There’s something in the water in Asheville, North Carolina, and it’s more than you with a local brew in hand. Asheville is home to a kind of magic that manifests in the ability to wind along the French Broad River from brewery to brewery, forage in one of the world’s most diverse biospheres and walk among mountains older than the Himalayas, all before returning to the city for a night out in a relaxed town brimming with Southern hospitality. Of course a city this special has found its own way to relax while avoiding the heat that settles in below the Blue Ridge during the hottest months of the year. These three ways to unwind with a twist will undoubtedly catch your attention during the dog days of summer.
A water sport invented in Asheville, bellyaking is fairly self-explanatory. Bellyak Inc. designed a new way to kayak by manufacturing something of a hybrid between a kayak and a stand up paddle board. Bellyakers lie face-down on the bellyak and use their hands, properly fitted with webbed gloves, to paddle along a lake or river.
The company likes to think its sport is akin to snowboarding in relation to skiing: it allows people of all abilities to experience paddling in an inventive new way. While most people are used to packing a cooler and floating the French Broad River that snakes through the city, bellyaking continues to be one of the most unusual and fun ways to travel the river. You can take a class, attend an event or rent to go all in for a day of feeling a little silly on the water.
For a more leisurely approach to the French Broad, tubing is a time-honored means. There are plenty of ways visitors choose to spend their time on the river, such as floating between breweries situated on the waterway as it runs throughout Asheville. Others rent an extra tube and pack a well-iced and well-stocked cooler. What might the easiest (read: laziest) summer day way to traverse the river is floating atop a tube to The Bywater.
The Bywater is a riverside bar where people on the river can take out, step over the railroad tracks and walk up to the patio for a cold drink or even a casual food truck meal. Operating as a private social club, the hole in the wall charges a nominal fee ($5) to members who are then allowed to bring as many people as they care to be responsible for (as long as guests are not minors). The dive bar is open from noon until 2 a.m. and shares a love of Old School Asheville culture with everyone who visits.
If being in a bathing suit all afternoon doesn’t sound like your kind of day, then forest-bathing with Ascend Adventure Wellness might be. Forest-bathing, or relaxing by spending time in the woods with the sound mountain streams gurgling in the distance, is another way to unwind. The Ascend Adventure Wellness twist: a massage table waits for hikers in the middle of Pisgah National Forest.
The heat subsides as hikers move further up and into the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the fresh springs are cold enough to leave condensation on your water bottle as you filter it in on a trailside stop. Moving through the temperate rainforest, mossy trees, beds of ferns and thick moss sprawl across the forest floor like a carpet. After a couple of hours of walking, drop your pack and climb onto the massage table. With relaxed muscles, descend back into the valley to Asheville.
Molly Harris is a freelance journalist. You can often find her on the highway somewhere between Florida and North Carolina or taking life slow in Europe.