20 Nov 2020
As the last of the glorious autumn leaves fall, the view of the mountains and sky are fully revealed, and the sun's display at the end of the day is arguably the best of any other time of year (it’s scientifically proven actually). The cold, clean atmosphere provides the perfect canvas for the vivid violet, gold, and coral hues you often see, and the views of the mountains become totally unobstructed.
Aside from breathtaking sunsets and long-range views, another great benefit of visiting Western North Carolina during wintertime is that it's generally less crowded in Asheville and Black Mountain (except for actual holidays and some weekends) so you can access the area's many breweries and acclaimed restaurants without waiting for what seems like forever in crowded spaces. The winter season is also a great time to snag a deal on a vacation rental or cabin. Discounts are the gift that keeps on giving, wouldn’t you agree?
This winter season you might feel as if you’re trapped in a snowglobe, but we’re delighted to share with you some of our favorite winter activities that will help you embrace the holiday spirit along with the present moment in that safe and scenic globe.
Hiking & Skiing in a Winter Wonderland
As a charming mountain city, visiting guests almost always associate Asheville with a snowy woodland scene right out of a classic Christmas movie. Sadly, while snow in Western North Carolina is always a possibility, it’s not a super common occurrence. The same mild climate that creates the spectacular four seasons that draw many to our area also contributes to the uncertainty of wintry conditions. In fact, the average temperature you’ll experience while visiting in the winter is a moderate 45 degrees. Even if the temperatures drop to a number conducive for creating snow, Asheville is nestled in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains which creates a sort of protective barrier from some of mother nature’s harshest weather conditions.
This “snowglobe effect” is nice when it comes to severe weather, but it can certainly be disappointing for those longing to see the idyllic peaks and valleys blanketed in sugar powder white. Luckily, you can visit an area ski slope (where the temperatures typically run 20 degrees colder) in a similar amount of drive time that you might have to reach a hike or other activity on your wishlist. At the slopes, you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snowman building to your heart’s content.
Located in Mars Hill, the Wolf Ridge Ski Resort is just 30 minutes north of Asheville making it the closest ski resort. Wolf Ridge has 15 lighted runs with two black diamond runs for more challenging options. Roughly 40 minutes from Asheville in Maggie Valley is the Cataloochee Ski Area which typically opens by mid-November and closes towards the end of March. The top elevation reaches 5400 feet, and they offer skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing equipment for rent and have over 50 acres of skiable territory.
Located near Cashiers, NC, about an hour and a half south of Asheville, is Sapphire Valley Ski Resort, a small skii area offering a 1,600 feet high main run, a learning center beginner slope, a state-of-the-art quad lift, and a 500-foot snow tubing run that's great for beginners and families. An hour an a half north of Asheville is Beech Mountain Ski Resort, the highest ski resort in the Eastern United States. Receiving over 80 inches of snow a year, Beech Mountain is one of the top destinations for skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and ice skating. There are 17 different slopes to accommodate all skill levels, and Beech Mountain is open 7 days a week starting at the end of November. After a full day of playing in the snow or riding the lifts, you can unwind with delicious dinner and drinks in the village at Beech Mountain Brewing Co. or at the Beech Mountain Resort’s Taproom & Grill. In nearby Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain Ski Resort is another top destination for winter sports with 21 runs, 15 of which are lighted for activities that continue into the night. All of these resorts are family-friendly, and most are an affordable and convenient day trip from Asheville.
For the outdoor enthusiasts that lack winter sport coordination, there’s also hiking. During the winter, the foliage clears out, completely opening the surrounding landscapes to reveal breathtaking views. Icicles form on rock faces and create frozen sculptures around waterfalls while frost and snow settles on the trees and mosses along the trails giving everything a sharp and scintillant appearance. While there are plenty of wintertime hikes to choose from, these trails highlight some of the best aspects of the season.
Wintergreen Falls, aptly-named for the wintergreen (aka teaberry) plants which grow in the Grassy Creek area, is a 1.5-mile moderate waterfall trail within DuPont State Forest that is overlooked by most, as the mightier High Falls and Triple Falls are usually the trails that draw a crowd. While it's only 20 feet high, Wintergreen Falls offers a beautiful and quieter setting on the less-trafficked side of the park. The trail leads you downhill gradually to the falls which means it's all uphill coming back. As you approach the waterfall, you'll pass by stunning cascades on the creek that tend to freeze and turn into sculptural wonders during the winter. The trail does require you to step over a few small boulders to reach the best vantage point, but it’s certainly worth it. This evergreen haven offers just enough room for a small picnic if you want to bring some thermoses of warm soup and hot chocolate.
