Date of trip: October 19, 2017 - October 22, 2017
Asheville is a place of southern drawls, art, music, great food and beer, fried chicken, pulled pork, and fried green tomatoes. It’s surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains with endless switchbacks, hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountainside villages. It’s full of waffle houses, Bojangles, and biscuits on biscuits on biscuits. It’s a place of steeples, historic architecture, front porches with rocking chairs, Baptist churches and BBQ suppers. It’s full of crafts and even children named Jackson. Asheville is surely made of a million other things — beyond the two snakes and two confederate flags we spotted. For art and music, beer and nature lovers, Asheville is a place you gotta go.
- Day 1: Downtown Asheville, Mellow Mushroom, Grove Park Inn, Grovewood Village, Nine Mile
- Day 2: Northeast of Asheville – Early Girl Eatery, lookouts galore, Crabtree Falls, Mountain View Restaurant, Linville Falls, Highland Brewery
- Day 3: Southwest of Asheville – Biscuit Head, lookouts galore, Frying Pan Lookout Tower, Courthouse Falls, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Tupelo Honey, Downtown Asheville
- Day 4: River Arts District, Wicked Weed brewery, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, Charlotte
Asheville was like a little treat. Not only did we essentially get free flights and lodging (because, points), we treated ourselves by parking at the airport, something we typically forego on longer trips. Our flight out was early in the morning but easy as pie. I did manage, as I typically do, to open my water bottle before releasing the pressure, and doused myself and Chris with water mid-flight. But this time was the worst ever. I even managed to soak the head of the woman and man in front of me. I was mortified as I watched them shaking their heads. Moments later they giggled and I was so relieved when the woman joked with us when we landed in Charlotte. “Thanks for the shower,” she said, “If this is the worst thing to happen to me on this trip, I’ll be good.”
We drove through forested highways on our two hour trek from Charlotte to Asheville. We came upon a field that looked like it had been snowed on. “Is that cotton?” I asked. We don’t see that in Minnesota. It felt like no time before Asheville’s petite downtown popped up in the middle of the mountains, greeting us with sunshine and fall colors.
We regret not taking more pictures of downtown Asheville, considering how cute it was. We dined at Mellow Mushroom, a kitschy place with psychedelic decor serving pizza and local beers. Afterwards we walked to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where we polished off a chocolate coconut caramel mousse, cookies ‘n cream ice cream, and chocolate dipped shortbread. It was all we needed to get back to the hotel to nap.
That evening we visited historic Grove Park Inn, a suggestion given to us by our friend Abby. Thanks, Abby! The inn sits on Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Parkway and just 10 minutes north of downtown.
The narrow road leading into the inn took us past secluded mansions until we reached the grand, stone facade. We found ourselves standing in the massive lobby with dropped jaws.
Anchored at both ends of the room like twins were two fireplaces made of massive granite stones that stretched from the wooden floors to the peaked ceilings. The wood pit was big enough for an extended family to stand inside and take family photos. A row of oversized rocking chairs crowded the fireplaces, rocking with resting, elderly patrons. French doors opened to a shaded terrace of dining tables, set with glassware and linen napkins. The tables overlooked the Blue Ridge mountains, fading in a blue haze as they dropped into the distance. Southern drawls were all around, especially the women concierge wearing red, silky blouses with black blazers.
We wandered past the massive wooden beams, under the original art deco light fixtures to find relics of days passed, displayed in glassed bookcases. Inside were Grove Park Inn brochures from the early 1900’s, ceramic bowls and mugs once used for dining, and black and white photos. I stopped to study the black and white faces of the group of men who built the inn three days shy of one year, and a woman from the 1920’s dwarfed from standing next to one of the granite fireplaces. A letter from a patron was addressed to Mr. Seely, the owner at the time, thanking him for respite from “the daily round and common task.”
