A lot of people have been through the house, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains around Asheville, NC; but the house is just the tip of the iceberg. There are 8,000 acres on Biltmore Estate, with so much to do that you feel like you’re at a resort – which you are. But one of the best and cheapest things to do is just to hike the grounds.
Officially, there are over 20 miles of hiking trails at Biltmore. But if you include the gardens, the off-trails (of which there are many) and the horsepaths, there is enough ground to keep you busy for over a week. And if you get tired of hiking, you can always saddle a horse, jump on a bike or do one of the many other outdoor activities that are available.
Click on the above image if you’d like to see an expanded view.
I always wanted to buy a season pass to Biltmore. Well, recently I did. It’s about twice what a day pass is, which is a bit pricy – $59 for adults for the day, unless you buy your pass in advance, which is $15 cheaper – but kids are free and young teenagers are only $5 with a paying adult. There are add-ons and upgrades if you plan on staying longer than a day or if you’re buying a season pass. Initially, most people balk at the price for adults, even though it’s no more than a Broadway show, good seats at a sporting event or a day at a theme park in Orlando; but, at the end of the day, most admit that it was well worth it. I say it depends upon how you use your time. I’m getting ready to tell you how to get the most out of either a weekend or a season of trips to Biltmore.
If you are outdoors-oriented, 90% of what’s interesting and what there is to do at Biltmore is outside the house – or, as I call it, “outside the wall.” Biltmore is something of a castle: it has a wall running around it – I assume to keep enemies and unwanted guests out; but don’t let that keep you in. On your first day, you might just want to explore the gardens, Bass Pond and the grounds around the house. But, at least by your second day, you need to visit the Outdoor Adventure Center at Antler Hill Village & Winery and pick up a hiking trail map. The Bike Rental Barn is also located there. (You can use your own bike for a small fee.) If you’re interested in horseback riding, that’s located at Dearpark, which is a right turn before you get to Anter Hill; or, as you’re leaving the Reservation and Ticket Center near the entrance, straight ahead, with a slight dogleg left. There are a lot of other activities (fly-fishing, clay pigeon shooting, Range Rover driving, etc.) available as well, so give yourself some time to sit down and figure out what you want to do.
Garden and Bass Pond Trails
You can begin this hike wherever you like around the house. From the parking lots, you might want to hike up to the Statue of Diana, which is east of the house, and the spot from which the top photo was taken. It’s beautiful up there, and, besides the walkways provided, is also accessible from one of the horse trails that winds through the woods above it. Then come back down past the French Classical garden and the arboretum, and head towards the Conservatory, which is the big greenhouse south of the house. Don’t miss the rose gardens and daylily beds along the way. Exiting the rose gardens to the east, you will find a brick path, shown above, that leads to the Garden Trail proper. You will be heading south on it towards Bass Pond.
Frederick Law Olmsted designed the grounds at Biltmore to look as much like a natural park as possible, so there is a lot of wildness to it. The bridges are fascinating – not just rustic, like the one shown above; but also made out of stones that have been turned on end, so that you are crossing on the edges of the stones; as well as other clever ideas.
The trees are fantastic. Besides all the white oaks, my favorite are the red cedars, such as the wonderful trio above, and the giant at the end of this section. If you’ve ever been to San Antonio along the Riverwalk, you know just how big these trees can grow. They create a primeval atmosphere that is awe-inspiring, wherever they spread their branches, which usually protect an undergrowth of ferns.
The goal of the Garden Trail is Bass Pond, a wonderfully secluded body of water with several bridges, including the original brick one above. My one disappointment with the pond are some very anachronistic benches that have been scattered about. I’m sure visitors will enjoy being able to sit down, but did they have to use something that looks like it came from Wal-Mart? Perhaps these are leftover evidence of the difficult financial times Biltmore has seen in the past.
This little beauty, which crosses a waterfall, is a great place to view the gorge next to the pond. But if you walk down to the waterfall…
… you’ll find this mysterious bamboo forest that reminded me of crop circles and Tarzan. It suggests an adventure, but not one you would want to take alone. There are many bamboo stands around the grounds, which fascinates me – how Olmsted, the landscape architect of Biltmore, came up with the idea of using bamboo in a mountain setting. For those who don’t know, Olmsted also designed Central Park in New York City.
There’s a gazebo on Bass Pond that was once used as a boat launch, after which the trail leads back up to the house. You can go there by a second route, to the east, which will afford additional discoveries, like the cedar above, which I mentioned earlier. The two trails – the one you come down and the one you go back up – are within viewing distance of each other. During the entire trip, you’re only on the road briefly – while crossing the red brick bridge, as well as a short distance on either side. Right after the bridge, as you’re heading north, there is an unnamed trail that goes up into the woods and also leads back to the house; so you have several choices for your return trip. Based on the map, and depending upon how much territory you take in (Temple of Diana, etc.), I’m guessing the round trip is 2 or more miles.
Deer Park Trail
In the south wall, on the way to the gardens, there is a black wrought iron gate. If you slip through it, you’ll find yourself at the beginning of the Deer Park Trail. Looking to your right, you’ll see the view in the third photo above. Deer Park Trail is situated on an elevation above the Conservatory, Gardens and Bass Pond, and heads south. It is pretty much a cow trail, used by those who farmed the Estate, and winds through mountain pastures, along brooks, crosses a road and ends up at the Lagoon. It is 2.5 miles round trip.
There are some spectacular views along the trail, such as the one above, showing the variety of landscapes at Biltmore: pasture land, forest, farmed bottom land, river, rolling hills and mountains.
