Biltmore Estate -- Lagoon & Deer Park Loop (4-21-18)
In the year 1888 the wealthy young George Washington Vanderbilt arrived in Asheville, North Carolina seeking out a refuge for the pneumonia which had plagued him of late. Vanderbilt fell in love with town and the mountains which surrounded it and quickly determined to build a massive and opulent estate where he could live year-round. The following year work on what would become the famed Biltmore Estate began and Vanderbilt set about buying up incredible amounts of property to surround it. As his land holdings soon surpassed the 100,000-acre mark Vanderbilt hired the famous Frederick Law Olmstead (who created New York's Central Park) to turn the surrounding forest into a gigantic park. Over the intervening years the landscape surrounding the estate was transformed into a network of forests, farmland, and sprawling gardens all of which complemented the grandeur of Vanderbilts majestic home. With the death of Vanderbilt in 1914 care of the sprawling Estate fell to Vanderbilt's widow, Edith. The logistics and cost of running such a place were understandably overwhelming and Edith soon began to sell off large chunks of forest land surrounding the home, much of which was incorporated into the newly designated Pisgah National Forest. In 1930 the Biltmore Estate was opened to the public in an attempt to continue to offset costs even though the descendants of Vanderbilt continued to live there until the mid-1950's. Presently the Estate now covers around 8,000-acres, much of which continues to be the mix of woodlands, farmlands, and gardens which date back to Vanderbilt's time. It's an inviting place to spend an afternoon but there is a downside, the cost. Visiting the Biltmore Estate requires a fair sum of money just to enter, especially on a one-time basis. Personally, I had only previously visited the Estate on a couple of occasions and my tours largely centered around the properties main attractions...namely the House itself and the winery. I had, unfortunately, never had time to walk any of the 20+ miles of trail which crisscross the property. Luckily this will all change in 2018 as I've come into possession of an annual pass which makes visiting the Estate much more cost-effective for my family and I. This hike would therefore be my first excursion out on the network of trails within the Biltmore Estate. It's certainly not a wilderness area, as I usually prefer, but it had a charm and beauty of its own as I'm sure you'll see by browsing this gallery.
My start point would be at the Antler Hill Village, a collection of upscale shops located at the north end of the Estate a couple miles by car from the main house and gardens. Numerous paved paths branch out from the parking lot and farm are here and, from what I saw, there are no good markers denoting which trails are in which direction. I'd highly recommend picking up a trail map on your way at one of the visitor information stations on the way in to save yourself some confusion. My plan was to hike the network of trails around and between the Biltmore House, the nearby gardens and Bass Pond, and Antler Hill Village. I'd start out by following what is known as the Lagoon Trail, a paved path which leads 1.5-miles first along the main road then along the French Broad River to the artificial lagoon below the Biltmore House. It's a somewhat scenic path, though I'm manifestly annoyed by having to walk on pavement. Still, there are some nice views of the French Broad and the lagoon itself is quite a pretty body of water with Vanderbilt's huge mansion sitting atop the hill beyond it. From the south end of the lagoon the path continues along the river but is re-designated the Deer Park Trail. For the first half mile this path continues flat but soon turns away from the French Broad to climb the open hillsides fronting the Biltmore House. The climbing here is moderate and the views of the river, once a bit of elevation is gained, is pleasant. Once atop the ridge the trail begins to run alongside a long fence where a small gate is located. Through the gate is the Meadow Trail which leads down to Bass Pond and would serve as my return route a bit later on. Following the fenceline the Biltmore House dominates the view ahead and soon the trail ends beneath the mansions sprawling South Terrace.
After enjoying the views of the valley and the mountains beyond from atop the terrace I'd then be descending into the garden area of the Estate. First would come the famous walled garden which, on this early spring hike, was lit up with the colorful blooms of thousands of tulips. From the walled garden I'd continue downhill, following a somewhat confusing network of paths through the so-called "Spring Garden" first and then the "Azalea Garden" next. I was trying to head in the general direction of Bass Pond below the gardens and occasionally signs would help point me in the right direction through many intersections. I popped out of the Azalea Garden on the road leading down from the Biltmore House, crossed it, and found myself on the Woodland Path which connects the gardens with the pond less than a half-mile below. The Woodland Trail was the least scenic of the trails I hiked this day but it was by far the quietest and so I enjoyed my short time on it immensely as I wound my way through tall stands of hardwoods and pines. Before long I found myself at Bass Pond and began my stroll around its shoreline. I started along the road, then turned across a small bridge atop an artificial waterfall which drains the pond. I them walked along the west shore of the pond up to the old boat house at its north end. Bass Pond is beautiful, serene, and with a dash of spring color all the more enjoyable a place to spend some time.
After a quick lunch it was time to begin the long walk back. Retracing my steps a short ways I picked up the lower end of the Meadow Trail and turned up the steep hillside above the lake. Mostly open, there are some more nice views of the pond from this short trail as well as the Biltmore House sitting higher above. Crossing through the fence gate passed earlier I then made a left back onto the Deer Park Trail to retrace the steps I had taken earlier back towards Antler Village for the next 2.5-miles. Passing the lagoon again I made good time and before I knew it I reached the point where the Lagoon Trail takes a right away from the river (at a point about a mile from Antler Hill Village) and the Farm Trail continues straight ahead along the French Broad. Deciding that a new trail closer to the river sounded more interesting I thus continued straight ahead. Unfortunately the Farm Trail offered few, if any, good views of the river along the mile I hiked it. On the upside, though, the huge fields bordering the trail were alive with the golden blooms of the canola plant making my surroundings pleasant regardless. Nearing the horse fields I finally made my last turn right where a spur trail/drive took me the remaining quarter-mile past open horse fields back to trailhead.
Obviously, this isn't the type of hike I'm known for enjoying. The crowds, the lack of a mountaintop or waterfall, the overabundance of pavement...you'd think this would have been a day of misery for me. Surprisingly...it wasn't. Most likely it had to do with the fresh feeling of spring in the air this crisp morning...with the trees getting a hint of green and colorful blossoms all around, it was hard not to enjoy myself. That, and it was just good fun to explore the Biltmore Estate on foot for once...the best way I know to explore any place I visit. The house is as grand as always, the gardens as pristine, the views at times expansive. I don't know that I'll be quick to do a return hike here but I'm immensely satisfied with the visit I was able to have. So...without further adieu...I present to you my first ever hike through the famous Biltmore Estate. As always I hope you ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.554270, -82.584233
Route Type: Lollipop Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 8.0 miles Hike Duration: 3:00
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 1,980' Max. Elevation: 2,220'
Total Vertical Gain: 450' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 56'
Trails Used (blaze color): Azalea Garden (unblazed), Bass Pond Loop (unblazed), Deer Park (unblazed), Garden (unblazed), Lagoon (unblazed), Meadow (unblazed), Spring Garden (unblazed), Woodland (unblazed)