The autumn season is definitely New England’s time to shine. However there are quite a few alternatives that offer beautiful leaf peeping without the crowds that typically flock to the .
When it comes to fall road trips, some of America’s smallest towns offer the most charming experiences. Guest contributor, Cheryl Rodewig, takes us on an autumn escape to Hendersonville, North Carolina. Apple country, here we come!
When you drive into town, you’ll notice a theme: roadside apple stands, restaurants touting apple pies and acres of orchards. This time of year, red, golden, pink and green fruit hangs heavy on row after row of trees.
It’s the season when Hendersonville truly shines. Surrounded by mountains and forests in the western wing of North Carolina, the city dazzles nature lovers while offering plenty of culture, from theater to spas, for those days you want to spend indoors.
Here are a few of the best experiences for a fall getaway in this beautiful mountain town.
Apple hunting on a fall trip to Hendersonville
You shouldn’t go to Hendersonville and leave without apples. Fortunately, this is nearly impossible. If you want to taste apple country, you’ve got bushels of options.
Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard: The ultimate autumn destination. Pick your own apples, take a wagon ride, get lost in the corn maze, fire an apple cannon and fill up on apple donuts.
It’s a family business with three generations working there. Stepp’s also has a handy guide to show what’s in season, August to late October.
Lyda Farms: The picking is done for you here. Just grab a bag in the shade and fill it up from 16 varieties like Ginger Gold and Pink Lady.
Then step into the shop to find what good produce can make: apple butter, apple salsa, apple cider. Beyond apples, Lyda Farms has gourds of every kind, prime for cooking or decorating.
There are nearly 20 more orchards and fruit stands where you can pick up apples in the area. If you’ve got the time and interest, I recommend doing the Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail for the most comprehensive apple experience.
Bold Rock Mills River Cidery: About 70 tons of apples go through Bold Rock every week, all converted to hard cider and seltzer. Try on a cider flight to sample a range of flavors and learn about the apples that created them. Or if you’re there on the weekend, take a free tour of the production facility and cap it off with dinner in the cider garden.
Apple Quest: If you’re traveling with grandkids or if you just enjoy a good old fashioned scavenger hunt, keep your eyes peeled downtown. There are a dozen bronze apples hidden around Main Street. A brochure at the visitor center gives clues on where to find them.
Agritourism in Hendersonville
They’re growing more than apples in these hills, and the scenery alone can keep you busy for days. If you have the time, add on these activities to your orchard hopping.
Catch an outdoor show
Just outside Hendersonville, the WNC Agricultural Center always has something going on. In mid-October, it’s Fall Harvest Days for tractors, antiques, crafts and collectibles.
Other times, it’s horse shows, timber shows, cattle shows, quilting, motocross, monster trucks, music and more. Many of their events are free, so it’s worth checking the calendar before you go.
Go wine tasting
Just named an official American Viticultural Area, Henderson County has three vineyards and more on the way.
Burntshirt Vineyards is unique as an estate winery, meaning all the grapes used in their wines are grown on site. You can choose a dry or sweet wine flight or take a complementary vineyard tour.
Burntshirt has also opened a tasting room in nearby Chimney Rock Village. The same wine flight is available with an expert host to guide you on your journey, but you can also stay for dinner at the bistro, which serves southern treats like shrimp ‘n’ grits or pimento cheese fondue.
Point Lookout Vineyards, meanwhile, gives you a different experience with mountain panoramas seen from 2,900 feet. Depending on the wines you sample, you may notice hints of plum, vanilla, blackberry, citrus, espresso and more.
Tour a working textile mill
The textile arts are alive and well in Hendersonville. See behind the scenes on a tour of The Oriole Mill. The highlight is watching a Jacquard loom in action, first in slow motion, then at full speed.
As you browse the shop afterward, you’ll have a new appreciation for the artistry that goes into each pillow and purse. RSVPs are required, but the tours are free.
See what’s blooming
Fall might not make you think of flowers, but there’s always something growing at Bullington Gardens. Perennials, herbs, Japanese maples and dozens of other plants thrive across 12 acres of this free, community-focused botanical garden. In early fall, dahlias show off in a rainbow of colors.
Explore a national historic site
The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site is a must while you’re in town. It’s free to walk the five miles of trails and pet the friendly dairy goats. But it’s worth it to spend a few dollars on the tour, so you can see the house and learn about this down-to-earth “Poet of the People.”
Eat at the co-op. The Hendersonville Community Co-op is certainly a nice place to pick up local produce, meats and cheese.
But it’ll be hard to tear yourself away from the deli to get some shopping done. The co-op’s hot and cold bar is stuffed with healthy food that’s still tasty, including plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.
Better still, you feel good after eating here. Like you could hike a mountain. Which is great because there’s plenty of that, too, if you want.
Boomer Travel Tip
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Hiking in Hendersonville
With mountains, lakes, waterfalls and more within a 30-minute drive, there are plenty of hiking options near Hendersonville.
If you’re headed for a day hike, bring plenty of water, sunscreen and bug spray—check out these recommendations for day hiking essentials. You might also want to pack a picnic. The fresh sandwiches and wraps at The Baker’s Box in Hendersonville are your best bet for a quick lunch that’s portable but not fast food.
Favorite trails nearby include Jump Off Rock, Holmes Educational State Forest, Bearwallow Mountain and DuPont State Recreational Forest. The latter spans more than 10,000 acres, so if you really want to allow time to explore it, add a couple days onto your trip.
If you’re hoping to catch the changing leaves this area of North Carolina is famous for, try to aim for the last week of October when fall color is typically at its height. This can vary with weather. Color peaks about a week earlier if the weather is colder than usual and a week later if it’s unseasonably warm.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Hendersonville when the trees are in full color, be sure to bring your camera. It’s some of the best scenery in the state, both on the distant trails and closer to town at sites like the Carl Sandburg site, Bullington Gardens and Point Lookout Vineyards.
Disclosure: Local tourism experts assisted with my stay and additional research to provide the best overview of area activities.