“Unless he’s a service dog, you can’t take him on the shuttle,” the driver told me as I stood gob smacked in the middle of Parking Lot C at the Biltmore Estate and Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina with my 12-year-old schnoodle Victor in my arms.
I was told to park in Lot C because I had a dog. The Biltmore Estate is billed as dog-friendly. It took me one hour – yes, one hour – to get from the front ticket entrance to parking Lot C then walk to the shuttle pick up that takes visitors to the actual grounds.
Now, I might not get there.
“Ok, he’s a service dog,” I said in a moment of panic.
“Fine,” said the driver. Victor and I boarded and one other family was on the shuttle. The mom turned to me and said, “We have five dogs.”
With that, we were on our way to see the majestic gardens of Biltmore Estates, a three-acre, six-story castle, built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt. It took six years to construct. With indoor plumbing, electricity, heating and 43 bathrooms (all unheard of at the time), it was the most technologically advance house in the country.
Ok, so this wouldn’t be a standard historic home tour. I realized this somewhere around hour one of my visit, when I was still nowhere near the house but pleading with a shuttle driver.
Victor isn’t allowed in the house. I knew that.
But he is allowed on the grounds and in the gardens. And after six hours in the car from Lexington, Kentucky (our previous stop), my pooch needed to run. My plan was to run him, come back to the car and kennels, then go to the house myself.
Not possible in half a day. Really not possible.
Here’s what I didn’t know: this place is massive – the house, gardens, property, riding trails and tourist village and hotel surrounding this entrepreneurial endeavor. In the 1930s, the Vanderbilt family opened the property to visitors (to finance the upkeep) and it’s still owned by family members who live somewhere on site.
It takes at least a full day, if not two, to enjoy the entire Biltmore experience and it’s dog friendly – if you do it right.
Here’s what you should do:
Run the dog in the gardens first. (Rules say they must stay on leash. Rules schmules). Get there early (9 or 10 am) and park near the gardens by the house. There’s limited parking but it’s the only way to access the gardens without taking the shuttle.
Victor found the rose garden too crowded and the glass-ceiling conservatory too hot, although both are highlight attractions. He loved the Azalea gardens that led to a shaded stream, wooded path to the fish pond where he – uncharacteristically – dove in and swam. It was that hot.
We met other dogs, including some locals with season passes purchased just to run their pups.
In time, Victor discovered the waterfalls, though he was a little afraid of it.
After an hour or two romp through all the gardens (there are miles more), drive back to Parking Lot C.
Why Lot C? That’s the RV lot, and there’s a dog kennel there where you can safely store pups, even in the heat. Basic chain linked fences divide concrete floor kennels covered by shade and closed with a lock – and key you take with you. Units are first come first serve (at no charge). There’s no attendant, but shuttle staff and security are in and out of the nearby storage shed frequently.
After the dog is safe, catch the shuttle to tour the house, which really is the most interesting part of visiting The Biltmore.
That’s what I should have done.
Instead, I didn’t get to tour the house until the next day, after I went horseback riding – yes, you can trail ride on the property – and I left Victor in a kennel first thing in the morning. He didn’t love it, but there were other RV dogs waiting near him (one very vocal). All were obviously better off than left inside a camper.
Victor spent a couple of hours kennel while I toured the house, then we headed together (in the car) to Antler Hill Village and Winery, a completely different part of the property included with admission. Yes, there’s a winery too.
At Antler Hill, we had dinner together at Cedric’s Tavern and shopped at the boutique stores near the farm and petting zoo – also an attraction on the property, along with an equestrian center where you can ride their horses, or bring your own. People trailer horses here.
Don’t ride? No problem. You can fish, hike, rent bikes or Segway around the grounds too. You can even stay overnight at either the Village Hotel (less pricey) or Biltmore Inn (pricey). Neither is dog-friendly. We stayed at the Asheville West Red Roof Inn nearby.
Fun Facts about the Biltmore Estate and Gardens
- The house was completed on Christmas Eve 1895 and was built and financed by George Vanderbilt, whose wealth came from steamboats and railways but mostly inheritance.
- There are 250 rooms, including 43 indoor bathrooms during a time when most houses didn’t have one.
- It took six years to construct and now sits on 8,000 acres of land.
- Vanderbilt and his wife Edith had one child, Cornelia who married John Cecil in 1924 and eventually inherited the property.
- The property is run by the Cecil family today and is the largest single-family privately owned home in North America.
- In 1930, Cornelia Cecil opened the house to the public as a tourist attraction.
- Today, the Biltmore employees about 2,000 people.
- There’s a 1916 Skinner organ in the dining room near a table that seats 38 people.
- The central heating and electrical system were state of the art in 1895.
- The music room was completed in 1976 by the current owners.
- The library contains only half the 23,000 volume book collection Vanderbilt acquired and displays a chess set once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.
- In 1914, George Vanderbilt died of complications from an appendectomy.
- In Parking Lot C, there are free dog kennels available to lock your dog while you are visiting the house. Otherwise, Fido can tour the grounds with you.
Up Next: Dinner at Cedric’s Tavern. Who’s Cedric?
Thanks to Red Roof Inn where pets stay at no charge, for providing accommodations during our journey. (click on the RED ROOF BANNER BELOW and save 15% until the end of September 2016 with VIP CODE 621277.)
Don’t miss an episode: check out our adventure at The Shaker Village in Kentucky.
What to know more about North Carolina? Check out this Moon Handbook Guide to North Carolina travel guide or Best Dog Hikes in North Carolina, both available on Amazon.
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