13 Fun and Easy Family-Friendly Hikes Around Asheville
I once read a quote about libraries being one of the few public spaces left in our society where you’re allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money, and we can say the same about nature. Two essential tools to raise a healthy kid are access to books and nature. The good news is that exploring the outdoors offers some of the best – if not the best – Asheville activities for kids!
Fortunately, there are kid-friendly hikes near Asheville for everyone, from big-city or local families looking forward to introducing themselves to hiking trails to adventures for more seasoned hikers. I’ve included a list of kid-friendly hikes near Asheville and within the city limits. There is a mix of tracks with scenic views and waterfalls, riverside hiking, state park visits, and urban trails.
Remember to bring extra clothing, snacks, water, and download maps if there is no cell phone coverage. Also, always check the trail status before you head out, as it might be closed due to flooding or repairs. While outdoors, please follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.
Finally, I’ve traveled and done a lot with my now two teenagers, including an eight-day hiking trip in Israel and hiking the Wirikuta desert in Mexico and the mountain villages of the Alpujarras in Spain. So, let me give you advice if you are adventuring into the outdoors with young kids: go with the kids’ flow, lower your expectations, and make having fun your main goal.
Kids are masters of living in the present. They might get tired or bored, and carrying them might not always be an option. They might want to stop a lot to play and explore (creeks are irresistible!).
But, you know it, “the journey is the destination,” and what’s important is that you all made it out there. Eventually, you’ll reach that waterfall or that view, but maybe not today. Remember that the more kids enjoy the time outdoors, the more they’ll want to keep doing it!
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13 Kid-Friendly Hikes Around Asheville
1. Take in the 360˚ Views from Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail
Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail is a 1.2-mile trail in the Blue Ridge Parkway and one of the best hikes near Asheville to access fantastic views quickly. It’s a 24-mile, 35-minute drive from downtown Asheville, and it only takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the views (times will depend on the hiker, of course).
This trail is one of the best, most fun kid-friendly hikes near Asheville. It features photogenic twisted trees, tunnels of blooming rhododendron in June, blueberries in late August, exciting rock formations all year round, and long-range views of the Parkway and the mountains.
Your heart and your Instagram account will thank you if you go at sunset or during the fall! Whenever you decide to visit, please stay on the trail to protect the fragile Craggy Gardens’ ecosystem.
The Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail begins at the upper level of the Craggy Dome Parking Overlook, just north of the tunnel you can view from the Visitor Center. There are other trails in the area, too. You can check them out here.
2. Discover Local Flora and Fauna at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville is a go-to place for locals and visitors to spot everything from wildflowers to butterflies and learn about the ecosystem. It’s located in North Asheville, connected to Reed Creek and Glenn’s Creek, two of Asheville’s eight existing urban greenways (all of them are fantastic introductions to hiking!).
If you want to enjoy the perfect urban hiking adventure, you can walk both greenways (first Glenn’s Creek and then Reed Creek – they connect) from Montford to Weaver Park (a playground next to Luella’s BBQ and YOLO frozen yogurt ice cream). You must stop to discover the short, easy, educational Botanical Gardens trail in the middle of your adventure.
The Botanical Gardens trail offers exciting features, like a small creek, a giant bird feeder for bird-watching, and information about the plants and trees. Be sure to check the peak bloom times before you visit.
Entrance is free, and there’s a seasonal on-site gift shop that has some interesting, locally-made items. Since this is a conservation garden, dogs and bikes are not allowed.
3. Go Creek Hopping on the Easy Pink Beds Loop Trail
Pink Beds Loop Trail in the beautiful Pisgah National Forest (near Brevard) is one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes near Asheville. It’s flat, there are wildflowers, and it offers fun bridges (including one over the South Mills River) and lots of opportunities for creek-hopping.
It’s an hour’s drive from downtown Asheville, and you can take the Blue Ridge Parkway. It takes about two and a half hours to complete the 5.3-mile loop, but there is a shortcut: once you get to the intersection with the Barnett Branch, take this trail to the right, and you’ll connect back with the Pink Beds Loop and cut off about two miles.
This unique grassy wetlands area is muddy and can get muddier after the rain, but wooden boardwalks are on parts of the trail. Your kids will love the picnic area at the trailhead, the rhododendrons, the mountain laurel, the butterflies, the sound of the water, and going across bridges. The whimsical fern-covered forest will inspire their imagination!
4. Spot 360˚ Views (and Cute Cows) at Bearwallow Mountain
Bearwallow Mountain Trail offers a short, easy, fun hike and beautiful 360-degree views, including Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Pisgah, Hickory Nut Gorge, downtown Hendersonville, and the high country of South Carolina.
Located at 4,232 feet above sea level, the trail is approximately one mile each way. You can also use a gravel fire road back to the parking area for a 1.7-mile loop hike.
