Words and Pictures by Lyndsay Knowles
Mention the city of Asheville and many people will conjure the image of the “hippy city” nestled in the mountains of Northwestern North Carolina. There is a distinct feeling of openness and inclusiveness here with the city’s street corner musicians singing songs of love and peace, people walking the streets in their “Equality” t-shirts, and businesses displaying their “All Gender Bathroom” signs. With its reputation as a liberal hotspot, this small city attracts both young and old from all over the country and the world.
Visit any website about Asheville’s attractions, and you will find information about the well-known Biltmore Estate in the south area of the city, the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, the local brewery tours, the independent shops, the River Arts District, and the extravagant Grove Park Inn.
What doesn’t get as much press, though, are the hidden spots right outside of the city that are just as worthwhile and will give you a view of the local businesses and farms that contribute to Asheville’s penchant for “buying local” and the prevalence of “farm-to-table” restaurants. These are the spots my partner and I decided to explore on our trip to North Carolina late in the spring.
Driving east from Asheville towards the small town of Fairview, we found the traffic thinning and the areas of green space growing larger. In May, the trees were a lush green, and the crops on the stretches of farmland were in different stages of growth.
Right off of Charlotte Highway, the road that runs through Fairview, we found an open farm stand at the entrance of Flying Cloud Farm. The stand was full of fresh produce, herbs, and flowers from the farm.
There were lush strawberries, plump blueberries, and an assortment of greens–arugula, spinach, and kale. Nobody was watching the stand or collecting money. Instead, there was a handwritten self-service sign, instructing customers to put cash in the lockbox or pay via PayPal. The view there was peaceful and the farm stand quiet except for the sound of an occasional car passing by.
After picking up a few herbs for our herb garden and some greens to make salads for dinner, we got back in the car and continued our scenic drive. A few miles from the farm stand, past the houses and cottages on Sugar Hollow Road, we arrived at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a 90-acre farm that sells grass-fed beef and pastured pork and poultry.
If you spend any time eating at restaurants in Asheville, you will immediately recognize their logo. The family-owned business sells their meat in the farm’s shop, but they also distribute to local restaurants in and around the city.
After exploring the small shop for a bit, we walked outside for the self-guided tour of the farm. We saw the animals as we walked up the grass-covered hill. It was a chilly day, so the chickens stayed nestled in their coops and the piglets huddled together for warmth, but the goats seemed unaware of the brisk air and waited by the fence for passerby to come along and feed them some leafy greens.
After my partner almost lost his keys to a hungry and curious goat, we walked back down the hill and stopped to look at the tunnel slides built into the side of a hill and the ropes woven into a spider web for children to play on.
On our way back towards the center of Fairview, we stopped at Looking Glass Creamery, a small, local cheese shop where the owners make their own cheese with cow milk and goat milk. The creamery opens its doors to individual customers on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
When we walked into the two-story white house, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who offered us some free samples of their goat cheese spreads and handed us a menu that listed the cheese boards available to order.
We selected a bottle of wine and a cheese board, and went outside to find a table next to the herb garden and the fenced-in pasture for the creamery’s two goats, Vivian and Tess. The view of the mountains was clear and beautiful, and the cool mountain air refreshing as we sipped our wine and sampled the spread of different cheeses.
After a day full of touring the farms and local businesses, we decided to hit some hiking trails the next day. The hour-long drive to Dupont State Forest took us through the area south of Asheville and into the rural towns of Etowah and Little River southwest of the city. Our cell service dropped out, freeing us from the distraction of technology, and we stopped at the Hooker Falls access area first.
Crossing over two wooden bridges and heading onto a shade-covered path, we hiked up for half a mile until we reached a viewing area of Triple Falls, a waterfall with three cascades.
To the left of the path were wooden steps that led us down to a large area of rock below the first two cascades. We found an open spot on the rocks and sat down to eat our sandwiches and watch the other hikers take photos in front of the waterfall.
We could feel the spray of the water as it fell, and we snapped some photos while children ran by the water’s edge, elder couples stood and admired the falls, and families enjoyed their picnics and the view.
We then drove to our last stop of the day where we set out to hike to Bridal Veil Falls. After a long walk down a gravel road and up a steep incline, we reached a path and walked past a horse barn with water pumps where a group of horseback riders had stopped to rest.
At the end of the path, we found ourselves at the bottom of a long rock slope, where the water rushed down from the falls above. At the top of the slope, we sat on the rocks and enjoyed the view of the waterfall and the surrounding trees before hiking back and heading home for the day.
The city of Asheville is thriving and full of life. But to enjoy a quiet afternoon and beautiful views of the mountains, it’s worth venturing outside of the city to explore the small towns and hiking trails that the area has to offer. You just have to know where to look.