Poised close to the Eastern Continental Divide along U.S. 64, the historic motor route across North Carolina, the city of Hendersonville offers riders plenty of natural beauty along lightly traveled backroads while still offering travelers a wealth of cultural and culinary delights.
Hendersonville, located about 25 miles south of Asheville, and the surrounding Henderson County features a mild climate perfect for year-round riding, earning the nickname the “City of Four Seasons.” This historic region has served explorers for centuries, even the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto is rumored to have crossed through these parts in the 1500s on an ill-fated quest for gold. By the 19th century, the Buncombe Turnpike, parts of which became roadways that motorcyclists can still ride today, served to connect the low country of South Carolina to the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond to Tennessee. Here are a few scenic attractions and favorite motorcycle routes in the area:
Heading south of town on U.S. 176 will take riders to the famous Saluda Grade, the steepest standard-gauge railroad line in the United States. U.S. 176 roughly parallels the tracks, taking riders through a curvy descent down the Blue Ridge Escarpment through the Pacolet River Gorge. Adventure riders can turn right at the bottom of the mountain to climb back up via dirt sections of Pearson Falls Road. For a small fee, you can visit the namesake waterfall along the riverbed.
Jump Off Rock
After visiting the numerous cafes, taprooms and bistros along Main Street in Hendersonville, take Fifth Avenue west for about five miles. The road passes through the village of Laurel Park as it climbs the mountain to terminate in a peaceful, well-maintained park with a stunning 270-degree view of the mountains. On a clear day, you can see four states — the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee — from the overlook atop the rock.
Orchards and Vineyards
Head west from downtown on U.S. 64 and you enter apple country. Hundreds of acres of apple trees make Henderson County one of the nation’s top apple producers. A maze of crisscrossing roads through the orchards is a great way to leisurely tour the area. These days, several acres have been turned over to the production of grapes for the thriving new agritourism attractions of cideries and wineries. Burntshirt Vineyards, St. Paul Mountain Vineyards and Point Lookout Vineyards are just quick detours from the main road. If you make the twisty climb up Gilliam Mountain Road to Point Lookout, you’ll be rewarded with a mountaintop tasting room with removable walls and stunning vistas. A quick detour on Bald Rock Road takes you to smooth roadside cliff-face polished by a slow current of spring water.
Continuing east on U.S. 64 brings you the Eastern Continental Divide, where you begin your drop into the Hickory Nut Gorge. The walls of the mountains narrow on each side and you follow a tributary of the Broad River downhill to join U.S. 74A. A few miles south alongside a boulder-strewn river brings you to Chimney Rock State Park in neighboring Rutherford County. The park entrance is surrounded by souvenir shops and a few restaurants. The view from the ancient granite monolith is worth the price of admission to the park and will make a stunning photo to document your motorcycle trip.
DuPont State Forest
West of town on U.S. 64 will take you to DuPont State Forest where hiking trails and waterfalls await visitors. A gravel parking area with restrooms and visitors center is not far from the path leading to the picturesque Triple Falls. The 10,000-acre park features miles of trails exploring hidden lakes, waterfalls and fishing spots.
Flat Rock Playhouse
If you’re looking for entertainment after a day of riding, the state theater of North Carolina is just a few miles south on U.S. 225. Broadway-style shows have entertained visitors for decades at this rustic theater. Just across the street, the Carl Sandburg home offers tours of the late poet laureate’s farm named Connemara. The “poet of the people” penned nearly a third of his literary work at this charming farmhouse.
Pisgah National Forest
Adventure riders will enjoy tacking the forest service roads across the mountains that begin in the North Mills River Recreational Area. Head west from N.C. 280 on North Mills River Road to enter the Pisgah National Forest. The road turns to gravel just past the campground and becomes Yellow Gap Road, which parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway through the forest and eventually joins U.S. 276 not far from Looking Glass Falls. You can also choose to head north when you enter the Mills River campground on another Forest Service road to join the parkway near Bent Creek Experimental Forest or continue on to Lake Powhatan.
Hendersonville offers a wealth of B&Bs as well as commercial motels if you plan to stay a few days and make the area your basecamp. A quick jaunt down the highway will get you to the famous-named motorcycle roads if you wish, but exploring the backroads around the city won’t disappoint you.