This trail is on private property. Sometimes cows graze on the grassy open mountain meadow at the summit, which is a fun add-on! Please have your dog on a leash and give the cows space (I was once chased by a cow, not on Bearwallow Mountain, thankfully, but cows can be fierce!).
The trail is sometimes muddy, but what’s the point of hiking if no mud is involved? There are wildflowers in the spring and beautiful colors in the fall. Unfortunately, there are no trashcans, so please pack your trash.
This trail was created and is maintained by Conserving Carolina, a non-profit that works to protect, restore, and inspire appreciation of the natural world. So, if you enjoyed your hike, consider donating to them.
5. Check Out the Beginner-Friendly Outdoor Adventures of Kids in Parks TRACK Trails
The Kids in Parks (KIP) initiative started in 2008 when the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Service, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation came together to improve children’s and parks’ health by making existing trails more attractive, accessible, and fun for new users. So, this is the perfect way to introduce your family to hiking in Asheville!
Through partnerships with municipal, state, federal, and other partners, KIP’s TRACK Trails offer family-friendly, self-guided hiking trails for beginners. Kids can TRACK their adventures in an online nature journal and get prizes in the mail for their participation. The program started here, but there are more than 190 TRACK Trails in 12 states today.
Kids in Parks is a free program for its users, and its funding comes from donations and grants. So, consider donating to keep kids and families unplugged and excited about our outdoors!
6. Enjoy the Easy Hiking Trails in the North Carolina Arboretum
The NC Arboretum has a great 10-mile network of short, well-maintained, easy trails, making it one of the most popular kid-friendly hiking spots near Asheville. A couple of the tracks go through the beautiful National Native Azalea Collection that features every species native to the US (blooming in mid-April to May). Even though there is no admission fee, there is a parking fee of $16 per standard vehicle (up to 20 feet long).
Special events, exhibitions, programs, and activities are aimed at kids, including a TRACK Trail (part of the Kids in Parks initiative described above), a G-scale model train, and a Nature Discovery Room. Finally, the whole family will enjoy the cute gift shop and the bistro with great food (open from March to December).
Library cardholders of Henderson County, Buncombe County, and Polk County can reserve a free ZOOM parking pass to the arboretum per library card (ask your local librarian!). You can always become a member of the NC Arboretum and enter for free. Also, on the first Tuesday of every month, the arboretum offers a 50% discount on private vehicle parking.
7. Walk the Family-Friendly Bent Creek Trails and Play at Lake Powhatan
Adjacent to the NC Arboretum and just 15 minutes from downtown Asheville is the 6,000-acre Bent Creek Experimental Forest in the Pigsha National Forest. Bent Creek’s watershed offers a network of all-levels hiking trails, including interpretive hikes. Exploring them and playing by the water is one of the all-time favorite Asheville activities for kids!
Most easy trails for young explorers are around Lake Powhatan, and kids love Deerfield Loop, Pine Tree Loop, and Explorer Loop. The Homestead Trail loops around the lake. The Hard Times Trail is longer (6 miles) but easy, connecting to the NC Arboretum. You can see all the trails and difficulty levels on this map. This area and its trails are super popular with local bikers, so check the map if you prefer not to share your trail with them.
The Lake Powhatan Recreation Area is also a popular local attraction. It offers an excellent spot for swimming and picnicking and a pier for trout fishing. There is also a campground there that now includes glamping sites.
8. Learn about Carl Sandburg’s Work and Life While Hiking with Goats
The Carl Sandburg Home is a farm and National Historic Site located on 270 acres near the town of Flat Rock. The property has 5 miles of trails ranging from easy to moderate and features ponds, the peaceful rounded summit of Glassy Mountain, and rare rock formations called Southern Appalachian low-elevation granitic domes, which are unique to the region and home to exceptional flora.
The three-time Pulitzer-awarded writer, also called “the People’s Poet,” died in Connemara in 1967, and the property was sold to the National Park Service. His wife only took some personal items, so visitors today can see the house as it was back then. The access is free, and there are also complimentary tours, but you’ll need to make reservations.
These trails are also part of the TRACK Trail initiative, and brochures are available at the main entrance. One of the highlights for little kids is the presence of goats. Sandburg’s wife loved goats, and here she raised award-winning ones.
Outdoor access to the goats is available daily. If you go during the spring, you’ll get to see baby goats! There is a gift shop, and they offer seasonal programs, special events, and music and poetry festivals.
9. Have Fun in the Water at Laurel River Trail
This all-time favorite trail for local families is located near Hot Springs in Madison County, in the Pisgah National Forest. The Laurel River Trail goes along Laurel Creek and is 3.6 miles long (about two hours) to the end, but you can make it as short or as long as you want or as your little hikers will allow.
