An annual getaway to the mountains is a beloved tradition for our family, dating back to our first fall in North Carolina. As Asheville has become more and more popular over the last decade (and more crowded, and more expensive…), we have enjoyed branching out a bit to nearby mountain towns: Highlands in 2021, and last year, Black Mountain! We’ll always remember this trip as our first big adventure as a family of five (John and I to each other all weekend: we’re actually doing this!!), and for that reason and more, it was truly magical. I’d love to tell you about it and share a few photos today!
And friendly PSA: if you’re considering an NC mountains trip this fall, right about now is when we like to book our stay! Things book up quite quickly for peak leaf weekends.
Black Mountain is a small mountain town just a hair closer to the Triangle than Asheville (about a 3.5-hour drive for us). We loved that it has its own distinct culture, but is only 15 minutes from downtown Asheville (meaning we could still hit some of our ride or dies). We headed west right after school on Thursday, arriving in time to make a drop at our Airbnb and feed Annie before driving the three minutes into town for a late dinner on the patio at My Father’s Pizza. It wasn’t too fancy – your standard pizza and pasta joint – but it got the job done when we needed a quick crowdpleaser.
As always, John did a fantastic job scouting our Airbnb. It had three bedrooms on the main level and even more room in the basement if we had needed it (though I’m glad we didn’t – it was sliiiiightly creepy, ha!).
Perhaps our favorite part about it, though, was that we could easily walk into town on the sidewalk along the main road, which we did for breakfast the next morning! Being able to walk to destinations on vacation is my favorite – it invites us to move at a more leisurely pace, and just makes the days feel so set apart from our normal life… so vacation-y :) The sky was perfectly blue and the leaves were beautiful on our walk!
Our breakfast destination? Four Sisters Bakery, tucked into a neighborhood of cute old homes. We split several pastries and ate them in the sun while the big kids played on the lawn and climbed trees. While chatting about our plans for the weekend, we got a wild hair: what if we had dinner at the Grove Park Inn one night? We hadn’t locked in any of our dinner plans because we weren’t exactly sure what our schedule would be, and though I was doubtful they’d have any availability on such a prime weekend, we figured it was worth a shot.
I called up the front desk and, lo and behold, they had a table for four at 6:45 (just past sunset!) the next night!! The concierge was as surprised as me it was still available, ha! As soon as I hung up the phone the nerves about taking two little kids and a baby to a fairly fancy restaurant bubbled up, but we were thrilled to have the opportunity.
After walking back to our Airbnb, we hopped in the car and drove just a few minutes away from downtown into Montreat. Montreat! Such a delightful, strange little spot! It is a town of about three square miles with fewer than 500 residents, and seems to mostly be taken up by a Christian conference center and a tiny college.
And, as it turns out, a wonderful hike – Lookout Trail. It’s a moderate out-and-back with some scrambly sections that took us a little less than two hours with a five- and three-year-old (and a baby on John in the Ergo). Also, Shep and I worked together to carry this large stick up the whole hike at his behest:
The kids enjoyed pretending to roast s’mores at the top :)
From there, we drove into Asheville for lunch at White Duck Taco. For our family, literally no trip west is complete without a stop!
After lunch, we walked along the river to the River Arts District. I had read about a pysanky egg artist with an open studio in Our State, and wanted to pay a visit given my family connection. Though nerve-wracking to squeeze amongst so many breakables with two small children, it was SO fun to see all of the beautiful designs. I splurged on an egg to add to my collection in honor of my grandmother, and can’t wait to nestle it next to my heirlooms when we celebrate Easter in a few weeks.
Next, we popped over to Asheville Bee Charmer in downtown for a quick honey tasting. They were in a new storefront since our last visit, but the honey bar was intact and a highlight, as always. We took home a custom trio of our family favorites: Meadowfoam, Orange Blossom, and Sourwood.
It was late afternoon at this point but not quite time for dinner, so we drove back to Black Mountain and stretched our legs at a playground we had majorly rubbernecked in Montreat earlier in the day. Y’all, this was one of the coolest playgrounds I have ever been to!! Little islands of wooden playground equipment were dotted between rocky streams, making for a magical play experience. The water was too cold to wade into during our October visit, but during the summer I’ll bet it’s heaven.
We could have stayed for hours, but eventually packed up and drove the few minutes into town for dinner at Black Mountain Bistro. Even with chilly temps, it was cozy on the patio under string lights and heat lamps.
We finished the evening with chocolate treats from Kilwins and a turn in the hot tub. Yes, this was a major attraction of this Airbnb and June and Shep were SO EXCITED to finally take a dip after 24 hours in its vicinity.
The Thomas clan is often slow going in the morning. On Saturday, we opted for a late brunch at Open Oven Bakery. It was quite busy, so while we waited for our table, John took the kids to play at the church playground across the street while I walked around the corner to Sassafras on Sutton, a truly delightful bookstore and toy store. John’s physical therapist had actually suggested it to us, and I figured I’d pick up a few… incentives for our Grove Park dinner that night. I got that and more – it is exactly the kind of spot I look for throughout the year to help fill stockings!
After brunch on the patio (delicious!), we drove out on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Orchard at Altapass.
We were lucky to have another absolutely gorgeous day and enjoyed the mountain views as much as ever.
I’m sorry to say our Honeycrisp-sweetened taste buds mostly turned up their noses at the humble apples of Altapass, but everyone enjoyed the act of picking, “bowling” fallen apples down the paths, and the apple ugly, slice of pie, and cup of cider we shared.
We had just enough time to hit a short hike on our way home in the late afternoon – Roaring Fork Falls. This hike was a delight, and perfect for kids: it’s flat, took us less than an hour, and culminates in an impressive waterfall.
And then to the big event of the evening: dinner at the GPI! The grand lobby with its massive fireplaces was hopping, as you’d expect on an October weekend, but we were shown right to our table on the Sunset Terrace at 6:45. The sun had just set over Asheville, and the sky was still on fire. A pinch-me kind of moment!
From the cost of valet parking to the actual food itself, this dinner was our biggest splurge of the trip, but it was a truly special and memorable experience. The kids did a great job (including Annie, who slept through part of the meal in her carseat under the table, nursed, then sat in my lap for dessert) and even got commendations on their behavior from an older couple sitting nearby. Proud parenting moment :)
This experience has actually inspired me to write a whole post on dining out with kids – hopefully this month! We are not experts and neither are our kids, but we have been eating at restaurants with them since they were born (pandemic notwithstanding) and have figured out a few simple tricks along the way. Would love to be able to encourage anyone for whom this sounds intimidating!
On Sunday morning, our last morning, we had planned to try Louise’s Kitchen for brunch, but the line looked truly epic, so we happily headed back to Open Oven and might have ordered the exact same thing on all sides of the table.
Our last adventure before driving home was a hike in Newland: the Upper Creek Falls Loop.
It was noticeably longer and more challenging than our two previous hikes – it clocked in at about 2.5 hours and required several stream crossings as well as navigating steep and rocky sections. It was even rated “most difficult” by the Forest Service according to the sign at the trailhead, though to be fair that description seems a little overblown.
This little hiker guy with his Halloween socks kills me.
Just a little casual Highlights reading break mid-hike :)
Everyone except our intrepid driver was very happy to snooze on the drive home, grateful for an incredible trip and memories made!
If you have any questions about a mountain trip or anything here, I’m happy to answer! And thus concludes my 2021 travel recaps – on to 2022! :)