Discover the Best of Asheville with Advice from Local Experts from Outside elessard

Over the past two decades, Asheville’s reputation as one of the country’s premier adventure hubs has been built on its unique combination of terrain and culture. There just aren’t many communities like this—surrounded by nature but also serving up a deeply rooted arts and food culture. That means it’s as easy to access hiking, biking, fly-fishing, and paddling as it is to sip beer at world-class breweries or savor authentic tacos. Turns out visitors aren’t the only ones who are drawn to this vibrant community. Asheville is also a leading incubator for outdoor gear manufacturers. And who knows better where to use gear than the people who make it? Here’s what some of the area’s homegrown entrepreneurs produce and where they like to use their products.

Eagles Nest Outfitters 

Everyone should have at least one Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) hammock. The ENO journey started 25 years ago when brothers Pete and Paul Pinholster started sewing hammocks in their garage in Florida and selling them out of the back of their van at festivals as a way to escape the 9-to-5 life. They were so successful that they decided to grow their business and moved it to Asheville because of its laid-back vibe and access to the outdoors. More than two decades later, ENO is a thriving brand with a legion of loyal fans who tote their hammocks all over the world.

“I think people like the idea of bringing a hammock with them wherever they go and turning any day into an adventure,” says Pete Pinholster. “You don’t have to train for months or have fancy equipment. It’s a super-accessible way to approach the outdoors.”

Explore the trails around Bent Creek. (Photo: Derek Diluzio)

Downtime: As for Pinholster’s favorite place to hang his hammock, he likes to keep it close to home. “Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, inside Bent Creek, is a great place to hammock camp for the night, and you have all of Bent Creek’s singletrack to explore on your bike,” he says.

Hellbender Paddleboards 

Danny Daniels started paddleboarding as a way to decompress after work. Roughly 15 years ago, the Asheville-based lawyer started heading straight for the French Broad River after a day in the office and paddling a mellow section through town for an hour-long workout. He was immediately hooked on the sport. “It’s the perfect activity, because you can casually float downstream, or you can turn it upstream and get a core workout,” Daniels says.

But he wasn’t in love with the boards that were on the market. Some were stable but not responsive. Others were maneuverable but not stable. So, in 2020, Daniels decided to design a board that was more suited for his adventures. His friends liked the first prototype and asked him to build them boards too, and Hellbender Paddleboards was born. Today, Hellbender makes four styles of board, including a new fishing-specific model, that you can find on rivers all over the Southeast.

Paddleboard along a mellow section of the French Broad River. (Photo: Jared Kay)

Downtime: With a bevy of rivers within reach, Daniels still likes the French Broad, which runs right along the edge of downtown Asheville. He sticks to the section through town if he’s pressed for time or heads north on the river if he wants an adventure. “That section north of Ledges Whitewater Park is wild. It has nice little waves, and I’ve seen bald eagles,” Daniels says. “You feel like you’re in more wilderness, but it’s still close to town.”

Visitors can get boards and shuttles through French Broad Outfitters.

American Backcountry 

American Backcountry makes T-shirts, but not just any T-shirts. These are really, really great T-shirts that pay homage to public lands. And they’re actually made right here in the United States using a recycled material that takes 500,000 plastic water bottles out of the landfill every year. Frank Hintz started the company in 1993, making shirts specifically for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers but has expanded the business exponentially over the past 30 years. American Backcountry now supplies shirts to 100 national and state parks.

“I’m super stoked to be part of the effort to restore American textile manufacturing,” Hintz says. “And helping to keep plastic out of the landfills is a point of pride, too.”

Get a view of the stunning mountains surrounding Asheville. (Photo: Robert Stephens)

Downtime: “I’m fond of all things Pisgah National Forest, but I also really like the challenge of West Ridge Trail, which follows the ridgeline of the Seven Sisters in a section of forest managed by Montreat College, outside of Black Mountain,” says Hintz. West Ridge is known for its steep, rocky route that occasionally requires scrambling and is often part of a nine-mile hike that summits 5,408-foot Graybeard Mountain, which delivers views of the Black Mountain Range, including Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi.


Adam Masters started selling Bellyaks to the public in 2012, but he built the first prototype back in 2005, after paddling the flooded Cane Creek, near Lake Jocassee, on his belly. The river was too overgrown to paddle sitting up, so he laid flat on his stomach and paddled his kayak with his hands. He fell in love with the hybrid sport and built the prototype that would become the model for the Bellyak in his garage, using vinyl sheeting and a lot of duct tape.

“Paddling a Bellyak gives you freedom,” Masters says. “No straps, no skirts, no being trapped… Taking the natural swimming motion and applying it to a whitewater kayak hull is just incredibly fun and intuitive. It makes easy, familiar rivers completely new again.”

The learning curve on the Bellyak is quick. Masters can have people running whitewater on their first day with the boat. And there’s no better place to paddle the Bellyak than Asheville.

“This town is in the center of a two-hour radius that has some of the best paddling in the East,” Masters says. “There are no shortages of adventures to challenge yourself with here.”

Bellyak Section 9 of the French Broad River. (Photo: Krista Rossow)

Downtime: If you like to do what locals are passionate about, get yourself to the French Broad River, even if it’s just to hang a hammock in one of Asheville’s city parks along its banks (another suggestion from Pinholster). Like Daniels, Masters loves the variety of water that the French Broad River offers, with mellow stretches through town and high-adventure whitewater north toward the Tennessee border. “I think Section 9 of the French Broad River, from Barnard to Stackhouse, is hands down the best Bellyak river around. The Class III–IV rapids are fun at every level.”

Start Planning

Ready to follow in the footsteps—and paddle strokes—of these local adventure experts? Visiting Asheville is great all year. The temperate climate is perfect for exploring the outdoors all day and enjoying the city’s lively nightlife in the evenings. Find info on activities, guides, lodging, restaurants, events, and more here.

Surrounding the vibrant city center of Asheville, North Carolina, are miles of off-the-beaten-path adventures. Step outside and discover your own pace through natural wonders that draw you in and call you. Start planning your adventures now by visiting and downloading the Explore Asheville app.

The post Discover the Best of Asheville with Advice from Local Experts appeared first on Outside Online.

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