Two black bear cubs climb a tree

Have you heard about Bears Bees + Brews? This grassroots community project was founded when a local resident decided to do something about the heated issue of urban black bears in western North Carolina. This nonprofit project seeks to inspire people and raise awareness about wildlife conservation, in a fun and non-judgemental way. 

We had the opportunity to sit down with the founder, Roni Hidalgo, and learn a little more about the inception of Bears Bees + Brews and the fun events that they have planned. One event – Bear Banter + Brews is planned for this Saturday, June 1st at Upcountry Brewing. Frugal Backpacker will be participating by teaching a Leave No Trace workshop. 

A Movement is Born

Hidalgo moved to Asheville 4 years ago in search of a more peaceful and natural living environment.  She fell in love with the beautiful lush surroundings of WNC and its accessibility to nature and wildlife.  It was not long after moving to Asheville that she witnessed whole forests being leveled to make room for development.  This sparked a sense of urgency to get the community involved to help sustain our incredibly biodiverse surroundings.

“Raising awareness is key,” Hidalgo said.  “But doing it in fun and inspiring ways will help people interpret and digest information more effectively, and want to share it with others.”

Through the sharing of information, Hidalgo hopes her project will cultivate respect and compassion for bears and all wildlife.  Oftentimes, bears show up in our neighborhoods in search of food because their natural habitats are continuously being threatened by urban development and climate change.  Most negative bear encounters are easily prevented with the proper education.

Bears + Bees

The project also advocates for pollinators and habitat conservation as a whole.  

“Bears and bees is a name, but it also represents conservation of the full spectrum of wildlife, from big to small, from bears to bees,” Hidalgo said.  As bears, bees and all wildlife continuously face threats to their natural habitats, they need our support more than ever in order to survive.

By working to save other species, we are also saving ourselves.  This is especially true regarding native pollinators. About 90 percent of our food supply is a result of the work of pollinators, yet harmful pesticides that are contributing to their decline are still being used.   

How You Can Help

Bears Bees + Brews is fiscally sponsored project of Southern Conservation Partners, a nonprofit charitable organization.  Roni is seeking community sponsorships and donations to continue her work to provide free fun and educational conservation events throughout Asheville and WNC.  Visit to donate.

Find out more about how you can help wildlife, pollinators and support wildlife corridors at under “Take Action.”

Upcoming Events

Please come out to UpCountry Brewing Company this Saturday, June 1 for Bear Banter + Brews in celebration of National Black Bear Day.  The festivities start at 5:30 PM. Have fun while learning about wildlife conservation and how we can live harmoniously with urban black bears.  

Check out more upcoming events hosted by Bears Bees + Brews at

  • Bear Banter + Brews, June 1, Upcountry Brewing 5:30-11:00PM – Celebrating National Black Bear Day and conservation through fun live brewery talks from local wildlife biologists and experts.
  • Pollinators: Secret Superheroes, June 27, Asheville Masonic Temple 6PM – Partnering with Center for Honeybee Research, GreenWorks/Bee City USA Asheville, for an intimate, pollinator-dependent celebration dinner experience to raise awareness and honor our native pollinators. Visit: for more information.
  • Bears Bees + Brews Festival, October 19, New Belgium Brewery, 12-5PM A FREE conservation celebration that will bring over a dozen environmental and conservation organizations together to educate, engage, and entertain locals and visitors alike. Participating organizations and discussion topics include:
    • NPCA, Wildlands Network, and Great Smoky Mountain Association – discussing wildlife connectivity and how wildlife migration corridors can save the lives of humans and animals, and how to support them on a local level.
    • Friends of the Smokies – Promoting and protecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
    • NC Wildlife BearWise – discussing how to coexist happily with black bears and wildlife.
    • Center for HoneyBee Research and Bee City USA/Asheville – discussing conservation of bees and what to do to protect our native pollinators.
    • Asheville GreenWorks – discussing best tree practices and the importance of protecting WNC trees and forests.
    • Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy – discussing the importance of protecting the mountains of North Carolina (from the edge of Great Smoky National Park to the Highlands of Roan).
    • Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation – promoting the cultural and historical preservation, natural resources preservation, and educational outreach for Blue Ridge Parkway for future generations.

