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How to Choose a Van for Van Life

Ready for a new adventure? One that involves travel? And possibility living out of your van? We’ve spent many, many hours discussing, processing, debating and learning about how and what kind of van we should get for van life. In this post we discuss some of the questions we’ve wrestled with ourselves. Answering them should help you narrow the decision making process and get a van that suits your needs: How to Choose a Van for Van Life. Already picked a vehicle? Head on over to our thoughts on outfitting the inside of your home on wheels.

What’s the best van for van life?

Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville.jpg
Who doesn’t love the look of this van?!

Is it a vintage VW? A mini van? A cargo van from the 90’s? The long and short answer is that the best van for you might be the worst van for someone else. (We’re making the assumption that you’ve decided to actually live in a van and have already ruled out school buses, RV’s, truck campers, etc.) Vehicle choice is a personal decision and one that is going to take a good bit of time to figure out. For starters, though, we’ve found that the following questions are good jumping off points for figuring how to choose the best van for van life.

How much money do you want to spend?

The answer to this question is one of the most important when it comes to figuring out how to choose a van for van life. Your budget is definitely going to impact your options. You might be lusting after a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter van with clearance, a hitch, a bamboo ceiling and all kinds of internal wiring as well as solar BUT if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Figure out how much money you have (or want to spend) on a van and go from there. There are so many options these days that figuring out your budget is going to be one of the first steps in narrowing your options.

In addition, a new van is likely going to be more expensive than a used van. That said, if you have the experience necessary to fix up a used van, you might be able to save a lot of money by buying a vehicle someone else has given up on. We’ve had two vintage vehicles but we will never go down that route again. Lesson learned! We dumped way too much money into them and ended up abandoning both.

Also, when it comes to money, think about gas mileage. Our Dodge Ram Promaster City gets pretty good gas mileage. It averages about 24 miles per gallon. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of driving, this might be a question to really ask yourself when trying to decide which van to choose for van life.

Starting prices for our top three van life vehicles are below.

Will you be living in the van full-time?

This is another one of the critical questions to ask when deciding which is the best van for van life. Part-time adventures mean you can have a rig that maybe isn’t the perfect fit  but it’s close enough because you can problem-solve relatively easily. For example: the van is missing a shower but you’ll mostly be staying at campgrounds so it’s not a big deal. Or, it’s lacking electrical wiring but you’ll only be using it on weekends so you can bring most of your gear fully charged.

How many people and pets will be traveling?

Space needs will be different based on how many people and pets you plan to travel with. The fewer the people and paws, the less space you will need. Space needs include seats, seatbelts, sleeping spaces, food storage spaces, gear storage spaces, etc … all of which expand as you add more bodies to the trip. We traveled with a dog for a while in our 1976 Toyota Chinook but it was tight. For the last year it’s just been the two of us. We’ve managed to cut down on how much space we’ll need by decluttering (more on that HERE) and making sure that almost everything in the van has at least two purposes.

Do you need to stand up?

What's the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
We drove across the country and back in this van and are thankful for good gas mileage!

At first I wrote, ‘Do you want to stand up’ but then I realized, almost everyone is going to want that. It’s one of the main reasons we have outgrown our van (pictured above.) Most of the time being able to stand up isn’t an issue but it really gets the best of us when the weather is bad and we’re cooking and making coffee outside. But purchasing a high roof van is going to impact how much it costs. There are different options for van height but, basically, the taller you go, the more it’s going to cost. That goes for both the cost of the van as well as gas mileage. That said, if you’re only going to be weekending or taking short trips in your van, you might not need the extra height.

Do looks matter?

What the van looks like really comes down to personal preference. For the longest time I really wanted to get a VW van. I just love the way they look. But when it came time to choosing a van, the practical side of things took over. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice reliability for something that looked really great on Instagram. Maybe you are? (Especially if you’re handy with tools and love a good project. In all honestly, I’ll probably always love the way a VW looks but will never own one because I’m too afraid of the costs.) One look at Pinterest will show you that the sky is the limit when it comes to van life aesthetics. That said, often the most affordable rigs are really, really ugly. (A quick scan on Craigslist is bound to turn up all kinds of examples.)

