The North Carolina Arboretum
While Asheville is most well known for its’ foodie, art, and craft beer scene, as well as the famous Biltmore Estate, there are plenty of places to escape the crowds and soak in some much needed nature. The North Carolina Arboretum is one picturesque place to spend a few hours enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. There are beautiful mountain vistas in the background and several trails to take advantage of. Additionally, there is a quaint little local bistro where you can dine alfresco amongst the beautiful natural surroundings. For anyone looking to keep it simple on vacation vs embarking on a rough and tough hike in the woods, the arboretum is a fantastic choice. This 434 acre oasis is located just 15 minutes from downtown, making it an easily accessible daytrip.
Below are a few highlights from around the garden.
History of the arboretum
The arboretum were established in 1986. Frederick Law Olmstead, “the father of American Landscape Architecture,” was the inspiration behind the planning and design of the gardens. Olmstead designed New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the US Capitol Grounds, and also the nearby Biltmore. While he originally intended to create an arboretum on the estate, it never came to be. However, his plans did serve as the vision for the establishment of the arboretum. In April of 2016, the arboretum erected a statue to honor his legacy.
The Quilt Garden
This beautiful garden incorporates the use of quilt like patterns using plants. The design theme changes every 2 years and the flowers vary with each season, so there is always something new to see. This garden reflects the Southern Appalachian region’s long history of arts and crafts, particularly quilting.
Bonsai Exhibition Garden
The highlight of a visit to the arboretum is viewing the impressive Bonsai garden which includes more than 50 specimens on display. Each bonsai is cultivated with a special Southern Appalachian touch. This uniqueness really sets this bonsai garden apart from others across the country. The collection includes traditional bonsai like the Japanese maple and Chinese elm, American species like the Bald Cypress, as well as native plants like the Eastern White Pine. Asides from enjoying the mastery of these artistic creations, you will learn more about the process of transforming an ordinary plant into something so amazing via interpretative signs.
The Stream Garden
Various trees, shrubs, and perennials are arranged streamside to reflect the region’s natural setting. A small garden, yet a truly pretty sight.
10 miles of marked, easy to follow trails are conveniently located on-site. Hiking on the arboretum grounds is a great option for anyone who wants to get out into nature without trekking into the unknown wilderness. Options include an easy .75 mile long Natural Garden trail, a 2 mile long moderate trek, and a 3/4 mile trail for the more adventurous avid hiker.
There are lots of plants and flowers to enjoy, although they could use a few more signs. In the spring time, be on the lookout for pinkshell azalea and redbud. Summertime brings mountain laurel and rosebay rhododendron, while goldenrod and ironweed dazzle in the fall, and witch hazel and American Holly in the winter. Various bird species and small forms of wildlife also call the arboretum home. Black bears, while rare, occasionally make an appearance during the spring months. Be sure to look into bear safety tips before you venture out.
Overall, all of the trails are beautiful, it just depends on how much of a workout you desire. A few lovely pictures of the greenery along the trail system.
A photo tour through the arboretum
The arboretum hosts a number of unique events throughout the year including Sip and Stroll Arbor nights, various art festivals, plant sales, and guided trail walks. The most popular event is Winter Lights featuring nature themed displays and over half a million lights.
Parking, hours, & admission
The arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806. While admission is free, there is a $16 per vehicle charge. A bit overpriced in my opinion, although it may be worth f you prefer to avoid the hassle of driving and hiking in a nearby national forest. The season pass (which pays for itself after just a few visits) is a much better deal for locals.
Spring/summer hours: 8am-9pm (gates close at 8).