That means piling into the car to see Blue Ridge Mountain hillsides covered in autumn leaves, picking apples from local orchards, searching for gems in a bucket of sand, playing pinball for hours and picking out a favorite colorful character from the Bearfootin’ bears lining Main Street. Each experience provides joy in the moment and memories that last a lifetime.
Hendersonville carries the nickname City of Four Seasons due to its distinct changes in weather and scenic surroundings every three months. While each time of year has its charms, fall is particularly picturesque. Hendersonville lies in a valley rimmed with mountain peaks. Take a short drive from downtown in any direction and the roads wind upward, curving by streams and opening onto overlooks. The Blue Ridge Parkway, a bucket list route for leaf peepers, is located 15 miles from downtown. Jump Off Rock, only five miles from downtown, rises to 3,100 feet in elevation. The mountaintop park is one of the best places to catch the sunset as it sinks behind the hills in the distance. Views stretch into four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Fall also brings harvest season at the area’s many apple orchards. Henderson County leads the state in apple production and ranks seventh nationally. While orchards once sold primarily to wholesale buyers, many farms now embrace agritourism and invite visitors to pick their own apples. Sky Top Orchard, located on 100 acres atop Mt. McAlpine, combines apple orchards with panoramic views. The season begins in early August and continues through November with more than 20 varieties of apples ripening at different times throughout the four-month period. Grab a basket and wander through the trees to fill it with fresh fruit. The orchard creates a beautiful backdrop for fall family photos. Hayrides, barnyard animals and apple cider doughnuts hot from the fryer complete the experience.
Downtown Hendersonville offers some seasonal color of its own. Each May, 20 life-size bears, each decorated by a local artist, take their places along Main Street for the Bearfootin’ Public Art Walk. They hang around until October when they are auctioned off for charity. Throughout the season, visitors and locals alike pose for pictures with their favorite bears. Some make it a mission to snap a photo with each bear before fall arrives.
The bears complement the everyday beauty of downtown Hendersonville. Wide, curving sidewalks lined with brick planters, trees and hanging baskets create an idyllic place to dine alfresco at sidewalk tables, window shop at local retailers or lick an ice cream cone on a bench. A local Girl Scout troop created the Apple Quest scavenger hunt. A dozen clues lead participants on a search for bronze apples located at downtown landmarks. Free brochures are available at the Visitor Center.
Gem mining comes to Main Street with Pisgah Forest’s newest location. The indoor mine and gift shop allow for fun in any weather. Sift through sand for quartz, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Afterward, the shop will make your favorite find into a necklace. Pisgah Forest’s original location just west of town recently added gold panning to its offerings.
Next door to the Main Street gem mine, Team ECCO Aquarium & Shark Lab transports visitors to the coast with more than 275 fish, invertebrates, reptiles and salamanders. Owner Brenda Ramer realized that many children in the region might never be able to experience marine life, so she brought the beach to them with North Carolina’s first inland aquarium. Twice each afternoon, staff members conduct public feedings with the sharks and sting rays in the 2,000-gallon study tank. The aquarium creates such a fun experience, children don’t realize they’re learning something along the way.
Hands On! Children’s Museum encourages learning through play. More than a dozen exhibits develop social, cognitive and fine motor skills. Create brilliant patterns on a giant Light Bright, practice your scooping skills at Little Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop, take on the role of a shopper or cashier in the grocery store, and enjoy climbing and sliding on the indoor playground inspired by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
With 35 pinball machines and 25 video games, Appalachian Pinball Museum allows parents and grandparents to share the games of their youth with children and grandchildren. Unlimited daily play is only $10. Try to play as many machines as possible, or play Space Invaders on repeat — the choice is yours.
When it’s time to settle in for the evening, retreat to Cascades Mountain Resort. The 100-room hotel with a mountain-lodge motif encircles a large indoor pool and a 110-foot waterslide. Adults enjoy the private hot tub area that accommodates 30. The property also includes full-service dining at Old Orchard Tavern, a game room, a fitness center, a snack shop and an outdoor patio with a fire pit. Ask about Cascades’ family fun packages that include lodging, area activities and dining.