What are your van life needs?

How to Choose the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
Making coffee in the rain is one of the drawbacks to a smaller van.

Some van lifers can get by with fewer amenities than others. We have traveled for over a year without a bathroom or running water. There are lots of different hacks to staying clean on the road but if you can get away without a bathroom, you’re going to save yourself money and valuable space.

Another question to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll want a sink, or electricity, running water, a bed that you don’t have to break down or not. The answers to each of these questions is going to impact the amount of space you’ll need and therefore the size of your vehicle.

Conversion kit or DIY van life build?

Another super important question to consider when trying to narrow down which van to choose is whether or not you’ll be using a conversion kit or doing the build yourself. A conversion kit will take a lot less time to install (this means getting on the road faster) but it can potentially cost more money than doing it yourself. A DIY build, however, requires having the skills to do the work or learning them. In addition, building your own van out requires time, tools and the space to do it.

There’s plenty of options when it comes to custom builds but if you’re trying to keep costs low, you can pretty much cross this option off your list. The minute you go custom, the costs start skyrocketing. We’ll post more about the interiors of different vans and their options. For now, we’re going to just stick on the vehicle itself.

Gas or diesel?

Ah, the debates for this one seem to go round and round. Especially on reddit. Personally, we’re big proponents of gas engines. The main reason for us isn’t actually fuel economy or torque (we’re not going to be towing anything) but it’s that we don’t want to have to stress about being able to find a diesel mechanic if we break down.

So, what’s the best van for van life?

Since you made it this far you probably guessed we were going to say “it depends” when it comes to choosing the best van for van life. It’s really all about your needs as van lifers (or weekend users) which are different from one person to the next. But we’ve narrowed our top picks to three:

Dodge Ram Promaster City

This is what we’ve been traveling in for about a year. You can read a ton more about it by checking out our Van Life page. It’s got a Wayfarer Plug-N-Player Camp Conversion Kit in it. It’s great for people who are on the smaller side (especially if there are two of you traveling). It is also great if you are wanting a daily driver (meaning that your van will double as your regular vehicle) and want to still get fairly good gas mileage. It’s also the most affordable option of all the ones listed below. It’s starting price new back in 2018 was $23,995. These days you can get a used one for much less. Full disclosure: We’ve had some issues with our van. We finally decided to write about it. You can learn more here on our post Problems with the Ram Promaster City.

Dodge Ram Promaster 1500 with a high roof

This is the bigger sibling to the Dodge Ram Promaster City. You can stand up in this van and spread out a bit more (it’s got a super boxy shape to it.) If you’re wondering why we like this one over the Ford Transit, it’s mostly because the base models come with more things than the base models of the Transits. In addition, we like the look of it a tad more than the Ford, it has a few more inches of roof height and we can get a Wayfarer kit for this van. It’s starting price new is $32,695. Again, this is for a high roof. The standard sized roof Promaster starts at $29,295.

Mercedes Sprinter Van

We never really considered buying a new Mercedes Sprinter van because it’s a big jump up in price from the Dodge. Not only does the cost go up for the vehicle itself, but it also prices the conversion kits and van life builds in a much higher group. Rising costs = rising panic. That said, if you can find a used one that hasn’t been in an accident and has low mileage, you might have found a winner. We think it’s a great vehicle and it makes the list because, even though it’s out of our budget, it’s still a great vehicle. New Mercedes Sprinters start at around $36,495.

All of the above vehicles we mentioned above are at the 2018 models.

Additional Camper Van Resources

How to Choose a Van for Van Life Recap

There’s obviously lots to think about when it comes to figuring out which is the best van for van life. Hopefully the information above helps you in choosing a vehicle that fits your needs. If you’ve already picked a great van for van life, hop on over to our next post in this series about Custom Builds, DIY Van Conversion and Conversion Kits.

Still not sure which van to choose? It’s helpful to try them out. Luckily there are numerous companies out there that rent vans so you can test them out for a weekend or a week-long adventure (even more) to see which ones suit you best. Learn more on our post about the 7 Best Camper Van Rental Companies.

