I can’t believe it, but another summer has come and gone here in Western North Carolina. From beautiful summer blooms to evening sunsets along the Blue Ridge Parkway to tubing down the French Broad River, there are so many things to enjoy over the season in this region. With our last summer vacation opportunity quickly approaching, you might still be searching for those final “must-do” events and activities. To help guide you, we have compiled a list of our top five favorite finds for this Labor Day Weekend – perfect for any family, nature-lover or simply someone looking to enjoy those final dog days of summer in WNC:

1.) Listen to Tunes

You can’t go far in Western North Carolina without hearing the sounds and influences of Appalachian music. As noted previously on our blog, regional traditions of old-time string band music, ballad singing and bluegrass date well into the 1700s. These genera and more can be heard at the Canton Labor Day festival, scheduled for September 4 – 5, in downtown Canton. In its 110th year, the two-day event is the longest running Labor Day festival in the South and features gospel, country and bluegrass performances, clogging, crafts and more.

Approximately 20 miles east of Canton, residents and visitors can also enjoy Southern Appalachian mountain culture and traditions at Asheville’s longtime summer bluegrass and dance festival, Shindig on the Green. Located in Pack Square Park in downtown, locals and visitors gather together around sundown and enjoy musicians and dancers from across Western North Carolina.

2.) Take a Hike!

home_hero_Biker_WomanHikersFall is starting to approach us in Western North Carolina, and so is the cool mountain air. Say goodbye to the summer heat by getting outside and exploring the region’s beauty with a nice day hike. There are many different trails to enjoy throughout Western North Carolina that vary in distance and difficulty. Hike with a group and learn from the experts during the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Hike of the Week on Friday, September 2, or explore the area yourself on a self-guided hike through the Arboretum’s 10 miles of interlocking trails located in the Bent Creek watershed of the Pisgah National Forest.

3.) Explore the Arts

Asheville and the Western North Carolina region are nationally (and internationally) known for their thriving arts community. From longstanding arts-and-crafts traditions to modern day marvels, there is something to see for everyone, no matter what medium or style. Get a glimpse of the Asheville art scene while strolling downtown at the Downtown Asheville Art District’s First Friday Gallery Walk on Friday, September 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. Visitors can explore more than 25 galleries, studios and museums all within a half a mile radius of Asheville’s Pack Square Park downtown.

JamesScottMorrison_webhero If you need a break from the city, head on over to The North Carolina Arboretum where you can enjoy three different art exhibits, ranging from watercolors to paper art to mixed media. On display inside the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center, The Magic of Western North Carolina features more than 80 watercolor paintings from artist James Scott Morrison of Hendersonville. Across the gardens in the Arboretum’s Education Center, Asheville-area artist Leo Monahan showcases his vibrant masterpieces in his exhibit Shadow & Color, on display until September 18. Using only paper, Monahan creates his pieces by intricately cutting, folding and texturizing paper of various weights and superimposing the pieces to create an artistic dimensional collage that cannot be depicted on a flat canvas. Down the hall, students from Aurora Studio & Gallery, an Asheville studio that provides support for self-discovery using visual arts for artists in recovery from behavioral health, addiction and homelessness, display their 2-D and 3-D artwork in their exhibit, Rays of Dawn: Growth through Nature. On display through September 18, the show highlights the exploration of the ways nature provides solace and healing. If you’re interested in other arts-related events in the area, please check out The Laurel of Asheville’s events calendar here.

 4.) “LEGO”” and Connect with Nature

LaborDay_NatureConnectsImagine more than 60,000 tiny toys miraculously constructed into a massive monarch butterfly. That is just one of 14 sculptures in The North Carolina Arboretum’s current outdoor exhibit, Nature Connects®, Art with LEGO® Bricks, on display through October 23. Built from more than 370,000 LEGO bricks, the larger-than-life sculptures are placed throughout the Arboretum’s and feature nature-inspired objects, including a giant praying mantis, bald eagle and hummingbird. Created by Sean Kenney, a nationally renowned, award-winning artist, and the first artist to be named a LEGO certified professional, Nature Connects uses sculptures built entirely from LEGO bricks to challenge visitors to think about nature, creativity, science and play in a new way.

Be sure to by the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center and pick up your very own Nature Connects exhibit map to help guide you throughout the Arboretum gardens and find your LEGO favorites.

5.) Did Someone Say Apples?

If you are living in or visiting the Western North Carolina region during the fall, the word “apple” will more than likely come up in conversation over the course of the season. To kick off the apple craze is the North Carolina Apple Festival, scheduled for September 2 – 5, 2016, in downtown Hendersonville. As one of the most important agricultural crops in Western North Carolina, the apple industry brings in roughly $22 million to Henderson County every year. Today, there are approximately 200 apple growers in Henderson County alone, and North Carolina is the 7th largest apple-producing state in the nation, with 65% of all apples grown right here in Hendersonville.

Did someone say apple fritters? The weekend-long event will offer fun, family-friendly activities, including a street fair, fresh food, live entertainment and children’s activities. For more information, please click here.

As we say goodbye to summer, let’s not forget all the fun things that occur in WNC over the Labor Day weekend. Did we miss anything? Comment below and share with us your favorite Labor Day activities.

Note: The North Carolina Arboretum will be open during normal hours on Monday, September 6, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information on Arboretum’s happenings during the Labor Day weekend, please click here.