A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

There’s a kind of magic during the night harvest at Marked Tree Vineyard. “In late summer, you get a big full moon,” says Lance Hiatt, co-owner of the vineyard. “At

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

There’s a kind of magic during the night harvest at Marked Tree Vineyard. “In late summer, you get a big full moon,” says Lance Hiatt, co-owner of the vineyard. “At

Up, Up, and Away: 8 Outdoor Adventures Reaching New Heights in Hendersonville

There’s a kind of magic during the night harvest at Marked Tree Vineyard. “In late summer, you get a big full moon,” says Lance Hiatt, co-owner of the vineyard. “At 2 a.m., it’s kind of dewy, and there might be a fog rolling through.”

For Hiatt and his team of harvesters, the cool night air is sweet relief from September’s warm days. And, he explains, the grapes are sweeter when harvested at night.

In 2016, Hiatt and co-owner Tim Parks planted their first vines in Henderson County after years of searching for the right place. There were lots of reasons they were drawn to the area — not just the rich soil. “There’s an endless number of things to do,” he says.

With access to mountains, parks, and rivers, opportunities for outdoor pursuits like hiking, paddle boarding, and kayaking are easy to come by. And for those who prefer a more relaxed approach to the outdoors, activities like apple picking and outdoor dining are plentiful. Plan your next mountain getaway with the help of our outdoor activity roundup.


1. Sip wine from a mountainside.

The state’s newest wine region, Crest of the Blue Ridge American Viticultural Area, lies entirely within Henderson County. This region is seated in the lower elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains and boasts high-quality water and a unique combination of climate, elevation, and soil.

Marked Tree Vineyard, one of seven wineries currently operating within the AVA, is perched on a 2,300-foot ridge. Its west-facing Pisgah Porch offers views of Mt. Pisgah, and overlooks rows of Lemberger, Vidal Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Chardonel vines, while Tryon Terrace faces a block of Petit Verdot, Lemberger, and Muscat vines, with Tryon Peak in the distance.

In warm seasons, take a glass of Sweet Ellie Mae Rosé to one of the chairs sprinkled across the vineyard’s grassy grounds. And during cooler months, cozy up with a Cab Franc at the firepit.

All seven of the vineyards are within a 10- to 20-minute drive, which makes for an easy wine tour. If you’d rather someone else do the driving, several services offer vineyard excursions. In addition to shuttling guests to wineries, Van in Black makes a brewery route, The Regal Ride travels to breweries and distilleries, and The Trolley Company provides cidery trips.


2. Pick your apple favorites at a farm or cidery.

Driving down U.S. Highway 64 past apple orchard after apple orchard, it’s easy to see why the area is known as “Apple Alley.” Sixty-five percent of North Carolina’s apples are grown in this county, more than any other in the state. As the seventh-largest apple-producing state in the nation, that 65 percent is a whole lot of apples.

To get a taste of this bounty, stop at one of the pick-your-own orchards in the fall. In addition to apple picking, the playground at Grandad’s Apples ‘N Such in Hendersonville has a rope spiderweb and plenty of room for kids to run and play. And everyone will have a blast with the apple cannons and corn maze.

Hendersonville is also home to three cideries, where you’ll find some of the tastiest hard ciders around. Bold Rock Hard Cider’s tasting room in Mills River features a cider garden, food truck, and a regular lineup of live music. For European-style ciders, head to Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider. Or take part in a tasting at the Cider Barn at Jeter Mountain Farm, which offers six hard ciders on tap — including two that are produced in-house from apples grown in orchards on the property, pressed on-site, and crafted in small batches. (Plus, you’ll want to stick around to try the homemade apple cider doughnuts.)


Dine on seasonal farm-to-table dishes at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. photograph by Sam Dean Photography

3. Live the good life.

Spend a weekend afternoon lounging in an Adirondack chair on Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s generous back lawn in Mills River. Listen to live music with a Hazy Little Thing IPA in hand; if you need a refill, the back porch bar is nearby.

