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Hanging out in Hendersonville: The Apple of Western North Carolina’s Eye

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Situated 22 miles southeast of Asheville in prime orchard country, Henderson County is home to about 200 apple growers who supply 65 percent of North Carolina’s apples. From late August through October, twisting and pulling down honey crisp and golden delicious at the many pick-your-own establishments along the stretch of US Highway 64 between Hendersonville and Chimney Rock is a favorite pastime in these parts. But there’s way more to do in this picturesque mountain town than plucking a couple crisper drawers full of fruit.

Jump Off Rock

The road to Jump Off Rock winds like a reticulated python. The reward for all the dizzying twists and turns on the five-mile, 15-minute climb, from downtown Hendersonville through Laurel Park is the view at the top. Get out of your car and feast your eyes on a spectacular panorama of the Blue Ridge and Pigsah Mountain ranges in the distance. Get better acquainted with the rock by taking one of the three marked hiking trails. The blue trail, the gentlest path, is a short ten-minute loop. More adventurous types will want to hike the red trail, a quarter mile walk that should take just under a half-hour to complete. The overlook’s harrowing namesake comes from a three centuries old Cherokee legend. A young maiden made her way to the edge of the rock after hearing of her lover falling in battle and leaped to her death. 

Gem Mining 

Buckets of pay dirt start at $10 a gallon at Pigsah Forest Gem Mine & Gifts, but the rule of thumb is the bigger the bucket the better the bounty of shiny stones within. Spring for a 7.5-gallon super bucket, $60, and put on your mining hat to prospect for gorgeous geodes and other sparkling natural wonders. Scoop and sift to unearth a treasure trove of ore running the gamut from sapphire and rose quartz to moonstone, topaz, smoky quartz, zebra jasper and carnelian. If you have little ones in tow and they’ve been good, Dancing Bear Toys, is another must-stop. 

Mineral and Lapidary Museum of Henderson County

Get a deeper understanding of rocks and minerals. Take a gander at the Hendersonville Meteorite discovered by William Corn in 1901. The museum’s impressive fossil collection includes castings of saber-toothed cats, a mastodon thigh bone, a Tyrannosaurus rex skull, and a six-foot, seven-inch wooly mammoth leg bone. Buy an uncracked geode to crack open onsite and the museum will give you the scoop on the mineral content of the unique specimen.

Eat & Drink

At eclectic hotspot Never Blue, Chef Jesse Roque displays her fondness for culinary mash-ups. Nibble on some Moroccan Twang — boiled peanuts with sun dried tomato, green curry, garlic and a hint of jalapeno. Adventurous eaters must try the chapulines tacos — roasted crickets garnished with corn, an heirloom tomato salsa, and queso fresco. “My husband is from Mexico, so for him eating insects is a very normal thing.” The secret to making the hopping critters tasty: “Sauté them in lots of butter.”  Menu tip: order the phyllo wrapped chocolate fudge, dark chocolate ganache iced brownie at the same time as your meal. This absolutely divine dessert takes twenty minutes to prepare.

Burntshirt Vineyards is named after a local practice in these parts of farmers burning mountain top fields to clear the land and then chucking their shirts into the fire for some good crop juju. Winery tours are held at 2 p.m. daily, year round. Tastings are offered Sunday through Thursday from 12-6 p.m. and from 12- 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sip your way through selections from their seventeen odd varieties including Altitude 3400, a blend of cabernet franc, merlot and chambourcin. Local and traveling singer-songwriters perform most weekends. Check out their calendar for listings.

HenDough Chicken & Donuts opened just a couple of years back, but the quirky fried poultry and cake and yeast donut emporium has fast become a Hendersonville brunch institution. Though donuts and chicken don’t always mingle on the menu when they do, it’s pure magic. Try the egg in a basket — two eggs, fried chicken and bacon all drizzled with jalapeño maple and sandwiched between a glazed donut bun. Fried onsite is a rotating cast of donuts, including a strawberry lemon crumb key lime, and a white chocolate and toasted coconut. They are works of art that taste as yummy as they look.

Gorge Zipline

Experience 1.25 miles of high-flying zippitude on a treetop canopy tour. Start on the rim of the Green River gorge and take the 1,100-foot vertical plunge through old growth forest while racing down 11 thrilling lines, tackling three steep rappels and cross a swaying skybridge. Of course, you’re safely clipped in throughout the adventure!

Stay

Cascades Mountain Resort, a 10-minute drive to downtown Hendersonville, features a cool pool area with a double twisting indoor waterslide and a secluded hot tub for parents to de-stress in while the kids take repeated plunges down the slide. There’s also Highland Lake Inn & Resort, where accommodations range from comfortable cabin duplexes and elegant hotel suites to poolside cottages. Amenities include the superb onsite Seasons restaurant, catch-and-release fishing and complimentary kayaks and canoes on the property’s 40-acre lake. Located just 1.5 miles from the Flat Rock playhouse, it’s an ideal perch for theatergoers. 

 

For route planning and hotel reservations, visit AAA.com/TripTik

 

(Photos by Sam Dean and Mike Dojc)

(Go Magazine May/June 2018)

 

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