Chimney RockOne of the few negative aspects to becoming a parent can be missing out on your favorite vacation spots from before kids, as those romantic or adventurous getaways are replaced by family trips to the zoo or theme park.

But as the children get a little older, it provides an opportunity to reconnect with your former favorite destinations, albeit with a slightly different itinerary. 

My wife and I used to make regular visits to the Asheville, North Carolina area when it was just the two of us, but our favorite activities there — hiking to waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, eating outstanding food, and browsing the eclectic shops and galleries in downtown Asheville — aren’t too popular with babies and toddlers.

Only recently, with our kids now 8 and 5, were we able to revisit Asheville as a family, and while it didn’t measure up to Walt Disney World for the younger members of our party, a good time was had by all. 

As a veteran visitor to the area, let me pass along some of our favorite activities — for kids and adults alike — in and around Asheville.

 

LODGING

If there’s one drawback to Asheville it’s the lack of good hotel options for a family on a budget. The Omni Grove Park Inn is epic, but pricy, and the same can be said for The Inn on Biltmore Estate

There is a handful of the typical national chains, but they book up quickly during the busier seasons, resulting in higher rates than you would expect for the quality. The options are especially limited in the downtown area.

Because of those factors, we’ve often opted for rentals through VRBO.com or HomeAway.com, but we stumbled onto a great rate at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate for our Spring Break trip and couldn’t have been happier. If you want to park the car for the duration of your trip and still have access to several great restaurants, a winery, outdoor activities, and the fabulous Biltmore mansion, staying on the massive Biltmore Estate is the worth the extra cost.

 

DINING

We couldn’t hit up all of our favorite old haunts with the kids in tow — for example, the Mediterranean tapas at Zambra aren’t terribly kid-friendly — but there are still plenty of great places to grab some grub with the family around Asheville. 

My personal favorite is 12 Bones barbecue, and I’m proud to report that both kids became big barbecue fans after our visit in April. Both the kids and the adults were equally happy with the Southern comfort food at Tupelo Honey Cafe, and although we didn’t eat there this time around, local favorites Early Girl Eatery, Sunny Point Cafe and The Corner Kitchen are family-friendly options.

And a daily visit to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is practically mandatory, even though one of ours doesn’t do chocolate (we’re not sure what happened there). 

 

THINGS TO DO

Asheville’s biggest selling point is its natural beauty and all the outdoor activities it offers. As long as your kids are either young enough to be strapped to your chest or back or old enough to hike on their own without fussing (a big if, to be sure), there are plenty of hikes that are suitable for the whole family, though you will have to drive a few miles out of town.

Chimney Rock State Park provides stunning views, and DuPont State Forest near Brevard features easy hikes to spectacular waterfalls where the kids can even splash around in cold mountain streams. 

The Asheville Drum Circle downtown is entertaining, to say the least, and the Mast General Store is a great place to get lost in nostalgia for a good bit.

And, of course, no trip to Asheville is complete without visiting the Biltmore. To keep the kids entertained while you tour the 178,926 square foot mansion (not a typo), spring for the self-guided audio tour. They even have a kids’ version narrated by Cedric the dog.

It might not match the magic of Disney, but Asheville has plenty to keep everyone in the family entertained.

Justin Jarrett is the CEO of LowcoSports.com, president of Bluffton Youth Sports, co-founder of Lowcountry Wrestling Club, and a dedicated youth sports coach.