In addition, be sure to check out the full list of van life posts HERE.

Authentic Asheville is a team of two. We are freelance Squarespace web designers, photographers, writers and content creators.

Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures

One of the most incredible adventures we’ve ever had was a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon is one of the most picturesque national parks in the country and perhaps one of the most awe-inducing places in the world. The sheer magnitude of the space can make you feel small in the best of ways. It’s also a sacred place for many of the Native American tribes in the area. 

While one of the most beautiful spots to take a photograph is from the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon, there is also so much more to explore down in the canyon itself. And for that, we’ve got just the guiding service for you: Wilderness River Adventures. They offer several different trips including a 5 and a half day Oar-Powered Rafting Trip but we experienced their 3 and a half-day Upper Grand Canyon Rafting Trip on a motorized raft and it was phenomenal.

Our adventure started with orientation at Lake Powell Resort in Page, Arizona. We arrived in mid-afternoon, checked into our room and prior to orientation, grabbed a bite to eat at the Driftwood Lounge. (We opted for the fried chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries and the caesar salad with grilled steak, both of which were delicious.) At orientation, which lasts about 45 minutes, we met a few of the staff members who helped us get acquainted with the gear we’d be using on the trip: dry bags, ammo cans, etc. The staff did a great job explaining everything and also stuck around afterwards in case there were any questions. After that, we headed back to our room, packed our gear, and set our alarms for an early wake-up. Note: Page, Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time.

What to Expect on Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Day 1:

Your trip will depart from Page, Arizona at Wilderness River Adventures’ site. Many guests, including us, opted to leave their vehicle in their fenced-in parking lot. From there, you’ll board a bus and take a scenic route to Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area! It’s about an hour-long ride and the sights along the way are just breathtaking so keep your camera handy. 

Once you arrive at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, you’ll load up all of your gear on the raft, get fitted with a life jacket, and learn about some of the safety procedures for adventuring on the Colorado River. After that, you’ll hop on board and begin your journey! Caroline I started out in “The Bathtub” which are the two seats in the very front of the raft. You’ll get wet sitting up there but you’ve got the best view on board. Plus, having the water splash you in your face is part of what you’re there for! If you’ve got a waterproof camera or housing, this is one of the best seats in the house.

You’ll raft for about 2 hours and then your boatman will find a cool spot for lunch. After that, you’ll board again and continue rafting until you reach that evening’s campsite. Be sure to cover up as the sun is super strong!

Wilderness River Adventures' blue raft is anchored in a calm spot along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Two red umbrellas are up and the boatman is under one of them for shade.
Our first stop on the Colorado River with Wilderness River Adventures. This is where we had lunch on the first day.

Once you make it to your first campsite, everyone works together to off-load the rafts and set up the kitchen. You’ll get a quick demo on how to set up your cot and then you’ll find a nice spot to make your camp. You then get to hang out in one of the most beautiful spots ever until appetizers are ready and dinner is served. If you’ve brought beer or wine, you can chill it in the river in a couple of the bags the guides have brought and it’ll be cold in less than 10 minutes. We had a lot of fun circling up our chairs at dinner and getting to know some of the other people on the trip. The days on the river really revolve around the rising and setting of the sun so once it becomes dusk, grab your headlamp, and make sure you can access it in the middle of the night.

Day 2:

Trade off with the people on your raft so that everyone can have a chance to sit in different parts of the boat. On Day 2 we sat in what’s known as “The Shower”. We faced some bigger rapids on Day 2 and again had lunch along the river at a nice beach that offered some shade. We made camp in the early afternoon and after relaxing for a bit, we took a hike up to an old grainery. The hike was only about a mile round trip but it’s a fairly steep and rocky incline. Two of the staff hike with you so finding the way is easy enough but be sure to wear sturdy shoes with closed toes as it’s a rocky trail with some cacti along the way. You’ll also want to pack your camera for this hike as the view from the trail is breathtaking.

