It’s taken me 8 months for me to visit the Biltmore Estate, one of Asheville‘s most popular tourist destinations. I’ll admit it…I was a bit intimidated by the sheer size of this sprawling 8,000 acre estate. But with my daughters coming to visit, I decided it was time to tackle this adventure and do a little recon before they arrive… hmm wonder if they read my blog. While most people head straight to the Biltmore House for a tour, I decided to do things a little differently. This week I bought my annual pass, allowing me unlimited visits and some extra perks to enjoy for a whole year. On this visit, I focused on getting the lay of the land. You definitely need a car and some good walking shoes to explore this estate.
In 1889, George Vanderbilt bought 125,000 acres in Western North Carolina as an escape from his busy city life and a retreat for his family and friends. He would build what is regarded as the largest privately owned home in America boasting 178,926 square feet. While most of the land was sold to the U.S. government in 1914 and is now part of the Pisgah National Forest, an ample 8,000 acres still remains as part of the Biltmore Estate. Its name is a combination of “bilt,” the Dutch region of origin for the Vanderbilts, and “more,” an old English term for rolling countryside. The estate was opened to the public in 1930, to increase tourism during the depression, but some of the Vanderbilts still maintain residences on the estate property.
Antler Hill Village
Bearing to the right as you pass the main gate will take you to the Inn on Biltmore Estate and to Antler Hill Village(AHV). There is tons of parking at the AHV. There are several casual restaurants, shopping, playground, farm animals, historic barn with farming, woodworking & blacksmith exhibits and a winery. I headed straight to the Outdoor Center to grab a trail map. Here you can also rent bikes, Segways, and book specialty outings such as fly fishing, kayaking, skeet shooting and off-roading in Hummers. I just got the map, which has over 22 miles of trails. Some of them are paved for easy walking/biking and some of them are more rugged for mountain bikes, horses or adventuresome people. There is a nice 3 mile trail that follows the French Broad River, but I’ll save that for another day.
Continuing on the same road, I made my way to the lagoon, which has small, gravel parking areas on both sides. On a clear, calm day, this is the location to get that famous photo of the Biltmore House reflecting in the water. It’s also a popular spot for locals to feed the Canadian geese or have a relaxing picnic.
From the lagoon it is a nice 1 1/4 mile hike up to the main house. This trail takes you through some rolling pastures and offers great views of the back side of the house as well as Mount Pisgah. Because of the rolling hills, I really felt that I had this whole place to myself. I rarely heard or saw another person along this trail.
The great lawn in front of the house is a great place to snap your selfie and where you go for a tour of the house – entrance ticket times are required. I headed to the right of the main house to the Carriage House for a quick bite to eat. It was a lovely day, so I grabbed a sandwich and ate in the courtyard. I think this was fairly reasonable, $6 for a chicken salad pita and chips. Free cups of water are available at the ice cream parlor or coffee shop which are also located here.
It is winter, but the gardens are still very impressive and I will definitely be back in the spring. On this trip, I headed to the conservatory, a glass-roofed building filled with exotic orchids, succulents, and this time of year, poinsettias. It is a maze of rooms designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, that is delightful to wander through. There are spots to sit and enjoy the greenhouse-like atmosphere and a terrace.
Heading back out from the lagoon to the left took me to a fork in the road, bearing to the right took me past the Deerpark area. I didn’t stop at this area, missed the turn, but it houses the fancy Deerpark restaurnant and Lioncrest event center. I’ll be back for brunch. Heading just a bit further down the road, on the right, are the stables. Here you can arrange for a carriage ride through the estate or horseback trail rides. This too will have to wait for another visit.
House Approach Road
Heading back to the main entrance, I took the main road to the house. If you are starting from the main gate you would simply bear to the left. This is a spectacular 3-mile driveway designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted who also designed New York’s Central Park. Here is were you would usually park and shuttle in for the main house tour. Locals have told me that if I keep my headlights on, the guards will simply wave me through so that I could drive right passed the parking and go right up to the steps of the main house. A great tip if you have family that has mobility issues. Just a bit further passed the house, there is a small parking area below the gardens that would be a fairly easy walk back up to the house, if you wanted to avoid taking the shuttles.
After this 4 hour tour, there is still a lot more to explore, but it was a magnificent first visit to the Biltmore Estate. On thing that was apparent, this is not just for tourists. I spotted lots of locals walking their dogs, jogging and enjoying a picnic. I think I’ll bring my bike and a picnic next time and cover a little more ground.