Pink Beds Valley Trail, named for the abundant pink blooms of summer rhododendron and mountain laurel that were visible from neighboring mountainsides, is a five-mile loop trail that is unsurprisingly the most popular in summertime. The wealth of wildflowers and rare insects that inhabit this highland bog is great for daytime strolls to catch a glimpse of butterflies and hummingbirds and night strolls to catch fireflies. However, this trail is a quiet and tranquil wonderland during the winter that winds beneath towering, twisting pine trees, forest varieties, and rare mountain bogs so you’ll feel as if you’ve wandered upon a secret evergreen kingdom all your own.
Shortoff Mountain, a roughly 4.5 mile round trip trail, is the prime spot to soak in some of the most spectacular panoramic views in the mountains of North Carolina. Located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area (also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”), this hike offers sweeping views of the expansive gorge. Keep in mind that the first mile of this hike is quite strenuous and rocky but still safe and easy to follow while the last mile or so is mostly level across the summit. This is a great option for a winter hike because it’s a notoriously sunny trail, so the frost (and maybe even snow) draping the miles of the already breathtakingly beautiful and rugged gorge below you will be gleaming and glimmering in the light.
Max Patch, a 1.7 mile hike to a 350-acre mountain bald with 360-degree views, is easily one of the most spectacular sights you'll experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains. On a clear day, you’ll be able to spot Mt. Mitchell to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the south. Popular for group hikes, sunrise hikes, picnics, and star gazing, the summit is a short hike from the parking area deep in the Pisgah National Forest. Avoid the closed trail that leads directly from the parking lot to the summit because it’s an ecological restoration area. Instead, follow one of the blue blaze trails to the Appalachian Trail and summit. While beautiful year-round and at any time of day, it’s particularly breathtaking on a snowy winter evening around sunset because you’ll have a front-row seat to rolling mountains as far as the eye can see against the brilliant, colorful sky.
Whiteside Mountain, believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world—geologists estimate that it’s roughly 360 to 490 million years old—is a must-see landmark within the Nantahala National Forest. A moderate 2 mile loop trail eventually brings you to the top of 750 feet high cliffs (the highest perpendicular bare rock face east of the Rocky Mountains), but don’t worry, there’s plenty of railings for safety. The cliffs are truly spectacular in both the fall as the leaves are at their peak golden and crimson color and in the winter as veils of ice drape over the cliff faces resembling shimmering shards of glass.
Holiday Events & Happenings (Updated to reflect 2022-2023 Season)
Biltmore Candlelight Christmas Evenings (11/4-1/7)
Visiting the Biltmore Estate is a bucket list item that cannot go unchecked while in Asheville, especially during the holidays. From the iconic Norway spruce decorated with twinkling lights on the front lawn to the adorned interior that whisks you back in time with its cozy and traditional atmosphere created by the beautiful glow from flickering candles, roaring fireplaces, and thousands of twinkling lights, Biltmore House’s Candlelight Christmas Evenings provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic date night or a classy night out with friends.
Marion's Festival of Trees + Christmas Fest (11/18-12/30)
Take a self-guided tour of over 35 beautifully decorated Christmas Trees at Marion's Festival of Trees in the new 310 District, an indoor shopping space that’s home to Marion Wing Factory, Toonez Chop House, Burrito Brothers Mexican Restaurant, Marion Hot Wheelz indoor skating rink, Chances of Sprinkles Bakery, and several retail shops. This festive & family-friendly event will raise money for charity and toys for Project Christmas.
Marion will also host its inaugural Christmas Fest + Ugly Sweater Contest this year on Friday, December 16 at 6 PM at the Marion City Stage (located at 45 Main Street). Members of the public are encouraged to wear their tackiest Christmas sweaters in front of spectators attending Christmas Fest. The winner will be determined by the person who gets the most cheers from the audience, and the person with the most votes will receive an ugly Christmas sweater trophy and $50 in cash!
Lake Julian's Festival of Lights (12/1-23)
Lake Julian's Festival of Lights is a driving-only tour that includes thousands of dazzling lights on over 50 animated and stationary displays along an enchanted route circling Lake Julian Park. Please note that tickets must be purchased online this year!
Tryon Resort Winterfest (11/17-1/1)
Tryon Resort Winterfest will be held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center and feature a drive-thru light show with hundreds of thousands of LED lights dancing in synchronization with the music on your radio, a Christmas Market (November 25-27) with local handcrafted art, jewelry, toys and more, a Christmas Village (starts December 1), and Holiday Ice Skating (November 25-February 14) that will give the full North Pole experience this season. On select nights, you may even see live performances along the route from your favorite Christmas characters including The Grinch, Santa, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This is a family-friendly holiday event that’s sure to delight.
Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum (11/18-12/31)
The Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum is one of Asheville’s best and brightest holiday traditions. This year, instead of walking the grounds as usual, you are invited to take a ride through a one-mile stretch of the Arboretum’s enchanting forest to see unique exhibits of winter wildlife, colorful butterflies, and a giant daisy “garden” covered in thousands of holiday lights from the safety of your own vehicle.
