By Heather Davis
Summer days are here again, and for many of us, that means one thing: travel season. We all have our summer vacation stories—those fond memories of camping trips and lazy days on the beach. While summer travel has long been a staple of family life, bringing your canine companion wasn’t always an easy feat. In fact, the first time I visited Asheville, North Carolina, I left my canine companions in the care of my pet sitter. I was hardly there an hour, however, when I realized I’d made a big mistake: there were dogs everywhere!
Hiking trails galore. Gourmet dog bakeries. Dog-friendly dining patios. If you’re looking for a great getaway, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more dog-friendly destination than Asheville. Whether you’re in the mountains or in the city, there are not many places that don’t welcome your four-legged friend, which means you can have endless fun together!
I didn’t make the same mistake twice. Having decided to feature this beautiful and eclectic city in this issue, I recently traveled to Asheville with my boyfriend, Chris, and our two rescued pooch pals, Shelby and Molly. Together, we spent a long weekend sniffing out the area’s best dog-friendly spots—all of which you are sure to love as much as we did!
Where to Stay
When I stumbled across Barkwells Pet-Friendly Mountain Retreat on the internet, I knew it was going to be a place like no other. While there are plenty of dog-friendly accommodations these days, I have yet to find one created specifically with our pooch pals in mind—and that’s what makes Barkwells truly stand out. From their fully fenced eight acres of rolling green hills to the shimmering catfish pond to the doggie doors and fenced yards featured at each of seven cabins, it’s clear that this resort was made for dogs. Thankfully, the owners, Ellen and Michael Winner, were gracious enough to invite us for the weekend to experience it for ourselves.
When we pulled into Barkwells on a Saturday evening, the six-hour drive behind us, we immediately felt at peace. We were welcomed first by a variety of beautiful chickens along the fence. Green stretched as far as the eye could see. The dogs wiggled with excitement. I stopped by the office, housed in a charming red barn, to check in and introduce myself. We were given the full tour and then settled our things into Snicker’s Cabin (named after their beloved Giant Schnauzer, who has since passed on). Let me fine-tune my earlier statement: Barkwells was created with dogs and people in mind—beautiful country décor, comfy beds, a fully equipped kitchen, cozy gas fireplace and a sprawling porch boasting both a large hot tub and breathtaking views of the countryside. The ground floor bedroom was ideal for Molly, who has hip dysplasia, but a second bedroom and bathroom in the upstairs loft makes a charming accommodation for a second couple or children.
It was comical trying to teach the dogs how to use the doggie door leading to their own private fenced yard, but they eventually got the hang of it. Of course, when it was time to get out and about, they could run free on all eight acres, thanks to the secure fencing and gates. It might have taken Shelby all of a minute to race down the hill from our cabin and plunge into the cool, refreshing waters of the large fishing pond. Afterward, he and Molly rolled in the grass in a celebration of the good life.
“When we used to travel to the lake in Minnesota, we hated leaving our dogs behind while we enjoyed vacation,” says Ellen. “We talked for years about creating that same ‘aaaah’ getaway feeling for travelers and their dogs. When the pivotal ‘I can’t believe we’re 50!’ year hit us in 2003 [after 25 years in Tampa, Florida], we packed up the kids, Rachel and Frank, our dog Snickers, cat Snowcap and moved to the mountains to change our careers and our lives.”
Within the year, the Winners came across the awe-inspiring property that would breathe life into their dream. Located in Mills River (just 20 minutes from Asheville) it was already fully fenced and featured one quaint cabin as well as the red barn that now welcomes guests into their private mountain paradise. Six years and cabins later, they’re welcoming guests from all over the country. These days, they share their home with a second Schnauzer, Peppermint Patty, and a Tibetan Terrier rescued named Baxter, as well as their beloved chickens, which lay fresh eggs for guests to enjoy. And, luckily, we were able to witness the arrival of their three newest family members: a Tennessee Fainting Goat named Nana and two kids, Moon Pie and Cookie.
Throughout our stay, we took long walks about the grounds as the dogs ran wild, romping with the other canine guests and sniffing out nearby rabbits and squirrels. By evening, we were always exhausted and happy, and the dogs would stretch out on the porch as we soaked in the hot tub, gazing up at a black sky full of brilliant stars to the tune of the crickets. I’ll admit it made it hard to leave.
“Every single day, we enter Barkwells and are so grateful to be living in these gorgeous mountains and to be able to share this beautiful haven for people and their pets,” says Ellen. “We never expected to have such an impact on people’s lives, but it is what we are most grateful for. Folks come to Barkwells not just for vacation, but also to celebrate or commemorate seminal moments in their lives. People come here to get married, they come for honeymoons or anniversaries, they come for family reunions, they bring their new babies to visit, they bring their dogs that are ill or old and watch them enjoy a last romp. They come back because it is a place where memories are made.”
Photo: Our dog, Shelby, enjoys the pond at Barkwells.