The sun was the hottest it had been all day, so we found a shaded road within the property lined with little cottages — including an antique car museum and the Biltmore Homespun museum. A middle-aged man with a faded baseball hat approached us as we entered the car museum. He explained the cottages, known as Grovewood Village, had been part of Biltmore Industries, and used as a trade school for woodworking and weaving Biltmore wool, the finest quality wool.
Affluent and renowned people, such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Helen Keller, and Saint Paul, Minnesota’s very own F. Scott Fitzgerald — they had all been patrons of the inn and fans of the fine Biltmore wool. Today, the grounds still house local artists and the relics of Asheville’s craftsmanship history.
Little did we know, we were visiting during the 100th anniversary of Grovewood Village, and we didn’t even look at the original looms! Future visitors make sure not to miss out on getting a free history tour and buying a handmade craft, the heart and soul of Asheville’s history!
After leaving Grovewood Village, we drove around the Historic Montford and Five Points neighborhoods eyeing the dreamy old victorians and bungalows and making an impromptu spin around UNC Asheville.
Upon the suggestion of a local blogger, we dined nearby at Nine Mile, a caribbean inspired rice and pasta dish restaurant. It was the best meal we had of the trip, and we highly suggest the neighborhood joint to those looking for a good deal of a meal. We dined on greens with homemade dressings (Chris said, “I’m actually enjoying this,” as he stuffed the greens in his mouth), blackened chicken with smoked gouda vegetables, and jerk chicken spinach fettuccini.
Chris wasn’t feeling well, so we sat in the small diner across from each other, listening to the first date of two college students next to us. It went like this: “How was your week?” “It was good, weird, but good. My main partner texted me –” she stopped herself to clarify, “– I have multiple open relationships but I have a main partner. Anyways, he texted me and…”. Wide eyed I asked Chris, “What do you wanna talk about?”
We turned in after dinner and rested for day two of hiking.
We had messed up our sleeping schedules with naps and couldn’t sleep that night. A weird creaking sound kept me awake in the hotel. It sounded like a door opening, though I heard no footsteps. Regardless, we were up early and dined at Early Girl Eatery. We got plain biscuit sandwiches, a big pancake, fruit, and coffee.
We recommend Early Girl Eatery for it’s yummy, savory dishes and southern hospitality.
We left town passing the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and Battery Park strip, and literally within three minutes, we were in a wooded neighborhood on the outskirts of town, quickly climbing to serious heights. It was a sunny morning, making it easy to see out past the mountain homes and out across Pisgah National Forest, to the northeast of Asheville.
We were making our way to Crabtree Falls, catching views at outlooks along the way. Many of the trees had turned already, their leaves dead on the ground. With fresh eyes, we wound around switchbacks and through tunnels in the mountain gaps of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The peaks and valleys stretched until they faded into the horizon.
After a little over an hour of driving, we reached Crabtree Falls, parked, and walked a fairly simple path the 30 some minutes to the waterfall. Chris tried holding my hand to keep the pace. All I wanted was to take pictures of the path, but none of them really turned out. The quintessential image of a waterfall, Crabtree Falls snaked in different paths from high above as it fell along the dark stone and into a pool of water and fallen trees.
Chris crawled and crouched around the rocks and trees, taking long exposure shots with his tripod. A short bridge with a bench crossed the creek after the cascade of water and rocks. I sat there, watching other families stumble down the path to the rocks.
I wanted pictures myself, and wandered higher where the sun would warm me. I thought to myself, if I was a snake, I would be basking in the — I stopped before I reached the sun. A few feet ahead of me in the leaves was the midsection of a small, black snake. I was fast in turning around. I felt like peeing my pants. I quickly reconsidered my list of phobias, at odds with what I’d always told myself. I fucking chased snakes in high school. But not black ones from the south…Chris could not know. Ali, keep your big mouth shut. I repeated this to myself as I retreated to the safety of the bridge.
The return hike was strenuous for about ten minutes, then eased into a wide flat path that followed the creek. The whole hike back, my fear of snakes and bears grew heavier. I wasn’t even relieved when I saw an old woman on a solo hike and a family of two small children frolicking happily past us. Chris was in heaven, and blissfully hiked ahead of me in the soft light of the morning, probably thinking about mountain men. To my relief, we finally reached the camping site and parking lot after 45 minutes.
