From the Biltmore to Hiking, Finding Family Fun in Asheville
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One of the fastest-growing travel markets in the United States is found in North Carolina: Asheville. There are many reasons that Asheville is officially a hot destination, from gorgeous scenery to visiting a “French Renaissance chateau” (built in the 1800s) without leaving the country.
About a decade ago, I visited the Biltmore Estate during a ski vacation with my brother and parents (yes, there is skiing in North Carolina). Now that we live in Nashville, I wanted to take my wife and children to Asheville to show them how amazing the estate is and explore the rest of the city.
Where Is Asheville?
Asheville is on the western border of North Carolina near the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. It’s about halfway between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
For those of us who live in the South, getting there offers a scenic drive through beautiful forests and mountains. If you live further away, the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) offers flights from many airlines, including Allegiant, American, Delta, Elite Airways, Spirit and United. Regional airport flights can be a higher cost on some airlines, so the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP), at only 1.5 hours away, is another good option. Airlines serving that airport include Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and United.
What Is There to Do in Asheville for Families?
I knew that we would have fun discovering all there is to do at the Biltmore Estate, but I was surprised at how much more there is to do in Asheville with a family. I reached out to the Asheville Visitor Center ahead of our trip for ideas and these are the suggestions that we liked the most.
Tour the Biltmore Estate
You could spend an entire weekend just visiting the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate. The main building was completed in 1895 and contains more than four acres of floor space. There are 35 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Words do not do justice to how ornate and beautiful the home is.
As you move about the estate, you’ll discover lush gardens, a village of shops, a winery and an equestrian center. We saw people cycling, riding horseback and hiking throughout the estate. Our children loved the playground, model train set and petting zoo at the village.
Ticket prices vary based on the time of year you visit. This summer, prices ranged from $60 to $85 per person. You can save $10 on each adult admission when you buy tickets online at least seven days in advance. Children 16 and under are free all summer. We visited during Father’s Day weekend, so my ticket was only $25.
See the Animals at the WNC Nature Center
This attraction is on a hillside, so bring your walking shoes. As you take the paths to see the animals, you will walk about 1.5 miles. The recently opened red panda exhibit was a hit with our kids. We also saw otters, black bears, wolves and turtles.
Admission is $7 for kids ages 3 to 15 and $11 for adults. Seniors are $10 and kids ages 2 and under are free.
Discover New Books at Malaprop Bookstore
We explored the bookstore and let our kiddos Timmy and Scarlett each select one book to add to their collection.
Interactive Exhibits at Asheville Museum of Science
Although this museum is relatively small, it packs a big punch. The kids loved the indoor jungle gym representing the Southern Appalachian Forest. We were mesmerized by the TerraBox, which has lighting that changes based on the sand elevations you create. And the Hurricane Simulator with winds up to 60 miles per hour was intense.
Admission is $7 to $8 for children and adults. Members of the ASTC Passport Program receive free admission for two adults and two children.
French Broad Chocolate Factory
Who doesn’t love chocolate? The French Broad Chocolate Factory was a delicious experience with some of the most decadent chocolate I’ve ever had. We took a tour of the factory and sampled their chocolate, ice cream and “liquid truffle” sipping chocolate.
Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company
Whenever we travel, we love sampling the local pizza. When I read about this restaurant, I knew the kids would love it. In the backroom, there is a huge arcade with giant screens playing children’s movies. Normally, to have this much fun, you have to sacrifice the quality of the food. But the pizza, cheese bread and beverages were all delicious. We had a hard time convincing the kids that we couldn’t have every meal here.
Mountain Play Lodge
The Mountain Play Lodge is one of the many indoor activities for kids. If your children love pretend time, this is the place for you. Inside you’ll find a miniature Asheville complete with a police station, doctor’s office and a baby Biltmore. Plus, there is a giant jungle gym with six different slides with many obstacles for children to use all that bundled up energy.
Ticket prices range from $8 to $13, depending on a child’s age and time of visit. Best of all, your admission covers playtime from open until close, so you can take a break while grabbing lunch or taking a nap, and then come back later in the day.
Hiking With the Kids
Getting in touch with nature is one of the best free kid activities in Asheville. Because the city is nestled among the mountains, there are plenty of opportunities to get fresh air and soak up the sun on a hike. Explore Asheville lists 17 family-friendly hikes that are suitable for kids. Most are less than three miles with elevation gains of only 700 to 800 feet. My favorites are the Asheville Botanical Gardens Trails, Biltmore Estate Trails and Moore Cove Falls Trail.
