North Carolina’s apple capital offers great tastes, views, entertainment and adventures.
Plus, in Hendersonville, fun is sometimes free.
By Hope S. Philbrick
North Carolina’s apple capital is located 22 miles south of Asheville: Henderson County grows 85 percent of the state’s apples and ranks seventh in apple production among all U.S. counties. Hendersonville, the county seat, serves up great tastes that run the full spectrum from crisp fruit you can pick yourself to multi-course gourmet dinners. But Hendersonville doesn’t only serve up things you can stick into your mouth: You can also feed your soul with great views, entertainment and adventures. Several options are even free, underscoring the destination’s friendly, welcoming vibe.
Henderson County’s recently-launched Cheers! Trail features five breweries, two wineries and three hard cideries in Hendersonville. Stop by the Visitors Center in Downtown Hendersonville to pick up a brochure with details and a map. Among the stops, Southern Appalachian Brewery pours an incredible selection of beers in a range of styles. The tasting room is family- and dog-friendly and live musical performances are staged nightly. Bold Rock Hard Cider is a big player in the burgeoning hard cider market, but the Mills River location uses apples sourced only from Henderson County. The lineup of hard ciders it produces range from Champagne-inspired sophistication to beer-mimicking quaffs and the fun of tasting them all is finding a new favorite. The owner of Flat Rock Ciderworks on Main Street in Downtown Hendersonville swears that if you don’t like hard cider it’s because you haven’t tasted his yet. Burntshirt Vineyards currently sells 17 wines with new varieties introduced throughout the year as they reach maturity. A new winemaker is on board, an enthusiastic guy who decided to skip med school in order to pursue winemaking instead. Don’t pass up the chance to taste the Reserve wines, an impressive lineup of vinifera varietals ranging from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon. (The $10 tasting includes a souvenir glass.) A free winery tour is offered daily at 2 p.m.
To steer clear of any potential drinking and driving issues, book a tour with The Brewery Experience (828-216-1343). Hosted by Gary Glancy, certified cicerone (the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier), each tour is an educational journey that includes meeting brewers, learning how beer and cider is made, tastings and tips, plus fun historical facts. Each three- to four-hour tour includes samples, snacks and bottled water. Walking tours stroll downtown Hendersonville while driving tours reach facilities like Sierra Nevada, Bold Rock Hard Cider and Blue Ghost Brewing.
Grandad’s Apples N’ Such is an 80-acre fourth-generation family farm. You could just stop by and buy a bag of pre-picked apples, but it’s much more fun to head out into the orchard and hand-pick your own fruit from the tree. Since different varieties mature at different times, fresh apples are available from early August through mid-October. Peaches are also available from late July through Labor Day. The on-site bakery serves a tempting lineup of hot cider doughnuts, caramel apples, cookies, fritters, turnovers, fried pies, apple cider, and much more. Activities are aimed at children, so lower your odds of encountering children by planning a weekday visit.
When you’re hungry for a meal, restaurant options abound.
Flat Rock Wood Room specializes in wood-fired barbecue and pizza and offers a relaxed, casual setting. Smoked pork, brisket and chicken are available as stand-alone entrées, mixed into sampler platters, or tucked into a variety of sandwiches. Don’t miss the apple slaw or the award-winning championship sauce with a touch of cinnamon.
Season’s at Highland Lake is an upscale dining destination helmed by Executive Chef Nate Sargent, whose passion and enthusiasm for local ingredients means that his dishes often feature ingredients that he hand-selected from the on-site organic garden. Fresh seasonal herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers appear in a range of globally-inspired elegant dishes. Daily specials are often so tempting you may not get through reading the whole menu. Order whatever most makes your mouth water in anticipation because you can’t go wrong here.
HenDough Chicken & Doughnuts serves the surprising combination of handmade doughnuts, fried chicken and chicken sandwiches—and it totally works, so move over Southern chicken and waffles. Locals call Hendersonville “Hen-Doe” and that inspired the name, though Sarah Klaassen, a trained pastry chef who owns the restaurant with her husband Paul, a former executive chef at Biltmore Estate, swears the concept was in place before the eureka moment that solidified its name. Opened in March 2016, HenDough has a casual vibe, indoor and outdoor eating spaces, and perhaps the world’s cutest restaurant logo.
Never Blue presents high-quality creations that are globally inspired yet locally sourced. Chef/Owner Jesse Roque is a trained pastry chef who first opened Never Blue with her husband and artist mother as a café/bakery and art gallery; over the years, the restaurant has grown into a tapas hotspot. Menu favorites include spiced pork lumpia, hot chicken tacos, veggies and grits, and a dark chocolate Kahlua-espresso cake. Each bite impresses. Among her many awards and accolades, Roque was named 2016 North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Chef of the Year at the North Carolina Chef Showdown in Raleigh, N.C., in August 2016.
At Jump Off Rock you might hear someone say, “I love this place,” and instantly understand why. The grand vista is sure to touch your soul—and it’s free for all to enjoy. Stand on the granite rock ledge to take in spectacular panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountains. On a clear day you can see four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The small surrounding park offers three hiking trails that weave down from the primary look-out point.
Flat Rock Playhouse, officially designated as the State Theatre of North Carolina, has two locations (the original Mainstage in Flat Rock that seats 500 and a second location on Main Street in Hendersonville that seats 250). The “Vagabond Players’” mission is to “enrich lives through the art of theatre by nurturing talent, inspiring creativity, and encouraging growth.” The Playhouse stages a nine-month season of plays including Broadway musicals, comedy, drama, and youth theatre. In addition, it provides performing arts education programs for students of all ages.
Hendersonville’s Main Street offers a variety of shops, boutiques and restaurants. The wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks are framed by benches, gazebos and plants. There are also several bear statues, wall murals and other works of public art on display that you can gaze upon and photograph for free.
Holmes State Forest began as a nursery developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is now one of seven educational forests in North Carolina. Its 235-acres boast five well-marked hiking trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One trail is aimed at children with “talking tree” exhibits, so for lower odds of encountering children choose one of the other trails. Along the hiking paths expect rugged terrain, rock formations, scenic views, and lots of hardwood trees, rhododendrons and azaleas, plus wildflowers. All programs at the forest are free, including outdoor education workshops and ranger-conducted classes.
The Gorge zoomed up to seize the No. 2 spot on my personal favorite zip-line list. Billed as “America’s steepest fastest zipline canopy tour,” it offers 11 zip-lines across 1.25 miles and descends 1,100 vertical feet. The course is thrilling enough to please anyone. Click here to read more and watch a video clip of the experience.
- Like themed tourism trails? Great! In addition to its Cheers! Trail, Hendersonville also offers a Quilt Trail, Heritage Trail, Farm Market Trail, Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail, and Art Gallery Trail. Stop by the Visitors Center at 201 S Main St. in Downtown Hendersonville to pick up free brochures with details and maps. Or call 828-693-9708.
– Photo Credits: The Gorge courtesy The Gorge; Never Blue courtesy NicLive PR; apple, Jump Off Rock & Season’s © HSP Media LLC; remainder courtesy Distl PR for Visit Hendersonville, Flat Rock Playhouse by James Johnson.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Distl PR hosted a media tour in August 2017.