#28 of 83 Asheville Things To Do

Asheville Outdoor Center

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Asheville Outdoor Center: Reconnecting With Nature
Staff Score:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Take it from people who have been on many outdoor adventures, Asheville Outdoor Center does it right. They wisely focus on two activities, floating the French Broad River and gem mining. The fact that they keep their focus narrow allows them to provide excellent service in both areas.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

What’s interesting about a visit to Asheville Outdoor Center is the mix of people you’ll meet. Many are visitors, but nearly as many are locals. We think it’s a good sign when locals know a place well, but keep returning for a new adventure.

We would like to believe that owners deliberately designed a place where people of all ages can find something fun to do. It’s not at all unusual to see a grandparent gem mining with a child too young to float the river with his parents, or teenagers peel off from their family to float the river on their own device.

Because each of the activities at Asheville Outdoor Center deserves attention of its own, here’s what we enjoyed most:

Float Trip down the French Broad River
If you’re like us, you’ll find yourself breathing deep as you drift down seven miles of this peaceful river, past some of the most serene scenery to be found this side of the Mississippi.

The French Broad River is the third oldest in the world. It begins near the city of Rosman and flows for 218 miles (ca. 351 km), into the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers, and finally, the Gulf of Mexico. The largest population of blue herons in the world is believed to call the French Broad River home.

Depending upon conditions and how hard you want to paddle, the trip down the French Broad River usually takes between two and three hours. And here’s something we were especially impressed by: you can choose a canoe, kayak, raft, or stand up paddleboard (SUP). We were surprised by that last option because frankly, we had only used a SUP on lakes. We are told that on the right day, in the right conditions, a SUP is a great way to float the gentle river.

We were instructed to arrive at least 45 minutes before our scheduled departure time, which made sense. Having done this before, we knew that we would need to go through a safety briefing (including information regarding how to stay safe if there’s a sudden change in weather). We took a 15-minute ride to the start point, donned our life jackets, and staff members gently pushed our canoe away from the bank and into the river.

Children as young as four are welcome to float, as long as they weigh at least 35 pounds (ca. 16 kg) and have an adult with them.

Gem Mining
If you recall fishing for a prize at a school fun fair, you already have a good idea of what gem mining is like. People of all ages are encouraged to grab a bucket, sit near the authentic 8-foot waterwheel, and mine for gems.

They dip a bucket into the mining trough, pour what they gather through a screen, and let the water wash away the dirt to reveal the treasures they have found. Every participant is guaranteed to go home with either minerals, fossils, or real gemstones.

Truth be told, the last time we looked forward to gemstone mining was as children, but it was fun to listen to “miners” laugh about what they’d just found or call out to see how the rest of their group was faring.

The “After” Experience
Another thing we found pretty awesome was the way the Outdoor Center encourages groups to make a day of it. Whether visitors choose to float the river or mine for gems (or both), they offer a number of ways to keep the fun going. Guests can visit their taproom for a cold drink, play sand volleyball, basketball, a game of corn hole, or challenge a friend to ping pong. They even provide a smoker and gas grill for those who want to picnic.

Insider Tip:
– Leave pets at home or with a friend because they cannot share your Asheville Outdoor Center experience with you.