Summer days are long and should be filled from sunup to sundown with adventures and enriching outdoor activities. Now is the season for children to get their hands dirty, to chase frogs and climb trees, to hear songbirds and eat freshly picked berries. Asheville and the surrounding mountains are brimming with family-friendly summer adventures that will keep the little ones engaged, entertained, and asking for more. Here are our top 10 picks for an active excursions filled with rivers, sunshine, and delight.
1. Explore the Botanical Gardens
With free admission, plenty of parking, and stroller-friendly trails, Asheville Botanical Gardens may be the easiest and most convenient way to introduce your children to the beauty and diversity of Asheville's great outdoors. The gardens include over 600 species of trees, wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and sedges that are native to the Southern Appalachian mountains, including many that are rare and endangered. Guided tours are available, or simply let the little ones splash in the creeks, dash through the meadows and explore the wildflower coves.
2. Go Star Gazing
Here's a compelling reason to keep the kids up past their bedtime. Book a family session with Star Watch Night Vision Tours and prepare for one of the most memorable evenings of the summer. Using Alpha Generation 3 Military Night Vision Equipment, you will be able to see constellations, shooting stars, and satellites like you've never even imagined, including thousands of stars that are invisible to the naked eye.
3. Fly Through the Trees
Climb, jump, swing, fly, and rappel through the woods at Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, a wild and elaborate outdoor jungle gym just five minutes outside of town. Where else could you kayak through the canopy or snowboard through the sky? The park features five separate adventures trails, each with their own set of obstacles that will appeal to a wide variety of ages, experiences and comfort levels. Kids are guaranteed to have a blast and discover the adventurous side of physical fitness, all the while being kept safe and secure with the latest “smart belay” technology. This will be one of the most fun and active afternoons you'll have all summer—just don't be surprised when they ask to go back the next day.
4. Meet the Butterflies
The Hop'n Blueberry Farm is a water-and-sun powered sustainable family farm located outside of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The farm's unique array of specialties range from medicinal herbs and hops to butterflies and blueberries. Take a hands-on tour of this innovative Blue Ridge establishment, which dates back for seven generations, and learn about sustainability, permaculture, and pollination. Children will love the butterfly house, where you can reach out and have a friendly monarch land on your hand. During the summer months, you can observe every stage of these beautiful creature's lives: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult. You can even purchase all things butterfly to bring home, including nets, butterfly grow kids and plant seeds.
5. Beat the Heat at Splashville
Splashville, a brand new interactive water fountain in Pack Square, is by far the coolest way to beat the heat in downtown Asheville. Children never seem to tire of chasing the jets of water that leap out of a tiled surface in this bustling and historical section of the city. Their shrieks and laughter mingles with live music of street performers and the chatter of shoppers, museum-goers and patrons dining outside of the many restaurants that surround the square. For an extra-special summer afternoon, treat the kids to an ice cream from nearby Chocolate and Milk, an offshoot of the famous French Broad Chocolate Lounge .
6. Slide down Sliding Rock
Sliding Rock is a popular natural water park located 8 miles outside of Brevard, North Carolina. Children of all ages love the thrill of this exhilarating summer adventure, which includes lifeguard supervision during the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. After you slide down a 60 foot face of smooth, steep rock, fueled by 11,000 gallons of water, and land with a splash in a deep, icy pool at the bottom, you'll only have one thought: “I have to do that again!”
7. Visit the WNC Nature Center
This 42-acre wildlife park and sanctuary is home to more than 60 native species of animals, including bobcats, black bear, red wolves and cougars. The Western North Carolina Nature Center provides a refuge for animals that have been imprinted, injured, orphaned, or otherwise rendered unable to survive on their own. Children of all ages will enjoy the interactive exhibits, such as touching reptiles, identifying songbirds, and observing the animals' daily feeding. A highlight of your visit will be Otter Falls, a newly designed collection of pools and waterfalls chock-full of curious, playful river otters.
8. Have an Orchard Adventure
If you're looking to take the family on a daytrip, The Orchard at Altapass should be on the top of your list. Located 55 miles north of Asheville off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this 105 year old orchard has been converted into an Appalachian Heritage Center, and features live music, barn dances, mountain art and other cultural programs in addition to apple picking. Children can listen to stories of the land's remarkable history as they enjoy an orchard wagon ride, play an old fashioned game of checkers in the kids corner, hike on the nature trails or participate in any number of hands-on art programs. Take home a jar of local jam to remember your idyllic day in the countryside.
9. Go Whitewater Rafting
The French Broad River—the third oldest river in the world—is the perfect place to introduce your children to the world of whitewater rafting. A river trip is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the outdoors on a hot summer day. The Nantahala Outdoors Center is the longest continually operated outfitter on the French Broad, and will provide your family with a safe and thrilling day of class II and III rapids while keeping you entertained with stories of the river's dynamic history. The full-day trip even includes a plunge down a class VI drop—something your family will be telling stories about for years. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as kingfishers, bald eagles, and even black bears as you glide through a remote section of the Pisgah National Forest.
10. Go For a Hike
Pink Beds Loop Hike is a great trail for sturdy young adventurers who already have a bit of experience on nature trails. The hike is 5 miles in total, but mostly flat and surrounded by water, including creeks to cross, streams to splash in, mountain bogs to explore and beaver dams to observe. A series of bridges, boardwalks and foot-logs keep the hike fun and dynamic, and an optional waterfall offers an additional reward. The abundance of pristine water and bogland creates a rich habitat for aquatic species and endangered plants, so keep a sharp eye out for critters.