There are many fun places along the way to play by the water, wade along the rocks, have a picnic, and soak in the sunshine. You’ll love hiking it in early spring when the wildflowers are blooming and in the summer when you can play in the water (the water in this creek is never very deep, but you’ll still be able to dunk and cool down).
The trail was once a railroad bed used to carry logs to the Runion sawmill that operated in the 1920s. Some remains of the old buildings can be seen today. The town of Hot Springs is 10 minutes away, making an excellent add-on for having lunch or dinner (I love The Hungry Greek and Coffee Love).
10. Access Two Waterfalls and Pick Blueberries at Graveyard Fields Loop Trail
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail is 3.2 miles long, and it’s one of the most loved kid-friendly hikes near Asheville and a favorite among Asheville waterfall hikes. It features blooming rhododendron in June, a popular swimming hole in the summer (Second/Lower Falls, a super-easy 0.3-mile hike), blueberry-picking in mid-August (get there early in the season and in the day), and access to the Upper Falls (1.6 miles from the trailhead).
This is a favorite spot for picnicking, enjoying the fall foliage, and playing by the water all year round. The trailhead leads to a bridge crossing Yellowstone Prong, the stream feeding the Lower and the Upper waterfalls.
Just so you know, even though this trail is easy, it can be rough, steep, and slippery sometimes. According to the National Park Service rules, one gallon of blueberries per person per day may be gathered.
11. Enjoy the Windy Drive to Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchel State Park is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, located in the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 6,684 feet. The summit is off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. The observation deck provides incredible 360-degree mountain views that will glorify your Instagram account.
Mount Mitchell State Park was the first one in North Carolina, established in 1915. There are a couple of easy trails, including the Balsan Nature Loop, which explores the beautiful, aromatic Fraser fir forest. This is a KIP TRACK Trail that young kids will love!
There is a small museum, a gift shop, and restrooms at the top, and the restaurant opens seasonally from spring to fall. If you are visiting in the winter, please check before you head out. Sometimes the park is closed because of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s closings. The entrance is free.
12. Learn about Geology and Enjoy the Views at Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is one of the Southeast’s landmarks and a popular travel destination worldwide. The 535-million-year-old monolith can be accessed by an elevator or the 500-step Outcroppings Trail. At the top, you’ll enjoy 75-mile panoramic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.
Chimney Rock State Park offers a network of trails for all skill levels, from easy to strenuous. The family-favorite Great Woodland Adventure Trail is a child-friendly interpretive trail that educates about the fauna of Chimney Rock State Park through interactive sculptures and displays.
The 0.7-mile Hickory Nut Falls Trails leads to the base of the 404-foot-tall waterfall, the highest waterfall in any North Carolina State Park. This is the same waterfall that was featured in The Last of the Mohicans movie!
This is a moderate hike, perfect for families with older kids. There are gift shops and plenty of places to eat or buy snacks by the park entrance and in the park. The entry is not free and varies seasonally, so please call before you head out.
13. Tackle the Most Popular Waterfall Hikes Near Asheville with Your Kids
The famous Looking Glass Falls (Pisgah National Forest near the lovely town of Brevard) is visible from the parking area, making it super easy for everyone to enjoy. You can also take a short walk, get closer to the water, and even wade or swim in warmer months. In the winter, you can marvel at the magical ice formations of this 60-foot-tall waterfall.
Moore Cove Falls is a short, easy 0.7-mile Asheville waterfall hike in the Pisgah National Forest and off the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll pass wooden bridges, Looking Glass Creek, and beautiful rhododendrons and wildflowers in the spring and fall. Your kids will love to walk behind the 50-foot plunge waterfall! There is a viewing platform perfect for photos, too.
Dry Falls is a 75-foot waterfall in the Cullasaja Gorge (between Franklin and Highlands). The accessible walkway offers fantastic views and photo opportunities, and there is also a trail that allows you to walk right behind the waterfall and remain dry (hence the name).
Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls in Transylvania County (“The Land of the Waterfalls.”) are connected and offer a fantastic adventure for the entire family. Triple Falls was featured in The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans. The best way is to start at the Hooker Falls Access Area parking lot and follow the maps.
The Catawba Falls Trail is an easy hike 4-mile round-trip hike. It offers beautiful scenic views of the 100 feet of cascading waterfalls, as well as fun stream-crossing opportunities and historic buildings along the trail, including the wall of an old dam.
The Skinny Dip Falls is an easy 0.75-mile hike and a favorite swimming hole for families during the summer but beautiful year-round. Even though the parking lot might be crowded, it seldom feels crowded once you get to the water because there are plenty of places to explore, relax, wade, and swim in the clear, cold water.
Linville Falls has two trails that start at the Visitor Center and offer several viewpoints, wildflowers in the spring, the remnants of a virgin hemlock forest, and beautiful golden leaves in the fall. The Erwin View Trail (1.6 miles round-trip) is moderate, offering four spectacular views of Linville Falls.