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5 Romantic Hikes Near Asheville

When you live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with fantastic access to the outdoors, top restaurants, and every type of art there is, for something romantic that’s different from your weekly routine is easy: take a hike!

Melina Coogan

A winter hike offers many rewards for you and your favorite explorer. You’ll appreciate the refreshing temperatures as you climb a mountainside. Many times, you’ll have the trail all to yourself since there are fewer fellow hikers. The best views of the year are on display thanks to leafless trees and deep blue skies. While the higher peaks see snow, valleys have mild winter days perfect to get outdoors. Plus, no bugs mean you’re free to hold hands or snuggle.

Here are five great winter hikes that are close to home:

Lover’s Leap

While most of the Appalachian Trail is too remote for winter hikes, you can easily take a “walk in the woods” in this section in Hot Springs. The trail runs along Main Street, so just park and start your hike there. Cross the French Broad River and climb the ridge up to several outcrops for views across the valley and river. On the way back on the 1.5-mile round trip hike, stop for a soak in the hot mineral springs or enjoy one of the restaurants in this charming mountain town.

Deep Creek Waterfalls

One of the busiest camping and tubing areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer, Deep Creek is a lower elevation trail that receives little snow. To see three frozen waterfalls, you have the option of 2.4-mile or 5-mile roundtrip hiking routes. Plenty of seating means you can take your time on this hike that’s just three miles from downtown Bryson City.

Rattlesnake Lodge

While the name may cause hesitation, this 3-mile roundtrip hike is a local favorite on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Hike the former carriage road up the ridge to the ruins of an early 1900s summer retreat. February is the perfect time to visit since you can more easily find the stone foundations of many buildings.

Bearwallow Mountain

Just 19 miles from Asheville is a short hike that rewards with 360-degree views from a treeless summit on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Cattle often graze on top, but they will gladly share the meadow with you for a picnic by the historic lookout tower. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy recently protected the mountain and built the 1-mile trail for all to enjoy. The uphill climb will quickly warm you up!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center

You don’t even have to leave the city of this one! Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the signs to the Visitor Center or the Folk Art Center (the trail starts at one and ends at the other). If you want a walk of 5.5 miles, then make it an out and back. If you want a shorter walk, just park a car at each end. This walk is a perfect blend of urban and rural coexistence with lots of features: two tunnels, a bridge over the Swannanoa River, steps, an overpass over US 70, walk under a BRP viaduct, an open field with a picturesque barn, and maybe cows.

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Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Your Total Solar Eclipse Checklist

Your opportunity to experience a rare total solar eclipse in western North Carolina arrives on Monday, August 21. To make sure you’re prepared and packed for totality, the experts at Frugal Backpacker have assembled this helpful checklist. For more on what to expect, check out Everything You Need to Know About August’s Total Solar Eclipse.

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF version of this checklist.

What to Do Now for the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Select the best location and route for viewing the eclipse based on accessibility, weather forecast, and the time of day the path of totality will pass through the area. Many prime viewing spots require tickets or have a capacity cap in place for the day, so do your homework.
  • Select an alternate location and route. 64,000 tourists are expected to visit the mountains for the eclipse.
  • Book lodging close to your primary viewing location. Hotel rooms, campsites, and cabins are going fast!
  • Build your total solar eclipse viewing kit. (See the bottom of this post for a checklist.)
  • Purchase your eclipse viewing glasses at Diamond Brand Outdoors. We’ve ordered a lot, but they’re going fast!
  • Use an app, website, or book to find out which bright stars and planets you can expect to see during the totality, impressing your friends and kids!

What to Do the Week of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Test all of your equipment by doing a “dry run.” Nothing’s worse than having a faulty camera when the big event gets underway!
  • Pack your total solar eclipse viewing kit and camping kit.
  • Review the eclipse timing and weather forecasts for your primary and alternate viewing locations.

What to Do the Day of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Leave early for your viewing location.
  • Claim your spot by setting up chairs and viewing equipment, but remember to be a good neighbor so others may enjoy the experience.
  • Test your equipment.
  • Enjoy the day with your friends and family. The time of totality will be brief, but the experience leading up and following the first total solar eclipse in western North Carolina since 1506 will lead to storied memories for years to come.

Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Kit Checklist

  • WNC + NATIONAL PARK MAPS: Cell towers will likely be overloaded, so don’t rely on an app.
  • ECLIPSE VIEWING GLASSES: You must have these for direct solar viewing. They’re inexpensive and available now.
  • HAT: To protect your head from the sun while you wait for the main event.
  • SUNGLASSES: NOT to look at the sun, but to cut down on the glare when you’re looking everywhere else.
  • PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER: Make sure you’ll be able to document the day through photos and videos.
  • CAMPING CHAIRS + TABLES: Get yourself a chance to stake your claim to watch and rest after the excitement!
  • BLANKETS: No matter where you’re watching, blankets keep things cleaner. Bring more than you think you need.
  • COOLER: You’ll likely get to your viewing area hours before the eclipse. Drinks, lunch, and snacks are a must!
  • DRINKWARE + WATER BOTTLES: Insulated cups and tumblers keep your drinks cold (or hot), don’t sweat, and are reusable.
  • HEADLAMP OR FLASHLIGHT: Since you’ll be looking up, this is primarily for emergencies. Use the red setting instead of white.
  • COMPASS: There’s plenty of information online that will tell you exactly where to look as totality begins.
  • CAMERA: This is one of the times you may want a nicer camera than you’ll find on your phone.
  • CELL PHONE: Coverage may be too spotty for weather and GPS, but your clock and camera will still work.
  • WATER: Always stay hydrated, whether the sun is shining or not.
  • SUNSCREEN: Always a good idea when you’ll be outside for any period of time.
  • INSECT REPELLENT: Another good idea anytime you’re heading into the outdoors.
  • OUTDOOR GAMES: Help pass the time and enjoy some relaxation with friends and family.
  • HAMMOCK: If you’ve got space to set up an ENO hammock or WindPouch, laying down is a great way to watch.
  • ELECTRICAL TAPE: Some folks don’t know how to turn off their camera’s flash. Be prepared to help them out.
  • CAMPING KIT (OPTIONAL): Traveling the day before or staying overnight after the eclipse helps avoid traffic and can be fun!
    • TENT
    • SLEEPING BAG FOR EACH CAMPER
    • LANTERN
    • SLEEPING PAD FOR EACH CAMPER
    • PILLOWS
    • TARPS
    • STOVE + FUEL
    • MATCHES
    • FRYING PAN + POT
    • CUTTING BOARD + KNIFE
    • SPONGE, SOAP, + BIN FOR WASHING DISHES
    • PAPER TOWELS
    • FIREWOOD (IF ALLOWED)
    • ROASTING STICKS FOR S’MORES + HOT DOGS
    • BEAR KEG
    • ICE
    • TRASH BAGS
    • FIRST AID KIT
    • CORKSCREW

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Win Passes to The Gorge in Saluda, NC

We hear people like free stuff so we’re giving away more of it this year! Make sure you’re signed up for our super duper fly emails to make sure you don’t miss any contests. This month, we’ve got an awesome package from two western North Carolina Originals: The Gorge and WNCW.

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Touted as “America’s steepest, fastest” zipline canopy tour, The Gorge offers 11 lines spanning over one mile that descend 1,100 vertical feet for a wild ride. It’s a great view of North Carolina’s Green River Gorge, high above the treetops. Like Diamond Brand Outdoors (our parent company), The Gorge was voted Best of the Blue Ridge by readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors.

You’ll also receive of a pair of WNCW Gear Packages: an insulated string bag, handmade mug, and earbuds!

On Oct. 13, 1989, radio station WNCW, whose call letters stand for Western North Carolina Window, first signed on the air as a a public radio station “for everyone.” Since that time, the station has become synonymous with the region it covers, programming a variety of music — folk, blues, jazz, reggae, Celtic, world, rock, bluegrass, indie — and local and National Public Radio affiliated news. It provides distinctive programming that transcends cultural, educational, or socioeconomic differences.

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3 Tips for the Stargazing Beginner

Photo: Jack Schroeder

Western North Carolina is renowned as a haven of outdoor beauty. Our night skies are no exception; Asheville’s relatively low level of light pollution and easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway make it an ideal spot for seeking fantastic views of the night sky.

If you’re looking to expand your outdoor hobbies, give stargazing a go. It’s a low-key way to enjoy our outdoor paradise, is equally fun solo or with a group, can be enjoyed regardless of your fitness level, and doesn’t require a large investment to try.

Get started frugally. You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a fancy telescope to enjoy stargazing. In fact, you can see objects up to 2.5 million lightyears away without any equipment at all. To get started with minimal investment, purchase a star chart (great options are available for under $20) and head to a dark spot on the Parkway (check out some of our fav spots below). You’ll be surprised at what you can see!

Get help from experts. Most amateur astronomers are enthusiastic about their passion and happy to help new comers. Join one of the group star gazes hosted by Astronomy Club of Asheville or one of the many public events hosted by UNCA at the Lookout Observatory. This can be a great way to learn more about what you’re observing and make connections.

Ready for a better view? You can purchase an excellent pair of binoculars for a much smaller investment than a mediocre telescope and their versatility and ease of operation make them ideal for beginners. Added bonus, they’re a breeze to throw in your pack for incredible views on a nighttime hike.

Great Places to Go:

Blue Ridge Star Park and Observatory– Spruce Pine, NC Recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a dark-sky place.

Mt. Pisgah Trailhead (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 407.6)

Stoney Bald Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 402.6)

Tanbark Ridge Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 376.7)

Craggy Dome Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364.1)

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WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge

We’ve partnered with our friends at Asheville Trails and Diamond Brand Outdoors for the WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge.

Visit Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to check out the awesome new Asheville Trails kiosks with dozens of local trails. We believe the outdoors are for everyone of all abilities, so you’ll find lots of good stuff at the kiosk, like directions and insider tips on easy, moderate, and difficult hikes of varying distance. Find a trail you like, and then snap a picture of the info sheet with your phone. And then visit the Asheville Trails website to get driving directions and more trail info.

