ASHEVILLE – The week between Christmas and New Years presents days of unoccupied time for kids with on winter vacation, and parents who have the time off from work. For those who don’t decamp to warmer, or snowier, destinations, here are a few ideas for enjoying Western North Carolina as the year winds down.
Take a hike
The WNC mountains offer plenty of options for breathtaking hikes. Although the trails may be more slippery and the winds may be more bracing, the outdoors remains a great activity for the cooler months. Hikers may need to look for trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which opens and closes as conditions permit. Check parkway closures (nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm). Some options for hikes include:
- Jones Gap State Park, South Carolina. This state park around an hour drive from Asheville offers more than 17,000 acres of woodlands and more than 60 miles of trails.
- Rich Mountain Fire Tower, Madison County. Begin at the Tanyard Gap parking lot. Follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes north. Hikers will split from the trail to reach the fire tower, a 5-mile round trip.
- North Carolina Arboretum, Buncombe County. The arboretum offers more than 10 miles of trails that vary in difficulty. Prices for entry and open hours are available on its website (ncarboretum.org).
- Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville. This state park, home to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the state, offers 40 miles of trails.
- DuPont State Recreational Forest, Henderson and Transylvania Counties. Known for its waterfalls, this state forest has 10,400 acres for hikers, hunters and fishers to explore.
Leave the kids at home, splurge and luxuriate in one of the Asheville area’s many spas. Here are a few options for folks looking to take a load off:
- Wake Spa Foot Sanctuary. 1 Page Avenue Suite 115, Asheville. In the Grove Arcade, Wake Spa offers 45-minute foot soaks for $40. Customers can add a 20 minute massage for $45 for different areas of the body. Packages range from $120 to $200 for combinations of soaks and massages.
- Shoji Spa & Retreat. 96 Avondale Heights, Asheville. This mountainside spa allows guests to soak in the mountainside in private outdoor salt tubs. Complimentary amenities include robes, sandals, towels, saunas, and cold showers. Hourlong access to a hydrotherapy tub costs $82. Guests can purchase packages that include massages and different types of therapies that range from $159 to $364 for individuals and $281 to $656 for couples. People who visit the spa can also add massages for $150 for an hour.
- Sauna House. 230 Short Cove Ave., Asheville. This South Slope spot markets itself as a “modern bathhouse experience.” Guests are instructed to sit in a sauna for 15 minutes, rinse off, drop in a cold tub for 3 minutes, rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then repeat the cycle, two more times. This therapy is said to help cardiovascular health, improve immunity and cognitive function. It also may benefit mental clarity. A two-hour visit to the Sauna House costs $40. Guests can sign up for memberships and private experiences for more money.
Hit the slopes
North Carolina’s ski mountains are not quite like the Rockies, but skiers and snowboarders can get a few turns in a short ride from Asheville. Here are a few options:
- Cataloochee Ski Area. 1080 Ski Lodge Road, Maggie Valley. A 30-mile drive from Asheville. This mountain offers 50 acres of skiing, 740 feet of vertical drop and five lifts. Slope passes for four-hour sessions cost $42 on the weekdays and $68 on the weekends and holidays for adults. These do not include rentals.
- Beech Mountain Resort. 1007 Beech Mountain Parkway, Beech Mountain. A 55-mile drive from Asheville. There are 95 skiable acres on the mountain, 830 feet of vertical drop and eight lifts. Four-hour slope passes cost $40 on the weekdays and $64 on the weekends for adults. This does not include rentals.
- Sugar Mountain Resort. 1009 Sugar Mountain Drive, Sugar Mountain. A 53-mile drive from Asheville. There are 125 acres of skiable terrain, 1,200 feet of vertical drop and nine lifts. Half-days for adults cost $44 on the weekdays and $69 on weekends and holidays. This also does not include rentals.
Drink a beer … or two
Asheville attracts visitors from all around the country to sample its beer. During a staycation, why not leave the kids at home and go brewery hopping? The Citizen Times’ food and dining reporter, Tiana Kennell, covers the city’s beer scene at length. Here are a few spots she has written about recently:
- Burial Beer has taprooms in South Slope and at Forestry Camp in Biltmore Village. Burial serves food at these locations as well, including burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and fish and chips.
- The Whale has locations in West Asheville and Haw Creek as well as two spots in South Carolina.
- Terra Nova Taproom partnered with Loott House Restaurant to open a Swannanoa location. Terra Nova is going to open an Asheville location in 2024, in the former Bhramari Brewing site.
- Salt Face Mule Brewing Co. in Woodfin has a menu of beers, hard seltzers, ciders and wines. It also serves Appalachian regional cuisine, handheld sandwiches, snacks and desserts. It also offers two 18-hole mini golf courses.
Cook up a storm
The truest staycation is staying indoors and cooking up a big meal for family and friends. WNC’s rich agricultural landscape offers cooks a cornucopia of options to buy locally grown and raised ingredients. Here are a few options:
- Hickory Nut Gap Farms, 56 Sugar Hollow Road, Fairview. Hickory Nut Gap sells grassfed beef and pastured pork and chicken to many of Asheville’s restaurants. For cooks who think they can grill up a better steak on their own, buy some beef at the gorgeous Fairview farm.
- Sunburst Farms. 314 Industrial Park Drive, Waynesville. Many of Asheville’s fine-dining establishments serve Sunburst Farms trout. For cooks who want to serve up some local fish and don’t want to pay restaurant prices, a short drive to the shop will be worth your while.
- WNC Farmers Market. 570 Brevard Road, Asheville. Buy local vegetables, starches and legumes in this airy warehouse. Pick up a trinket or two as well.
Mitchell Black covers Buncombe County and health care for the Citizen Times. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MitchABlack. Please help support local journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.