There was a specific type of person who spent a lot of time during the very-early pandemic closures posting “nature is healing” content on social media—the most prominent one was about how the water in Venice canals ran clear for the first time in years and dolphins returned to frolic about the sleeping city. I can tell you I don’t like that specific type of person, who’d continue to post-sunset shots, acted like they discovered hiking, inevitably became a “plant parent,” and began posting pro-recycling memes patronizingly intimating we should respect nature more, despite having a pre-pandemic feed filled with landfill-clogging, Starbucks cup selfies. It was never the person whose pre-pandemic personality was hiking, ya know?
However, like these clowns, the pandemic did make me something of a sunset enthusiast. I’ve never disliked sunsets, but in the past, I’d never really sought them out (I’ve been an early riser since my teens and, thus, have always been more of a sunrise person). Now, it probably is equal parts the pandemic and equal parts where I live. Asheville is famous for its sunsets, and there are many highly-touted sunset-watching spots (we’ll get to those shortly), but for my money, my apartment complex has some of the best.
During the pandemic, with nothing else to do, the end of my parking lot (which has the best views) became a party. Every night, about an hour before sundown, people would start lining up with camping chairs, picnics, and many bottles of wine to watch nature’s finest show (I need to specify here that these are never words I’d choose to describe a sunset, but I’m trying to channel the “nature is healing” folks). It was always a lot of fun, particularly the week when my cousins escaped the much more shut-down Pennsylvania to stay with me for a week—every night after I worked, we’d order take out, get growlers or cans from a new brewery (I was freshly arrived to Asheville at this point), and commandeer the lone apartment-complex picnic table to eat, drink, and listen to the music while the sun set.
Since I live in an exclusive, gated complex, not everyone is free to come take in these views, so I feel compelled to bequeath my thoughts on Asheville’s other famous sunset-viewing locales for your benefit.
- Black Balsam Knob: This is hand’s down, my favorite place to watch the sunset. It’s an hour outside town up the parkway, but it’s well worth the drive. The views are gorgeous, 360°, and there are often crazy cloud formations rolling well, right through you.
- Craggy Pinnacle: Craggy Pinnacle is much closer to town (a 30-minute drive), and like Black Balsam, 360°, but honestly not my favorite spot. The actual pinnacle is small, especially compared to Black Balsam, which means on a crowded day, you’re smashed together in this tiny pulpit with a bunch of other sunset viewers, and typically at least one engagement photo session (Black Balsam has many photo sessions, and I’ve witnessed several marriages, but they aren’t on top of you).
- Bearwallow Mountain: Bearwallow is an underrated gem and my favorite easy Asheville hike. This is the best spot in my book for a sunset picnic dinner.
- Grove Park Inn: The Grove Park Inn is inevitably where you’ll be told has the best sunsets. I’ve only been once, but honestly? I like my apartment complex’s view a bit more (plus, it’s cheaper). However, if you want overpriced food and cocktails, the possibility of live music, and an influx of influencer-type behavior, go at it!
- The River Arts District: So, you can’t properly see the sunset from the bowels of the River Arts District, but there’s something about how this old industrial area is lit just before the sun goes down that tickles my fancy. I love being at The Wedge (original, not the Foundation) when the sun goes down.
- Roan Mountain: Roan Mountain is an hour and a half from Asheville, and I’ve never actually been there for sunset, but the sunrise is glorious, and just writing this post, I’m reminded to put this on my sooner-than-later bucket list.
I spent many summer nights out watching the sunset from the parking lot, even after the pandemic closures ended, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t do it as much anymore. Part of the reason is that I have friends in Asheville now, so often find myself out and about on Friday and Saturdays (I also do a lot of Friday night Black Balsam sunset hikes). Part of the reason is that a resident of one of the apartments right next to where I like to watch the sunset (the lone picnic table) will regularly come out and try to sell me on his MLM.
I went out a few weeks back to watch a Friday sunset for the first time in a while and was struck by the fact that I was the only one there. When I’m telling you it used to be like 30-40 people and a full row of cars, I’m not exaggerating. Maybe, I thought it was some sort of anomaly, but no. I’ve since gone four or five more times and routinely been the only one there (MLM guy must be on an extended vacay). I guess those pandemic nature enthusiasts were just bandwagon jumpers after all.
Editor’s note: During “research” for this article, I found this National Geographic article about how the “Nature is healing” memes going around were all fake—the Venetian canals never ran clean, and the widely circulated photo of dolphins swimming through them were taken in Sardinia. I can’t properly telegraph how much joy this brings me.