By Julie J. Novara
With flowering gardens and storied history, Biltmore Estate attracts more than one million visitors to its expansive grounds in Western North Carolina year in and year out. An attraction distinguished with the AAA TourBook Gem designation, Biltmore’s Candlelight Christmas Evenings mesmerize winter guests, and endless blossoms delight visitors in the spring. In every season, the grounds of this architectural wonder offer extraordinary experiences, especially for outdoor enthusiasts.
Explore the Trails Any Time of Year
Biltmore’s Public Relations Manager Marissa Jamison says hiking has become one of the estate’s most popular outdoor ventures. Enjoy it when you stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate, a AAA Four Diamond property. From there make your way down to the Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village.
“Our Outdoor Adventure Center offers guided hikes for those wanting a more personalized and educational experience. We have lagoon strolls, wildlife hikes and forestry hikes,” says Jamison.
Wind your way through the woodsy Westover Trails in the fall, and you’ll hear the crunching of leaves under your feet, the pitter-patter of squirrels rushing from tree to tree. Go for a wildlife hike and you might see deer, rabbits and turkeys.
Jamison says, “On Amblers Trail that starts at the Lagoon and meanders up the hill toward Biltmore House, it’s easy to see wildlife plantings of corn and soybeans that make excellent meals for the animals. Guests even see bears and rambunctious cubs sometimes!”
More than 22 miles make up the extensive trail system that’s interwoven through the Biltmore estate grounds. In January 2021, the Outdoor Adventure Center will add mindfulness hikes as one more way for people of all ages to explore this outdoor playground.
Rent a Bike… or Two
Those who’d rather venture at a quicker pace can rent a bike. Or one that’s built for two!
“For biking, rentals are available in our Bike Barn for anyone who wants to easily get out for a day of adventure on the trails. In 2020 especially, the estate saw a surge in bike rentals as we’re finding our guests are looking for more outdoor activities to keep them active and entertained,” says Jamison.
Biking along the French Broad is a popular way to take in the natural beauty of the grounds. The smooth paved path of the Lagoon Trail offers panoramic views of Antler Hill Village surrounded by the rolling Appalachian hills, grazing horses out to pasture, and fields in various seasons of harvest – newly planted, ripe for picking or ready for plowing.
Take it to Deer Park Trail and then head over to Biltmore House and Gardens, where you can wander through garden paths. Or if you’re up for a more challenging route altogether, head for the hills and explore the woodland trails.
Bike rentals vary by season, so be sure to plan ahead. Rent or bring your own!
Spend Summertime on the Water
On a hot summer afternoon, outdoor adventurers who love the water may enjoy a day on the French Broad River, the largest river in Western North Carolina.
Jamison says it provides fun for the whole family. “Those with younger children can enjoy a peaceful float down the gentle river as it winds through the estate. Families can sit back and relax as a knowledgeable guide paddles their raft, or they can choose a tandem kayak for a self-guided experience,” she says.
Always wanted to try fly fishing? Biltmore offers the perfect chance.
“Fishing trips are available for all ages – fly fishing for older kids and adults; and kids fishing, which is spin fishing, for younger children,” says Jamison.
Explore on Horseback
Is there anything more freeing than letting go of every care in the world from atop a horse? Exploring the grounds of Biltmore Estate on horseback is another way to relax in the surrounding beauty.
“Trail rides are extremely popular,” says Jamison. “They’re horseback rides led by an expert guide through the estate’s extensive network of outstanding trails.”
Whether on a slow-paced, one-hour guided walk or a private two-hour exploration, riders of all levels (who are at least eight years of age) can tour the estate on horseback.
Beginner and intermediate-level riders can relax on a western-style guided tour. More advanced riders can opt for private rides, and equestrians interested in taking it all in with their own horses can make arrangements through the Biltmore Equestrian Center.
Enjoy trail rides any time of year as long as weather permits.
Look Out for the Birds
Then, on brisk winter days, take the whole family out for a bird-watching expedition.
“It’s free,” says Jamison, “and families can help the Outdoor Adventure Center team count and identify birds at the winter feeding station for a fun and important research project. Participants receive a checklist with common local birds and identification guides to use during the experience. The team will walk to the feeding station, refill and prep the feeder, and then settle in for a 30-minute counting and identification session. Guides share information about some of our Biltmore bird favorites throughout the season.”
There’s no better way to keep the traditions of the estate alive.
“Birds and Biltmore have a long history. The original owners of Biltmore, George and Edith Vanderbilt, were sustaining members of the N.C. Audubon Society and estate employees were advocates for protecting birds,” says Jamison.
With the French Broad River making its way through the grounds as well as the Lagoon, Bass Pond, streams with aquatic plants, meadows, pastures and more, the estate grounds have proven to be an ideal habitat for all kinds of birds.
Jamison says, “We have a lot of waterfowl that guests can see in winter… especially ducks such as buffleheads, hooded mergansers, teal, ring-necked ducks and occasionally pintails and shovelers. We sometimes see flocks of blue and snow geese interspersed with our regular Canada geese. You may even see great blue herons or common snipe in and around wet spots, creeks, and drainage ditches.”
From bird watching in winter to river floats in the summer, and everything in between, Biltmore Estate has plenty to offer the whole family… no matter the season.
Note that Biltmore is a private estate, and anyone wishing to visit the Outdoor Adventure Center should have an estate daytime admission ticket, be an Annual Passholder, or a guest at one of our lodging properties.
Also be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and temperature, wear comfortable clothes. Layers are recommended. Guests are encouraged to bring bottled water or other beverage along on outdoor activities. And according to government mandates in December 2020, guests must wear face coverings when checking in and at times during activities based on instructions they will receive from their guide. They should also follow social distancing guidelines.