Since the city unveiled a revamped Pritchard Park last year, this cozy spot has managed to draw throngs of tourists and locals alike into the heart of downtown. Simply put, it's got a little of everything that makes Asheville great. Whether it's late-night drum circles, admiring the sun as it passes over the Blue Ridge from a park bench, watching moonlit movies or catching a quick lunch amid the urban bustle, the park can adapt to serve most any need and often does.
Kudos to the city brass for making a bold step in urban revitalization and coming through with an amenity designed to ensure that downtown Asheville is always a vibrant, attractive and comfortable place to be. Go to the park, buy a hot dog, check out the quirky fellow souls, and be glad you're here. -- BW
intersection of Haywood St, College St and Patton Ave, downtown Asheville.
Turning off Charlotte Street and heading down Kimberly Avenue, even the most "recreational" of runners can temporarily forget their agony, distracted by this heavenly street's classy ambiance. Dozens of great old homes front on the tree-lined thoroughfare, which runs nearly two miles from Charlotte to Beaverdam Road, offering up-close views of the Grove Park Inn and its expansive golf course and grounds.
In autumn, Kimberly unveils an entirely new face, the full splendor of blazing fall colors unleashed by stately trees that reach to touch one another above the roadway, scattering the sunlight that spills across the pavement. Dazzled runners advance through a dreamy tunnel of brilliant falling leaves -- all in a relatively safe environment featuring wide sidewalks and only sporadic traffic. -- BW
This one wasn't even close. Xpress readers overwhelmingly named the Bent Creek watershed the best place to ride in Western North Carolina. With single-track well suited to both first-time riders and hard-core spoke fanatics, Bent Creek's 11 named trails offer more than 20 miles of riding all told, tucked in the scenic northern tip of the Pisgah National Forest.
Many of the routes follow old road or railroad beds and are dotted with enough rocks, roots, muddy creek crossings and steeps to challenge even the most technically proficient rider. Do be careful, though, and follow the rules (designed to help keep this heavily used area one of the best in WNC). Most summer weekends, the trails are supervised by members of the Southeastern Mountain Bike Patrol.
From Asheville, take I-240 west to I-26 east to exit 2 (NC 191). Turn left, pass the Biltmore Square Mall, and head south on 191 for two miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto Bent Creek Ranch Road, following the brown signs to the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area (bear left at fork after 0.2 miles on this road). The paved parking area at the Hard Times trailhead is a little more than two miles down this road on the left. Other popular starting points are beyond Hard Times, farther into the valley. -- BW
This is just a cool idea. The 1.7-mile Urban Trail through downtown Asheville, whose 30 "stations" outline the city's rich history, offer the perfect blend of exercise, education and enticement. The routes are marked with engraved pink granite slabs, beginning at Station no. 1 at Pack Square. Many stations feature sculpture, mosaics or other original artwork, making this a great draw for visitors to Asheville.
But it's the locals who vote in this poll, and they're undoubtedly attracted by the vibrant, eclectic city life that thrives all along the route. Rarely does a walk through downtown Asheville deliver entirely predictable visions, sights and discoveries; the Urban Trail has proven to be a great tour guide through this delicious insanity. -- BW
The Urban Trail winds all around downtown Asheville; for more information, call 259-5855.
In another runaway win, the infamous Blue Ridge Parkway proved to be the premier place to host not only mile-long lines of snaking RVs displaying out-of-state plates, but also hordes of skin-tight-spandex-sporting road cyclists. Between the infinite breaktaking views, the safety-minded traffic that proceeds at molasses-drip speeds, and the great access to Asheville and environs, it's no surprise this scenic gem rides away with the road-biking honors.
If you're looking to spice up your next Parkway ride with a different kind of scenery, however, take a peek in the cars parked at the overlooks: Xpress readers also named this twisty thoroughfare their favorite place to do, um, bad stuff. And when performing illegal or nefarious acts at home just doesn't cut it for you anymore, and it's absolutely necessary to risk jail time (or at least public embarrassment) out of doors, the Parkway's seclusion, beauty and access can apparently be put to other uses too (not that I would know). -- BW
From downtown Asheville, The Blue Ridge Parkway winds all around Asheville; you can access it off Tunnel Rd East, Town Mountain Rd, I-26 (exit 2) and I-40 (exit 53), among others. For more information, call 298-0398.
Its 54 acres of terrain, night skiing and double and quad chair lifts propelled Wolf Laurel Resort to the top of the list of local areas where our readers like to hit the slopes. While recent winters have been less than ideal for snowfall, or even snow-making, Wolf Laurel continues to draw those masses of skiers who need their weekend fix and aren't eager to catch a flight to Denver or Salt Lake City.
