6 Reasons to Be Thankful You Live in Western Carolina

A vista in Mt. Mitchell State Park.
A vista in Mt. Mitchell State Park. Melina Coogan
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Although it feels as if just yesterday we were jumping into swimming holes and running through green mountain trails, somehow the trees are bare, the earth is hard with frost, and the holidays are again upon us.

With this time of year comes the ubiquitous reminders to celebrate the season and be thankful. And although our gratitude is never limited to just one season, those of us lucky enough to live in Western Carolina—encompassed by the beauty of the Blue Ridge and afloat on an endless variety of microbrews—should take this time as an opportunity to slow down and appreciate all that we have at our fingertips. Here are six wild and adventurous reasons to be thankful that we live in Western Carolina.

1. The Highest Highs

Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell.
Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell. Kolin Toney

So we’re all aware that we live just 19 miles northeast of Mt. Mitchell , the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. But how often do we stop to consider how truly awesome it is to be able to stand on the observation deck, 6,684 feet above sea level and bask in the assurance that everyone on the East Coast is below us? How surreal it is that we can sit and enjoy a picnic atop the very throne of eastern North America? Then we ride back into town for coffee, or catch a movie, or continue with our backpacking trip on the Mountains to Sea Trail, knowing that for one moment we stood hundreds of feet above everything and everyone, even those in the highest skyscrapers in New York City.

Mt. Mitchell State was one of America’s very first state parks and it remains one of the most spectacular. It casually encompasses Mt. Craig, the second highest peak on the East Coast, and several other peaks that reach over 6,000 feet. The trail options range from short summit jaunts to challenging ridge-line treks to drive by vistas and the views are sensational.

2. The Lowest Lows

If on Saturday you stood atop the highest point on the East Coast, then why not round out the weekend by spending Sunday exploring the lowest?  The Linville Gorge, the deepest canyon in the east, is an adventurer’s paradise. The Linville Gorge Wilderness is the third largest swath of wilderness in North Carolina and boasts 11,786 acres of hiking, top-roping, multi-pitches, bouldering, backpacking, backcountry camping, swimming holes, extremely difficult whitewater, and phenomenal views.

Catch a sunset at Wiseman’s View, one of the most breathtaking vistas in the Southeast, then be home in time to make dinner and watch a little Netflix before bed. That’s just a typical day for the Ashevillian. If you need just one reason to feel thankful this season, let it be the Linville Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the East,” just over an hour away.

3. You Never Have to Leave

A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park.
A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park. Melina Coogan

Those of us who live in the mountains of Western Carolina never need to know the agony of the glacial, day-by-day countdown toward that one coveted vacation each year, nor the bleak return to work after your one week of freedom has passed. There are swimming holes in the summer. Foliage in the autumn. Skiing (and paddling, and bouldering) in the winter. Hiking in the spring . Asheville is a year-round vacation destination for those inclined toward joyful pursuits in the wilderness.

Certainly we have our share of dreary February days, but if you know where to look for it, there’s never a shortage of adventure. Why plan a pricey tropical trip when the rivers are pumping, the mountains are sparkling in white and the cold holds at Rumbling Bald are grippy as ever? And if you do find yourself in need of a weekend away, just hop in the car and drive an hour to these nearby adventurous vacation towns, or burrow away in a farm cabin or country cottage for a few nights.

4. Variety

If variety is the spice of life then Asheville has a five-star rating. We can barely keep track of all our ranks, ratings and raves. Singletrack.com calls Asheville “A Beer Town with a Mountainbike Problem,” while  Outside  magazine voted us one of “America’s Best River Towns,” and look, there we are included in Yoga Journal’s “Top 10 most Yoga Friendly Cities in the Country!”

Start your day with a brisk trail run through Bent Creek, sneak in a little afternoon SUP on your lunch break and hit the nearby boulders for a post-work session. As for weekends, the broad range of adventurous opportunities is simply overwhelming, whether you’re hoping fora relaxing float and a casual loop at Tsali, or the white-knuckled gory glory of Kitsuma singletrackor the off-the charts pucker factor of the Green River Narrows.

This Holiday season, every time we see yet another Subaru Outback loaded down with a creek boat and a mountain bike, the trunk overflowing with ropes and harnesses, let’s be take a moment to be grateful that as adventure loving "multi-potentialites" in Western Carolina, we can have it all.

5. Our Commute is in a National Park

The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn. Brian Leon

There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being trapped in traffic on the way out to the mountains. The irony of being stuck in gridlock when you’re trying to get off the grid is enough to make some city dwellers forgo their weekend plans all together. Asheville is the biggest city in Western Carolina and, sure, we see a bit of stop-and-go at rush hour. But we never have to wallow in traffic too long. In fact, many of our favorite outdoor destinations are found alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest national park. Orbitz Travel blog ranked taking a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway as number one on their list of “Seven Things You Absolutely Must Try in a National Park.” No big deal, that’s just our daily commute.

6. Romance

It doesn't get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob.
It doesn't get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob. Melina Coogan

Can we all take a moment and be grateful of how completely effortless it is to find wild and adventurous romance in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Nothing is more beautiful than watching the morning mist rise over the Shining Rock Wilderness, or viewing the lights of the city from Elk Mountain. There’s no quarrel that can’t be cured by sharing a sunset somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway, no deal that can’t be sealed by a box of French Broad Chocolate Truffles and a picnic at Max Patch. From active dates in the great outdoors to funky neighborhoods filled with breweries, love is always in the air in Western Carolina. Love and gratitude—the two essential ingredients to a life well-lived.

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