Hiking trails are also used by bicyclists, which accounts for the well-worn nature and width of the trails. (Horses use a different set of trails.) There are fences surrounding many of the fields, with strange, door-like gates, such as the one above, and a sign reminding the traveller to “Please CLOSE GATE.” While there aren’t a lot of farm animals about, you will see fields of black cows occasionally, and also some of horses. At the farm itself, there are sheep and other livestock, primarily for the kids to look at. I didn’t see any wild animals on this trip, except for geese and hawks; but I did hear fish jumping in the streams.
This is a typical scene: very idyllic. Up to the left you can see the edge of a cornfield. In front of the field is a gigantic oak tree. This is looking back toward the house. In the opposite direction, there is a stream and some wonderful stone bridges. To the right, you can see some red berries. I didn’t notice them walking up the trail.
The Lagoon is a refreshing place to stop and rest or have a picnic. It is accessible from the road, so there will be some cars there. As a matter of fact, it may surprise you how crowded it is after considerable solitude on the trail. The view you’re looking at is the one most treasured by visitors. You’ll see why when you look at the next picture…
… a close-up of the back of the house from that same spot. This is looking at the house from the west, the side from which I took the second photo above – a panoramic view that probably includes the Lagoon, although it cannot be spotted in that photograph. But you can see from this photo how close the Lagoon is to the house.
There are many idyllic scenes on the Lagoon, like the one above. It’s a shame (or, maybe not) that canoeing isn’t allowed, because this is one romantic setting. But not many feet away is the French Broad River, on which, on any given day, you can see kayakers, both single and double, coming down the river. There are also a lot of geese (almost too many) on both the lagoon and the river.
It’s amazing what a little touch of red will do in such a lavishly green environment. These little flowers were kind of a suprise. I also spotted a crane with her young. While the mother was looking for fish in the lagoon, her offspring wandered across the road to the river. It amazed me that, as she watched it go, she did nothing to try and stop it.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Lagoon Trail is that it is paved; so, at times, you feel like you’re hiking a cart path on a golf course. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Along the way, you may come upon someone mowing grass or harvesting a field, which is kind of nice. As I said, the French Broad River is to your left as you’re hiking away from the Biltmore House and toward Antler Hill Village. You’ll be hiking northwest. There are little scenic “viewing” spots along the way that have been mowed out so you can more easily approach the river to look at kayakers, geese, fishermen and other river activities. Round trip for the Lagoon Trail is 3 miles.
I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that you carry a water bottle with you. You can easily become dehydrated on a hot day. There is food and drink in the Stables at the house, food and drink at Antler Hill Villiage, and a few water fountains scattered around the Gardens. But on the trails, there is nothing.
Eventually, you will come to a fork in the path: the left fork is the Farm Trail, that follows the river; the right is a continuation of the Lagoon Trail. A bit further up the right fork is the road that leads to Deerpark, where you can rent a horse. You can see the barns from the trail. The last half mile or so, the path is lined on the river side with rows of sunflowers. Unfortunately, when I took these shots, they were past their blooming stage; but when they are in bloom, they’re magnificent.
Continuing on, you’ll see Antler Hill Village, where the Outdoor Adventure Center, Bike Barn, Winery, Farm, Biltmore Legacy Museum and various dining establishments are located; and, up behind it, the Inn on Biltmore Estate, which is the only overnight accommodations on the grounds.
At this point, I’m going to rest up and have some fabulous barbecue from the Smokehouse at the Farm. I’ll catch up with you next time for a hike through the Westover Trails and Arbor Trace Trail, which are the more difficult trails at Biltmore. We’ll also take a look at the Farm Trail that runs along the French Broad River, and perhaps take in some of the other sites at Antler Hill Village. For that story, go to Hiking Biltmore -Part 2.
Waitsel Smith, August 16, 2012
If you would like prints of any of the photos in this article, email me and I’ll send you sizes and costs.
For more articles on travel by Waitsel, go to http://www.waitsel.com/travel/
For more on hiking and nature, go to http://www.waitsel.com/nature/
Text and Photos © 2012 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I’ll include them on this page.]
Your photos and commentary are wonderful! You need to be writing for an outdoor magazine! How I loved visiting Biltmore when we lived in NC! But, I had no idea that hiking trails were part of the experience. Hopefully, on one of my returns, I can take advantage of this. – Bobbi, Wyoming
Wow, that was amazing! I had no idea that there were so many beautiful trails and vistas around Biltmore. I’ve been inside a couple times and it’s great, but this opens up a new world of possibilities since I love hiking. Sounds like a perfect weekend getaway to which I could take my wife. Thanks for the excellent reviews and photographs! – Paul, North Carolina
You certainly know how to whet someone’s appetite for going to Biltmore – sounds sooo nice and I honestly did not know about all this. My daughter would love all the hiking, etc. Me, too, except I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her. Thanks for the beautiful pictures and the info. Will keep this one, and I see it’s Part 1 – look forward to Part II. – Phyllis, North Carolina
Well done. I’ve been to Biltmore a few times but wasn’t aware of these trails. You should submit your article to an outdoor magazine and to Southern Living, maybe even to the Biltmore Estate itself (they may want to publish it on their website), even National Geographic. – Herschel, Atlanta
Looks awesome! I’d love to get up there and check it out! – Brittany, North Carolina
Hiking in style! Looks beautiful! – Kipper, Atlanta (a hiking buddy of mine)
Great information. Did you design the presentation for this web-site? – Clint, North Carolina
I did. That’s one of the things my company, Creative Sharks, does. Check it out: http://www.creativesharks.com/ – Waitsel
Thanks for all your great comments!