Waking up early to hike in western North Carolina is a special thing: Sunrise is a different experience every morning, the clouds rolling in and out at higher elevations create new views each day, and no two trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway are the same. Morning outdoor adventures can be wonderful, and planning ahead can prevent public enemy no. 1, hangry (you know, the dreaded hungry plus angry). You’ll likely finish up a morning hike right at lunchtime, and it’s best to have a game plan for where to eat.
Check out these five amazing hikes in the Asheville area and where to grab lunch after—so you don’t end up in a drive-thru out of desperation!
1. Dupont State Forest & Oskar Blues Brewery
Distance apart: 20 min/14 miles
Head just south of Asheville to Brevard to visit waterfalls and covered bridges and indulge in a few local beers. DuPont State Forest has three large waterfalls, some of which you can swim near during the summer months, and many trails for walking and biking. Afterwards, drive the winding back roads to Oskar Blues Brewery for an Old Chub brew, and lunch at their food truck (available most weekends).
2. The NC Arboretum & Sierra Nevada
Distance apart: 20 min/10 miles
Wanting more of a stroll through the woods? The NC Arboretum works well for hikers of all levels, and there’s also paved paths through the botanical gardens. For lunch, head to the brand new Sierra Nevada Brewery for delicious fare. This Mills River location is enormous, the menu is creative, and it’s very popular with the locals.
3. Swannanoa River Trail & Tunnel Road Tap Haus
Distance apart: 12 min/8 miles
Swannanoa River Trail runs along the sprawling property of Warren Wilson College (known for its agriculture programs), and this hike is the closest to downtown Asheville. The hike is a one-mile long figure-8 with many watering holes. Once you’re tired out, it’s a quick drive to the newest Whole Foods location for a surprisingly great in-house restaurant. Tunnel Road Tap Haus sits atop the grocery chain and serves burgers, bratwursts, and fish and chips. Opt for patio seating when the weather is right—there are mountain views!
4. Rattlesnake Lodge & Sunny Point Café
Distance apart: 26 min/12 miles
Rattlesnake Lodge is a hidden trail that locals frequent. It’s a short distance up the Blue Ridge Parkway (a must-see drive) from Asheville. The only marker is milepost 375 just before the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel—careful you don’t miss it! The trail is a hike up into the mountains passing under a covered canopy of trees and the by old ruins of an early 1900s summer home.
For lunch, head back down the Parkway, and take Town Mountain Road to West Asheville. Sunny Point Café is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. Expect a wait, especially if your group is large, but it’s well worth it! Always keep an eye on menu specials, as this is where you’ll often find the best menu options.
5. Max Patch & Picnic
Distance apart: on-site
Max Patch is about an hour and a half outside of Asheville but it is a can’t miss! Know that the hike is short and steep but at the top, you’ll encounter 360 degree views of rolling hills that lead into never-ending mountains. The clouds and fog can be thick at dawn so don’t feel rushed to get there too early.
Although Asheville is overflowing with delicious restaurants, Max Patch is best known for its homemade picnic. There are spots throughout the tall grasses to lay back and relax out back. Favorite picnic items to pack? Cheese, charcuterie, cold salads, plenty of water, and maybe even a bottle of wine for celebrating your ascent.
Just remember, it’s important to bring plenty of water and one emergency snack on your hike (Clif bar in crunchy peanut butter, please!). And then enjoy your adventure and the local meal after!