By now, most of us are familiar with the benefits of parks-they encourage us to get exercise, they help us reduce stress, they foster connections with our communities, etc. But so often when I think of parks I think of the big ones … places like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon … national parks with hundreds of thousands of acres of land to explore. Rarely have the smaller public spaces come to mind. Like many though, the past couple of months have kept me tethered close to home (Asheville, NC) and I’ve found a new appreciation for urban parks. Though catching a sunset at one of the parks I’ve listed below will never compare to seeing the sun set in Joshua Tree they have brought a lot of enjoyment to my life during the pandemic. They’ve been a way for me to get outdoors, safely, and decompress a little, beyond the confines of my postage stamp sized backyard.
So, here are 6 of my favorite urban parks in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ve listed their name, address, and distance from downtown so you can use it as a guide to explore the next time you’re here.
Note: Asheville is growing but it still has somewhat of a small town feel to it as far as getting around. Even during ‘rush hour’ it’ll take you no more than 25-30 minutes to get from side of town to the other. Getting around Asheville and exploring these urban parks can be done by bus, car, on foot, or on bike. (Each of them are 3 miles or less from downtown.) Our sidewalks are plentiful and we are slowly getting more bike lanes but I’ve added the most useful bus routes to access each park in case opting for public transportation is the best decision for you.
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville | 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard | 1.7 miles from downtown
I visit this park in North Asheville when I need a place to stretch my legs and just get out in nature for a bit. There’s a short half-mile trail that loops through the wooded ten-acre property and its easy to follow so I can focus all of my attention on something other than navigating and worrying about getting lost. In addition, many of the plants are marked with small signs so you can identify and learn more about what you’re seeing. My wife and I have done numerous runs that have incorporated the Botanical Gardens and then linked up with the Reed Creek Greenway.
Public transportation options: The N1 or N2 buses will get you to the Botanical Gardens.
Martin Luther King Jr Park | 50 Martin Luther King Junior Drive | .8 miles from downtown
There’s a statue of Martin Luther King Junior in the front of the park that is named in his honor. This summer the grounds came alive with more than a thousand Black Lives Matter protestors as we marched through the streets of downtown Asheville and then gathered here to listen to people speak out about racial injustice. If you need a place to recharge, find strength, or just get away from the noise of the city, this is a good spot to start. For me, revisiting this space is a reminder of just how much work there is yet to do.
Public transportation option: Take the N5 bus to get here.
Montford Park | At the intersection of Montford Ave and Panola St. | 1.4 miles from downtown
This park is sandwiched in between a couple of bed and breakfasts in the middle of the historic Montford neighborhood which is just a short skip away from downtown. There’s a couple of tennis courts, a basketball court, a small grassy field that makes a good picnic spot. You’re likely to find people doing yoga in the sun, reading, and walking their dog. I like using this park for warming up pre-run and then getting some miles in along the neighborhood sidewalks. The houses are unique and there’s a good mixture of both hills and flat stretches. Plus, if you want to extend your mileage you can loop into downtown or even West Asheville and head back when you’re tired.
Public transportation option: Use the N4 Bus to get here.
Pack Square Park | Located at the intersection of Patton, Biltmore, and Broadway Aves. | .2 miles from downtown
Talk to a local long enough, especially if you’re asking for directions, and we’ll probably reference Pack Square, a sprawling park in the middle of downtown Asheville that often serves as a meeting-up place for individuals and large groups. Some might say Pack Square is the ‘heart’ of Asheville. A bunch of the city government’s buildings are located near the park but so are a ton of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and places to pick up a souvenir. You’ll find tourists cutting through the park on Segway tours, locals eating to-go food on their lunch break, and sunbathers when the weather is warm. When Asheville has something on it’s mind, the park will swell with a crowd, be it for a Black Lives Matter protest, a women’s march, or a music festival.
Public transportation option: The S2 bus stops here.
French Broad River Dog Park | 508 Riverview Drive | 2.6 miles from downtown
Dogs aren’t allowed in the Botanical Gardens mentioned above and you’re going to need to keep them on a leash in all of the other parks in town. However, the French Broad River Dog Park was created with your pup in mind. The area has two sections, one for small dogs, and then a larger, main section for bigger dogs. Let your dog run off some extra energy and then head out for a walk or a run with them along the French Broad River Greenway, a paved path which follows along the French Broad River and links up with Carrier park, a few miles west. Bonus: near the northernmost corner of the dog park you’ll find a gravel and dirt trail that continues north and eventually dumps you out near New Belgium Brewing Company where you can slake your thirst with a cold one.
Public transportation option: The W6 Bus is your best best but you’ll still need to walk east about one mile to reach the park.
Carrier Park | 220 Amboy Road | 3.0 miles from downtown
Carrier Park is one of the most popular parks in Asheville. On any given day you’ll find people launching their kayaks and tubes into the river at one of the free put-ins, swinging in a hammock, riding bikes in the Velodrome (it’s been nicknamed the “Mellowdrome”), running, walking, playing volleyball, and overall just spending time outdoors. Anyone wanting a quintessential Asheville experience should make plans to spend an hour or two hanging out in Carrier.
Public transportation option: The W6 bus is the best bus for reaching this park.