Submitted by Rosa Linda Fallon

Orange handicap symbol with arrow

It’s never easy dealing with a disability. Whether it’s physical or psychiatric, it’s easy to feel like you don’t quite fit in. I understand this first hand, since I am on the Autism Spectrum and struggle with severe anxiety. For me, hiking with my service dog, Dexter, is an escape from reality. It’s a breath of fresh air, away from the stresses of everyday life. I’m grateful that I have the ability to hike, but not everyone does. That’s why I want to share with you four great wheelchair friendly hikes for people with limited mobility. Being outside is therapeutic and healing, and EVERYONE deserves to get the chance to enjoy nature.

Pink handicap sign that reads "step free route" sitting in the grass

Lake Junaluska Trail

First up on this list is the Lake Junaluska Trail. This trail is 3.8-miles long and surrounded by the Great Smokey Mountains. With plenty of lookout points and sitting areas to enjoy the view and lakeside experience, it’s easy to lose track of time and spend all day in this beautiful environment. As you travel on the trail, you will get the chance to literally go over the water on the Turbeville Footbridge, providing another unique and serene vantage point of the lake and mountains. My personal favorite, the Rose Walk, is another must see part of the Junaluska experience. This part of the trail goes through the rose garden, where you will see (and smell) over 200 rose bushes! This is a great spot to recharge and relax during or after your adventure.

The Cradle of Forestry

This is definitely the outdoor experience I recommend for anyone who is interested in history and wants to get outside. With three paved trails that cater to anyone with a wheelchair, you can easily maneuver and experience everything this place has to offer. There is the 1.3-mile Forest Festival Trail, the 1.3-mile Forest Discovery Trail, and the one-mile Biltmore Campus Trail. All three trails go by plenty of historic buildings and artifacts with a plethora of interesting information to accompany them. To top it all off, the Forest Discovery Trail is actually on the NC Birding Trail, which makes it great for bird watching. Whether you are a history geek, bird nerd, or simply want to get outside, the Cradle of Forestry provides a multitude of experiences for anyone and everyone!

Blue Jay sitting on a branch

Mt. Mitchell

The view from Mt. Mitchell is one that I guarantee will take your breath away. At a whopping 6,684 ft, Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Part of the Mt. Mitchell experience is the beautiful drive there on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the Parkway there are plenty of spots to pull off the road and admire the mountain view, so take your time getting to your destination. Once you arrive, all that’s standing between you and a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the mountains is a quarter-mile paved trail. Totally wheelchair accessible, the summit of Mt. Mitchell is the perfect place to go for anyone looking to clear their minds and gather their thoughts.

Roan Mountain Gardens

catawba rhododendron flowers

The final location on this list is the Roan Mountain Gardens, famous for its exceptionally voluminous population of Catawba rhododendrons. Accessibility isn’t an issue when it comes to admiring the beautiful blooms. Enjoy the half-mile paved trail through the gardens, as well as a lookout point and picnic area. For this experience, make sure to park in the Recreation Area, since there are other hikes around Roan Mountain that aren’t wheelchair friendly.


Taking time to unplug and slow down is something that everyone can benefit from. It’s easy to forget to breathe in the fast paced world we live in. Being outside has always given me the ability to unwind and recharge. I hope that this blog gave everyone some ideas for what adventure you will take next, regardless of your physical capabilities.

Child in yellow jacket with a blue backpack outside

Any parent who loves to hike knows how much fun it is to show your little ones the great outdoors. Any parent ALSO knows that it is never a bad time for a good game! Put two and two together, and you get these five fun hiking games that you can play with your kids!

The Alphabet Game

The Alphabet Game is one that I used to play all the time growing up. It was definitely one of my favorites. This one is so simple, but so fun! All you do is pick a category, in this case, “things on the hiking trail.” You then have to take turns with each person in your hiking group naming things that start with each letter of the alphabet! You start with A, then go to B, then C, until you get to Z. Now, some letters are harder than others, especially for kids. It’s totally fine to skip a few and make the game your own depending on what is most enjoyable.

Tip: I find that this game is also a great opportunity to teach your kids about new things. If you pass a kind of plant or animal that your child doesn’t know (which also happens to start with the letter you are on), tell them about it! They can use their new-found term as their word for that letter.

Scavenger Hunt

A mother and father walking down a trail outside with their childWho doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? I remember my Mom would have me play this game in the grocery store a lot (she would give me a small list of things to find and bring back as quickly as I could). However, playing this game on a trail is way more fun for everyone! You will have to tweak this game a little though, just to be sure that nothing in the environment is being damaged. Instead of asking your child to find and BRING you a purple flower, ask them to find and SHOW you a purple flower. You can spice this game up even more by creating a scavenger hunt check list before your hike! Below, I have inserted my own example of what one might look like:

  1. Find and show me: a bird in a tree
  2. Find and show me: a rock with moss on it
  3. Find and show me: a maple leaf
  4. Find and show me: a purple flower
  5. Find and show me: a squirrel
  6. Find and show me: a fern
  7. Find and show me: a very tall tree
  8. Find and show me: a rhododendron bush
  9. Find and show me: a cool bug
  10. Find and show me: a pine tree

You’ll notice in my example I included a mix of easy and difficult things to find. Again, if you make a list it will be whatever you decide is appropriate/fun for your child. If you do include more difficult things to find that they might not know, it is yet again another opportunity for education!

