of the berries were not ripe yet, we still found plenty to fill our tummies!
As for our hike, we hiked to the Upper Falls and back for a total of 3.2 miles (5.2km). Our pace was pretty slow given the many stops to pick and eat berries, but we managed to get it done in 3h 20m.
It’s a reasonably flat hike, with the exception of the initial descent from the parking lot which is on a steep paved trail. The trails are in good condition and easy to walk on until you get to the second half of the hike towards the Upper Falls. At this stage we had to cross several small creeks and dodge mud puddles, while the dry parts of the trail were rocky with lots of tree roots.
Our kids pace slowed waaaay down in this part as it was much more challenging for them. The Upper Falls were nice, and I’m glad we went, but they won’t change your life either. If you are pressed for time, you won’t miss much by skipping them.
Morning 4 – Splashville
We’ve been in Asheville three full days and haven’t even come close to going into the town itself. Even though the outdoor activities here are so amazing, we kinda felt we should go into town for a least a little bit. So we drove to their trendy downtown to local favorite Vortex Donuts for a little treat.
All sugared up, we then walked to Pack Square Park, where we took the kids to “Splashville”, an interactive water fountain where kids are free to run and splash and play. Splashville is a large tiled circle with many jets which spray water into the air in a seemingly random fashion. The unpredictable nature of the water spray kept our kids running from stream to stream, giggling and laughing all the way.
If you can, bring water shoes as there are clear glass tiles over the water jets (presumably to light up the fountain at night?) which are very slippery. Our little guy nearly hurt himself twice in the first minute!
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We are grateful to Explore Asheville for their generosity during our visit. All opinions are our own.