50 Ways to Play—Fall

50 Ways to Play—Fall: Hiking to a summit, scanning the night sky for stars, or hunting for wild delicacies are activities best experienced in fall’s crisp temperatures, when crystal clear skies and showy foliage provide a breathtaking backdrop for a day’s chosen adventure
Share this

Watch the Fall Migration

The lofty heights at Chimney Rock State Park are a great vantage point to spot migrating birds, and you can really capitalize on the experience during the park’s Flock to the Rock event, which takes place every September during the annual hawk migration. The day offers top-notch wildlife programming, including bird walks, bird of prey shows, hawk and owl demos, and more, all against a colorful backdrop of fall foliage. chimneyrockpark.com

Go Apple Picking

North Carolina ranks seventh in the country’s apple production, and with some 150 orchards, Henderson County is at the epicenter. Many orchards offer U-Pick options, plus apple treats for purchase. See blueridgeapplegrowers.com for info on apple tours, events, varieties, growers, and more.

Go Rock Climbing 

WNC has some of the best rock climbing on the East Coast and the largest vertical rock face east of the Mississippi: Laurel Knob in Cashiers. Keep in mind that many spots require permission or permits, which can be obtained from park offices. Some favorites of local climbing enthusiasts are the Linville Gorge, which offers climbs for all levels, including the popular Table Rock; Looking Glass Rock, which rises to 4,000 feet near Brevard; and Rumbling Bald, which has options for everyone, near Chimney Rock. Need assistance? Get going with ClimbMax Mountain Guides in Asheville, Fox Mountain Guides in Brevard, or Rock Dimensions in Boone. www.climbmaxnc.com; www.foxmountainguides.com; www.rockdimensions.com

Take a Brewery Tour

Without a doubt, WNC loves its craft beer. Brewery tours offer a curated experience and, most importantly, a designated driver. North Carolina On Tap transports brew enthusiasts through Boone or Avery County on six- to 14-person tours, which stop at Lost Province, Appalachian Mountain, and Blind Squirrel breweries, among others. The Brewery Experience in Hendersonville includes brewhouse visits alongside a certified cicerone. Asheville offers multiple options for boozy excursions, including LaZoom’s Bands and Beer tour, which takes riders to two local breweries while a live band plays music in between stops on the popular purple bus. www.northcarolinaontap.com; www.thebreweryexperience.com; www.lazoomtours.com

Challenge Yourself at an Adventure Park 

Located in Blowing Rock, High Gravity Adventures, a zip line and aerial park, offers five adventure options, including a high-altitude zip line and free-fall tour, a giant swing course, and four obstacle-filled high ropes courses with tunnels, bridges, monkey bars, and other challenges. The Asheville Adventure Center includes an adventure park nestled in the trees, zip-line tours (one specifically designed for children), and a bike park filled with bridges and jumps for all skill levels. www.highgravityadventures.com; www.ashevilletreetopsadventurepark.com

Spin Your Wheels 

There’s no shortage of great mountain biking in the region, but spin your wheels on these top spots: Near Robbinsville, Tsali is renowned for its 32 miles of trails, which are designated for bikers on alternating days. The Mouse Branch Overlook Loop and Tsali Loop trails have expansive views over Fontana Lake. Pisgah National Forest, containing over 500,000 acres of land, offers countless trails, many of which can be combined for longer loops. Brevard’s Hub and Sycamore Cycles can get you geared up and recommend itineraries before you embark. And Rocky Knob Park in Boone is a dream come true for cyclists looking for a challenge. Well maintained trails are located just a couple of miles from downtown and offer 1,000 feet of vertical relief, boulders, and more. The park is adding some beginner-friendly options as well, according to Kristian Jackson, Trail Boss for the Boone Area Cyclists.