Dinner that night was followed up by an impromptu music session with one of our guides, Nick, who brought out his banjo-lele (a musical instrument that’s a cross between a banjo and a ukelele). He played a few songs and then got us to join him. We laughed until it got dark and then we fell asleep under the stars, exhausted from a really fun day on the water.

About 20 people are circled up on the sand in red chairs. The blue rafts are anchored nearby in the water. The Grand Canyon walls are pink and red in the background and the time of day is early evening.
One of the best parts of the trip was making new friends with the other passengers and hanging out with them for 3 1/2 days.

Day 3:

We went back into “The Bathtub” in the morning and faced some of the bigger rapids we’d seen yet! Part of the way through the day we swapped out with some of the other passengers and then we finally made it into “The Chicken Coop” which is the driest seat in the house. After a short bit of rafting, we beached the raft and did a short hike along the Little Colorado River. The water in the Little Colorado is the most stunning blue. The best part is, you can also get in it and float down a little chute of water for about 100 yards. This was one of our favorite things on the trip. 

After hanging out along the Little Colorado, we got back on the rafts and then made our way through some of the biggest rapids we’d encountered yet. It went too fast and before we knew it we were setting up our final camp. That night after an incredible dinner we received another orientation of how to pack our backpacks for the hike out and also give the guides their gear back. I was sad that it was coming to an end but eager to get the hike underway. Still, I slept like a baby and when I felt first light coming, I was pumped and ready to tackle the day. 

Five blue cots are set up in the sand along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Life jackets hang from the trees and dry bags and ammo cans are strewn about camp.
This is what your camp along the Colorado River will look like! A cot, dry bags, and an ammo can are provided for your belongings.

Day 4:

Technically the trip is 3 and a half days but the time it takes to hike out of the canyon will vary. The staff had coffee going before the sun came up and we had breakfast in our bellies and a sandwich in our backpacks shortly thereafter and then we were back on the boat for one last short trip down the river. We said our goodbyes to everyone, tipped our lead guide, Nate, and then put our packs on our backs and started the trek up and out of the Grand Canyon.

The hike itself was tough but not impossible. We tried to stay in the shade and made sure to consistently eat and drink, sometimes even when we didn’t want to. We made it to Indian Garden, the midway point with water and a bathroom, in about 2 hours. I think we were both kind of surprised that we got to Indian Garden so quickly but we took our time from there on out, trying to remind ourselves that it’s not a race. We stopped to take photos, eat snacks, drink water, and rest in the shade. (Overall it took us about 6 hours to hike to the rim.) My legs were exhausted but the sense of accomplishment I felt was huge! 

To learn more about rafting on the Grand Canyon as well as other expeditions that take place out of Lake Powell Resort, click here. Oh and if the hike up sounds like it might be too much for you, you can also look into the guided rafting trip that begins with a hike down into the Grand Canyon. This trip picks up where ours left off, at Phantom Ranch. In fact, as we were hiking up along the Bright Angel trail we ran into one of the Wilderness River Adventures guides and some of the other passengers on the next trip.

FAQ

How Do I Go to the Bathroom While Rafting in the Grand Canyon?

This was one of the main questions we had about rafting in the Grand Canyon…how do we use the bathroom? It’s actually pretty simple and your guides will explain it for you. During the day, you’ll pee right in the Colorado River. Everyone does it so it’s not embarrassing. You can walk down the beach a bit if you’re feeling modest, but after about a day or so people feel a bit more relaxed and the walks to get away from other people’s eyes get shorter. Once the boats have made it to camp for the evening the staff will set up the toilets. There were two on our trip and they were set behind a bush or behind rocks to afford privacy. You sit on them just like you would a regular toilet except you don’t flush. It’s that easy. There’s also a handwashing station a short walk from the toilet. If wondering how to use the bathroom while rafting is a worry, hopefully this will ease your mind.

Has Anyone Ever Fallen Off the Raft?

a raft coming through a rapid in the Grand Canyon. People in rain gear are blurred out in the foreground.
Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures is safe and fun but be prepared to get wet!

