5 Outdoor Dates to Enjoy in the Blue Ridge This Fall

The faintest of dustings near Black Balsam Knob
The faintest of dustings near Black Balsam Knob Melina Coogan
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It is a well-documented phenomenon that romance flourishes in the outdoors, particularly in autumn, when chilly temperatures flood us with relief from the sweltering summer. Maybe it’s the brisk wind that pinks the cheeks and sparkles the eye that fills us with a craving for coziness and companionship, or perhaps it’s our inborn desire to find love before the frozen winter. Grab your soul mate—or your tinder date—and spend every moment that you can out of doors during this crisp, bright season. Here are five outdoor dates perfect for autumn in the Blue Ridge.

1. Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

The views from atop fire lookouts inspire romance.
The views from atop fire lookouts inspire romance. Emily Poisel

Jack Kerouac loved lookout towers. The years he spent living in a remote fire tower on Desolation Peak altered the course of his life and his writings. But you don't have to be a beat poet to enjoy the stark elegance or the sweeping mountain views of these lofty structures. The 70-foot lookout tower on the summit of Fryingpan Mountain is open to the public, although it remains a bit of a well-kept secret. There's a good chance you'll have the tower, and the mountaintop, all to yourself.

The top tower is locked, but five flights of steel stairs will bring you just below the platform, for a breath-taking view that includes the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Shining Rock Wilderness. At such great height, be prepared for gusty winds and chilly temperatures; you may have to draw each other close.

Fryingpan Mountain is accessible by a quick hike up Forest Service Road 450, at milepost 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

2. Picnic at Black Balsam Knob

Catching the last of the sun's rays on Black Balsam Knob.
Catching the last of the sun's rays on Black Balsam Knob. Melina Coogan

You've come prepared with soft cheese, a baguette from the West End Bakery , a box of assorted French Broad Chocolates , and a wool blanket to spread upon the summit of Black Balsam Knob . After double-checking the forecast and meticulously timing your approach, you and your companion are basking in the rich and flattering light that briefly illuminates the world directly before sunset. You are 6,214 feet above the sea, yet the hike on the Art Loeb Spur trail was a mere quarter mile long. In short, you have orchestrated the best picnic date in the history of picnic dates.

Do not neglect to bring a pair of binoculars and a small notebook. Then, as you watch the sun drop over Shining Rock Wilderness, Looking Glass Rock, Cold Mountain, Mount Pisgah (and even Mt. Mitchell, but only on a day of astonishing clarity) jot down a plan to climb together up every peak that you can see. Many years later, when you look back on the rich and adventurous life that you have shared, you'll  trace it back to this moment, this one sweet and windy picnic in the Great Balsam Range. Or at least, this is the hope.

3. Group Ride with Asheville on Bikes

Put a spin on the “group hang” with a community bike ride.
Put a spin on the “group hang” with a community bike ride. Garry Knight

Sometimes, it’s best to keep things casual. If it’s more your style to get to know someone in a laid back and social atmosphere, check out the group rides hosted by  Asheville on Bikes , a local nonprofit dedicated to bicycle advocacy and education. A community bike ride puts an athletic spin on the ever popular “group hang,” a dating trend which avoids the potential pitfalls of a one-on-one engagement.

AOB offers scheduled group rides from May to October, as well as a number of bike related events, volunteer opportunities and social mixers throughout the year. Pedal through town at a relaxed pace that just might facilitate good conversation. At the end of the ride, all that fresh air and endorphins will have instilled in you the courage to ask her out to dinner, or maybe to the top of a fire tower.

4. Trails and Wine Tasting at the Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore in autumn.
The Biltmore in autumn. Leonard Silver

The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States, lavishly adorned and preserved in the splendor of its railroad-moneyed heyday. This may sound like an unlikely attraction for the outdoor enthusiast, until one considers the 8,000 acres of forest, ornate gardens, trails, and broad meadows across which a pack of horses can occasionally be seen galloping.

Treat your companion to an unusual date of outdoor opulence, one which delights all of the senses. Hike through fragrant orchards of ripe grapes and apples, savor the autumn foliage of dogwoods, sourwoods, maples, gums, sassafras and oak. Explore the vibrant chrysanthemums and salvias inside the Walled Gardens and study the delicate orchards in a glass-roofed greenhouse.

After you've worked up an appetite on the trails, duck inside the Biltmore Winery at Antler Hill Village. A guided tour and complimentary wine tasting are included in the price of admission. (The price of admission is steep, so drink up!)

5. Visit an Apple Orchard

An apple orchard is an idyllic place to fall in love.
An apple orchard is an idyllic place to fall in love. Tabitha Blue

Nothing on earth will get you into the spirit and festivities of the season more than an apple orchard. The future holds plenty of opportunity to barrel down steep creeks and stand atop rugged summits with your love interest by your side; for now, allow yourself to relax and bask in the campy pleasures of hayrides, scarecrows and corn mazes.

Perched high in the mountains of Flat Rock, North Carolina, Sky Top Orchard offers 22 varieties of apples, pumpkins and gourds, freshly made doughnuts and gallons of cold cider. The farther you stroll from the barn, the more solitude you'll find amongst the fruit trees. Cap it off with a pizza at the Flat Rock Village Bakery or a plate of wood-fired BBQ at the Hubba Hubba Smokehouse. After this day, you'll wish it were harvest all year round.

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