Where Should You Stay in Asheville?
Asheville has hotel options from all of the major hotel chains. We visited during the summer but hope to return to see the Christmas lights at the Biltmore this year. The prices below reflect pricing in early December 2019 for a weekend getaway in Asheville.
|Hotel||Cash prices||Points required per night||Price / point (cents)||TPG VALUATION (cents)|
|Aloft Asheville Downtown (Marriott)||$331||35,000||0.95||0.8|
|Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Asheville Downtown Tunnel Road, NC (Radisson)||$93.60||38,000||0.25||0.4|
|Four Points by Sheraton Asheville Downtown (Marriott)||$197||25,000||0.79||0.8|
|Hampton Inn & Suites Asheville Biltmore Village (Hilton)||$274||50,000||0.55||0.6|
|Holiday Inn Asheville – Biltmore West (IHG)||$191||40,000||0.48||0.5|
|Hyatt Place Asheville/Downtown (Hyatt)||$281||12,000||2.3||1.7|
|The Inn on Biltmore Estate||$549||n/a||n/a||n/a|
The Aloft is a Marriott Category 5 hotel that is available for 35,000 points per night. It is an upscale hotel that features mountain and city views plus a pool.
With cash rates starting at $331 per night, you’re getting 0.95 cents per point, which is 20% higher than TPG’s valuation for Marriott points. With the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, you will receive an annual up to 35k free night certificate that can be used at this hotel.
During our Asheville trip, we stayed at the Country Inn & Suites using points. We liked the free breakfast, warm cookies at the front desk and the indoor pool. Plus, it was a central location that made it easy to get around.
Booking this room requires 38,000 Radisson Rewards points compared with cash prices starting at $93.60. TPG values Radisson points at 0.4 cents per point, but this point redemption is only 0.25 cents per point. With cash prices so low, I would book using the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or pay with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then “erase” the room charges once they post to your statement (coded as “travel”).
The Four Points is a pet-friendly hotel with an outdoor heated pool. This hotel is a Marriott Category 4 with rooms available for 25,000 points per night. Cash rates start at $197 per night, which puts your redemption on par with TPG’s valuation of 0.8 cents per point. The annual up to 35k free night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card can be used here as well (though you may want to hold on to that and use it at a Category 5 property for top value).
This Hampton Inn is one block from the entrance of the Biltmore Estate. Guests receive a free hot breakfast each morning and can relax at the outdoor terrace. Next door is the DoubleTree Biltmore, which is an official stop on the Asheville Trolley Tour.
This Holiday Inn offers an indoor pool and spa, with another outdoor pool that is open seasonally. It is pet-friendly with advance reservation and kids 18 and under stay and eat free at the on-site restaurant.
Rooms are available starting at 40,000 points or $191 per night. TPG values IHG Rewards Club points at 0.5 per point and this redemption is just a bit shy of that target. I would only redeem points from IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card for this room if you’re short on cash. And, remember that if you hold the IHG’s cobranded credit card, you get the fourth night free on award stays.
A modern hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the city or the Blue Ridge Mountains. World of Hyatt members receive free breakfast each morning (as long as they reserve the room directly with Hyatt) and guests will enjoy the indoor heated saltwater pool. Rooms start at 12,000 points or $281 per night. At 2.34 cents per point, this is an excellent redemption of points or the annual Category 1 – 4 free night from the World Of Hyatt Credit Card.
For a truly unique experience, consider staying at the Biltmore Estate. The inn offers gracious hospitality and superb service inspired by the Vanderbilt family. It is not part of any loyalty program, so you’ll need to use cash or pay via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. Rooms start at $549, which would be 36,600 Ultimate Rewards points per night. Earn more Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
If you’re looking for a wonderful family vacation, Asheville, North Carolina, is an excellent choice. It offers the perfect mix of nature and city life, with a laid-back culture. The budding culinary and craft beverage scene will satisfy the taste buds of the entire family. And when you use your airline miles and hotel points, you’ll have more money available to try out all that the city has to offer. The nice thing, too, is that there are plenty of activities for families no matter what season you visit. Have you been to Asheville? What did your family enjoy the most?
Featured image courtesy of the Biltmore Estate
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