After the hike, we had a planned stop at Mountain View Restaurant (Chris always plans when and where I’ll be hungry). We weren’t able to snag a table on the wrap around deck, but enjoyed the views from behind big picture windows. A dive of sorts, we dined on humble cuisine and watched a man with missing teeth and his hunting partner smile at a small child with white, short curls and a southern drawl. I journaled as we listened to Come on Eileen, She’s a bad mama Jamma — even some Sting.
Our second and final destination that afternoon was Linville Falls, which was to be the highlight of the trip. About 45 minutes north on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the restaurant, we parked among the other tourists in a paved lot and happily used the restroom of the visitor center (a luxury Crabtree falls does not have). We followed other visitors, young and old, on wide paths to different lookouts over the falls.
We hadn’t found the vantage point we were looking for, so returned to the visitor center to follow a quieter trail, one Chris promised would lead to the spot we wanted. I almost turned around, tired from the weight of our first hike, full from lunch, and uninterested in being red in the face and exhausted like the few people we were passing. Chris offered to go alone and I cursed. Luckily, I continued on.
And then the path turned downhill. We tripped over tree roots, climbed over boulders, and ducked under fallen trees. It was like the path that wasn’t. Down we went, and as we neared the bottom (about ¾ of a mile to the “Plunge Basin”) we could finally hear the falls. The path opened to a river lined with massive boulders, big enough to picnic on, and a small sandy beach. And at last, we were standing in a massive gorge in front of the most beautiful cascading river and plunging waterfall.
We giggled stupidly, continuing to give each other wide eyes as we took it all in. We had arrived just in time to catch the sun setting over the top of the trees. We ran around snapping as many photos as possible before the sun sank. “Over here, over there, right here!”
When everything turned blue and the sun had left us, we climbed back up to the mellow path that took us to the parking lot. We may or may not have spotted and screamed at a poor, little snake on the path. Chris may or may not have denied that it even happened to save face.
If you’re going to Linville Falls, use this map. We stopped at each of the 6 destinations on the map, and the “Plunge Basin” was by far our favorite spot, with much less foot traffic.
The main hiking trail goes straight through the middle of the visitors center, you can’t miss it. This path takes you to the “Upper Falls”, “Chimney View”, “Erwins View”, and the “Gorge View”. About 20 feet left of the visitors center, you will see a small nondescript trailhead. This trail takes you to the “Plunge Basin” and “Plunge Basin Overlook”.
By this time, it was five in the evening. We called to make sure there would be food at Highland Brewery and stopped on our way back to Asheville.
As we neared, we saw a sign for “beer, whiskey, and moonshine.” We followed the wooded drive to the top of the hill where we found the brewery, a big parking lot, and a food truck. Starving, we ordered shrimp tacos and pulled pork. Chris asked the chef about “chow chow,” a mystery condiment on his pork sandwich. The woman explained it as a concoction of pickled things, to which Chris said “pass”. She asked where he was from, but I promised her that Minnesotans eat pickled foods, too. She then enlightened us about cheerwine, a fizzy cherry drink that tastes like Dr Pepper Cherry.
We skipped the rooftop bar and patio to sit inside the quieter brewery. I enjoyed my Thunderstruck porter; Chris wasn’t nuts about his IPA. In the dark, we followed music to the brewery’s meadow. A band from Florida played under an overhang. In the dark field, a few children ran around while some patrons sat in lawn chairs listening to the music. We were pining for our pillows and found ourselves quickly back in our room, resting in bed and curiously watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
Savory biscuit sandwiches were on the breakfast menu. I made sure we were standing in line around 8am at Biscuit Head. Serving up savory and sweet biscuits, gravies, moon fries, grits, mimosas, and you name it, one cannot visit Asheville without visiting Biscuit Head. We did our due diligence and waited in line for about 15 minutes. Chris ordered a biscuit with egg, cheese, sausage, and gravy. I did myself a favor and ordered a biscuit with pulled pork, jalapeño pimento, bacon, poached egg, and maple syrup. You heard that right. Obviously, I stole a fork and a to-go-box, and ate the leftovers for lunch.