The long and short of it is, it’s been a really long time. Years. None of the guides could recall an instance. Like with any outdoor activity there’s going to be some risk but the trip felt super safe. For starters, you’re fitted with a life jacket and the staff will make sure it fits properly before you even get on the raft. You’ll also get a boat orientation so that you understand where to sit, where not to sit, what to do, where to hold, etc. We felt safe even in the biggest rapids. Plus once you’re out on the water, the boatman will give you a heads up as you are approaching rapids. There are numerous places to hold on while on the river. And, most importantly, your guides are highly skilled and experienced.

What Kind of Food Is Prepared on the Trip?

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided on the river and the meals are outstanding. If you’re worried about eating well on the river, you don’t need to you! Your guides will do all of the cooking and they will make sure you are fed and fed well.

The morning you depart Lake Powell Resort and head for the boats, though, you are on your own. We grabbed coffee and a breakfast from Wind, the coffee shop located in the lobby of the Lake Powell Resort at Wahweap Marina. 

While on the river we ate some of the most delicious food. Here’s an idea of what we ate. Trip meals will vary based on what’s available but we know that the team at River Wilderness Adventures orders it as fresh as they can get it to make sure that you have tasty meals on your trip.

Day 1

Lunch:
Sandwiches with turkey, or ham, cheddar or Swiss cheese, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, chips, and cookies.

Dinner:
Spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips, salad, Prime rib cooked in a Dutch oven with garlic and onions, griddled asparagus, mashed potatoes, horseradish sour cream, plain and berry cheesecake

Day 2

Breakfast:
Homemade biscuits, link sausage, gravy, eggs cooked to order, cantaloupe, grapefruit, coffee, instant oatmeal

Lunch:
Chicken tossed in caesar dressing, salad with red onion, green and black olives, tomatoes, sweet peppers, tortillas for wrapping it all up, chips, cookies

Dinner:

Salad, catfish tacos with black beans, hominy, queso fresco, cabbage, baja sauce, chocolate cake with chocolate icing

Day 3

Breakfast:
Smoked sausage, fresh griddled pancakes, cantaloupe, grapefruit, coffee, instant oatmeal

Lunch:
Sandwiches with salad (same as lunch the day before) and chicken, or peanut butter and jelly, chips, cookies

Dinner:
Smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, purple onion, crackers
Pesto pasta with chicken, salad, garlic toast
Assorted candy

Breakfast 3
Griddled bagels, cream cheese, butter, jelly, peanut butter, cantaloupe, grapefruit, instant oatmeal, coffee

Lunch 3:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, apples, oranges

All of the meals are buffet style and while you can take a generous portion on the first go-round there is always the option to go back for a second helping, the staff carries snacks and water on board the rafts that you can access even when you are underway on the river. These include things like granola bars, apples, oranges. The staff will even accommodate people with allergies and special diets. Just be sure to let them know ahead of time on your pre-trip forms. We can’t say enough about the food, it exceeded our expectations. The prime rib was literally one of the best we’ve ever had. We also really appreciated the number of fresh vegetables that were served.

Do You Need Any Prior Rafting Experience?

No. Your guides will give you all the training you need. No prior rafting experience is necessary on this particular trip with Wilderness River Adventures.

Do You Have to Row?

No. The rafts on the 3 and a half day rafting trip with Wilderness River Adventures are equipped with a motorized raft. All you have to do is hold on and enjoy the ride!

Top Tips From Our Guides for Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Keep your water shoes on at all times!

The guides stressed this and repeated this numerous times to us. One of the main reasons is because there are numerous rocks and sticks to snag your foot on or gash your soles on. This can be an issue since you not only have to hike out of the Grand Canyon on your last day of rafting but also because there isn’t a hospital down on the river. Your guides have first aid training but rather than making them put their training to use, prevent injuries to your foot by keeping your water shoes on. Chaco’s, Merrells, and Astral’s should all do the job. Just make sure they have a hard sole to them. You do not want the water shoes that are soft like a sock.

Pack as minimally as you can because you’ll have to pack it out!

