Looking for a great place to cool off and have fun doing it? Our Asheville paddling guide features the best river trips and water adventures in Asheville sponsored by French Broad Outfitters and has information on fun things to do in Asheville, NC, including standup paddle boarding in Asheville, whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River, paddling the French Broad River and the Nolichucky River; canoeing on the French Broad River; and swimming in Skinny Dip Falls.
For more info, we recommend heading to one of French Broad Outfitters’ two locations to grab paddling gear, hire a shuttle and get everything you need to get out on the water and start having a relaxing and fun river adventure in Asheville.
Paddle Past The Biltmore Estate: This 12-mile float trip typically takes around 4 hours and provides a unique perspective of the iconic and world famous Biltmore Estate. After passing through the Estate, the French Broad curves through the more urban sections of Asheville, including the River Arts District before finishing up at French Broad Outfitters where you can grab a drink and relax after a great day on the water. This is a full day float and only offered twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Plan ahead with food, water and sunscreen to enjoy your day on the river.
Directions from Asheville: Head to either French Broad Outfitters locations (704 Riverside Dr. or 173 Amboy Rd.) to get setup for this and other trips to ensure you have everything you need to enjoy a great day on the water. We recommend calling ahead to book your trip (828-505-7371).
Asheville Stand Up Paddle Boarding (French Broad): One of the most popular new activities to hit the Asheville area is the sport of Standup Paddle Boarding-a cross between canoeing and surfing that first got its start in the ocean. Folks here in Asheville prefer to get their kicks on the French Broad River. The slow-moving, 12-mile section from Bent Creek Park to Asheville Adventure Rentals takes you through the Biltmore Estate and the River Arts District and is perfect for novice paddlers looking to test their balance on the river. After a nice work-out on the river, be sure to reward yourself with a nice cold one at The Bywater, just a stones throw away from the take out.
Directions from Asheville: We suggest hooking up with French Broad Outfitters to scope out your French Broad options, SUP instruction, and other gear rentals.
Ledges Whitewater Park (North Asheville): When it comes to whitewater paddling, the Asheville area is known as one of the top destinations in the east. For local paddlers looking to hone their skills, the Ledges Whitewater Park has long been a fun destination for a short session on the water. With multiple play spots featuring small, but fun waves, a variety of different downriver lines and a flat, easy approach, this Asheville city park offers boaters a close-town whitewater park ideally suited for an afternoon session. More advanced boaters sometimes challenge themselves by heading upstream through the rapids in pursuit of attainment, a type of paddling where boaters go against the flow.
Directions from Asheville: Take I-240 W to I-26 N and exit at UNC-A and head north onto Riverside Dr. Follow the winding road that is a popular destination for weekend cyclists for approximately 10 miles and look for the park on the left.
Jump Skinny Dip Falls (Parkway South, MP 417): This three-tiered waterfall along the Yellowstone Prong drops a total of 30 feet through a rocky bend in an ice-cold mountain stream. Perched on the edge of the tallest falls is a rock that juts over a deep plunge pool. While we can’t say that the waterfalls are amazing, we do think this adventure is worth the effort due to the deep water hole and proximity to the Parkway. We recommend working up a good sweat by exploring the nearby Mountains to Sea trail. Jump at your own risk and clothing is optional.
Directions from Asheville: Take 1-240 W to I-26 E to Exit 33. Take a left on to NC 191 towards the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2 miles. Follow the signs to get on the Parkway and head south (a right turn). From here it is 30+ miles to the Looking Glass Rock Overlook, milepost 417. The trail begins on the other side of the road. Follow the trail about 400 feet to the Mountains to Sea trail and turn left to falls.
French Broad River Paddle Trail: For a memorable and relaxing multi-day paddlign trip, check out the French Broad Paddle Trail. With camping options on the French Broad now set up and maintained thanks to the efforts of Asheville’s RiverLink and the French Broad Riverkeeper/MountainTrue, paddlers on the French Broad can find a number of French Broad River camp sites that are completely legit. From the headwaters of the river in Rosman to the rowdy rapids of Section 9, paddlers looking for a place to pitch a tent can find solace in multiple different sites that have been meticulously carved from the dense undergrowth alongside the river’s banks.
Directions from Asheville: To learn more about the camping and paddling options along the various sections of the river and to book your campsite (required) for your next paddling vacation, visit www.riverlink.org.
French Broad River Whitewater (Hot Springs): The French Broad is calm as it cuts around downtown Asheville, but it’s a torrent of whitewater further west near Hot Springs. Run the half-day trip for an experience chocked full of class II-III rapids, or extend your trip to a full day and tackle the class IV Frank Bell’s rapid.
Directions from Asheville: We recommend hooking up with Blue Heron Whitewater for Asheville Whitewater Rafting on the French Broad River.
Rowing + Standup Paddle Boarding on Lake Julian (Asheville): While it may not be the most aesthetic lake in WNC due to the nearby power plant, the tranquil and clear waters of Lake Julian make an excellent paddling location for those looking to get out for some flatwater exercise. The Asheville Rowing Club makes use of the lake and their members can frequently be seen gliding across the smooth waters with the Blue Ridge mountains rising above (ashevillerowing.org). Mind Body Paddle’s standup paddleboard classes help build flatwater SUP skills for beginners by teaching new standup paddlers how to balance on the board and how to paddle with good technique for an optimal workout and optimal fun (mindbodypaddle.com).
Directions from Asheville: Head South on Hendersonville Road and take a right on Long Shoals Road. Lake Julian Park is on the left.
The Laurel River (Hot Springs): The Laurel River Trail, located within Pisgah National Forest near Hot Springs, is a moderate hike that traverses a beautiful forest alongside Big Laurel Creek and offers great access to some nice swimming holes. The mostly flat hike winds through the steep river gorge beside the river, which is loaded with Class III+ rapids and makes a great run for experienced boaters when the water levels are up. We like this trail during the summer thanks to the plentiful options to play in the river and check out the views of the nearby Palisades, a set of towering cliffs overlooking the river. Use caution when entering the riverbed as the rocks can be very slick and the current of the river swift.