Finish My Story

This is one that never fails to make everyone playing laugh. “Finish my story,” as I called it growing up, is like fill in the blanks. One person starts a story with a single sentence. The next person has to then add on with another sentence. By the end of the game you have spun a ridiculous tale that will have you all cracking up! To play this outside, use the surroundings to set the stage for your story. Here’s an example of how a story might unfold with 3 people playing on a hike:

  1. Person 1: Once upon a time, there was a guy and his dog hiking down this same trail…
  2. Person 2: Suddenly, they heard something in that big tree over there…
  3. Person 3: The man and his dog looked up, and were shocked at what they saw…
  4. Person 1: Up in the tree, there was a giant 10 foot tall chipmunk!
  5. Person 2: The man and dog began to run until they reached this little stream right here…
  6. Person 3: They turned around, and the giant chipmunk was standing right there!
  7. Person 1: The chipmunk leaned down, and opened his mouth…
  8. Person 2: The man and his dog held their breath…
  9. Person 3: The chipmunk said, “hello, my name is Jim.”
  10. Person 1: Then Jim the giant chipmunk, the dog, and the guy kept hiking together and had a great day!

I Spy:

Mother sitting on a bench with her children outdoors

This one is pretty simple, but makes the perfect game when you decide to take a quick snack or water break. Convincing your kids to sit down and re-hydrate isn’t always easy. It might not seem as fun and exciting as exploring what lies behind the next bend in the trail, but it’s a necessary part to any outdoor adventure. One way to help persuade your child to take a quick break is by playing I Spy. There are never a shortage of things to “spy” in the woods, so this game will keep you and your little one busy long enough to fuel back up and keep going!

Trail Charades

This game is especially fun for all the little hams out there. First, you choose a category that applies to your hike. That could be anything from plants, trees, animals, landscapes etc. You and you child can then take turns acting the things out, while the other person tries to guess what you are! This can get really goofy, especially when you find your kid trying to be a river, or yourself acting like a bear. This game is another that is best played once you reach your hiking destination or are taking a quick break on the trail.

I hope these five games make your time on the trail with your kids memorable and full of laughs!

Girl hugging white golden retriever outside

As a dog mom, I know how important it is to find safe, accessible, and dog friendly hikes. Dexter, my two year old golden retriever, is just as passionate about getting outdoors as I am! We go on a lot of adventures together, and thankfully there is no shortage of trails around Asheville. So without further ado, here are my top 5 hikes to take with your furry companion!

Girl looking at a white golden retriever outside

Dexter and I

Bearwallow Mountain

It’s hard to choose a favorite hike, but this one is definitely at the top of my list. The hike to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain is only a mile, but it is definitely still a good workout for you and your dog. Once you reach the top, you are greeted by a breathtaking panoramic view of the mountains. Thanks to the cows that call the mountain home in the summertime, there are no trees or large plants blocking your view. As far as being dog friendly, this hike doesn’t disappoint. There are almost always other dogs on the mountain for your canine companion to socialize with (if they feel comfortable). It’s also the perfect olfactory experience, because there is always a multitude of cow poop for your dog to sniff and explore! It might sound gross… but to your dog it’s like the cherry on top of the perfect day.

A white golden retriever laying down with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background

Dexter at Bearwallow Mountain

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg Home trail mapThe Carl Sandburg home, located in Flat Rock just outside of Hendersonville, is doggie hike heaven. This National Park Service site has a plethora of activities for you and your dog to enjoy. There are plenty of trails that cater to the short legged shih-tzu, or the athletic and sporty shepherd. Whether you are exploring the land around the house, checking out the goats (the “funny dogs” as Dexter knows them), or hiking up to Big Glassy Mountain, an entire day can easily be dedicated to having fun here.