Instead of driving north as we did the day before, we drove southwest on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trees were more colorful on this side of the city.
We drove past endless lookouts, even meeting a park ranger along the way. She explained many of the dead trees were Fraser Firs or Hemlocks, colorless and ghostly from invasive insect species.
Our first stop was Frying Pan Lookout Tower. I wasn’t in the mood to hike after my biscuit breakfast, but I trudged behind Chris on the gravel path in the shade of the trees. Again I grew fearful of bears. I’m serious, guys. I just can’t. The hike/walk took little time. When we arrived, the tower was really just a deserted stair tower, previously used to watch for forest fires. No one was around besides a woman who asked me to take a picture of her and the mountains. Chris climbed the metal steps to the top. I did not. I sat at the bottom, resting and watching cars swirl around the mountainside.
Courthouse Falls was our next and last destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the main drag, we followed a three mile, dead end, dirt road to the hike. Two cars in front of us drove roughly 5 mph, testing every fucking fiber of patience within us. It was a gorgeous drive at least, alongside the rocky creek of the falls. The hike was green and beautiful, under tall skinny trees with glowing canopies. The path followed alongside the creek, which grew louder as we neared the falls. The path turned downwards like the paths before, and we could hear people down below near the waterside.
A man’s voice came in loudly, “Don’t look at my (d*ck)!” Through the trees, we could barely make out a naked man on a wide boulder at the water’s edge. He stumbled on one foot as he tried putting on a pair of pants, which ended up actually being a wetsuit. As we neared, he and another guy had thankfully gotten into their suits and were zipping each other up. They stumbled over the slick rocks and jumped into the pool at the base of the falls.
I sat on a fallen tree up above the rocks. Chris took his shoes and socks off and did what he does. As Chris snapped photos, I observed a small boy drench his entire foot in the water and an older man with a sandwich in his mouth fumble from rock to rock. At one point, Chris got up to offer him a hand as he teetered above the water. Then I spotted dumb and dumber, who had mysteriously disappeared up the path. They slithered along the top of the falls, steadied themselves on the rocky edge, and made the 40 foot jump into the pool. More and more visitors came to see the falls so we left, and on our way couldn’t help but stop and take stills of the cascades along the creek.
Our next stop? Nerdville. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), to be exact. Chris worried we had passed it, so he stopped at a gas station off the main road. He met a friendly bearded man who asked, “Hey, whadya nee, bud?” He gave Chris directions and sold him some waters and Cheetos – cash only, of course.
We followed the man’s directions to a wooded drive that ended at a chain link fence and a small, empty guardhouse with a raised entrance arm. A sign welcomed visitors. We had arrived to a scene of Stranger Things.
Built in the 60’s as a NASA satellite tracking station, the campus houses a few old buildings including a visitor center and an empty parking lot. Near the buildings, three massive satellite dishes stood tall, their noses pointed high in the sky.
We entered the unassuming visitors entrance. In the small entrance of the building was a glass display of minerals and stones, a bookshelf, 3D printed trinkets, plastic drinking cups with PARI’s logo, and t-shirts from the recent total solar eclipse. Behind a plain desk sat a middle aged man who welcomed us to the center. He asked us kindly where we were coming from, sold us two tickets to the show rooms, and led us down the carpeted hallway past an old elevator to the rooms of collections, artifacts, and METEORITES.
We ran into Tim, a younger man with dark rimmed glasses and a t-shirt with an alien and Bigfoot screen-printed on it — Chris found the man he was looking for. He took us on a quick tour of the facility, stopping first at the computers where middle and high school students learn about satellites and radio signals? I don’t know. Tim and Chris got REAL nerdy REAL quick. He sat Chris down at the computer and showed him how to point the satellite to the moon, and explained how the graph, which was calculating in real time, was proving the moon’s distance to be static.
