Outdoors: Go down to the river

photo by Jonathan Welch

Just a few short steps from the city streets, outdoor adventures await you. Canoe, kayak, tube or raft down the French Broad River or play the disc-golf course at Richmond Hills. Then relax with an outdoor picnic or visit a cozy café near the river.

The theme is “bring your own,” and we’ll start with the food you’ll need as night falls. Before you venture out, pack your picnic basket, cooler or other carryall with the food, drink and munchies you love to eat when you're outside. Everything tastes better while sitting on a lawn chair, so store it on ice and throw it in your trunk and go.

If you've never floated or paddled down the French Broad, one option is to visit the Asheville Outdoor Center. Located on Amboy Road near Carrier Park, this outfitter offers river trips up and down the French Broad. The Biltmore Estate also offers some river trips. Or if you've got a friend with a boat or a tube (and hopefully more experience on the river than you), enjoy the sun and water as you paddle along. As it meanders through Asheville, the French Broad stays fairly calm, with no major rapids. Afterward, enjoy the natural surroundings in any of the riverside parks near downtown. You'll get a very different view of the urban surroundings.

If you're not feeling the call of Huck Finn, toss a Frisbee or play a little disc golf; the latter is almost a prerequisite to living in Asheville. One of the premier Western North Carolina courses lies in the woods at Richmond Hills along the French Broad, and it offers rolling, difficult and interesting holes, so bring your discs and get throwing.

After working up an appetite and a thirst, you'll find several riverside parks that have picnic tables and grills (Carrier and French Broad, primarily). And there are at least two other spots for a variation on outdoor dining. If you're not up to packing your own grub, the Clingman Café has a new patio and plenty of great food options; it's located in the heart of the increasingly hip River Arts District. But you might have noticed all the cars parked at a nondescript place (at least from the outside): the Bywater, located on Riverside Drive.

The bar is small but, outdoors, the grounds have room for free horsehoes, bocce, croquet and cornhole. According to co-owners James Rogers and Chad Battles, the whole idea of The Bywater is to “provide services and then get the hell out of the way.” Families and friends bring their own food (hence the packed cooler from earlier) and almost a dozen on-site grills allow for you to cook your food the way you like it.

You will need to purchase a one-time $5 membership to enter, but that gives you season-long access, and sitting by the French Broad late at night with bluegrass pickin’ in the background is priceless.

— Christopher King lives in Asheville.


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