If you love the outdoors—forests, gardens, and trails for hiking or pleasure biking, you are in luck. Asheville is the home of one of the most beautiful natural settings in America, the North Carolina Arboretum. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, it is 493 acres of crisscrossing forest coves and meandering creeks in the botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Arboretum was established under the auspices of the University of North Carolina in 1986 by the State General Assembly. But its beginning dates back over a hundred years to when Frederick Law Olmsted, American’s father of landscape architecture, envisioned a research arboretum as part of his plan for the Biltmore Estate. The Arboretum is located just south of Asheville and adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393.
The gardens and trails are open daily, weather permitting, 8 AM–9 PM from April thru October, and 8 AM–7 PM from November to March. The Education Center is open daily 9 AM–5 PM. The Center is also open from 6-9 PM on Thursdays from April thru-October. While admission is free, there is a parking fee.
Special events and tours are available and the best way to stay informed is to go to the website, https://www.ncarboretum.org/. During regular hours, visitors can enjoy more than 10 miles of dog friendly hiking trails that range from easy, to moderate, and difficult at their leisure. Picnicking is also permitted on the grounds. No alcohol is allowed, so bring the cheese but leave the wine at home! You can also purchase picnic items at the Education Center which also houses the Arboretum’s temporary exhibits and the work of regional artists. Or just stroll the 65 acres of cultivated gardens that delight the senses and showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage. It begins with the Exhibit Center’s small Baker’s Garden, filled with colorful perennials. From there you make your way along the Grand Garden Promenade, a broad path through a series of meticulously maintained themed gardens:
- Blue Ridge Court: A central point of the Grand Garden Promenade and features a garden pool.
- Heritage Garden: The garden includes plants used in the region’s medicinal herb and craft industries. The chimney and stone foundations and water spring are reminiscent of old homestead sites.
- Holly Garden: The garden hosts a variety of plants in the holly genus grown in the area.
- Plants of Promise Garden: Located along the woods’ edge, the garden demonstrates landscape plants appropriate for the Southern Appalachian region and the use of stone.
- Quilt Garden: Enjoy this floral representation of a traditional quilt pattern from a stone overlook
- Stream Garden: The garden features the communities of plants along Western North Carolina mountain streams.
- National Native Azalea Repository: The repository features species native to the United States and was created to preserve and protect native azaleas.