There is a stretch of road that changes its name from 240-E to US-74 (Alt E) as it crosses the I-40 junction and the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading south. Locally it is known as Charlotte Highway.
US-74 slows its pace just outside of Asheville, twisting and turning its way through Fairview, Hickory Nut Gap, Gerton, Bat Cave, and eventually into Chimney Rock Village.
My song for this entry is Marble City Shooters’ cover of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”
Not much can be said about Charlotte Highway in and of itself, but there are a few must-see stops along the way with a never-ending beautiful view of the mountains. Some places you could miss in the blink of an eye, but after your first pass you will be the King (or Queen) of this road.
We visited the Whistle Hop Brewing Company in Fairview. The brewery opened in January of 2015 and is only a few miles from Biltmore Village.
This freshly painted 1960s caboose sits up on the hill along the highway. When you reach the top of the hill, you will see that there is also a 40s era rustic box car framing the other side of a large patio.
Through partnerships with local farms and other entities, they offer some of the most interesting beers I have come across in one setting.
We sampled a few brews that the barmeister recommended based on our tastes. Everything we tried was wonderful though I loved the Coconut Curry India Black Ale, the Kölsch (of course I would), and the Orange Blossom Ginger Tripel best.
I especially appreciated that they offer something besides the usual summer IPAs. From what I can tell their selection changes frequently, so you never know what you will find.
There are a small number of tables inside the caboose and plentiful seating outside at tables with umbrellas and other covered areas, near food trucks that also vary from day to day.
We staked out upstairs in the caboose where two can climb the narrow steps and sit on either side. These nooks would be perfect for a date or some serious catching up.
Whistle Hop is a family-friendly and dog-friendly taproom with a playground, outdoor games and activities, corn hole, disc golf areas, and grills. The brewery also hosts live music and other events regularly.
Here is a drone video shared directly from their website:
Hickory Nut Gap Farm
Leaving Whistle Hop, another five minutes’ drive will lead you to the Hickory Nut Gap Farm. You may have noticed that all the restaurants and groceries in Asheville and surrounding areas have the hashtag #hng or mention that they proudly carry HNG products. This is where they come from.
Inside they have an old-school butchers counter, fresh cuts, and freezer aisle packages you can purchase.
They carry a large variety of farm fresh pickled salads, spices, mixes, and lots of locally made sodas, juices, beers, and more.
You can dine in on one of their delicious sandwiches or order to go.
Be sure to peruse the jewelry, accessories, body products, and gifts in the local artisan shop.
Outside, you can tour the grounds and check out a few installations like the event center, chicken coops and other animal pens, and the History Barn.
The History Barn is a mini-museum dedicated to the farm’s past, present, and future, as well as various products they make. Check out how they press apples, harvest produce, and collect eggs.
Back on the road, you will pass through Gerton and reach Bat Cave within 15-20 minutes, but Buckle Up!
This 8.5 mile stint is one continuous hairpin curve, sometimes as slow as 15 miles per hour. On nice days it could be fun but in the middle of a thunderstorm, as it was during our last voyage, it can be unnerving.
You’ll know the sign when you see it, and perhaps your inner goth will scream with delight as well.
Bat Cave is known for its fresh apple cider and is freckled with a few different stands year round. The Bat Cave Apple House has a permanent storefront and seems to dominate the area despite a total lack of online presence.
They offer apple and peach cider from multiple farms, fresh produce, jams, butters, jellies, and the unique Scuppernog cider I had not known of until visiting. It isn’t on the map, but you can find it a short distance from the Bat Cave post office.
If you only have five minutes to stop, make sure you spend them drinking fresh apple cider straight from the jug near the picnic area outside the Apple House.
You can rent a picnic table there for one dollar per hour and watch the river gush across the rocks while sipping, or just stand on the side of the highway in front of god and everybody drinking it with wild abandon.
This is an experience, friends, not a souvenir.
During one visit, we found some tables set up outside with an assortment of drawings ranging from Prince, crying babies, children ascending into heaven, various Pagan themes, prayers about domestic abuse, and random foods.
We knew, hoped even, that there had to be at least ONE weird thing in the town of Bat Cave. Surely it is not just all apple cider and bat souvenirs… but I am not sure how to explain this one.
The owner of the Apple House showed no knowledge of the drawings or their origins, and there was no one else around. We moved along with so many questions.
Old Cider Mill
The Old Cider Mill & Applesolutely Gifts is just a minute or so away. Here you can find the original mill outside, a gift shop, antiques, collectibles, souvenirs, jewelry, art, locally-made jams and other foods.
They really know how to market the bat decor and memorabilia here, and I adore it.
As you get closer to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, you will find Hip Hen Uniques and a few other antique shops.
Some day I dream of returning to purchase the life-size burned wood Big Foot cut-out at Hip Hen but until then I will enjoy my postcard.
Of course there are alternate ways to reach Chimney Rock and Lake Lure from Asheville, but you often miss all the fun and odd parts taking the direct route.
Regardless of how you got here, follow me to Chimney Rock.
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