Asheville lies at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, the highest portion of the Appalachian Range. The town is an eastern equivalent of the many mountain resort towns that dot the American west, particularly in the Rocky Mountains. Originally settled in the 1850’s as a health resort, Asheville has an interesting history- in the late 1800’s and especially the 1920’s the area was a popular retreat for wealthy vacationers, including eight presidents and many well-known industrialists. Today the area has an active economy and serves both as a getaway from summer heat in the nearby lowlands and as a travel destination for many in east coast cities.
Although there is some manufacturing, led by GE lighting systems, the economy is largely supported by hospitality, education and health care. The area attracts educated young professionals, artisans and active retirees. The attractive downtown offers a mix of modern and Art-Deco buildings and an assortment of trendy restaurants and live-entertainment venues. There are several resorts and planned communities surrounding the city and especially to the north and west. The city has controlled urban sprawl better than many of its type. At most times of the year, except winter, tourists can make the area feel crowded. Because of its inland location and higher elevation, the area sees considerably more below-freezing weather than nearby regions. Overall, the area scores well in most categories with no major downsides.
The city of Asheville sprawls along both banks of the French Broad River, near the center of the French Broad Basin. Mountain ridges to the east and west flank the entire valley with peaks from 2,000 feet to 4,400 feet above the valley floor. At the Carolina–Tennessee border, 25 miles northwest, the relatively high Appalachian/Great Smoky Mountain ridge blocks the northern end of the valley. The Blue Ridge rises about 30 miles south. Mixed vegetation grows in the valley, with densely wooded foothills and mountains surrounding the city, particularly to the north and west. The invigorating climate offers considerable temperature variation from day to day in all seasons. Summers are warm and humid, but the elevation and nearby mountains cause some cooling, particularly in the evenings. The high mountains to the northwest block precipitation and cold fronts in the winter. Precipitation in Asheville, particularly northwest of the immediate city, is the lowest in North Carolina. Significant snowfall is uncommon. Heavy Gulf rains can cause flooding in the river valley. First freeze is late October, last is mid-April.