The drive into Asheville somehow never disappoints. On the evening I arrived, the highway carved its curved path through actually smoky mountains, the ridges furthest in the horizon appearing a dark blue against the setting sun. When you enter the city along the French Broad River you pass muddy industrial parks, breweries, bike shops, rafting outfitters, and eclectic galleries—a scene incongruous to the French Renaissance chateau just outside of town that draws tourists.
But that quirkiness, along with its access to some of the best outdoors activities in the eastern half of the United States, is a central part of Asheville’s charm. It has rafting, and hiking, James Beard Award-winning restaurants, and one of the highest concentrations of Art Deco architecture. It’s an odd one, and therefore it was apt that the reason I was there was for our Room Key series, to check out one of the odder, but more intriguing, new hotels in the country—Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins.
It’s a bizarre sight from the road, a range of A-Frame cabins on concrete stilts lined along the street across from the river. The aesthetic—Scappalachian as its owners have dubbed it, merging Scandinavian with Appalachian—is comforting without being ordinary. The cabins are made of SIPS boards and clad with different types of wood from trees cut down on the property when it was being built. A charming little gravel path winds along the entrances to each cabin. Inside, the cabins are minimalist without being spartan, with elements like colorful murals or countertops and bookcases made of reclaimed wood from a youth camp lightening the spaces. The deluxe cabins have dormers on the side to give them more room and light. The base of the property, 13 cabins in total, is in the river’s flood plain thus the concrete pillars.
The cabins are self check-in with a code, so if you want to be antisocial you can, but there is a central lodge with a canteen and lounge where you can mingle with other guests and locals, as the owners are determined that it be a space open to all.
The property gets its name from the idea that the French Broad River, like the Nile, flows the “wrong way” or south to north. The Wrong Way River Lodge was created by former rafting guides, and the river is a central part of the property’s appeal, as the greenway where you can walk or run along the river is just across the street. (The entrance to the Biltmore is also a short drive, although I’ve never managed to get out of the estate in a reasonable time frame.)
So many of the hotels sprouting up in the aftermath look the same and often don’t match their destination. If there’s one thing the Scappalachian Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins can’t be accused of, it’s looking like everything else.