Trails on the mountain are marked "beginner" to "expert," and the lodge and rental shop offer everything you'll need to start carving turns in the icy white stuff. An added bonus, Wolf Laurel is only 40 minutes from downtown Asheville, and the popular resort manages to keep its lift tickets so affordable ($38 for adults on weekends) that even the most financially challenged ski bum can handle it (well, usually, anyway). -- BW
Wolf Laurel Resort
What could beat gathering a group of buddies on a hot summer Sunday, making the 10-minute drive to the water, tying a group of tubes together on a wide, lazy river, crackin' a cold one from the cooler as it floats along beside you, and watching the riverbanks lazily crawl past? Not all of us can mountain-bike sheer, rocky inclines or fearlessly drive our kayaks into raging walls of whitewater. For those who want some fun time outdoors but prefer a more subdued brand of excitement, tubing is the perfect solution -- and the French Broad, according to your votes, is the perfect tubing river. -- BW
In a puzzling turn of events, this year's voters named Lake Lure their favorite place to camp in Western North Carolina. While there's no questioning the lake's scenic beauty and the stunning views of Chimney Rock and the surrounding mountains, primitive camping is pretty limited hereabouts (but, apparently, well worth the struggle to find it). Besides, isn't camping supposed to be about getting away from it all?
Running a very close second and third were the Hot Springs area and the North Mills River Campground. -- BW
To get to Lake Lure
follow US 74A east out of town for about 30 miles.
The Nantahala River can't claim to offer the most challenging whitewater around, but for Xpress readers, that's OK. What the Nantahala does provide is the perfect combination of family-oriented fun, dramatic scenery and water speeds suitable for introductory excursions.
Nantahala derives from a Cherokee word meaning "land of the noonday sun" (a reference to the steepness of the gorge, whose sheer walls obscure the sun except at midday). And the dam-controlled river guarantees sufficient water for paddling year-round. The class II and III rapids will give your heart rate a jolt, and most certainly, get you wet. -- BW
The Nantahala River Gorge is located about 15 miles southwest of Bryson City; US Hwy 19 follows the river.
From lazy sun worshippers to bloodthirsty piranhas, there's something for everyone at the YMCA's pool. Make that plural -- "We have two pools," clarifies Y staffer Joyce Thornton. "Both are heated, and one is 4 to 6 degrees warmer for children's classes and people with arthritis." These folks have thought of everything. Swimming opportunities range from Water Babies to Adult Lessons (it's never too late!), and then there's the competitive Piranhas Swim Team. But the Y doesn't stop there. Want to try water aerobics? There are classes for the athletically inclined as well as the physically challenged. There's a special swim time for kids in home-school programs, and there's almost always a lap lane open, even during classes. Oh, and if you'd rather just take it easy, you can always catch a few rays on the sunning deck.
"We have such a variety of user groups that everyone feels welcome here," explains Membership Director Barbara Green. She adds that two new mountain-area Ys are about to open: one off Long Shoals Road and one in Marion. Both have swimming facilities. -- AM
Meanwhile, grab your water wings and head to the YMCA of Western North Carolina
30 Woodfin St, Asheville
Most voters simply named "downtown" as their favorite spot for this intriguing activity, but that being a little vague, Pack Square brings home the trophy, having garnered nearly as many votes. Besides, how can you get more downtown than Pack Square? A stylish museum-and-performing-arts complex anchors one end of the square, and you can grab a seat at one of the nearby sidewalk cafes, dig the street musicians, flip through the latest issue of Mountain Xpress, and ogle the passing parade of local strollers and gawking out-of-towners.
Chances are, if you're walking through downtown Asheville, you'll eventually make your way to Pack Square and past the Vance Monument, the center of it all. And the next time you're there, go ahead and give in to your paranoia -- chances are, you're being watched. -- BW
Pack Square is at the intersection of Patton Avenue and Broadway in downtown Asheville.
You've just deftly maneuvered past the stalled delivery truck, only to suddenly have to stomp on your brakes, narrowly avoiding the convertible bravely executing a left turn mere inches off your front bumper. Undaunted, you quickly regain your composure, swerve around a cluster of unsuspecting pedestrians, and speed through yet another red light. Your forehead beads with sweat, your reflexes sharp as a fighter pilot's. But don't be alarmed: It's just another trip down Merrimon Avenue.
For some reason, ordinary, considerate drivers morph into some alien, aggressive life form on this road, losing all attachment to reason and all concern for adjacent humans. This boulevard's four meager lanes make it seem as though you're driving your car down the hallway to your bedroom: There's little margin for error, and new cars and challenges constantly come at you from every angle. Notwithstanding the name, there aren't many "merry men" on this road. -- BW