Hit any three trails from the displays during April and we’ll give you 20% off up to five items, plus a free Asheville Trails sticker! Just post a pic to Instagram while you’re on the trail, tag both @frugal_backpacker and @ashevilletrails, and use the hashtag #WNC3C.

Once you’ve hiked three of the trails, return to Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to receive your discount. A team member will take a look a look at your tagged photos — which we’d probably like to share on our feed if you give us permission!

Discount cannot be used for gift cards, boats, or special orders. See store for any other exclusions.

Crew Essentials: Top Outdoor Gifts for Campers

camden

Camden’s a crew member here at Frugal Backpacker. He shares his top gift ideas for your favorite outdoor enthusiasts.

My favorite hike is Alum Cave in the Smokies. I love it because I helped build that trail and that view is my favorite ever.

Kelty Bestie Blanket
Very light weight, very warm, and easy to clean, this makes a perfect throw blanket. It’s perfectly sized for lounging around the campfire or for warming up with a good book.
$22.95

bestie
ENO has the best design of any straps for any hammock that uses carabiner connectors. Agile but enduring, the ENO Atlas Strap weighs a scant eleven ounces, yet boasts a whopping thirty combined adjustment points.
$29.95
atlas
ENO DoubleNest Hammock
The ENO DoubleNest Hammock makes you want to snuggle. With two-feet of extra width than the SingleNest, the DoubleNest allows room for one, two, three, or however you decide to pack 400lbs. It packs down to the size of a grapefruit and is also machine washable.
$69.95
double
Stanley Adventure Cooler
Stanley is great because the company blends classic style with the lastest technology. This is a great small cooler for bringing your lunch to work or any day adventure.
$40
stanley-adventure
Mountain Hardwear Micro Thermostatic Puff Jacket
Affordable, light weight, and just plain awesome! This  very warm down jacket is perfect for layering. It’s also compactable so it fits easily into a pack.
$105
jacket
Deuter Act Lite 50+10 Pack
A great choice for anyone who is new to backpacking, the adjustable back is great for any trip in the wilderness or travel abroad. Lightweight with a purist yet technical look, this versatile expanding pack lets you comfortably tackle everything.
$189
deuter-act-lite

A $10 Bonus with Gift Card Purchases This Year

We want you to have a great time during the holiday season and welcome you back in 2017. That’s why we’ll be giving you a bonus $10 gear card for every $50 of gift cards you purchase between November 25-December 24, 2016. Your bonus gear cards can be used just like cash on anything in the store from January 1-31, 2017.

Gift cards are a great gift for your favorite adventure partners. They never expire and can be used at Frugal Backpacker or either Diamond Brand Outdoors location. A Frugal Backpacker gift card is the thoughtful gift of new adventures, shared experiences, and outdoor exploration — and they come in a gift envelope with embedded seeds that grow into wildflowers when you plant it. (How cool is that?)

If you have any questions, just ask one of our expert team members. Happy Holidays!

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NPO 100 Blue Ridge Parkway

On August 25, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates an important milestone: 100 years of the National Park Service Organic Act. Today, the NPS manages 401 park units and attendance hit a peak last year. While we’ve got easy access to two of the most visited units – the Blue Ridge Parkway (#1) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (#4) – day hikes are only the beginning of adventures that can be had when you venture just beyond our community. Grab the car and the kids and head out for these weekend trips this spring or summer.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” meanders for 469 miles and provides plenty of scenic driving, biking, and hiking in Buncombe County. Head over the Virginia border for a weekend and check out what The Commonwealth State has to offer.

Stop off at the Blue Ridge Music Center near the town of Galax for music demonstrations, concerts, and a museum dedicated to old-time mountain music. It’s set apart by focusing on local artists who best show the history of Appalachian music and not “the stars.”

Plan an overnight stay in Roanoke for shopping at City Market and dining at local favorites Local Roots or Billy’s. Make your way to Sherando Lake in George Washington National Forest for some hiking and camping the next day. You can spend your final day exploring the Shenandoah Valley, Humpback Rock, and Shenandoah National Park before heading back home.

Half Tank Getaways highlights some of our favorite places just outside of Buncombe County and is powered by our pals at Prestige Subaru.

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Events

Asheville Outdoor Show 2018

Stay tuned for BIG changes to this one-of-a-kind community driven event celebrating all things outdoors! There will still be plenty of local gear makers and national innovators showcasing the latest trends in outdoor recreation, but you’ll find far more diverse offerings of interactive demos, educational workshops, and informative speakers.

Check out pictures from last year!

RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Kids are welcome at this free public event. There’s even an awesome Family Adventure Zone!

Women Outdoors in the Mountains

Inquisitive women love to push the boundaries explore wherever the adventure takes them. If you’re equally at home on the trail or on the town, join other women to share adventures, learn creative outdoor skills, and tap into your awesomeness at this free inaugural event featuring great deals on outdoor apparel and gear.

Frugal Backpacker gets women. And we get them geared up, excited, and ready for the outdoors with expert advice, clothing, and top outdoor products for less.

FREE CLINICS + WORKSHOPS

RSVP ON FACEBOOK >>

Kids and well-behaved pets on leash are welcome at this community event.