The Peppermint Bear Scavenger Hunt (11/25-12/23)
During Hendersonville’s Home for the Holidays month-long celebration, The Peppermint Bear Scavenger Hunt will allow you to enjoy the festive lighting and decorated storefronts up and down Main Street competing for the honor of the best holiday window display by taking you on a fun-filled bear hunt through downtown looking for her cubs. As you search for the cubs, visit at least 12 of the 27 downtown participating businesses and complete the entry form in the brochure and drop it in Peppermint’s mailbox, located in front of the Hendersonville Visitor Center by December 23 in order to be eligible for an unBEARably amazing prize!
From dazzling light displays to seasonal scavenger hunts to Santa-errific festivities, there’s no shortage of ways to experience the magic of the holiday season in Asheville!
Check out more upcoming holiday events here!
Restaurants & Breweries with Outdoor Seating + Heating
One of the best parts of exploring a new city (or enjoying an old familiar city) is going out to sample the cuisine and cocktails that set them apart from every other travel destination. Asheville’s roots in Appalachia contribute to its reputation of providing fresh, regional farm-to-table ingredients while its reputation as a “weird” and progressive city lends to the magic and ingenuity of the dishes and drinks that are created. Our award-winning restaurants and premier craft breweries are not to be missed.
For those that have always or now prefer open-air experiences at breweries and restaurants, the winter would usually signal the conclusion of indulging in mojitos and fine appetizers on the patio. However, at these local dining and drink establishments, they are ensuring that you don’t have to compromise on safety or comfort. Taking social distance, sanitation, and the overall safety of their patrons into account, these unique dining and drinking experiences are completely outdoors while still providing the cozy creature comforts of the indoors with heaters, covered patios, fireplaces, and insulated curtains.
In Black Mountain, Open Oven Brunch & Bakery has several heaters working to keep their intimate outdoor patio nice and toasty. Offering benedicts topped with white wine rosemary hollandaise on homemade sourdough English muffins to sandwiches served on Artisan bread, this local joint hits the sweet spot when it comes to delicious brunch and freshly-made treats. Under the string lights on their heated back patio, you can enjoy your brew and burger with a glorious mountain backdrop at Black Mountain Kitchen & Ale House before heading across the street for after dinner drinks at Black Mountain Brewing. Their toasty, open-air back patio is the perfect place to enjoy the colder weather with a cold one in hand. On Tunnel Road, Cornerstone, a family-owned and operated restaurant offering an expansive menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has a large stone fireplace in addition to heaters. This is a great spot to grab a bite to eat with your family, as they have something everyone will enjoy.
In downtown Asheville, Wicked Weed’s Brewpub has a spacious open-air patio where you can enjoy some savory small bites with a glass of wine around a large fire table. Twisted Laurel’s Downtown location has a large, dog-friendly heated patio adjacent to Pack Square Park and socially-distanced outdoor seating to accompany their Mediterranean-inspired comfort food-an ideal spot for a "holidate" night. Laughing Seed Cafe, provides a partial windblocker along with heaters to accommodate guests on their patio. The go-to spot for organic, locally-sourced vegetarian cuisine with international flair and specialty cocktails, wine, and local craft beer, this is a great place to have lunch while shopping downtown.
In West Asheville, Universal Joint, offers a covered dog-friendly patio with limited heating along with their friendly neighborhood vibes and delicious burgers, bar snacks, and rotating draft and bottle selection. It’s the perfect spot to watch the game with friends or grab a late night snack after exploring the city. Sunny Point Cafe, a glorious farm-to-table restaurant serving comfort food from dawn to dark and made-from-scratch products, has a completely heated patio, but keep in mind that the overflow seating at the picnic tables is not heated. This is the perfect brunch spot (especially after a night on the town or after a morning hike). Treat yourself to a bloody mary or grapefruit mimosa with your huevos rancheros or biscuits and gravy.
Close to Biltmore Estate, Forestry Camp Bar and Restaurant (founders of Burial Beer Co.), has heaters on their rooftop deck and at their dog-friendly picnic area. Providing unique and upscale menus with Spanish and French-inspired traditions and the finest-crafted concoctions, this is another great spot for a date night or outing with your closest friends. Hi Wire’s Big Top taproom near Biltmore Village is offering a creative and safe solution to enjoy outdoor drinking during the upcoming winter. Their newly added igloos contain a table for up to 6 people and colorful string lights. As the weather gets colder, they’ll also be adding a personal heater to each igloo. This experience takes social distancing to a whole new level, and you can rest assured that tables and air are sanitized between each group.
Is there a mountain getaway in Santa’s Bag for you?
Whether you choose to galavant around town taking in the sparkling sights and sites or choose to gather around the warm fireplace at your vacation home to evade the winter winds and watch Hallmark movies (with a mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows) and enjoy time with your loved ones, staying with Greybeard Rentals during the most wonderful time of the year will provide a stay that is sweeter than sugar plums and truly sleighs.