When you’re hungry, step inside to order from the restaurant’s seasonal menu. Try a pizza with toppings sourced from local farms or grown in the brewery’s own organic garden. Or choose the farmhouse burger, topped with the brewery’s own Pale Ale Steak Sauce. Sierra Nevada is part of the Hendersonville Cheers! Trail, which guides visitors to 24 tasting rooms for beer, wine, cider, and mead.


Whether you’re a skilled biker or a beginner, you can explore the bike trails at The Riveter. photograph by Brandon Dewey

4. Fly over dirt jumps.

Minutes from Sierra Nevada, The Riveter buzzes with activity. This next-level adventure fitness destination features a 3-acre outdoor bike park and 16,000-square-feet of climbing walls in its indoor rock-climbing gym. After a ride or climb, you can hydrate with sports drinks or beer at the libation station, and refuel with high-protein snacks.

The Riveter’s bike tracks are designed for every age and every skill level. A smaller section of the bike course is covered, so you can ride even if the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you’re traveling without a bike or gear, rentals are available for all ages.


Take a beautiful walk through nature at Holmes Educational State Forest. photograph by Sam Dean Photography

5. Talk to the trees.

The shady trails of the quiet, lesser-known Holmes Educational State Forest in Hendersonville wind through rhododendrons, azaleas, and hardwoods. This “living outdoor classroom” includes a forest fire lookout tour, an enormous slice of a Southern red oak trunk, and a butterfly garden. The easy, half-mile Talking Trees Trail features seven stops with recorded messages about trees in the area.


Sip specialty cocktails on Shine’s rooftop, which overlooks downtown. photograph by Todd Bush

6. Dine al fresco on Main Street.

Walk down Hendersonville’s Main Street and you’ll find a bevy of food choices, ranging from juicy burgers to locally sourced pan-seared trout. Many restaurants take advantage of wide sidewalks with seating outside, so you can take your pick and dine in the fresh mountain air.

When Never Blue rolls up its door, the entire wall opens up, creating an indoor-outdoor dining room. Bright, colorful accents give the restaurant an international feel, setting the stage for seasonal dishes that take inspiration from around the globe. Share an order of Devils on Horseback — bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed Medjool Dates — or order the jerk chicken tacos and keep them all to yourself.

On Shine’s rooftop, sip The Bee’s Knees gin cocktail, made with honey syrup and lemon, with a view of the golden-domed Henderson County Heritage Museum. After drinks, dine on pan-fried frog legs (yes, really) or the sweet potato ravioli served with smoked chicken and crawfish.


7. Paddle down the French Broad.

“We call our part of the river the ‘undiscovered French Broad,’” says Matt Evans, co-owner of Lazy Otter Outfitters in Mills River. Even with improvements to river access within the county, this stretch sees much less traffic than downstream in Asheville.

Lazy Otter, Henderson County’s only outfitter on the French Broad, offers kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard trips.

Traveling this deep and calm section of the river past tree-lined banks and farmland, you’ll enter a more remote part of the area and may encounter some of its wild inhabitants. Look for turtles that slide off sunny rocks as you paddle by and great blue herons escorting you along your trip. “They seem to like to fly about 50 yards downstream, perch on a branch to wait for you, then take off downstream again when you catch up,” Evans says. And forget “lazy” otters. Although the animals do live here, Evans says, “they’re actually pretty quick.”


Hendersonville’s Jump Off Rock offers gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge at any time of day. photograph by Sam Dean

8. Take in the sunset at Jump Off Rock.

Why the unusual name? As the story goes, a distraught Cherokee maiden jumped off this rock upon learning that her love, a young chief, had died in battle.

Hundreds of years later, this special place centers around the natural outcropping of rock jutting out from a 3,100-foot summit. An easy walk from the parking lot to the Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville reveals expansive views of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountains.

Stop for a picnic under the shade trees and hike the short trails while you’re there, but make sure to stay for sunset. This westward-facing overlook provides an ideal place to enjoy the sun’s last brilliant show as it disappears behind distant mountains.

And if you stick around until nightfall, you might just catch a glimpse of the Cherokee maiden from so long ago — it’s said that her ghost appears on the rock on moonlit nights.

This story was published on Apr 27, 2022

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.