With a craft brewery on every corner, a mountain range rippled with trails and waterfalls around every bend, planning your summer excursions in Western Carolina can feel like an overwhelming task. Here in Beer City, no outing is complete without a brewery visit to cap it off—or at least an IPA down by the river. Thankfully, certain adventures pair naturally with certain beers. Here is a guide to some of summer’s perfect pairings.
1. Skinny Dip Falls and New Belgium Skinny Dip
The water of Skinny Dip Falls is emerald in hue, so clear and pristine that you can see straight to the sandy bottom. It is so strikingly beautiful that someone, after seeing pictures of my recent excursion to the falls, asked me how I doctored the photos 'to make them look so dreamy.' There was no editing involved—the falls are just that dreamy. A patchwork of sunlight filters through the trees and hits the deep water of the main basin, which is surrounded by 12 foot cliffs which are perfect for jumping. You can clamber up the waterfalls and explore upstream, to little pools that grow more secluded the further you go. Visitors stack rocks on the edge of these pools, and the towers grow higher throughout the summer.
This is one of the most enchanting swimming holes in all of Appalachia. It's almost as if the brewers at New Belgium had this spot in mind when they created the Skinny Dip Pale Ale, their "full bodied, figure-friendly tribute to the lightly attired summer months." (And with an enormous brewery and tasting room slated to open in the River Arts District this winter, perhaps they did.) Cascade hops, notes of fresh peach, and a burst of sunny citrus at the finish make this beer every inch as crisp and refreshing as a mountain swimming hole. I can think of no taste more suitable to conclude a long, languid day of exploring this watery Blue Ridge gem. Bottoms up.
2. Secret Rocky Cove Loop and Highland Brewery
As the name suggests, the Secret Rocky Cove Loop is one Bent Creek 's best kept secrets. This 5.5 mile loop stitches together piney forest trails with old logging roads to create a pleasant and satisfying afternoon run. Although the majority of the mileage is on forest roads, a bit of singletrack keeps the terrain varied and interesting, and beautiful lake vistas will keep you motivated. This is an ideal circuit if you're searching for a bit of solitude. Unlike the majority of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, it's quite possible that you won't run into another soul.
All of the seasonal beers brewed at Highland Brewery are named after features of the Southern Appalachian landscape. Visit the spacious East Asheville brewery and treat yourself to a cold pint of Little Hump Spring Ale or Lost Cove American Pale Ale. As a runner, you're likely to make some friends here: Highland hosts weekly fun runs, participated in the Race to the Taps race series, and hosts the annual summer Night Flight evening run, followed by a party in the back meadow.
Access Secret Rocky Cove Loop by parking at the Hardtimes Parking Lot in Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
3. Catawba Falls and Catawba Brewing Fire Water IPA
The hike to Catawba Falls consists of a lovely, three mile out-and-back trail that rolls gently uphill until it reaches the base of the falls. In some sections, the trail gets complicated by slick rocks, stream crossings and boulders, but the reward is worth the fancy footwork. Catawba Falls is a white veil of water that tumbles over a vertical maze of mossy rocks into a clear pool, inside a forest so dark and verdant it feels enchanted. It's quite a payoff for a hike that's only about an hour and a half total.
Finish off your breezy, beautiful day of hiking by paying a visit to Catawba Brewery . Nestled in the South Slope neighborhood just south of downtown Asheville, Catawba boasts a spacious tasting room filled with sunlight, and an open back patio perfect for enjoying a warm, laid back summer afternoon. The pint of the hoppy, golden-hued Fire Water IPA will provide kicky post-waterfall refreshment.
On I-40 east from Asheville, take exit 73 and turn right immediately onto Catawba Falls Road. Continue for 3 miles and park at the end of the road. The trail can be found at the Bridge that spans the Catawba River.
4. Mt.Mitchell Circuit and Pour
The best tasting beer is the one that is well deserved, and you're certainly going to earn your pour after this one. This circuitous route takes you not only to the top of Mt. Mitchell , the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, but also on adventurous tour of surrounding summits within the formidable Black Mountain Range.
Certainly there are faster ways to the top, but this 10.5 mile loop, stitched together from sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail, Black Mountain Crest Trail, and more, offers you the chance to be an explorer. As an explorer, you'll want to experience as many rugged climbs, breathtaking vistas, and diverse ecosystems as the day will allow. Why settle for the summit when you can see it all?
The Mt. Mitchell Circuit offers a sampling of the region's finest peaks and valleys: Deep Gap, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Knob and more. It's only fitting that you reward yourself by sampling from an enormous selection of beers. Pour Taproom , the world's largest "self pour" bar, is right here in West Asheville. An entire wall of computerized taps offers 46 craft beers from local breweries, plus plenty more options from around the country.
Try the smoked malt and limey tang of Wicked Weed's Conquistador, rich notes of chocolate and peanut butter in Terrapin's Liquid Bliss, the summery-sweet Big Rod Coconut Ale from Miami Brewing—and you're just getting started. You pay by the ounce in this ingenious set up, so that you may taste (almost) as many as you please. Remember, you are an explorer; why settle for a pint when you can taste it all?
Begin at the Black Mountain Crest Trail, which you can access by parking at the Mount Mitchell Summit parking area, at the dead end of route 128 in Mount Mitchell State park. Allow yourself a full 8 hours to complete this 10.5 mile loop.