The Asheville, North Carolina area is a hiking dream land. You could go out for family hikes near Asheville every day for days on end and still not cover every mile of trail available in the area. We were lucky to have a week to spend in the area recently and we found a few trails that every family in the area should try!
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1. Catawba Falls Hike
I almost hesitate to include this hike in the list because I want to keep it all for myself! Well, myself and a few other people. Yet, it wouldn’t be an honest post about the very best family hikes near Asheville if I didn’t include this hike. If you visit Western North Carolina you really can’t leave the area without visiting at least one waterfall and this one hits all the best points -big, beautiful, family friendly, and able to be played in!
The hike to the fall is 1.5 miles, making the round trip right around 3 miles but the trail is quite flat. It took us a while to cover the distance but my 7 year old, 4 year old, and 2 year old all walked the entire distance on their own. The reward of the falls is worth every single step! My kids loved the sound of the water rushing by as the trail meanders along a water way and the couple of foot bridges you cross made for a fun time as well.
The parking area at the trail head was well sized and had restroom facilities which we definitely appreciated.
Be prepared to get wet! The base of the fall is a shallow pool that is surprisingly calm. My husband and I lounged on large rocks while the kids splashed in the water for quite some time. Their Keen shoes were perfect to get us there and back even with damp feet! They loved this fall and so did I – I even commented to my husband that this fall might have ruined me to all other waterfalls! One section of the fall pool did appear to get deep enough for full swimming but we stayed about knee deep in the cool, clear water.
Getting there from Asheville: From Asheville, take I-40 east to Exit 73 at Old Fort. Before the exit ramp ends, take the right-hand turn onto Catawba River Rd. If you are coming from east of Old Fort on I-40 west, take Exit 73, turn left and take the first right before McDonald’s (on ramp to get back onto I-40). Turn left onto Catawba River Rd. Drive three miles to the end of the road to the parking lot
Recap: A 1.5 mile (one way) fairly easy hike to one of the most stunning waterfalls we saw in Western North Carolina. If you have Keens – wear them!
2. Balsam Nature Trail at Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell State Park was one of our favorite destinations during this trip. The main attraction is Mount Mitchell itself, which is the highest summit East of the Mississippi. There is parking just a short distance from the summit (approximately 280 yards) and you can walk a paved path to glorious views. However, for us, their was one trail we all loved even more! That trail was the Balsam Nature Trail.
This is one of the shorter family hikes near Asheville at 0.75 miles which makes it manageable by even young hikers. Along the trail are signs that include information about the environment and area you are hiking through. This space is also cool almost all year long due to its shade and elevation. The footing is uneven so there is some rock hopping and climbing for the little people in your family and mine loved it.
The view from this trail is different than any of the others we saw in North Carolina. It is high enough that you find yourself among pines and other plant life you won’t find anywhere else in the state. Something about this entire trail was enchanting and fun for everyone. It left us all with big smiles on our faces!
Getting There From Asheville: From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north to mile marker #355 and turn left onto NC 128, which leads to the park. Winter conditions may cause delays or closures on the parkway.
To access the park from Asheville when the Parkway is closed from that side, take I-40 East to exit 72, which is the Old Fort Hwy 70 exit. You will go east (through Old Fort) for about 10 miles until you come to NC 80. You will turn left (north) on NC 80 and stay on it for 16 miles. Turn left onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow the signs from there.
Recap: A short, high elevation hike through beautiful scenery! Definitely take the time to stroll to the summit as well! After the hike be sure to grab a picnic lunch at the highest picnic grounds East of the Mississippi!
3. Craggy Gardens Hike
This was one of our family hikes near Asheville that I personally couldn’t wait to do and I’m glad it was as great as I hoped it would be. Walking through this area is unlike anything we could hike in our home state of Iowa.
Round trip (out and back) this hike is 1.9 miles and does have a bit of a climb to it. It connects the Craggy Garden Visitor Center and the Craggy Garden Picnic Area. Again, my 2 year old managed it quite well, though I did carry her in the Ergo for part of of our return trip! I saw a lot of places saying to start this hike at the Craggy Garden visitor center – which you certainly could do. However, by happy accident we ended up at the Craggy Garden Picnic parking lot first and I would strongly recommend this as the trails starting point especially with kids.
Why start at the picnic area?
- Large parking lot! If the visitor center that has very limited parking is full you can likely find easy parking at the picnic area.
- You start with the most uphill portion of your hike. Which means on the way back when little legs are tired you are going mostly down hill.