Tim then proudly showed us PARI’s collection of minerals and meteorites, which is second in the world next to the Smithsonian collection. In the center of the room was a special case with rocks from Mars. And the Moon! Oh, and a fossilized dinosaur egg. Chris held a dinosaur egg. Did you hear that? Mars. Moon. Dinosaur egg. Before leaving, Chris bought a solar eclipse t-shirt with a free pin and we drove to the highest part of campus to a viewing platform. We didn’t see any aliens or Bigfoot on our way out, but we sure would recommend visiting if you’re ever driving through the middle of nowhere (just kidding, Pisgah National Forest, to be exact).
We were back to Asheville by 5pm and dined at Tupelo Honey, an opulent place people say is not to be missed. Except for a plate of cold “roasted” carrots, we happily chowed down Carolina mountain trout, goat cheese grits, pork greens, fried chicken and mac’n’cheese.
That evening we strolled around charming downtown Asheville, listening to street performers and sipping southern whiskeys on an open patio. We strolled through a quiet Grove Arcade, running our fingers along the bookshelves of Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar.
Asheville’s musicians were none the same. We passed a fair skinned, red bearded man wearing a top hat, jingling the bells on his shoes with every stomp and strum of the bongo. “Abby the spoon lady” sat next to him, rattling and tap tapping a spoon in quick yet coordinated movements, as if she was dancing in her chair. And then there was the tall African American woman with just her velvety voice, tambourine, and music stand singing to the streets like she was singing to the service.
Across the street stood three young women with their voices, a trumpet, and guitar singing Amy Winehouse, “He can only hold her”. And our favorite, a young guy with an afro and buttery voice, strung his tunes together. “Hotel California” turned into “I need a dollar”, and he continued strumming and singing “Ain’t no rest for the wicked”, “Prince of Bel Air”, and “No Diggity”. When he finished, he announced he’d be playing in an hour at some venue. He then introduced himself to us as Taso, thanking us personally for stopping and singing along. I wanted to sit and marvel at each of them until the night was over, but Chris nudged us responsibly towards our hotel room. I think I thanked him eventually.
On our last morning, we woke up hungry and without a microwave. We shamelessly asked the hotel concierge to heat up our leftovers for breakfast. “I bet this is the weirdest request you get all day,” I said. The young girl took our paper plates, said it was “fine,” and asked how much time to put on the microwave. We sat in our packed up room eating our leftovers and sipping on Cheerwine.
That morning we drove to the Asheville River Arts District on the west side of downtown. We found ourselves on a sleepy, industrial road that followed the French Broad river with buildings covered in street art.
We sipped on coffee and toured the open studios, bought some postcards, of course, and even some paintings of nebulas.
The arts district isn’t very large and after we had toured most of it, we went to Wicked Weed Brewery and had some seriously good beer that lived up to our Nordeast Mpls expectations. We sat at the brewery for some time, watching people watch football.
Afterwards, we said Adios to Asheville and drove through the backwoods, stopping to take photos at Matthews Creek.
After that we headed to Chimney Rock. (It’s not a cheap hike at $26 dollars but the views were worth it). We even saw a roadside Carousel!
We stopped briefly at Lake Lure to walk to the edge of the water and consider what life would be like living in a small, mountain community.
In good time, after taking in the last views of mountain villages and rural farms with boat graveyards, we finally made it to a freeway. It was dark by the time we made it to Charlotte where we ate at a thai restaurant that smelled like shrimp.
The airport was quiet with no security lines. We sat at the terminal, Ali reading her steady and true Memoirs of a Geisha and Chris watching his fantasy football team lose on Sunday Night Football. Our flight was delayed an hour and we weren’t official home in NE until about 2am.
So, with that, the only thing left to share from Asheville is my favorite Chris quote. I don’t know where it happened or when, but at one point after people watching Chris gave me the most sincere eyes and asked, “Am I going to tuck in my t-shirt someday?”
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