Visit the Elk 

Almost two decades ago, a herd of elk were released in Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cataloochee Valley, an area surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the park, as part of a reintroduction and conservation project. Today, visitors can spot the herd year-round, but from mid-September to mid-October when the elk mate is when you can also witness the bulls’ distinctive mating call, known as “bugling.” Park staff recommends early morning and dusk as prime viewing times. www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cataloochee.htm

Explore Moses Cone Manor on Horseback

Ride into history at the Blowing Rock homesite of textile magnate and conservationist Moses H. Cone. Horseback rides led by Tim Vines of Vx3 Trail Rides are an idyllic way to explore the 3,500-acre estate while learning about the history. Rides meander along old carriage trails from Bass Lake through stands of pines, hemlocks, sugar maples, and rhododendron to the gleaming Colonial Revival-style mansion built in 1901, which now houses the Parkway Craft Center. The scenery is as picturesque as it gets. www.blueridgeheritage.com; www.vx3trailrides.com

Ride the Tail of the Dragon 

A destination in and of itself, the Tail of the Dragon draws motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts from around the world, who come to experience its waterfalls, vistas, and 318 turns packed into 11 miles. The famous route starts at Deals Gap on the Tennessee and North Carolina border and follows US 129 south through Graham County. www.tailofthedragon.com

Cruise the Cherohala Skyway

When the Blue Ridge Parkway is jam-packed with leaf-peepers, head west to the Cherohala Skyway. This National Scenic Byway gains 4,500 feet in elevation across 41 miles from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville in Graham County, and offers unparalleled views of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. www.cherohala.org

Forage for Mushrooms

Late summer and early autumn, when some of the most prized mushroom varietals pop up, is prime time for foraging, according to Alan Muskat, founder of No Taste Like Home wild food tours. A fall tour might include delicious discoveries like Hen of the Woods, Honey mushrooms, or delicately colored Blewits. Excursions, which last up to three hours, offer the basics of identifying and cooking with seasonal wild edibles and end with food preparation, including an option to have your discoveries prepared by a local chef. www.notastelikehome.org

Peer Into Deep Space

Bare Dark Sky Observatory’s official Dark Sky designation makes it an ideal spot for stargazing. Located at Mayland Community College’s Earth to Sky Park near Burnsville, the observatory offers visitors the opportunity to peer 30 million light years into deep space through the largest public telescope in the state. Fall affords views of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula, Ring Nebula, and numerous other stunning heavenly features. Stargazing is offered once a week (preregistration required) and you can’t beat the $10 price tag. www.mayland.edu/observatory

Summit the East’s Highest Peak 

At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is all about the views. Park near the summit and walk up, or take a detour to hike the three-quarter-mile Balsam Nature Trail. Those up for a bigger challenge can hike the 4.3-mile Deep Gap Trail, which rewards with panoramic vistas atop neighboring Mount Craig, the East’s second highest peak at 6,663 feet. www.ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park/trails

Ride the Rails

There’s never a bad time to ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, but it could easily be argued that fall is the best time to breeze through forested countryside. Multiple excursions depart from Bryson City and travel through either the Nantahala Gorge or along the Tuckaseegee River. In October, families can board the Peanuts Great Pumpkin Patch Express, a ride themed on Charles M. Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. www.gsmr.com

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

Partake in this favorite autumn activity at several area locations, including the New River Corn Maze in Boone and Eliada Corn Maze in Asheville, which benefits Eliada Home. The latter offers three routes of varying difficulty as well as hayrides, a giant jumping pillow, slides, and a storybook trail for the little ones. www.newrivercornmaze.com; www.eliada.org

Check out 50 Ways to Play for the other seasons:




Photographs (mushrooms) by Andy Ormond; (dark sky) courtesy of Bare Dark Sky Observatory; (Mt. Mitchell) courtesy of NC Division of Parks & Recreation; (train) courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains Railroad; (adventure park) courtesy of High Gravity Adventures; (biker) by Derek Diluzio; (horses) courtesy of Vx3 Trail Rides; (motorcyclist) courtesy of killboy.com; (rock climber) by Austin Schmitz; (brew tour) by Andy Ormond