Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895. It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States. In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing. I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year. However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda. If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion. We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.
Where to camp?
Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dupont State Forest is a short drive away. Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area. We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville. Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet. The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing. That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.” I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean. That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive. We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night. The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.
Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest. At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet. You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north. Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.
The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area. For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest. There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look. You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders. The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer. The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.
Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock. There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend. Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom. The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second. On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes. Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.
Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls. The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here. The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate. It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.
Refuel for the Drive Home
For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC. The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans. Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR. While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ. I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ. We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time. We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.