It’s commonly understood that the best way to explore a new place is to go straight to the locals. Each week in the Urbanist, we take that wisdom one step further by seeking out not just locals but local experts — those who are especially well versed in their cities’ newest and most noteworthy scenes — to give us insider tips. This week, we asked John Swanson, head brewer at New Belgium Brewing Asheville, for his recommendations in the booming North Carolina city.
“I compare Asheville to an onion — if you keep peeling back the layers, you’ll find more and more. Experiencing Asheville like a local can be a loaded question because it is full of tourists and locals end up doing the things that tourists do whether they like to admit it or not. Whether you go to the Orange Peel, the Gray Eagle, or Salvage Station (468 Riverside Dr.; 828-407-0521), you’re going to be surrounded by the local music scene. I would suggest that people park their cars downtown and get out on foot. The town is becoming more walkable and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Because we’re in the mountains, it’s cooler in the summer than other nearby Southern cities. Springtime is the best time to visit, particularly April. The weather is still mild and it’s not quite humid yet. But fall is probably the most popular time. ‘Leafers’ come and post up for two to three weeks in October, just waiting for that peak season foliage. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Virginia all the way to Cherokee, North Carolina, cuts through Asheville and it’s a hidden gem in America. It’s a great scenic drive to see all the fall colors.”
His Other Musts
“The Blue Ridge Parkway is the way to go for easily accessible hikes and views. You can hop on it throughout Asheville. If you drive for 20 minutes, there’s hundreds of trails right off the parkway, especially if you head north. You can find yourself at Mount Mitchell, which is about an hour drive north and the highest peak east of the Mississippi. You can find more difficult hikes along the parkway, but the majority of them are easy hikes that you can take your kids, parents, and dog on. There are also tons of waterfalls. Some people keep their locations pretty tight-lipped when they find them. I usually end up at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail there runs all along the parkway. You can literally almost pick up on it at any stop on the parkway. Pisgah National Forest has epic mountain biking and fly fishing. If you want to see a waterfall and do just a little hiking, go up Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest. It’s about a 45-minutes drive from Asheville. The waterfall is a very short hike, just a little off the main road. It’s beautiful and the drive up, [along] the Davidson River, is really awesome.”