Though you’re going to want and need certain gear items, do your best to pack as minimally as possible. Why? Because whatever you bring into the Grand Canyon, you’re going to have to hike out. And everything adds up. We started culling our gear about a week before the trip and even the night before we cut a few extra items (i.e. toenail clippers, a phone charging cord, a journal, etc.)

Train for the hike.

In heat, up a hill, carrying a pack. Post-rafting, your next adventure is a hike up the Bright Angel Trail. You will hike roughly 9.5 miles. The hike begins after you get off the raft at Phantom Ranch. From there, you’ll then make your way across the Black Suspension Bridge and then follow the Bright Angel Trail up, up, and up until you reach the rim. The guides advise carrying two water bottles, 1 quart each, with you as there are water stations but they are spread out along the trail. As mentioned before, you’ll need to pack out what you packed in, so with that in mind, you will definitely want to train for this hike. We recommend getting your backpack ahead of time, filling it with the gear you plan on bringing on the trip, and then hiking with it. Try to recreate the conditions you will experience hiking the Bright Angel Trail by hiking uphill and in the heat, with filled-up water bottles (they will add to the weight of your load!) That way, when the day arrives, you’re excited about the adventure rather than filled with dread. Also, your body will be conditioned and you run less of a risk of injuring yourself or succumbing to a heat-related illness.

Packing List of Items You Need to Bring For Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Rain gear 
Sunglasses
Sunglasses strap
Pillow (optional) – we slept on a rolled up puffy coat
Water shoes or sandals
Hiking boots
Hiking socks
Trekking poles
Backpack
Camera (waterproof housing or waterproof phone case)
2 large carabiners
2 water bottles (1 quart per bottle) with lids that can be clipped to a carabiner
Hat (trucker hat or hat with a string that keeps it attached to your head)
Sunscreen
Chapstick
Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, ibuprofen, etc.)
Quick-drying shorts (2 pairs)
Quick-drying shirts (2)
Long-sleeve shirt
Bathing Suit
A puffy coat for cooler nights (you may way to bring additional layers if you are traveling in the shoulder season
Headlamp

Favorite snacks 
Any medications
Cash – don’t forget to tip your guides 10-12%

Gear That is Provided For You

Sleeping Bag
Sheet
Tarp
Coffee mug
Cot
Camp Chair
3 Various Sized Dry Bags 
1 Waterproof Ammo Can
Life Jacket

Things we didn’t bring that you might want to:

A quick-drying towel
Small first aid kit
Fishing gear
Koozies

Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures Recap

Wilderness River Adventures' blue raft runs the rapids in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon on a sunny day.
Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures is the trip of a lifetime. And if may just make you want to come back the following year.

Rafting on the Grand Canyon was one of THE best adventures we’ve ever been on. Though I’d never been on a several day rafting trip before and I was a little nervous about it, it ended up being one of the coolest experiences of my life. Though the hike out was challenging, it’s doable. And we would do it again in a heartbeat because the time we spent on the river was that amazing. We can’t say enough about how tasty the food was and how awesome the guides were. If you are looking for a unique adventure that’s thrilling, fun, and a little challenging, this is it. 

For more information, please check out Wilderness River Adventure’s website.

Like, share, or save for later and leave a comment below if you’ve been on this trip. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Best Places to Hammock in Asheville, North Carolina

There are so many fun things to do in and around western North Carolina. The region has miles of scenic trails, more breweries than we can count, and endless options for sunrise and sunset views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ve also got some really sweet places to hang a hammock. But not just any old hammock. We love the ones made by ENO (that’s short for Eagles Nest Outfitters) who are based right here in Asheville! ENO is a 1% for the Planet member and their hammocks not only look cool but they’re easy to set up (read: no knot-tying required). They’re also super-durable and ready for whatever you throw at ‘em. Keep reading to see our favorite and best places to hang a hammock in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s one of THE best ways to spend an afternoon or even a whole day.

Black Balsam Knob

Erin McGrady sits in a bright orange ENO hammock and looks out towards the mountains. A rock is blurred out in the foreground.
This spot near Black Balsam Knob is one of our favorite places to hang a hammock near Asheville, NC.

