Never heard of bellyaking? That’s because it was invented in Asheville back in 2012 but has caught on more in the last few years. This sport takes kayaking and flips it quite literally as paddlers lay on their bellies and use their arms—many opt to also use webbed flow gloves—and paddle face-first on rivers, lakes, and even oceans as bellyak rental locations continue to pop up in ocean towns.
Not ready to try bellyaking? Try kayaking the French Broad River or Lake James for nice, easy paddling experiences. Or, turn it up a notch and head to Big Creek or Green River’s challenging Narrows, which has been credited as molding the sport and establishing Asheville “as a central hub of the whitewater kayaking industry,” according to silver medalist Chris Gragtmans. Learners should check out the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which also offers canoeing and paddleboarding.
If whitewater kayaking isn’t for you, traditional whitewater rafting opportunities exist at six different rivers, from easy rapids along the French Broad and North Toe River to more challenging rapids at Pigeon and Tuckasegee rivers. The most popular, in part due to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, is the Nantahala River, which takes paddlers down eight miles of the river across class II and III rapids.
Hiking may just be the most popular outdoor activity to do in Asheville thanks to thousands of trails for every ability level. Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and look for trailheads peeking out behind milepost markers, go on a waterfall hunt, or be rewarded atop summits with incredible sunsets. Many areas are dog-friendly and offer primitive camping as well, and two famous long hikes, the 1,200-mile Mountains-to-Sea and 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, can also be accessed from Asheville.
Road biking and mountain biking are big deals in Asheville. Many bikers utilizing the Blue Ridge Parkways to get their road miles in, while others take advantage of the paved river path at the Biltmore Estate. Both Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests have plenty of mountain biking trails, including the popular Bent Creek Experimental Forest. RootsRated has even said, “Some of the country’s most epic mountain biking is carved into the steep hillsides surrounding Asheville,” so plan your biking trip pronto.
Along with epic biking opportunities, the Asheville area is also home to the fastest, steepest ziplining in America at The Gorge. During your three-hour tour, expect 11 trips flying between the trees, three rappels, and even a 1,000-foot drop as you fly over the Green River Gorge. On clear days, zipliners can also catch glimpses of Linville Gorge, Lake James, and perhaps even Grandfather Mountain.
With tons of campgrounds and primitive spots, camping is the preferred way to be a weekend warrior in Asheville. Camp at Oskar Blues for their Burning Can festival or to take part in a running event in the woods, or find a river, waterfall, or gorge campsite to call home for a spell within the one million acres of national forest at Pisgah or Nantahala. Whether you prefer car camping or backpacking in, Western North Carolina has it.
During summer months, colorful tubes dot the French Broad River nearly every day, especially on the weekends. Floating the day away with a few friends and a cooler equates to a great way to get up close with nature without having to work too hard for this beautiful reward. Deep Creek, Green River, and Catawba River are also popular tubing spots.
With hundreds of waterfalls waiting to be explored around Asheville, it’s no surprise that the plethora of cool watering holes attracts thousands of people each year. Kids love Sliding Rock, an all-natural, 60-foot waterslide that dumps into a small pool, while kids at heart may prefer the rope swing at Hooker Falls or the jump off rocks at Bust Your Butt Falls or Skinny Dip Falls. For lake swimming, Lake Lure and Lake James provide sand and beautiful views.
Lastly, an outdoor adventure in Asheville isn’t confined to warmer weather. Six ski areas exist in North Carolina, and all are less than two hours from Asheville. Together, these ski resorts provide over 100 trails and acres of fun typically from late November through February.