The North Carolina Arboretum#6 in Best Things To Do in Asheville, NC
Those with green thumbs will want to put the North Carolina Arboretum on their to-do list. Located about 10 miles south of downtown Asheville off of Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 393, the arboretum is a 434-acre public garden within Pisgah National Park.
Visitors can wander through 65 acres of gardens, including the National Native Azalea Collection, the Bonsai Exhibition Garden and a Heritage Garden that celebrates Southern Appalachian horticulture, plus much more. Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, the gardens also offer more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails that vary in levels of difficulty. (Recent visitors said the walking trails were an unexpected highlight of their time at the arboretum.) Kids can take part in a variety of interactive youth activities, such as loaner discovery backpacks (available for free) and hands-on lessons from Shelly, the arboretum's resident box turtle.
There is no individual admission cost, just a $14 vehicle parking fee. Hours vary by seasons and facilities, so check out the arboretum's website before making a visit.
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This enormous French Renaissance-style estate of George Vanderbilt has a storied past dating back to 1889. Considered America's largest private home, the 250-room estate – with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and a whopping 65 fireplaces – took six years to construct. The 8,000 acres of gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same landscape architect responsible for Central Park) and feature 2 ½ miles of walking paths.
Amassing 125,000 acres at its peak, 87,000 acres were sold after Vanderbilt's death in 1914 to form what is now the Pisgah National Forest. But its history doesn't stop there: During World War II the estate stored pieces from the National Gallery of Art, and in the 1970s a winery was added. In the 2000s, inns and hotels were opened on the property.
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