Girl and white golden retriever at the top of Big Glassy Mountain

Dexter and I at the top of Big Glassy Mountain

Black Balsam Knob

Two people looking at the mountains from Black Balsam Knob

Photo by @dilsworth on Instagram

Definitely one of the most stunning hikes in Western North Carolina, Black Balsam is like something out of a fairytale. The adventure begins at the Art Loeb Trailhead, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420. The short stretch of trail leads to the iconic Black Balsam view. I highly recommend this hike for people and dogs who aren’t looking for anything too strenuous. Small, senior, or special needs canines can experience the joys of this beautiful hike and not over exert themselves.

DuPont Forest

There’s never a shortage of fun things to do at the DuPont State Recreational Forest. With a collective 86 miles of trails on protected 10,000 acres, there’s something for everyone and their dog (literally). From waterfalls, swimming holes, and awesome views, DuPont is the place to be. My personal favorite is seeing the waterfalls and exploring the swimming holes with Dex. I especially recommend this place for pups who love to swim. Want to learn more about all the things you can do here? Check out the Friends of DuPont Forest Website for more information!

White golden retriever swimming with a stick in his mouth

Never Dull in DuPont!

Remember: It is never a good idea to have your dog off leash near waterfalls, especially if they love swimming. There are designated spots that are safe to swim and explore, and other spots that are off limits. Please make sure to abide by these rules and regulations for you and your dog’s safety!

Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls, NC

Photo by @dilsworth on Instagram

Another great hike for all the four legged water bugs out there is Catawba Falls! This hike is just short of 3 miles, and offers plenty of opportunities for you and your dog to get your feet/paws wet! My favorite part of this hike is the swimming hole at the base of the falls, which is always refreshing on a hot summer day.

Daniel Ridge Loop Trail

The first time I went here with Dexter, I knew this would be one of our frequent hiking locations. The Daniel Ridge Loop, located in the Brevard area in Pisgah National Forest is definitely a trip you don’t want to pass up on. The trail itself parallels certain parts of the Davidson River, and again, offers wonderful swimming opportunities for you and your dog. Other than the river, there are so many other reasons this trail is worth visiting. The different biomes that you encounter throughout the trip are amazing, and the view of Tom Springs Falls is breathtaking. To top it all off, at the end of the hike you and your fuzzy adventure buddy can visit The Hub and Pisgah Tavern for a good meal in their outside seating area!

It’s a well known fact by any dog mom/dad that as long as you have your four legged companion with you, there is never a dull moment. Hopefully these 5 dog friendly hikes can help inspire you and your pup’s next adventure!

White golden retriever with his tongue out


Sunny spring days have us in the mood for some outside time. And when we say “outside time” we’re not talking about a quick lunch break or a short hike, we mean a full on day of frolicking, relaxing, and picnicking in the great outdoors. Here are 3 of our picks for spring picnic adventures.

For Animal Lovers

Goats at Carl Sandburg's Home

The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site has trails of various difficulties, beautiful views, and a goat barn that’s accessible to the public.

We recommend starting with a visit to see the newborn kids (currently 9 and counting).  If you’re a poetry buff or just need an escape from inclement weather, a 30 minute tour of the Sandburg home is well worth your time.  The grounds around the main home offer plenty of peaceful picnic locations. Alternately, you can head down the hill to one of the lakefront picnic tables or benches.

If you’re feeling adventurous, the 3-mile hike to the top of Big Glassy Mountain and back offers unparalleled views. This trail is short but steep, so be sure to wear proper footwear and consider bringing a pair of trekking poles.

Not in the mood to pack your own lunch? Local favorite, Flat Rock Bakery makes exceptionally good wood-fired breads and pastries, and is a great place to pick up a sandwich to take with you.

The All-Day Hang

View on the Trail, Courtesy of

From trails to wide open spaces, Pink Bed’s Picnic Area in Pisgah National Forest has a little something for everyone. We recommend starting with a  hike of Pink Beds Loop – a rolling five mile trail featuring rare local flora.

Post-hike, the wide open field is the perfect place for throwing a frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, or just hanging out. There’s even a sizable picnic shelter, complete with grills. If you want to be sure you’ll have the place to yourself, be sure to reserve it for the day.

Unobstructed Views

View from Max Patch in Winter

If 360 degree views are your thing, it doesn’t get much better than a picnic on top of Max Patch. A quick half mile hike will take you to the top of this scenic bald that offers long range views of Tennessee and Western North Carolina. This trail is along the AT, so if you visit in the spring, think about bringing a few extra snacks to offer a little “trail magic” to tired thru-hikers.

If a hike up Max Patch doesn’t quench your thirst for adventure, head back through Hot Springs for another short hike up Lover’s Leap or a soak in the town’s namesake hot springs.