When people ask where we recommend going for a hike near Asheville we recommend Black Balsam Knob. It’s one of our favorite spots to adventure near Asheville not only because of the amazing views but also because getting there means you’ll travel along the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. Plus, post-hike you can hang a hammock and let your tired legs relax in what is one of the most peaceful and gorgeous hammocking spots in all of western North Carolina.

But first, the hike. We’re going to make you work for your first hammocking spot! Park along Black Balsam Road (the turnoff is located near Mile Marker 420) in one of the spots along the east side of the road. These spots are free but limited so get there early, especially on the weekends. Once you park, look for the trail. It’s on the same side of the road as the parking spots. There’s a small wooden trail marker about a foot high that points the way. (Take the Art Loeb Trail which points to the left but make note of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) which points right because you’ll take that one to get to your post-hike hammocking spot.)

The hike itself isn’t too far. It’s only about 3/4 of a mile to the summit. (That’s about 1.5 miles roundtrip.) Be sure to bring a camera so you can snap a few photos while you’re up there! Once you’ve had your fill of the views, you can either continue along the Art Loeb Trail, linking up with Tennent Mountain to the north or retrace your steps and head back to relax in your ENO hammock. Consider bringing a map and compass as cell service is limited up there.

Either way, once you decided to head back and hammock, look for the small, wooden trail marker you saw on the way in. Rather than going back to your vehicle, follow the MST trail and after a short, five-minute walk you’ll come to a small wooden bridge. At this bridge, walk down the hill about 25 feet. You’ll see a bunch of healthy trees on the edge of a clearing. There are several to choose from so just pick two and relax at one of our favorite spots to hammock near Asheville.

(Note: if you’re going up to Black Balsam Knob during winter, be sure to check online for road closures. And bring plenty of snacks and water, too. You’re going to want to be here a while. It’s also a great idea to bring a layer as the weather is constantly changing up there. And due to the elevation, you can bet it’ll be cooler up there than it is in town.)

The ENO Gear: Sub6™ Hammock with the Helios™ Hammock Straps

Our go-to hammock for this adventure is ENO’s Sub6™ Hammock. We chose this hammock because it’s super lightweight. It only weighs 5.8 ounces! This is ENO’s lightest hammock and it also happens to be compact, breathable, and durable which makes it perfect for any hiking adventure big or small.

If you’re truly trying to cut down on the weight in your pack, opt for the Helios™ Hammock Straps which also happens to be ENO’s lightest suspension system. It’s easy to set up and adjust and like the hammock, it’s super compact.

Bent Creek Experimental Forest

Two women hammocking in a green ENO hammock in Bent Creek. The hammock is strung between two trees. A small creek flows in the background. One of the women is barefoot.
Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady, relaxing in ENO’s Leave No Trace hammock in Bent Creek.

One of the coolest things about living in Asheville is how quickly we can access nature. For example, from downtown Asheville, it’s only about 11 miles to Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Most locals just refer to this spot as ‘Bent Creek’ and it’s our go-to spot for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, walking, and of course, hammocking. Though the parking lots can fill up early on the weekends, there are nearly 6,000 acres in Bent Creek for you to enjoy which means there’s plenty of space for you to get out and enjoy some peace and quiet.

All that being said, if we had to pick one place in Bent Creek to hang a hammock it’d have to be Lake Powhatan. For one, you can go swimming there. There’s a lifeguard on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day from roughly 8 am to sunset. There’s also a bunch of picnic tables and grills nearby, a sweet little stream, and of course, numerous healthy trees for hanging a hammock safely. Plus, there’s a campground nearby! If you’ve ever wanted to try hammock camping … now’s your chance.

Note: (Walking or biking into Lake Powhatan is free. If you are driving in and parking there is a $5 fee per person.) If you’re planning on camping, be sure to make reservations online ahead of time.

The ENO Gear: Giving Back Hammock with the Atlas™ Hammock Straps

We opt for ENO’s Giving Back Hammock when we go to Bent Creek because both of us can fit in it. It’s a great way for us to relax and spend time in nature, together. Plus, we love that ENO donates a portion of the proceeds from each Giving Back Hammock to the organization associated with the hammock. (Our hammock in the photo here is the Leave No Trace Hammock). ENO has four others to choose from in this category: Pacific Coast Trail Association, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the National Park Foundation. ENO fans will recognize the Giving Back Hammock as ENO’s DoubleNest® Hammock which can hold two people and up to 400 pounds.

