Travel: The Simple Life
Give your spirit a spring cleaning with a getaway to the mountains of Western North Carolina.
“Let a joy keep you. Reach out your hands and take it when it runs by.”
When Carl Sandburg wrote those lines, he could have been describing springtime in Henderson County, North Carolina. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, spring arrives like a burst of song. Trees turn from drab to dazzling green. Dogwoods sprinkle snowy blossoms over hillsides. At Sandburg’s farm, baby goats frolic in the fields. It’s as if the Greek goddess Persephone traipsed among these ancient Appalachians, waking the land from its winter rest.
If you’ve only seen waterfalls in theme parks, lace up your hiking boots and head for DuPont State Recreational Forest. Within two hours of leaving the High Falls parking area, you pass three waterfalls. Experiencing déjà vu? It might be the scenery. The Last of the Mohicans and the first Hunger Games movies were filmed here. It’s tempting to linger, but other natural wonders beckon. Henderson County is also home to a second state forest, a national forest and a nature preserve.
Up for some heart-stopping fun? Grab a helmet, strap on a harness and zipline along the Green River Gorge for breathtaking views of an old growth forest. Considered one of America’s steepest ziplines, The Gorge experience traverses 11 ziplines, a sky bridge and an 1,100-foot vertical rappel.
You’ll need to hold on tight to your paddle while kayaking the nearby French Broad River, which flows with Class II, III and IV rapids. Nantahala Outdoor Center rents equipment for solo and guided excursions.
A Trail for Every Taste
Need a break from hiking? Try one of several scenic driving tours. Along the Crest and Farm Market trails, folks frequent orchards and roadside stands, picking produce as they go. “Agritourism gives modern kids the opportunity to learn where food comes from,” says farmer Mike Stepp of Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard. Apples dominate the scene for good reason. Henderson County is one of America’s largest apple producers. If you miss apple season (mid-August-October), there’s plenty of produce and activities spring through summer.
To sample locally made libations, follow the convivial Cheers! Trail. The local topography and climate responsible for producing great apples benefits grapes, too. (Henderson County is a designated American Viticultural Area.) Not to be outdone by Asheville’s microbrewery scene, the trail also boasts 10 breweries.
To really live like a local, sample the hard cider. “Our topography, climate and soil structure create consistent and approachable flavors,” says Brian Shanks, co-founder of Bold Rock, the nation’s largest independently-owned hard cider company.
As you explore, don’t miss the Spring Dogwood Trail, a 23-mile meander through the countryside. White and pink dogwood trees generally bloom in mid-April.
History in the Hills
A must-see for literature lovers, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock is a highlight of the Heritage Trail. The first national park dedicated to a poet, it houses the author’s typewriters, books and family possessions. Wandering the bucolic property, you’ll find a museum, hiking trail and descendants of Mrs. Sandburg’s original goat herd. House tours can be booked in advance at recreation.gov
Driving tours aside, downtown Hendersonville is best explored on foot. Anchored by a gold-domed courthouse built in 1905, this mountain town exhibits bits of Mayberry. Folks stop on the street to say hello and chat. Modern-day Opies ogle the candy barrels at Mast General Store. The donuts at McFarlan’s Bake Shop tempt passersby as they have since the bakery opened in 1930.
For all of the town’s Rockwellian charm, innovation thrives in places like Shine, where French-trained chefs prepare New American fare using local ingredients. “We’re taking our town on a journey in flavor,” says Executive Chef Robert Rogers.
Reflecting on the region’s entrepreneurial spirit, Suzanne Camarata, owner of The Gallery at Flat Rock says, “People are opening businesses with intention; there’s something they want to honor or explore.”
The desire to inspire is evident at The Oriole Mill, where Bethanne Knudson and Stephan Michelson renovated a WWII-era warehouse, creating jobs and heirloom quality woven goods in the process. “Using natural fibers on Jacquard looms, we create different images in the fabric,” says Knudson. Her bespoke blankets blend timeless quality with contemporary designs.
Henderson County strikes a similar balance, honoring traditions while welcoming new ideas. Surrounded and grounded by the venerable Appalachians, the county’s rural roots endure, with an added dash of panache.
Plan your visit
Carolina on your mind? Spirit Airlines flies direct from Orlando International to Asheville Regional Airport. spirit.com
Henderson County activities are within easy driving distance from downtown Hendersonville. The area offers several renovated, historic B&Bs within walking distance from restaurants, shops and museums. Consider elizabethleighinn.com, waverlyinn.com or thecharleston.net
You can pose with the colorful bear statues along the Bearfootin’ Public Art Walk, a whimsical downtown stroll. For the perfect selfie with the sunset as a backdrop, visit Jump Off Rock, a scenic overlook of the Pisgah and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Cider, Wine & Dine Weekend, April 16-19, launches apple season and usually coincides with the apple blossoms. Garden Jubilee, May 23-24, transforms Hendersonville into a massive garden show. Bullington Gardens, a botanical paradise, hosts a Spring Plant Sale April 23-25.
Working studios along the Art Gallery Trail showcase homegrown talent, as do the historic Flat Rock Playhouse and Hendersonville Community Theatre stages. For more information about happenings throughout Henderson County, go to visithendersonvillenc.org