Asheville, North Carolina
My partner Austin and I moved to Asheville early last Spring, just as the weather turned warm but not yet humid and still shoulder season enough that each day began and ended with crispness and the occasional frost. It was a perfect transition from our former high-desert home, Colorado. I guess in many ways Asheville is the mini Colorado of the east. I’ve heard mention of its likeness to Boulder. But we moved here from Boulder, so I tend to disagree. Perhaps years ago this statement could have been true. Perhaps Asheville is like Boulder before Boulder morphed into its current modern rendition of the city.…
But regardless, Asheville is special. It’s local oriented, community centered and arts and outdoors focussed. It’s feminine and creative and an island of progressiveness amidst an otherwise conservative South. And, of course, it’s beautiful.
For so many reasons, Asheville is growing. And it’s growing fast. In fact, this year it has been on the top of many a travel and live lists. The road and trail running scene is huge, and community minded and growing all the time. We have a full four seasons of trail racing thanks to runnable single track year round, a plethora of challenging mountainous terrain all within driving distance of city center and, of course, a nearly-oversaturated market of, yes, breweries. No city can properly be labeled a trail running destination without them! I think beer perhaps runs through the veins of most trail runners.
Despite oppressive humidity (by Colorado standards) in the Summer, most of the year, Asheville hosts spectacular running, mostly within the Pisgah National Forest. My current top three (there are so many trails here it’s hard to pick just three!) are…
Where to Run:
There are over 30 miles of trails that weave through this run, bike and walker friendly state park, and can be accessed easily via two trail heads near the Blue Ridge Parkway: Rice Pinnacle and Hard Times. Alternatively, you can park at the North Carolina Arboretum (if you wish to pay a small fee) and run through the park’s gentle gravel roads and swooping wood-chipped single track.
The trails at Bent Creek range in difficulty and length. Want a mostly flat(ish) run? You can find one. Need hill repeats? Check. Need a long all-day jaunt? Got that, too. Plus, connections to other trails—like the 1,150-mile Mountains to Sea trail that runs from Cling man’s Dome in Tennessee to the North Carolina outer banks—may be accessed here.
(One of the most famous trail races in the area—the highly competitive Shut In Trail Race—starts in the NC Arboretum and heads uphill through Bent Creek trails and onto the Mountains to Sea Trail where it finishes—after about 15 miles of brutal climbing—near the summit of Mount Pisgah.)
Trails from Bent Creek can connect over to this vast trail network via a short jaunt along a small section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a steep dirt-road downhill. Most of the single track here, though, is accessed to the southwest of Asheville. Because they are less accessible, the trails here are often quieter, but no less spectacular. They often dance back and forth with the North and South Mills Rivers, offering multiple opportunities to get your feet wet. The terrain is jagged and steep in some parts and smooth and curvaceous in others. It’s a different rainforest here, truly magical.
- Mount Mitchell:
I think it’s the terrain shift at about 5,000 feet that’s taken my heart. It feels Colorado-like within two miles of the summit. And so, a little slice of home. The terrain here is steep. It’s a grind of a climb and one well worth the trouble. You can start in Montreal above the little mountain town of Black Mountain (about 20 minutes east of Asheville) and run all the way to the summit, where you’ll stand on top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Go early, though, in the afternoons hoards of tourists abound (you can drive to a summit parking lot and walk 400 meters to the top). The grueling Black Mountain Marathon and Mount Mitchell Challenge races take place here every year in February.
Where to Eat :
REFUEL, RECHARGE & RECOVER
For coffee, I have to say Liberty Coffee House off Orange Street north of downtown is my favorite. I go here pre-run or post yoga at least three times a week. The coffee is excellent and the food is local and delish. They offer up a fresh menu with modern twists on traditional favorites + gluten free options. Plus, their decor is mountain modern and their staff is friendly.
For brews, it’s a close tie between New Belgium Brewing’s sprawling tasting room + lawn + deck overlooking the French Broad river and The Wedge Brewing down the hill in the River Arts District. A group of us meet here every Thursday night for the aptly named, Wedge Run, to eek out a hard tempo down the greenway followed by a drink or two or three with fellow runners (if you’re a Wedge Run newbie, you get a free beer). While neither brewery serves food, you’ll almost always find a rotating food truck parked out front.
But, if you’re hungry, there’s no shortage of incredible cuisine. Nine Mile on Montford is a Caribbean inspired eatery with vibing music and an always fabulous menu with many gluten free and even paleo options. Rosetta’s Kitchen downtown is a vegetarian’s staple. I’ve been going there since I was in college when I met my mom here regularly for lunch. I always got the same thing (which is still on the menu): Peanut butter tofu, their special kale and vegan cornbread. New downstairs is the Buchi bar, a Kombucha bar and tap room that serves up Western North Carolina kombucha. And, in West Asheville, on Haywood Road you’ll find my favorite juice bar in, literally, the entire world. It’s this tiny little place called The Farmacy Juice and Tonic Bar, which is tucked back in the corner of my favorite grocery store, The West Village Market. Judy and Carl, the juice bar owners, put an abundance of love and care into their menu items … all of which are out of this world good. The Green Goddess is my go-to, but if you’re hungry for more, the Fire-y Lava soup is to die for. Be sure to schedule time between Wednesday and Saturday to enjoy this place because they’re closed Sunday till Tuesday.
Where to Shop:
Jus’ Running on the north side of town offers a twice weekly Yoga For Runners class taught by yours truly plus, while not really at all in the category of recovery, a hard-as-hell track workout every Tuesday morning and night at the UNC Track. All the workouts are led by coach and store owner Norman Blair and many trail runners in the area attend this workout.
Foot RX, another running store on the other side of Asheville, leads a weekly trail run out at Bent Creek. Both stores sponsor a number of local races both on the roads and trails.
I could go on. And on. And on. Asheville is beautiful and complex and full of tucked-away gems in almost every direction you look. So please come and visit. I’d love to show you around!
Trail Sisters Club on Strava:
Track Goals, Share Runs, Build Camaraderie – Click here to join.