As for the hammock straps , you’ll want to make sure to pair your Giving Back Hammock with ENO’s Atlas™ Hammock Straps. This tree-friendly piece of gear is easy to set up and take down and has 30 attachment points so that you can fine-tune your hammock for maximum comfort and relaxation.

Highland Brewing Company

Erin McGrady is laying in a blue hammock toasting Caroline Whatley with a beer. Highland Brewing Company's shipping containers are in the background.
One of our favorite places to hang a hammock? Highland Brewing Company’s Meadow!

If there’s one thing we’re proud about in Asheville, it’s beer. There are numerous breweries to choose from but we’re BIG fans of Highland Brewing Company. For one, it’s female-led. It’s also the first brewery in Asheville. They’ve been making excellent beers since 1994. Our go-to brew is their Daycation IPA. And while you can get Highland beers at several places around town, we recommend checking out their brewery because it’s not only a great place to get a beer but they’re also one of our favorite and best places to hang a hammock in Asheville. Access to tasty beer is just a short walk away from your hammock and so is the bathroom. And volleyball courts. And picnic tables. Trails, too. There’s usually a food truck on-site as well. (Check Highland Brewing Company’s Facebook page for their weekly food truck schedule and hammock with something tasty in your tummy.) 

This is the place to visit if you want to not only chill in your favorite ENO hammock but you also want to be social. Picture this: a sunny day, music in the background, you with a cold beverage in your hand, lounging around in your favorite hammock in Highland’s Meadow. It’s pretty hard to beat. Maybe we’ll see ya there?!

Note: be sure to check the Highland Brewing Company’s website for the most recent and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19.

The ENO Gear: SkyLoft™ Hammock with the Atlas™ Hammock Straps 

You can take your comfort at Highland Brewing Company to the next level with ENO’s SkyLoft™ Hammock. Its unique design has two modes: Relax and Sleep. The best part is, toggling between the two of them is super easy. The setup is simple, too. If you’re looking for maximum comfort (there’s a stuff sack that can double as a pillow) without a ton of hassle, this is your go-to hammock. It also happens to be our top hammock choice for lounging around at Highland because it’s made with breathable material and two stretchy nylon pockets so you can keep track of your phone, keys and wallet. Plus, the SkyLoft™ Hammock makes use of a portable spreader bar on each end that allows for more of an open vista which is GREAT for people watching or kicking back with a beer. 

As for the hammock straps, you’re going to want to use the Atlas™ Hammock Straps for all of the same reasons mentioned above. However, one added bonus feature is that these hammock straps have reflective stitching on them. We love this feature because it means you can keep hammocking after the sun goes down without worrying that someone will walk into your hammock or straps.

Best Places to Hammock in Asheville Recap

Caroline Whatley hammocking near Asheville, NC in a bright orange ENO hammock near Black Balsam Knob. She is laying down and looking up with her arms behind her head.
There are so many awesome places to hang a hammock in Asheville, NC. Where is your favorite spot? Let us know in the comments below!

How many of our top spots to hang a hammock in Asheville have you been to? Do you have other favorites in the western North Carolina area? If so, we’d love to hear about them!

Bonus: Have you recently Googled ‘where to hang a hammock near me?’ When we’re traveling, we do that, too! It’s one of our favorite activities to do and when we’re in a new spot we like to see what the locals suggest. If you’re going to be in the sunshine state, be sure to check out Patrick Connelly’s blog post on Where to Hang a hammock in Central Florida. If you’re headed north, Erica Garfinkle’s post on Where to Hang a Hammock in New Jersey has some great suggestions.

This post was produced in partnership with ENO (Eagles Nest Outfitters, Inc.) Visit them online or give ’em a follow on Instagram to learn more about individual products, check out some of their other gear items, or read additional blog stories!