Get Back to Nature in Asheville

It’s no secret that many of our children are starved for nature. There’s even been a book written about it: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. If your kids (or you) are in need of healthy dose of nature, head to Asheville, North Carolina.

Nestled in Mother Nature’s arms in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville itself is a quirkly little town with lots of fun stuff for adults and great spots for foodies, including the incredible Tupelo Honey Café. But more on that later.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of kid-focused stuff to do in the town of Asheville, a hippie, artist, foodie town that, as the tour guide kept reminding us, “is a little bit weird.” The coolest kid spot, the Health Adventure Children’s Museum, is now closed and moving to a mall on the outskirts of town.

Kid-friendly Asheville is out in the wilds. On of the closest spots, which comes highly recommended from the home schooling moms who had their kids on a field trip at the Health Adventure Children’s Museum, is DuPont State Forest. We wasted no time heading out.

The 10,000-acre park has several entrances, waterfalls and 100 miles of trails. With limited time (we had to get to the airport for our flight home that afternoon), we chose judiciously and headed for the Hooker Falls parking area. A nice 2-hour walk along groomed trails took us past three of the parks’ majestic waterfalls: Hooker Falls, High Falls and Triple Falls. (Note: Keep a tight grip on the kids. The water is moving faster than it appears and the rocks are slipperier than they look. A fellow hiker told us there have been some not-so-happy endings to stories about folks who got too close to nature here.)

For a more citified version of nature, head to the North Carolina Arboretum on the aptly named Frederick Law Olmsted Way in Asheville. (You remember his name from your Chicago history class–he designed Marquette Park, Jackson Park, Washington Park and the University of Chicago campus as well as the planned community of Riverside. He was big in Asheville, too, as the designer of the breathtaking Biltmore Estate grounds.) The arboretum has 10 miles of hiking and biking trails and a series of soothing gardens.

Where to Eat in Asheville

If you work up an appetite with all that hiking and tree hugging, head back to town for a bite to eat. Asheville is a foodie paradise. If you’ve got picky eaters, head first to the Tupelo Honey Café and order the sweet potato pancake. Just don’t tell the kids that’s what it’s called. If you don’t tell them, they’ll never know there is anything even remotely healthy hiding inside that plate-sized pancake. Add a little honey and you could get away with calling it dessert. The restaurant gets bonus points for a kids’ menu that “believes kids’ menus should bust out of the basic hot dogs and chicken fingers rut!”

If you’re just in the mood for a snack, head to the Gourmet Chip Company. This newest addition to Asheville’s food scene offers…gourmet potato chips. Yep. They peel ’em, fry ’em and then gourmet ’em. We were so stuffed from our sweet potato pancake that we couldn’t cope with more than a taste. Be adventurous. There’s a whole blackboard full of innovative chip ideas and each order is made while you wait.

The kid-friendliest spot we found was the soda fountain of the F.W. Woolworth’s. It’s an art gallery now, but the owners have restored the soda fountain to the days of old, with a kid-friendly menu of ice cream treats and sandwiches.

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