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Asheville’s regional airport is one of the best connected in America, with the added bonus of being a very easy airport to get in and out of. From its Mills River location, it sits only 15 minutes from downtown, so people who have a layover in Asheville should take advantage of the easy access to downtown, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the splendors of the two national forests that border The Land of Sky.
The Asheville airport only has one main restaurant and a small shop, so if you find yourself with three hours, you’ll want to go and see one of the most beautiful breweries in America, Sierra Nevada. This 180-acre beer campus cost $175 million to build and sits only a couple of miles from the airport. Its striking copper stills, outdoor garden and amphitheater, and beautiful seating areas and decks make it worth a visit on their own. Add in amazing upscale pub grub and several of their small-batch brews that aren’t available anywhere else, and you’ll wish your layover was even longer.
With a little more time, add in a self-guided walking tour of downtown Asheville. All you have to do is follow the 1.7-mile (2.7-kilometer) Urban Trail to learn about the city’s history, important locals, and unique architecture. Maps can be picked up at the Pack Square visitors center. Start at Pack Place at marker #1 as you wind through downtown to enjoy Asheville’s “museum without walls,” as this trail has been coined.
With seven hours between flights, why not rent a car and drive the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, touted as one of America’s Favorite Drives? Several entry points give drivers choices on whether to head south or north along this 469-mile (755-kilometer) drive that stretches into Virginia. Yet, some of the best views of the entire route exist between mileposts 431 and 349 as the road curves along the ridgeline, so hit this section if you can.
For the quintessential Asheville experience, combine all of the above—going to Sierra Nevada, exploring downtown, and driving the Blue Ridge Parkway—and add a hike. Choose from fairly easy trails with great rewards like the Rattlesnake Lodge Trail above downtown Asheville or Skinny Dip Falls at milepost 417. Or, go for more challenging jaunts and head to the Mount Mitchell High Loop or Mt. Pisgah.