The North Carolina Arboretum: My Tips For Enjoying The Many Things To See & Do At This Asheville Landmark

by Joshua

Fall Foliage, Free Stuff, Museums And Memorials, North Carolina Travel, Wildlife

The North Carolina Arboretum near the scenic tourist mecca of Asheville is one of my favorite botanical gardens to visit anywhere in the South!

Offering free admission, the North Carolina Arboretum is located in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest of the Pisgah National Forest.

There are 434 acres of fun trails, serene woodlands, exquisite botanical gardens, an outstanding bonsai tree garden, enlightening educational exhibits, and so much more.

Want to see what it’s like before you go?

Below is my virtual tour of the North Carolina Arboretum, along with a few tips that I’ve learned firsthand after visiting these Asheville botanical gardens.

Things To Do At The North Carolina Arboretum In Asheville

My recent fall trip to Asheville, North Carolina wasn’t my first, but it was the first time I had ever ventured along the southernmost stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And it was along this stretch of the parkway south of Asheville that I found the arboretum. And what a time to visit!

My late October trip to Asheville was splashed with reds, oranges, purples, golds, and every other colorful shade of fall you could imagine. That was certainly the case at the arboretum and botanical gardens near Asheville.

It was a fall trip to the North Carolina mountains that brought me to Asheville and the arboretum. But there is so much more to do at the North Carolina Arboretum than “just” look at the fall colors!

Here’s my overview of what you’ll find there:

  • 65+ acres of gardens — I was mesmerized by 2 things in particular: their fascinating collection of azaleas and one of the largest collections of tiny bonsai trees I’ve ever seen!
  • 10+ miles of trails — I didn’t walk (or bike) them all, but I did take a leisurely mile-long hike through a woods trail with, you guessed it, lots of fall color.
  • Art and science exhibits — There were many cool things to see and do inside the Baker Exhibit Center, including interactive nature-themed displays and educational seminars.
  • EcoLab — While there’s a lot of wildlife to enjoy along the trails and in the gardens, there’s also a range of cool science-based educational programs designed particularly for young explorers and their families who want to learn more about creatures great and small.
  • And so much more — I saw an incredible marquee of special offerings at the arboretum for every season throughout the year. There are also guided tours, classes, and other exciting ways to enjoy the arboretum!
A gardener at the North Carolina Arboretum tending to a bonsai tree.

A Virtual Tour Of My Visit To Asheville Botanical Gardens

I arrived at the North Carolina Arboretum during the mid-morning in late October.

While I’ve taken many fall foliage road trips to North Carolina, this was just one of the most beautiful autumn mornings in October I’ve ever experienced!

The fall view at the North Carolina Arboretum.

The temperatures were in the low 50s. The skies were as clear blue as I’ve ever seen. And the fall foliage around the arboretum was absolutely stunning:

  • The maples were crimson red.
  • The hickories golden yellow.
  • The sassafras was orange as the sun.
  • The dogwoods purple.

It was simply glorious! What a way to start my day at one of the most diverse and engaging of botanical gardens and natural attractions anywhere in the South.

Of course, Asheville and the North Carolina Arboretum are beautiful places to visit winter, spring, summer, or fall! So any time of year that you get an opportunity to visit, I would definitely encourage you to stop.

This explains their seasonal landscape exhibits at the North Carolina Arboretum.

I started my adventure at the Baker Exhibit Center — where I picked up a map from the information booth. Then I was on my way…

A map of the property at North Carolina Arboretum.

First, walking under a pergola:

The view walking underneath the pergola at the North Carolina Arboretum.

That took me into a beautiful cultivated garden filled with a variety of perennials and other flowering plants:

The pergola and sunroom adjacent to the Baker Exhibit Center at the North Carolina Arboretum.

Onto the trail I went… But which way should I go?

I chose the path less taken…

One of many trails at the North Carolina Arboretum.

I found some cool things along the way — like this beautiful meadow:

A birdhouse in a meadow at the North Carolina Arboretum.

And a butterfly and pollinator garden:

A gorgeous sculpture in the North Carolina Arboretum butterfly and pollinator garden.

What was that I heard? The sound of trains on a miniature railroad:

A miniature railway at the North Carolina Arboretum.

Then, I found the bonsai tree garden. Have you ever seen fall color on a bonsai tree? It was certainly a first for me:

Fall foliage on a Japanese Maple bonsai tree

You never know what you’re going to find next at these Asheville botanical gardens — like this stair step waterfall:

Stair-step waterfall at the North Carolina Arboretum.

And you might just “bee” amazed:

A bee lands on a flower at the North Carolina Arboretum.

…At all the splendors you’ll enjoy at the North Carolina Arboretum!

This statue greets visitors at the entrance to the North Carolina Arboretum.

My Top 7 Tips For Planning Your Visit To The North Carolina Arboretum

My visit to the North Carolina Arboretum was incredibly enjoyable, and I’d love to share with you a few tips that I picked up on my visit to these Asheville botanical gardens:

  1. Save your money — but don’t forget to spend some, too!
    Admission to the North Carolina Arboretum is free. But this amazing place (an affiliate of the University of North Carolina system) could always use a donation. So, while there are parking fees, be sure to drop a buck or two for their efforts, as well!
  2. Plan ahead.
    You could easily spend an entire day at the arboretum. Or, you might just stop in for a short hike along a trail. Those who are lucky enough to live near Asheville will find reasons to visit frequently — what with all of the educational opportunities and seasonal events. Make sure you allot enough time to see and do everything you want to at this Asheville attraction. I was able to see and do pretty much all I hoped to on my first visit to the North Carolina Arboretum in about 3 hours — but I’ll be back for more in the future!
  3. Get there early.
    You will avoid the crowds by getting to the arboretum as early as possible. Be sure to check the operating hours before your visit — so you can optimize your time there.
  4. Enjoy lunch at the bistro.
    By the the time noon rolled around, I was hungry. So I enjoyed lunch at the onsite Bent Creek Bistro (formerly the Savory Thyme Cafe). They make a wide variety of delicious sandwiches, side dishes, desserts, and (YES!) coffee.
  5. Check the weather before hitting the trails.
    I was lucky to visit the arboretum on a truly wonderful day. But some of the trails are long and offer little, if any, real shelter. Plan your visit to the North Carolina Arboretum on a good weather day — so you won’t get stuck in the rain, snow, heat, or cold halfway along your hike!
  6. Bring along a resource for finding out about the plants, birds, and insects you see.
    The arboretum has some great field guides for identifying many of the things you’ll find on your visit. Some of these guides are free. But if you want a really detailed nature guide, don’t forget to take one along (or buy one at the gift shop).
  7. Take lots of pictures!
    I was clicking so many pictures during my visit that I had to remind myself to put the camera down and just take some mental pictures, too. But there really are so many things to see and do in the North Carolina Arboretum near Asheville — you’ll definitely want some photos to enjoy as a souvenir of your trip!

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How to get the most from your visit to the North Carolina Arboretum