In addition to providing the perfect backdrop for fond memories, the Winners are committed to caring for the land and the earth that provides them this rare and incredible opportunity. They are green in every sense of the word: from the recycle bins and fluorescent bulbs at each cabin to the three rain barrels used to recycle water for their organic vegetable garden, they give back to the earth as much as they can. Baxter’s Cabin has solar powered water; Bo’s Hideaway cabin features a compost container and biodegradable kitchen trash bags.
“The people who sold us the land for Barkwells said they felt we would be good stewards of the land,” Ellen says. “We take that responsibility seriously and are so appreciative of the opportunity to also be good stewards of the very special people and dogs who visit us here.”
Where to Play
While you don’t need to leave Barkwells in order to have relaxation and fun (it’s a vacation in itself!), there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure with your dogs. Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Forest are just a half hour drive and offer a plethora of hiking trails that welcome leashed dogs. Anxious to see the waterfalls I’d heard so much about, we headed to the latter to hike up Triple Falls.
From the access area at Hooker Falls, it’s just a half-mile hike to the first viewing point on the falls. Bring your camera—they are gorgeous! Climbing a bit further (some stairs are involved), you’ll find an incredible midpoint of sprawling, flat rock perfect for taking a lunch break or just soaking in the sun. As you can see from the pictures, our pooch pals enjoyed the cool mist provided by the cascades—as did the dozen or so other dogs that were gathered there.
While we turned back at this point due to Molly’s physical limitations, the scenic trails continue through a covered bridge that leads to High Falls. If you’re up for exploring further, there are also five other access areas with various trailheads throughout the 10,000 acres of forestland.
In addition to forest areas, leashed dogs are also welcome to walk with you through the gardens at The Biltmore as well as along the ten miles of trail at The North Carolina Arboretum. And if you want to stop for some off-leash fun during the day, Asheville maintains two dog parks: one at the French Broad River Park and another at Azalea Park.
Where to Shop
Of course, a trip to Asheville isn’t complete without strolling through downtown, an area rich in art, culture, unique shopping and eclectic dining. Spend some time browsing the Grove Arcade, then stroll over to Battery Park Avenue, where you’ll find everything from earth-friendly clothing shops and art galleries to hip hound hangouts.
Be sure to stop in Three Dog Bakery for a free treat sample and to let Fido sniff out a snack or two. My pups loved their fresh blueberry oatmeal cookies (they smell unbelievably delicious) and yogurt iced pupcakes. Aside from a generous bakery and all of your favorite Three Dog boxed treats, the store also offers a great selection of toys, collars, souvenirs and gifts.
Across the street you’ll find Blaze-N-Skyy, a posh pet boutique offering holistic foods and treats, a gorgeous line of designer collars, one-of-a-kind toys and more. “We have over 5,000 designer dog items to choose from,” says owner Adelaine Lockwood. The highlight of the trip, of course, is meeting the four-legged storekeepers: Blitz, an adorable Pomeranian originally from Nashville, and Skyy, a gorgeous Siberian Husky and half of the store’s namesake. (The first half of the name is in honor of Lockwood’s beloved German Spitz, who has passed on.)
A short walk over to Walnut Street will take you to Funky Mutt, which, according to their tagline, is “where muttrosexual meets mainstream”. This eco-friendly pet supply shop offers a groovy line of canine gear, ranging from hemp collars and leashes made from recycled climbing rope to earth-friendly pet toys, organic shampoos and locally made items. And don’t let the name fool you: they have fun finds for your feline friends, too—such as organic catnip they’ll go bonkers for.
Where to Eat
Dogs are welcome on the patio at my favorite restaurant, Laughing Seed Café, which dishes up a variety of tempting vegetarian and vegan fare, focusing on locally grown produce and good-for-you smoothies, herbal teas and more. A must try is their Harmony Bowl, a heavenly medley of organic brown rice, kale, black beans, steamed veggies, grilled tofu and sesame ginger sauce. Order it with fresh avocado for a delightful taste bud experience!
Your canine kids are also welcome at the outdoor tables at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, home to one of the area’s most popular homebrewed stouts. Dog-friendly patio dining is also available at Café on the Square, Jerusalem Garden Café, Mayfel’s and others.
For a fun and unique experience, dogs are always welcome indoors at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar on the corner of Battle Square. Offering a diverse selection of fine wines, champagnes and cheesecake, it’s the perfect way to relax while perusing some of the thousands of book titles.
Of course, with the fully equipped kitchen at our Barkwells cabin, we had to cook and dine in one evening. Nearby Earth Fare is a wonderful holistic food market offering organic produce, tempting bakery items, plentiful vegetarian options and a vast selection of organic groceries. They also offer an eat-in hot and cold food bar, featuring soaps, salads, pastas and more.
I’ll admit, it’s hard to fit all Asheville has to offer into a weekend—and what I’ve outlined here is just a small sampling. To experience the city and surrounding nature in all its dog-friendly wonder, I highly suggest planning a weeklong vacation with your pooch pal.
Whether you spend a laidback weekend at Barkwells or enjoy a longer trip to fully discover the surrounding area, you’re sure to fall in love with this amazing destination. So go ahead, pack your bags. Your dog will dig you for it!