Pisgah National Forest#3 in Best Things To Do in Asheville, NC
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Offering more than 500,000 acres of land about 40 miles northeast of downtown Asheville, Pisgah National Park is jampacked with activities and breathtaking vistas. With hundreds of miles of trails and numerous waterfalls and swimming holes, the forest provides ample opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors.
One of the first national forests in the country, created partially with land that once belonged to the Biltmore Estate, the park is home to the first forestry school in the United States as well as the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
The park is divided into three ranger districts: The Pisgah Ranger District, the Appalachian Ranger District and the Grandfather Ranger District. The Pisgah Ranger District provides the easiest access to the park's many waterfalls, while experienced hikers will find more challenging trails in the Grandfather Ranger District. The farthest district from Asheville, the Appalachian District, is where horseback riders will find trails best suited for them along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. There are also trails for biking and rock climbing, as well as fishing holes, picnic areas and campgrounds.
Keep in mind that you'll need a permit for camping, but all other activities are free to enjoy. You can reach the forest off Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 408.6 or by taking Interstate 26 about 40 miles north of downtown Asheville. For more information about the forest, or to obtain a permit, head to the National Forest Service website.
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#1 Biltmore Estate
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 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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