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Aug. 18, 2022, 11:25 a.m.

Blue Ridge Day Trip: North Carolina Arboretum


Explore the colorful gardens and wooded trails of the North Carolina Arboretum to see a snapshot of the diversity of botanical life that calls the Blue Ridge Mountains home.

This 434-acre public garden is nestled beside the Blue Ridge Parkway in the southwestern portion of Pisgah National Forest. For more than 30 years, the Arboretum has invited visitors to indulge their senses in the sights and sounds of this beautiful natural setting.

With 10 permanent garden exhibits, miles of trails and a rotating schedule of events and shows, the N.C. Arboretum is a wonderful destination for explorers of all ages and abilities.

person walking through summer garden at nc arboretum.jpg

What to see and do at the N.C. Arboretum

Open year-round, the North Carolina Arboretum shows off the flora of the Blue Ridge as it changes from season to season. Stop by the Baker Exhibit Center when you arrive to pick up a map and ask Arboretum staff about what to see during your visit.

Be sure to check out these top things to do during your visit to the N.C. Arboretum:

  • Garden Exhibits: The Arboretum features 65 acres of cultivated gardens that reflect the natural and cultural heritage of the Blue Ridge. The iconic (and selfie-ready!) Quilt Garden displays seasonal blooms in traditional quilt block shapes. The Stream Garden is planted with native species that thrive alongside mountain creeks. The Heritage Garden features plants with traditional medicinal and craft uses. And the National Native Azalea Repository houses 16 of the 17 known native species of azalea in the U.S.! All of the main garden areas are wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • Hiking & Biking Trails: More than 10 miles of trails surround the main garden area, with many trails connecting to neighboring recreation areas at Lake Powhatan, Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Natural Garden Trail offers a 0.75-mile, gently sloped tour of the Forest Meadow and surrounding woodlands, and a variety of trail types offers something for everyone. Many of the trails are also open to bicycles — check the trail map for details.
  • Rocky Cove Railroad: Kids of all ages will love this giant model train display that runs on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (April-October). Watch up to four G-scale trains as you learn about the arrival of the railroad in Western North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Bent Creek Bistro: This casual counter-service cafe is located in the Education Center and serves up a fresh selection of quiches, sandwiches, salads and snacks. Enjoy your meal indoors at the cafe or outside on the beautiful patio.
  • Summer ArborEvenings: Visitors are invited to sip and stroll through the Arboretum’s gardens while listening to live music on Thursday and Friday evenings throughout the summer. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase, and picnic dinners can be pre-ordered from the Bistro. Check the website for schedule and details.
  • Winter Lights: Nothing matches the magic of the N.C. Arboretum’s colorful after-dark lights display, open from mid-November through December 31st. See fantastical scenes created from twinkle lights as you stroll through the gardens with a cup of hot chocolate. Winter Lights requires reserved tickets — find more information on the website.

Double Zinnia at the NC Arboretum

Plan your visit to the N.C. Arboretum

The North Carolina Arboretum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., April-October, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., November-March. Closed on Christmas Day.

The gate closes one hour before the property closing time. Operating hours vary for the Baker Exhibit Center, gift shop and Bent Creek Bistro — check the website before your visit.

Admission to the N.C. Arboretum is charged as a per-vehicle parking fee and starts at $16 for a standard vehicle. Special events may require an additional ticket.

The Arboretum is about a 50-minute drive from downtown Marion. Take I-40 W to I-26 E, then take exit 33. Follow NC-191 S/Brevard Rd to Frederick Law Olmsted Way.