When the pandemic ditched plans for a Prague trip to celebrate milestone birthdays for my sister and me, we looked for a closer-to-home destination that met our readjusted goals: exploring nature along with safe accommodations in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bent Creek Lodge, one of the 18 members of the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association, fit the bill beautifully.
Having sampled four other member inns of the Asheville B&B group, we confidently choose this one. Before booking, I called the lodge about its COVID protocols. Owner/manager Randy Claybrook, who purchased the property in November 2019, provided the assurances we needed. The off-the-beaten path lodge offers 10 rooms on three levels; nine with a private, outdoor entrance that makes social distancing a breeze.
Bent Creek Lodge
Bent Creek’s mountainside location wowed us upon arrival. The lodge’s land, originally part of the Biltmore Estate and later owned by the Boy Scouts, is set amid 160 acres of hiking paths, abandoned logging roads, and streams for outdoor enthusiasts to explore.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, a mere 0.7 of a mile away, promised the chance to enjoy autumn leaf-peeping, and the North Carolina Arboretum and the French Broad River both were within easy hiking distance.
We loved exploring the property’s garden and grounds, which featured flowers, vines, trees, arbors and gates made from gnarly tree branches. And, we loved the whimsical statues just steps off the long porch outside our door. The porch’s well-spaced rockers, chairs and tables were the perfect hangout to start or end our day of mountain outings. And, for the most part, we had it to ourselves.
The inn provided thoughtful touches like flashlights, bug spray (which we didn’t need), and candles on outdoor tables.
Each afternoon we eagerly anticipated the daily treat—cookies or other sweets individually wrapped—alongside anytime coffee or tea, free soft drinks and a water cooler offering hot and cold options. Other perks of staying at Bent Creek Lodge included communal fridges on two levels to store marked leftovers; separate lounges with TVs on the main and lower levels; and a pool table and extensive library with books and games in the upper great room.
Falling for waterfalls
Nearby Transylvania County (its county seat is Brevard) is nicknamed the Land of Waterfalls for its 250-plus falls. During the 40-minute drive from Bent Creek Lodge to DuPont State Recreational Forest, we spotted one of Brevard’s famed white squirrels along the way.
The drive was worth it for the proximity to three waterfalls within a three-mile, moderate hike from a paved parking area. Visitors have two options. They may start at Hooker Falls, rising only 12 feet and dropping into a long, wide pool. Or, they may begin at appropriately named Triple Falls, a half-mile trek from the parking lot. From either trailhead, hikers head up to High Falls, the state’s fifth highest, cascading 150 feet along its granite face.
Fun fact: If you’ve seen the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans, you’ve glimpsed North Carolina’s second-highest waterfall, Hickory Nut Falls, which drops 404 feet at Chimney Rock State Park. About 60 miles from Asheville, Whitewater Falls is the highest east of the Rockies, falling 811 feet.
Exploring North Carolina Arboretum
The North Carolina Arboretum lies within Pisgah National Forest. Known as the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, the area once was owned by the Biltmore Estate’s George Vanderbilt. An oversized statue honors landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who dreamed of this research arboretum. Today, it operates in conjunction with the University of North Carolina.
Among the arboretum’s many attractions: nearly a dozen walking, biking, and hiking trails; a seasonal weekend G-scale model train exhibit; an education center; and a bistro. The arboretum’s gardens include a bonsai exhibit and a “quilt” garden. During our visit, the latter featured bright yellow mums and purple pansies in precise patterns. We also enjoyed the LEGO Bricks exhibit, “Nature Connects Art.”
First-time and returning guests to Asheville know the must-see Biltmore, with 250 rooms, as the largest home in America. Its 125,000 original acres also sport a popular winery. The destination shines in every season. The holidays are especially popular for the home’s gorgeous decorations, and spring is tulip season in the estate’s formal gardens.
Moseying along the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders through forests and mountains. Is lure, especially in fall, is the foliage kaleidoscope of colors. In any season, the mostly 45 mile-per-hour speed limit allows a slower pace to handle the curves while also taking in the beauty. In winter, bare trees and snow offer a starker scene, while in late spring, bright rhododendrons burst in abundance.
Our route from the lodge passed through 10 tunnels. From the darkness within, each suddenly revealed its half-arc opening as another splurge of crisp color came into view. We stopped at several of the parkway’s well-marked overlooks with parking. At each, signage displayed its name and elevation.
We marveled at the stunning views at the popular Pisgah Inn. And, we watched brave souls in wetsuits slip into the gushing water of Sliding Rock to ride the flow along a series of low, flat rocks. On the short trek to the bottom of Looking Glass Falls, a couple posed for what we guessed were engagement or wedding photos.
Not quite ready to head home, we added one more overnight at the mountainside cottages that are part of Engadine Inn and Cabins, also part of Asheville B&B group. While the weather turned rainy, our working fireplace provided a cozy respite for reflecting on our grand and safe western North Carolina getaway with a focus on nature in all her glory.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Beautiful setting in nature with 160 acres of gardens and grounds just steps outside your room.
- Nine of the 10 rooms offer a private, outdoor entrance making social distancing a breeze.
- Super easy access to the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and NC Arboretum
- The lodge has no elevator.
- There are no grab bars or adhesive threads in shower/bath combos but the author was told that they are on order.
- Outer steps of stone/natural material to lower-level rooms have no handrails.
- Plan ahead to enjoy the Arboretum’s popular Winter Lights drive-through evenings. They run 5:30-10:30pm, November 20, 2020-January 10, 2021.
IF YOU GO
- For more information, visit Explore Asheville and Romantic Asheville.
Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Bent Creek Lodge, Explore Asheville, and Kathy M. Newbern.
Disclosure: The Bent Creek Lodge subsidized a portion of the author’s stay.
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