If a destination with open spaces and exhilarating adventure sounds enticing after a topsy-turvy 2020, immerse yourself in nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The artsy, outdoorsy town of Hendersonville offers a unique location in an elevated plateau framed by mountain ridges. Surrounding peaks make for beautiful sunrises and sunsets, while thousands of acres of national and state forests provide a biodiverse playground.
One of the most peaceful, undisturbed regions in the eastern United States is the Green River Gorge. The gorge runs through the Green River Game Lands, a landscape of more than 15,000 acres of mountainous ravines, rock outcroppings and old-growth forests protected by the state of North Carolina.
Climbing for a cause is on tap at Green River Preserve, a 3,400-acre wildlife preserve in the gorge. Adventurers book four-hour climbing sessions via Mighty Boots Wilderness Project. Mighty Boots accesses spectacular rock formations and donates a portion of proceeds to the preserve’s youth camp, which inspires environmental stewards through joyful connections to nature.
Zipping through the treetops with spectacular views is an alternate option. The Gorge Zipline bills itself as “America’s steepest, fastest zipline canopy tour,” consisting of a 1.25-mile course spanning 11 ziplines and descending 1,100 feet into the gorge.
Green River Adventures offers kayaking opportunities on the Green River. Paddlers have two main options. The lower Green River excursion features a moderate experience with class I and II rapids. Or step it up a few notches with the Upper Green River whitewater excursion with class III and IV rapids to get your heart rate pounding.
Waterfall rappelling is another option via Green River Adventures, along with stand-up paddleboarding.
For those who wish to look up at waterfalls instead of rappel down them, DuPont State Recreational Forest is a favored spot. Several iconic waterfalls are in this beautiful 10,466-acre forest. A trail along Little River reveals three awe-inspiring waterfalls: Triple Falls, High Falls and Hooker Falls.
Triple Falls played a starring role in two Hollywood blockbusters – “The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Hunger Games” – while the expansive pool below the smaller Hooker Falls is a popular summer swimming hole.
High Falls, named for the sheer height of the waterfall, is farthest up the trail but well worth the hike. The base of the falls is a popular vantage point, as is a pedestrian bridge up top, just before the water begins its descent.
DuPont State Forest, with 90 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, is about 20 minutes from downtown Hendersonville, yet it feels a world away. It’s comforting to know this pristine landscape, which was once owned by DuPont Corporation and contained a facility for making X-ray film, is now protected in perpetuity by Conserving Carolina, a public land trust.
A less intense adventure awaits at Jump Off Rock. This mountaintop outcropping, only five miles from downtown, is the centerpiece of a small park and showcases a panoramic mountain view of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains. On a clear day, four states are visible – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Visitors often watch gorgeous sunsets at Jump Off Rock before heading back to town for a farm-to-table meal and a craft brew at one of a half dozen breweries downtown.
In the heart of Hendersonville is a Main Street district with a park-like feel. Extra-wide sidewalks are punctuated by brick planters, park benches, shade trees and alfresco dining. The S-shaped design of the street slows traffic and encourages people to park the car and walk about.
Boutique shops, artist galleries, restaurants, breweries, taverns and a handful of small museums and attractions draw people from near and far. There’s even a pinball museum and a shark tank aquarium.
Noted travel writer Randy Mink of Chicago penned this description of Hendersonville’s Main Street after a recent visit: “The serpentine thoroughfare rates as one of the nation’s most attractive small-town shopping districts. The vibrancy along the 10 or so winding blocks reflects a sense of well-being.”
Local tourism officials created the Hendersonville Cheers! Trail to spotlight the array of local craft beverage producers. Of the 11 breweries on the trail, six are downtown, including the military-themed, veteran-owned Guidon Brewing Co. Five additional breweries are situated in the surrounding countryside, including the palatial Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the largest craft breweries in North Carolina.
A half dozen picturesque mountain vineyards also dot the trail, as well as three cideries producing award-winning hard cider from the area’s thriving apple orchards.
There’s even a way to exercise while sipping craft beverages. Downtown Hendersonville is home to HVL Pedal & Brews, a pubcycle offering fun-filled cruises to downtown breweries and taprooms fueled by pedal power.
The mobile pub has 10 pedaling seats, five on each side, and four non-pedaling seats. The driver, or conductor as he is known, sits in the center. The standard Pedal to the Pints tour is an hour and a half, and it includes two stops along the way. Private tours are available for groups.
To learn more about Hendersonville, go to www.VisitHendersonvilleNC.org or call 800-828-4244.