- The reward of hiking to the beautiful views. My kids do best when they know they are hiking TO something. If we had started at the visitor center with its gorgeous views and hiked down to the picnic area I don’t think the hike would have left them as thrilled as it did.
- Ending at the picnic area gave us the perfect spot for a post hike snack!
As you hike you will see a trail sign for Douglas Falls Trail. This is a decently long and strenuous trail. I wouldn’t recommend it for families with young kids when you can see other falls (like Catawba!) with much more ease elsewhere. There is also a spur trail that leads to a beautiful gazebo overlooking the mountains. My kids LOVED this find and I was sure to act surprised we found it! 😉
You will also go under a shelter area near the summit of this hike. We hung out here for a few minutes and rested as we headed both directions. A side trail will take you on a quarter mile or so loop around the grassy summit which is a fun break from the rhododendron cover you’ve been hiking in if you want to explore it! In the summer this area is supposed to grow quite a few wildflowers as well!
Getting There From Asheville:Drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, about 18 miles north of the Folk Art Center on the Parkway (near U.S. 70 exit).This section of the Parkway closes frequently during the winter for snow and ice.
Recap: This hike was a lot of fun! I really felt like I was walking through a mythical forest as we hiked and my kids loved all the branches, moss, and other greenery everywhere we turned. My young photographer couldn’t keep her finger off the photo button on her camera!
4. Craggy Pinnacle
Just past Craggy Garden (and through a fun tunnel!) you can find the trail head for Craggy Pinnacle – again with plenty of parking! This trail is less than 1 mile round trip but does have some elevation gain and rocks/stairs that you will have to navigate. We did this hike almost immediately after Craggy Gardens and while we were all ready for a full picnic lunch at the end – everyone had a great time.
This hike really does allow for some beautiful views at the summit and my kids loved feeling like they were being extra rugged as they hopped, climbed, and scrambled up the path to the summit.
You will see signs reminding you to please stay on the trail. This is because some of the plant and moss life in this area is fragile and the ecosystems that it lives in are limited to spots just like this. Please stay on the trail and enjoy all the views.
For those who love to spot mushrooms – we spotted fungus of a wide array of colors and sizes on this trail that really delighted my kids!
Getting There: Drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, about 18 miles north of the Folk Art Center on the Parkway (near U.S. 70 exit) or take scenic Town Mountain Road from downtown to the Parkway and turn left (about 20 miles total). This section of the Parkway closes frequently during the winter for snow and ice.
Recap: Less than a mile but a bit of a workout, this hike is worth the climb to the amazing views! We hung out in the parking lot for lunch when we wrapped things up!
5. Moore Cove Falls
Perhaps we are a bit biased towards this choice because of the name? Maybe .. just a little! Yet, we think even if your last name is Karnuckle or Smith or Dumbledore you will love this hike!
Moore Cove Falls is located in beautiful Pisgah National Forest. In this forest you can find a variety of hikes, several beautiful falls in addition to Moore Cove, a great picnic area at Pink Beds, and visit the educational exhibits at the Cradle of Forestry. Pisgah is 100% worth a visit if you find yourself in Asheville – but now for more on our Moore Cove experience!
Parking for this is a little tricky to spot but there is a sign you can see. The parking is right near a bridge and a sign stand marks the official start of the trail.
This hike is 1.5 miles round trip but felt a lot shorter! It starts with some steps at the beginning and crosses over a couple wooden foot bridges that my kids love. Are my kids this only ones who love when the footing changes up as you hike? Mixed flooring hikes are always a joy to them!
The real joy of this 50 foot water fall is that you can easily climb and pass behind the fall! The water drop rate is slow so you can walk around the area with ease and limited worry of ever getting washed away. Do be careful though because rocks near any water fall can be slick. Either way, my kids loved the novelty of getting behind the fall and watching the water run down in front of them.
Our youngest hiked just fine through all these hikes but we did still find some great snuggle time with the Ergo! If you don’t have one I highly recommend looking into it – it’s a fantastic option if your youngest one gets tired on the trail. In this photo you see my two year old and I snuggled up and having fun!
Getting There: If you are coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway, get off at the Hwy 276 exit and drive south for 8.2 miles, cross the bridge and pull off on the left. The trail begins on the bridge side of the info board. Cross the wooden foot bridge.
Recap: This 1.5 mile hike is fun and worth it for the family looking for something a little different than other waterfalls in the area.