The Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains give Asheville, North Carolina its natural beauty and great outdoor activities. It also boasts a booming art scene. There are so many free things to do in Asheville, NC you may have to plan several trips here!
Asheville, North Carolina, is basically Brooklyn ringed by mountains. The vegetarian food! The breweries! The hipsters! It makes this Brooklyn girl feel at home. Yes, it’s a little warmer, which is perfect for an environmentally focused area that is pedestrian friendly. And hey! Walking is free.
There are plenty of free things to do in Asheville, NC. The free family friendly activities include outdoorsy, artistic and everything in between. It’s a stellar stop to make on a southeast family road trip.
Free Things to Do in Asheville Year Round
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few national parks without an entrance fee. That may be why it is also the most visited park in the national park system. The Smokies, which stretch from North Carolina to Tennessee, have hiking trails, biking trails and waterfalls. You can see wildlife and explore over 90 historic structures.
2. Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Museum
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is so vast it has several visitors centers and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Museum deserves a separate mention. It has indoor exhibits on mountain life from native Americans and early European settlements to the development of the park. And the Mountain Farm Museum has a collection of log houses and seasonal demonstrations of farm life.
3. Trees and More
The North Carolina Arboretum, within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, has 65 acres of cultivated garden plus tons of mature trees. It offers over 10 miles of hiking trails and a few kid friendly biking trails. Kids can enjoy an interactive Nature Discovery Room. The arboretum also has a model railroad running Saturdays and Sundays, from noon – 4 p.m. April – October.
It also has another Brooklyn connection. The North Carolina Arboretum is on Frederick Law Olmsted Way. The landscape architect Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed my local Prospect Park, along with Central Park in Manhattan.
4. Walk into History
Take the self-guided tour, Asheville Urban Trail. To stop at all 30 stations it takes about two hours, but with younger children, you might want to dip in and out. The Asheville Urban Trail walking tour is ideal for families where kids balk at museums. Here the outdoors IS the museum, and you learn about history along the way.
5. Southside Mural Trail
Yes again, another Brooklyn call back. Asheville’s Southside is also called the South Slope. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and my end of the neighborhood is also called the South Slope. Asheville’s South Slope, filled with craft breweries, is also where you can see over a dozen colorful murals. This public art is again ideal for people who don’t want to go indoors during the pandemic, or who have museum-averse children. The two mile Mural Trail is easily explored on foot.
6. Greenway Connector
The new Wilma Dykeman Greenway in the River Arts District has several river access points along the French Broad River. The two mile greenway is flat, and perfect for strolling or biking. Asheville has over nine miles of greenway, and is building even more.
7. Scenic Drive
The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Asheville area has views of some of the highest peaks in the east. The 469-mile road connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Craggy Gardens has beautiful flowers amid the rocky crags.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you have a child (or adult) prone to motion sickness, skip the drive.
8. At the Peak
Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest point east of the Mississippi, has an observation deck at the summit. You can hike or picnic at the park. May – October, visit the museum, also free, learn about the history of the area and how Mt Mitchell became North Carolina’s first state park.
SheBuysTravel Tip: It is 15-20 degrees colder at Mount Mitchell State Park than in downtown Asheville (because of the elevation). Bring an extra layer of clothes.
9. Stop and Smell the Roses
The Botanical Gardens of Asheville has free parking AND free admission. The botanical gardens focuses on native plants of the Southern Appalachians. It is open daily, from sunrise to sunset.
10. WNC Farmers Market
The year round WNC Farmers Market near downtown Asheville is open daily. There are great views of the mountains and the Biltmore Estate. You can see wonderful fresh product and local artisanal food both indoors and outside. There are free tastings throughout the year and festivals celebrating different harvests.
11. Classic Cars
The Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum, open April – December, features a collection of antique and vintage automobiles. The museum is part of historic Grovewood Village, which also has working artist studios.
12. Historic Craft
The small Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum is dedicated to the weaving and woodworking operations of Biltmore Industries, a project to teach a craft to poor Appalachians. The museum, near the Antique Car Museum, is also only open April – December.
13. Biltmore Village
When George W. Vanderbilt came to Asheville to build Biltmore Estate, he also created the adjacent Biltmore Village to house the workers. The historic buildings are filled with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. You can spend a day strolling the area.
Note: Biltmore Estate, Vanderbilt’s 250-room castle, with Frederick Law Olmsted designed gardens (Brooklyn again!), a winery, farm and horseback riding (among other activities) charges a steep admission fee. You can’t visit any part of the Biltmore Estate without paying admission.
14 Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest has over 200 waterfalls and is another free national park near Asheville NC. You can wade in the waterfalls or swim in designated areas. The park also has plenty of hiking trails and biking trails.
15. Black Wall Street AVL
Black Wall Street AVL in the River Arts District is a hub for Black-owned businesses in Asheville. There is an art and indie business marketplace on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. through the end of the year. And member artists display their works at the space.
16. The Folk Art Center
The Folk Art Center in the Blue Ridge Parkway has exhibitions from the members of the Southern Highland Craft guild and daily demos by artists and crafters.
17. Grove Park Inn
The historic Omni Grove Park Inn allows people not staying at the hotel to see the grand lobby and sit by the fireplace. You can park for free except during the National Gingerbread House competition. Note that during the Gingerbread competition, non guests can only visit after 3 p.m. on Sundays or anytime Monday through Thursday.
18. Looking Glass Falls
This is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Asheville area. See it in winter, when water freezes on the sides, making the waterfall reflect like a looking glass. Looking Glass Falls is also easy to access by car if you are not a hiker.
Special Events: Best Free Things to Do in Asheville, NC
19. Drum Circle
Bring your own drum or just come and listen to the Asheville Drum Circle. The drum circle is held on Friday evenings April through October at Pritchard Park.
20. Dickens in December
The Old World Dickens in the Village Festival transforms Biltmore Village into a quaint Victorian town on the first weekend of December. Think happy Dickens, not Oliver Twist or the beginning of A Christmas Carol. There are strolling carolers, actors and musicians, all in Dickensian era costumes, and the whole village is lit for the holidays.
21. Live Music
Downtown After 5, held every third Friday from May-September has free live outdoor music concerts from 5-9pm. There are also food vendors and local beers in the downtown area.
22. More Live Music
Shindig on the Green, from the Folk Heritage Committee offers Appalachian mountain music and dance at Pack Square Park. The free festival on Saturdays from June – August, “along about sundown.,” includes storytelling, clog dancing and from the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
23. Arts & Crafts
The twice a year Big Crafty is held outdoors in summer and indoors in winter, celebrating western North Carolina crafts. Local artists have to be chosen so the quality is high. Note: One of the days of the winter Big Crafty is free and one charges admission.
Billed as “The Blackest Weekend in Asheville,” GRINDFest started in 2021 and returns in 2022 June 17, 2022, (Juneteenth). The weekend celebrates Black businesses and entrepreneurs in Asheville with live music, food and fun.
25. Theater Outdoors
The Montford Park Players perform at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre from early May until the end of October, with free performances every weekend. The Montford Park Players is North Carolina’s longest running Shakespeare Festival.
26. Annual Village Art & Craft Fair
The half century old Biltmore Village Art & Craft Fair brings over one hundred artisans from around the USA for this juried event. The fair is held the grounds of the Cathedral of All Souls every September.
Check below to see some of the accommodations available to book near these attractions in Asheville, North Carolina:
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