Vacation with Lauren: Asheville, North Carolina!

by Lauren Townsend for The Aha! Connection

Our family was lucky enough to take a summer getaway to Asheville, North Carolina. My husband and I had visited many years ago, but we have never been with our children. Since it was really a trip for my husband, I opted to stay in a VRBO about 20 miles from Asheville on a 40-acre horse farm and not a hotel downtown. The house slept 4 comfortably and was very pet-friendly, meaning not only were dogs allowed but there were dog beds and bowls provided. The sound of tires on the gravel road made my heart sing a little as we drove up to the house only to turn around to a breathtaking view.

On our first day, we headed to Blue Heron Whitewater Rafting. I imagine most of these companies are similar, as we saw several on the French Broad River. We had a great experience with Blue Heron. Our guide was fun and knowledgeable and made the class 1, 2, and 3 rapids more exhilarating than scary. They stopped halfway and the staff made us sandwiches to enjoy on the shore. We jumped off rocks and body swam through rapids and had a great day.

Smoky Mountain Trail Rides offers a true horseback trail riding experience for all ages.

That evening, I made us a reservation at The Copper Crown in east Asheville. This small, neighborhood restaurant sources many ingredients locally and has a kid’s menu. We filled up on small plates of crispy brussels sprouts with Steen’s cane syrup, pickled carrots, Three Graces feta; tempura green beans with sweet soy, toasted nori, sesame, sriracha; and crawfish and rice croquettes with spicy remoulade, pickled watermelon rind, frisée. My husband and I shared braised pork cheeks with creamy rice grits, baby spinach, roasted peanuts, Steen’s gastrique. The kids ate from the kid’s menu with grilled chicken and vegetables and hand-breaded chicken tenders.

The next day, we headed to WNC Nature Center. Our kids, ages 11 and 8, enjoyed a closer view of bears, otters, wolves, bobcats, foxes, and other animals indigenous to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It also has a lot of play features for young children. Originally, we had booked horseback riding at one place, and they called the morning of and canceled due to trails being rained out. We were all looking forward to riding, so I scurried to find another place. Smoky Mountain Trail Rides was willing to take us. When you first pull up, there is a feeling of, what-have-I-gotten-us-into, but that passes quickly as you meet the staff and horses. Smoky Mountain offers a more authentic trail riding experience. We rode through valleys and up ridge tops with varying degrees of terrain that kept experienced riders engaged but were still enjoyable for my first-time rider, who is 8-years-old. The views were so beautiful, and our guides were amazing.

Wednesday morning, we met our guide, Rosemary, from Namaste in Nature at Catawba Falls. We hiked to the falls and learned new things about the area from the native Americans who used to inhabit the area to what leaves are best for toilet paper. We stopped at a quiet spot to do a guided meditation. On our way back down, Rosemary led us to a more even spot in the middle of the trees and we drew a card to find out our spirit animals. Then she led us in family yoga and all four of us are at different levels of experience and attention span. This was a great way to experience nature.

Mac and Cheese at Benne on Eagle

After a quick change of clothes, we headed to downtown Asheville to meet our guide from Asheville DeTours.  They customize scavenger hunts throughout downtown for your group or in our case, a family of four. We met at below level doughnut shop, Stay Glazed, where we did a donut tasting of curry, carrot, cheesecake, and blueberry lime. Our clue took us to Bee Charmer to learn about local honey. We did a tasting of so many kinds of honey from North Carolina and around the world. We were greeted with snacks and beverages (wine for my husband and me) at the next stop, Fire It Up Creative Lounge. All four of us painted our own North Carolina ornament to remember our trip. Our next clue took us to Pepper Palace, where they create small-batch, handcrafted, natural, and award-winning products like insanely spicy pickles. My husband and I had a hot sauce tasting/competition and got the end of the retail samples when our guide made us sign a waiver to continue. The first one after the waiver did us in and we reluctantly called it a draw. Our final clue landed us at Asheville Chocolate for gelato and truffles. Thank God we had the gelato to help recover from the peppers. We each had a truffle tasting and that wrapped up our scavenger hunt. It was a great way to walk downtown and learn about new places on and off our hunt. We ended the day with a reservation at Benne on Eagle. This restaurant and its staff have a list of accolades as long as my arm and I couldn’t wait to sit down after our long day for a good meal. We started with potato rolls and a cold beverage for me and my husband. Lynn and Cricket split a Local Green Salad with Carrots, Radishes, Noble Cider Vinaigrette, Hickory Grove Cheese, and Pumpkin Seeds as well as Braised Short Ribs with NC Broccoli, Jus, and Broccoli Ramp Vinaigrette. Peyton had a hefty portion of Baked Mac and Cheese with Tomme Cheese and Mornay Sauce, and I had Haitian Crawfish Rice that had Crawfish, Carolina Gold Rice, Local Bacon, Epice, and Puffed Grains. Everything was impeccable from food to service.

On our final day in Asheville, we packed up our VRBO and headed to Asheville Treetops Adventure Park. We spent the morning doing the KidZip zipline course because we have a family member who is not yet 70 pounds. For it being a smaller course, we still got plenty of height and speed for everyone’s liking. We spend the second part of the day doing the treetop adventure courses. Treetops Adventures offer 7 different courses to choose from based on age and ability and were able to accommodate everyone in our family. It was so much fun hopping and wobbling and flying through the trees. It was the best way to end our trip to Asheville.

I found a lot of my research on Explore Asheville. I debated a hotel in downtown Asheville versus something further out but opted for the VRBO in Fairview. Sitting on that big porch, watching my kids running around like free-range chickens catching fireflies, I knew I had made the right choice for us. Asheville is an easy 3 hours’ drive from Atlanta and makes a great quick trip. Check-in with Explore Asheville as I imagine there will be plenty to do over fall and winter break.