Around the mountains in style

If you choose to traverse western North Carolina’s peaks and valleys this summer — whether on foot, wheel, or hoof — there’s no need to go it alone. A host of local businesses stand ready to help you get the best from your explorations.

Strong and silent

One of the most extraordinary tour companions available isn’t exactly the chatty, helpful type. Wise but reserved, this fellow won’t even speak to you — but don’t get offended.

“Llamas have been called ‘cats in camel suits,'” says East Fork Llama Treks owner Alvin Dean. “They don’t fawn over you like dogs, but they are gentle and regal.”

Patient enough for children to ride, and hardy enough to carry adults’ camping gear for extended treks, these soft-stepping creatures are even politically correct.

“Llamas are the least environmentally damaging of pack animals,” Dean declares proudly. “Horses and mules create erosion two or three feet below the soil, but llamas create little impact.” This is due, he says, to their padded feet.

Human guides accompany all East Fork llama treks (which explore a huge, private spread in scenic Madison County), but it’s easy to see that the stoic stars of the operation have a lot to teach, too. Dean promises unforgettable trails, whether you embark on a half-day, full day, or overnight trek.

East Fork Llama Treks is located on Hwy. 213 between Mars Hill and Marshall. Prices range from $50 to $150 per person (reservations and deposit required). Children under 12 go half-price, and kids under 4 trek free. Seniors get a 10-percent discount (group discounts are also available). Call 689-5925 for info and reservations.

Back in the saddle

For a more traditional trek, Pisgah Forest Stables offers guided horseback riding to fit all levels of experience, though they specialize in novices. “We can [accommodate] anybody,” says co-owner Terri Dean.

So, if you like the idea of horseback riding but have balked at actually setting foot to stirrup, these stables offer trails safe enough for a 7-year-old (the minimum age for the “Backwoods Ride” into pretty Perry Cove). The “Mountain Top Ride,” which can be a two-, three- or four-hour trip, offers incredible vistas of the Pisgah National Forest, while the “Waterfall Ride” (minimum age 12) boasts a view of a double waterfall, Twin Falls. Three-day, two-night camping trips are also available in the spring and fall, complete with a cook to fry the trout you’ll (hopefully) catch.

Gentle rides and gorgeous scenery make this stable’s tours a good bet, regardless of your skill level. “People love it,” Dean reports. “They come back all the time.”

Pisgah Forest Stables is located in Pisgah National Forest (duh…). From the forest’s main entrance (on Hwy. 276), go one-and-three-quarter miles north, then take the first right past the ranger station. The stables are two miles ahead. Call 883-8258 for more info.

On a roll

If you prefer wheels to heels or hooves, Biowheels Touring guides mountain-bike enthusiasts from neophyte to hard-core stump jumper down suitable trails. Don’t have your own bike? Joe Moore and his associates will be happy to rent you one. These are no boring circuits, either — they’re tailor-made adventures.

“We can change plans if the trail’s too hard,” assures Moore, but there are plenty of routes for daredevils, too. And you don’t have to trade scenery for sweat, because Biowheels can steer you to some primo spots.

“We try to pick the good places, with lots of waterfalls. We have secret stashes [of land],” Moore promises coyly.

Biowheels offices are located at 1 West Pack Square, Suite 6130, in Asheville. Call (828) 274-7493 or 1-800-888-881-BIKE to find out more.

If a tree falls in the forest…

Need a little education to spice up that summer vacation? Try the Cradle of Forestry. The 6,500 acre National Historic Site commemorates the nation’s first school of forestry, founded here in 1898 in connection with George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. Gentle trails wind past a 100-year-old school building and assorted antique farm and logging implements, but the main attraction is a 1915 Climax Empire train, says volunteer Albert Dietz.

“The men really like the old train,” Dietz admits. Obviously, this attraction is not just for kids. And when you’ve had your fill of forestry, Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls and other stellar spots lie right at hand.

The Cradle of Forestry is located on Hwy. 276, near where it crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 412). Tours are given five times a day. Call 877-3130 to learn more.

Urban landscapes

Asheville boasts more Art Deco architecture than any other city in the Southeast except Miami, and Amanda Tincher would love to show it to you. On the Historic Asheville Downtown Walking Tour (a 7-year-old mother/daughter operation), you’ll be guided through 60 years of history on a leisurely stroll through the city streets, with plenty of amazing facts and funny stories to enliven the journey. A group of college professors from the National Alliance of Community Colleges recently took the tour and were suitably impressed.

“They sent me a letter saying they would recommend the tour to anyone,” says Tincher proudly.

Historic Asheville Downtown Walking Tours start at 10 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. All tours begin at Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center. Call 255-1093 for more info.

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