About 5 miles east of downtown Asheville, at milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Folk Art Center, PO Box 9545, Asheville, NC 28815 (tel. 828/298-7928; www.southernhighlandguild.org), is operated by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, a not-for-profit organization of craftspeople in the nine-state southern Appalachian region. The contemporary wood-and-stone structure houses the finest of both traditional and contemporary handicrafts of the region. In the Folk Art Center, the Allanstand Craft Shop, established in 1895, is one of the oldest crafts shops in the country, featuring exhibitions and museum areas. Pottery, ceramics, weavings, jewelry, and handmade quilts, among other merchandise, are for sale. The center does not charge for admission but does accept donations. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm. The craft shop maintains the same hours.
Chimney Rock Park is 25 miles southeast of Asheville on U.S. 64/74A. The park's focal point is a granite monolith that rises to a height of 360 feet; you can reach its top by a stairway, a trail, or an elevator. An observation lounge is open daily (weather permitting), and the charge is $14 for adults, $6 for children 6 to 15, and free for children 5 and under. Trails lead to Needle's Eye, Moonshiner's Cave, and Devil's Head (on the way to Hickory Nut Falls, which is twice the height of Niagara). The Last of the Mohicans was filmed here, and costumes and other artifacts from the movie are on display in the observation lounge. Food is available for $8 or less, and there are picnic facilities. For full details, a free color brochure, and a trail map, contact Chimney Rock Park, PO Box 39, Chimney Rock, NC 28720 (tel. 800/277-9611 or 828/625-9611; www.chimneyrockpark.com).
Stately Mount Mitchell, highest point in the eastern U.S., is in Mount Mitchell State Park, 2388 State Hwy. 128, Burnsville (tel. 828/675-4611; www.northcarolinaoutdoors.com), some 33 miles northeast on the parkway and then 5 miles north on N.C. 128. Mount Mitchell has a museum, a tower, and an observation lodge; camping and picnicking facilities are available in the park.
About 30 miles southeast of Asheville on I-26 is the pastoral little town of Flat Rock, most famous as the former home of Carl Sandburg. The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer-poet-historian known for his biography of Abraham Lincoln lived at Connemara Farms, 81 Carl Sandburg Lane, just west of I-26 (tel. 828/693-4178; www.nps.gov/carl). It's open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is $5 for adults and free for children 16 and under. Now a National Historic Site, the big white farmhouse is administered by the National Park Service, which offers guided formal tours. Sandburg purchased the 240-acre farm in 1945 for $40,000. He called it Connemara after the mountains of Ireland. The walls of Sandburg's modest abode are filled with approximately 10,000 volumes of books, bookmarked and dog-eared; in the living room is his collection of walking sticks. The grounds include a goat house occupied by the charming descendants of a prize herd of goats raised by Sandburg's wife.
Flat Rock is also the home of the North Carolina State Theater's Flat Rock Playhouse (tel. 828/693-0731; www.flatrockplayhouse.org), which opened in 1952. It hosts the popular Vagabond Players, a troupe launched on Broadway in 1937. The group presents The World of Carl Sandburg and The Rootabaga Stories annually, not at the actual playhouse, but across the street at Sandburg's Connemara Farms.
Five minutes from the Flat Rock Playhouse is Highland Lake Inn (tel. 800/635-5101; www.hlinn.com) and its award-winning restaurant, Season's (tel. 828/696-9094). On 26 gently wooded acres, Highland Lake Inn offers a variety of lodging choices, including everything from cabins to an elegant bed-and-breakfast inn. Rates are $89 to $299 for a double, depending on the season and type of lodging you choose. With a 40-acre lake, swimming pool, tennis courts, and walking trails, Highland Lake Inn is a perfect relaxing escape. Season's Restaurant delivers delightful dining in a casual country setting, based on garden-inspired cuisine. When in season, the restaurant uses fresh ingredients from the on-site 2-acre organic garden to prepare three meals a day. Don't miss the Southern Country Breakfast buffet (included in your room rate) or the extraordinary Sunday brunches, renowned throughout the western North Carolina mountains.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.