I recently heard a piece of advice that has changed my life. It was something along the lines of “If you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, listen carefully because it’s probably God trying to talk to you.” Over the last year or so, and more frequently over the last 2-3 months, I kept hearing about Asheville, North Carolina as a beautiful place to visit for both outdoor adventures and an eclectic downtown scene. And when I say it kept coming up, it kept. Coming. Up. I would hear someone mention it, come across it online, or see a Facebook post about a friend’s weekend trip there. This is a popular vacation destination but it’s not Myrtle Beach, Destin, Gatlinburg, or any other number of hot spots for Indiana natives. Old me would have thought “Why would God talk to me about where to go on vacation?” Not that He doesn’t care, but there are still kids in Africa without clean water and people dying of cancer so my family going on vacation probably isn’t high on His priority list. But that was old me. In the last year, through study and prayer, I have learned God is indeed very active in our lives and not only cares about the small details but He will talk to us about them, we just need to listen.
So I told Nick I was going to book a trip for us over the kids’ fall break. I knew I wasn’t crazy when on the drive down, I pulled out a Magnolia Journal (Joanna Gaines’ magazine) to flip through and found a feature piece on visiting Asheville. Thanks, God, for confirming my inclinations through my favorite farmhouse design publication. I also read an article in the issue where a woman wrote about the joy of keeping a travel journal on vacation, which prompted me to write about this trip. So all that to say, before I go on, is that God truly does care about your life, even the small details. This trip came at just the right time for me and my family and was the exact place our hearts needed to relax and take in his beauty.
I found an Airbnb online, an 1,800 square foot walk-out basement of a large cabin-like home called The Journey’s End where the owners occupy the top floor and rent out the basement apartment. This was our third time using Airbnb for vacations and I’m not sure we’ll ever use a hotel or other service again. Why would you? For $80 a night, yes $80 a night, we found the perfect place. The basement was basically split in half, one part with a large bed and multiple options for extra beds like cots and sleeping mats, and the other half a studio space with a kitchen, living area, and large spa-like bathroom. $80 a night and it was bigger than our first house. It sat secluded with 180-degree gorgeous mountain views. I still can’t believe the steal this place was. The owners were wonderful and gave us recommendations for restaurants and activities. Our kids love hotels and they were given the run of this place which was probably their favorite part of the trip.
On Day 1 we headed to Dupont State Forrest which offered 3 waterfall sites on a 3-mile loop. The kids had no problem on the wide, developed path and while it was a popular trail it didn’t feel crowded. The first waterfall, Hooker Falls, was my favorite because it was the first time my kids saw a waterfall. My daughter kept saying “It’s so beautiful!” And “This is my favorite place I’ve ever been!”
We ate our picnic lunch there before moving on to two more amazing waterfalls on that hike, Triple Falls and High Falls. These were gigantic, towering falls with rushing water and beauty as I’ve never seen before. At the base of High Falls, the kids begged for a closer look so I helped them climb the slippery rocks while Nick stayed behind with Aslan. In retrospect, I probably took them a little further than I should have, especially given their excitement and desire to run ahead. When Sawyer ignored me several times by climbing ahead, a man finally stopped him and said “You need to listen to your mom, it’s very important. People have died here.” The man helped him turn around then winked at me, a silent expression of empathy. The falls were so beautiful, but reading about fatalities at almost all of them reminded me how powerful and dangerous they could be. Having the opportunity see them up close but at a safe distance was very special.
Although the rocks we were crossing had only a few inches of running water flowing over them, it was icy cold and very fast. I was attempting to make a chain with the kids by holding hands to help them cross a small runoff, but Austen insisted on going around her brother, and subsequently fell in the cold water about 10 inches deep, and that’s where the tears started flowing. While helping her up I dropped her prized pink binoculars she brought on the trip and watched them rush away down the stream. When Austen finally calmed down, Finn informed her of the missing binoculars and the tears started again. Not 1 hour after she proclaimed this to be her favorite place in the world, she screamed she wished we’d never come here. The polarity of kids emotions never ceases to amaze me. Within about 20 minutes she was over it and we finished the loop. It totaled about 3 miles but with the starting/stopping, climbing the rocks at the base of the falls, and the steep hills we were quite exhausted by the end. It was a great hike for our first full day.
On day 2 we visited downtown Asheville. Only having 3 full days in the area we decided against touring the Biltmore Estate (America’s largest home with over 250 rooms and built in 1895), thinking the kids wouldn’t appreciate it and we wouldn’t enjoy it as much with them there. We did venture in the Biltmore Village shopping area to look around and have lunch. It was nice and gave us one day to relax without hiking, but to be honest for a trip with just the kids I probably would skip the shopping next time and do another hike. There are just too many beautiful parks and hikes to not take advantage of. We drove through the River Arts District downtown, a chic urban area with lots of galleries, breweries, shops, and restaurants and made several mental notes for a kid-free trip in the future.
Ideally while traveling we stay away from food chains and try to enjoy local recommendations. Our first night we ate at a small BBQ and brewhouse called the Stackhouse in Mars Hill, the town we were staying in. I’m not a BBQ connoisseur and don’t know what differentiates NC BBQ from others, but oh man, the brisket was to die for. The next day we hoped to eat at a popular and highly recommended restaurant in Asheville called Biscuit Head, however, the wait was about two hours long, so we settled on another local cafe and bakery called Well Bred for some sandwiches, salads, and desserts, and it was delicious. For dinner one evening we stopped by a local restaurant called The Stoney Knob Cafe, which was also highly recommended but to be honest looked a little odd and quirky. It was fully reserved that night, so I figured it must be good and put in a reservation for our last night there. It was amazing food – Nick had a Mediterranean plate and I had a salmon and crab cake special. The decor was very interesting and the kids loved it. It was a little pricey but delicious and had a diverse menu of different cultural cuisines. We grilled out one night at the house and typically made picnic lunches during the day to take hiking.
On the last day, we opted for a wooded trail in Pisgah National forest that lead us to Moore Cove Falls, a tall waterfall you can walk under. This was another well-carved path the kid’s had no problem hiking, and we enjoyed having most of it to ourselves that day. Although this fall was much smaller in scale the kids enjoyed it the most because they were able to play walk behind it and play in the water. I could have watched them laugh and giggle in the creek without a care in the world for hours, which we did. There was a popular lookout for Looking Glass Falls on the drive into the park, so we stopped to see this as well and although probably the most impressive fall we viewed, it was quite crowded which made it a little less enjoyable. We found a secluded picnic area further down the park and enjoyed our last lunch together in the woods.
Our last night at the house we cooked s’mores in the chiminea on the deck and everyone talked about their favorite part to the trip. Everyone agreed a return trip would be necessary. I loved it so much I may or may not have researched vacation homes. The area has too many parks, hikes, and waterfalls to count, so recommendations from friends and the website Explore Asheville was very helpful. The area was beautiful but not too touristy like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. We will be back soon, hopefully, next time when the leaves are changing (the prolonged summer heat this year extended the greenery). Nick and I definitely want to come back without the kids for an adult getaway as well. This 4-day trip felt like a week and all of us were able to recharge. Hiking cleared our heads, the beauty of waterfalls soothed our souls, and delicious food renewed our spirits. We will be back.