Carolina barbecue, craft beer and an endless web of forest trails—what more could a runner want? Find all this and more in the quirky city of Asheville.
Part quirky college town, part gateway to the great outdoors, Asheville has a plethora of scenic running routes and a seriously chill vibe. Smack dab between Charlotte and Knoxville, this North Carolina city’s streets are lined with funky shops and barbecue joints—but it’s the hills peeking out from behind the buildings that beckon runners into the wilderness.
Tucked into the Great Smokies, Asheville is the perfect getaway for runners who like a little whimsy in their lives. There’s a double-decker bus that serves coffee and brownies late into the night, a team of women who whip up home-brewed kombucha and a large drum circle that gathers when weather permits. Plus the surrounding rivers and mountains make for endless ways to stay active. Here are our favorite places in Asheville to indulge your inner-wild woman as you explore by foot. . .
A short drive from downtown, the North Carolina Arboretum (ncarboretum.org) boasts 10 miles of groomed trails. The garden wasn’t established until 1986, but the plans for it were conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, the genius behind some of the most famous green spaces in the country, including Central Park and the Stanford University campus.
Trish Brown, author of Asheville Trail Running, calls it the ideal spot for running in any weather. “You really can see beautiful things out there,” says Brown, who first visited the city on her way to Wilmington, N.C., and couldn’t bear to leave. She’s now called Asheville home for 20 years.
In the Arboretum itself, which Trish calls a “microcosm” of the larger Pisgah National Forest, a number of footpaths (each about a mile long) circle flower gardens. Farther afield you’ll find longer trails that are wide enough for bikes and runners. The $8 parking fee is well worth the fun you’ll have tackling the terrain and gawking at the collection of bonsais and other flora.
This trail stretches for 1,000 miles, from the Great Smoky Mountains all the way to the Outer Banks—but that’s an awfully far distance to run. Luckily, the woodsy route is easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway for out-and-back training. Head toward the Biltmore South neighborhood and park at 234 Hendersonville Road. From there, hop on any of the small trails to the west of the road that all connect to the wider, beaten path.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail has all the pretty perks of a dense forest—diverse foliage, that damp-earth smell—but still runs parallel to the Parkway, so you’ll never be far from civilization. At an elevation of 2,000 feet, the air feels crisp, and oak and pine trees line the route, where you might see deer bounding by. The trail’s gentle climbs and curves throughout keep you on your toes. Watch for the white trail-blazes to stay on the right course.
FRENCH BROAD RIVER GREENWAY
Winding along the French Broad River, this paved path is, like Asheville itself, always scenic and occasionally quirky. The route is about two miles, so leave your car at Hominy Creek Park and enjoy a at four miles out and back. You’ll start at the park, where trees reach out over the wide, lazy river before running under a lofted bridge. The route cuts through an RV park before continuing through grassy fields.
The small city of Asheville is home to the largest private home in America, the Biltmore Estate. Constructed in the image of a French chateau and containing a mind-boggling 250 rooms, the house itself is breathtaking—and the mountain views from its verandas are unreal. You’ll feel like you’re in an episode of Downton Abbey as you explore the estate—expect for the tourists taking pictures on their iPhones.
While it’s possible to spend a day idling around the mansion and winery, admission also grants you access to the grounds’ trails. Start over in Antler Hill to pick up the grassy Farm Trail. You’ll run alongside the French Broad River and eventually peel off onto the hillier, 3.5-mile Arbor Trace Trail. The property is gorgeous, and winding through the estate gives you an idea of just how huge it really is.
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria
Fantastic slices and a serious selection of local craft beers—what more could a carb-hungry runner ask for? There’s also live music at night. barleystaproom.com
An all-veggie menu that’s still decadent, plus plenty of tasty smoothies and juices to hydrate post-run. laughingseed.com
A minimalist-sleek hotel in a prime location amid the downtown action. The expansive decks are perfect for outdoor relaxing, and runners can breathe easy—this hotel is completely smoke-free. starwoodhotels.com
Cozy and private, these cabins are far from rustic. Some even have hot tubs for soaking after time on the trails. ashevillecottages.com
French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Decadent desserts (Think: liquid truffles and pots de crème) that are so good, you should eat them before dinner. That way, you’ll avoid the late-night crowds—who wants to wait for chocolate? frenchbroadchocolates.com
The Orange Peel
Check the schedule of this music venue that wrangles acts as diverse as Morrissey and the twangy Carolina Chocolate Drops. theorangepeel.net
Asheville Yoga Center
With a huge range of classes, from gentle flow to hot yoga and workshops, it’s the best place indoors to get centered.
SIP AND STRIDE
Get a taste of the local breweries by signing up for The Original Asheville Beer Run (ashevillerunningtours.com), which includes five pit stops for tastings along the 5k or 2-mile route. “It’s not just about the beer—the tour is also about the history of downtown,” says longtime Asheville resident Reba Brinkman, who laced up her shoes to try the tour this year. Brinkman says she was initially nervous about the pace, until she discovered the rest of the group shared her nervousness. “Then we all realized it was a beer running tour,” she laughs.