Over the river and through the woods

Asheville calls itself  “The Land of Sky” for a very good reason – you can do everything under the sun.

Hiking, biking, rafting and picnicking are some of the possibilities. So are touring the Blue Ridge Parkway, kayaking the French Broad River and skiing and snowboarding some of the most thrilling runs on the East Coast.

Your stay at the Dry Ridge Inn, in the north part of Buncombe County, puts you close to some of the highest peaks east of the Rockies. You’re also minutes away from the longest and most visited “park” in the National Park Service system, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Known as “America’s favorite drive,” the parkway is full of scenic overlooks and historical displays. Cyclists love it for its easy climbs and pulse-raising descents. Motorcyclists love it for its unending miles of beautiful rides. Hikers love choosing among more than 100 trails, all of them within a gorgeous ride from the inn.

A 15-minute drive from Weaverville along pastoral Ox Creek Road puts you on the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail, a scenic path above the Blue Ridge Parkway that gives you an intimate, “under-the-canopy” view of the Pisgah National Forest. Head north, and you’ll soon be at Rattlesnake Lodge, which Asheville doctor Chase P. Ambler built in 1903 and 1904 as a summer home for his family. Head south, and in less than an hour, you’re at Craven Gap, with its paved 6.5-mile road to Asheville.

The Parkway sweeps past views of the Asheville Watershed (that’s lovely Bee Tree Reservoir below) to Mount Mitchell, elevation 6,684 feet. The highest point east of the Mississippi, its new observation deck has views that reach far into Tennessee and Virginia. The well-marked Deep Gap, Balsam and Mount Mitchell trails take hikers deep into alpine, Canadian-like forests. Bird watchers will spot a number of the 91 species identified within the 1,855-acre state park.

There’s an excellent restaurant halfway between the Parkway and the top of the mountain. Or have lunch at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, located among some of the most beautiful rhododendron gardens on the Parkway. The Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail quickly takes you to the Craggy Gardens visitors area, which sits just beneath the easily accessed Craggy Knob, with its breathtaking views.

Other popular hiking areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway include Max Patch, Graveyard Fields, Looking Glass Rock and Devil’s Courthouse. All of them are easy day trips from the inn.

Hikers and bicyclists both will enjoy the trails at Dupont State Forest. Local cyclists love the trails at Bent Creek Experimental Forest. There are lots of rides near Weaverville, including the trails at Alexander Park. It’s easy to fall in among the many cyclists riding from Asheville to Marshall along the French Broad River, a level route that can be accessed within a 10-minute of the inn.

You can learn more about road rides at the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club website. For more about trail rides, go to The First-Timer’s Guide to Mountain Biking in Western North Carolina.

Several rafting companies nearby are ready to provide some thrills on the French Broad River, the third-oldest river in the world. Among them are French Broad Rafting Expeditions, Mountain Adventure Guides, Huck Finn Rafting Adventures and Asheville Outdoor Center. If slow and easy is more your speed, most rafting companies rent inner tubes for escorted and unescorted trips down the river.

If you’d rather paddle on your own, the inn is located near popular put-in and take-out points along the river (an excellent guide to sections of the river is run by RiverLink, which works to preserve the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers).

Winter sports enthusiasts will be able to take advantage not only of the quieter season at the inn but also of an array of activities designed to build hearty appetites. Skiing, snowboarding and tubing are close by at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort in Madison County and at Cataloochee Ski Area in nearby Maggie Valley.

Rather go exploring? Hop in the car and head for some of the quaint villages that surround Weaverville.

Hot Springs offers not only a glimpse of how mountain towns used to be but also the opportunity to soak in thermally heated hot tubs at the Hot Springs Spa. Located in the “Land of Waterfalls,” Brevard host several annual special events, including the White Squirrel Music Festival, the Squirrel Box Derby and the Old Time Music Competition. Bakersville, near beautiful Roan Mountain, is home to dozens of artists, many of whom show their work in town.