The Big Ivy National Forest near Barnardsville offers the closest bouldering to Asheville (about 25 minutes or so) and it’s relatively cool in the summer months. There are also a lot of creeks to take a shallow dip in to cool off on summer days. If interested, you can also add some easy (but not terribly exciting) rope climbing in at Snake Den.
The Barnardsville boulder
The Barnardsville boulder is pretty cool. For one thing, it’s huge and the rock quality is pretty good. You’ve got to be climbing around V5 to get much out of this majorly overhanging rock, though. There is one really fun V2, but it’s a high ball. Bring lots of pads for this place. Oh, and the approach is like 2 minutes. Sweet.
Walker Creek boulders / Sanctuary
This is a good place to warm up for the Barnardsville boulder or bring beginners. The left wall of the boulder has 3 V0s and a long, fairly easy traverse (maybe v0 to v2, depending on where you top out). There are also some small peripheral faces and boulders with easier routes. The overhanging side of the main boulder has some fun routes that range from V2-V4, with harder routes waiting to get sent. I think there are a couple of V8-ish routes in the middle of the face for someone with mad crimping skills. This boulder is recently developed, so bring some brushes and an eye for new lines. There are also a few scattered boulders up the trail (see the directions below).
A low-res video of a fun, easy overhanging problem at the Sanctuary:
Another short video of Chakra Khan at the Sanctuary, Walker Creek boulders.
From Asheville, take 26 for about 12 miles towards Johnson City. Take exit 15 for Barndardsville / Jupiter / 197. Take a right off the ramp and go 6 miles until you are in a very small “downtown” area, and turn Right on Dillingham road. This road eventually has a few confusing semi-forks, but just stay on the main road; it’s pretty obvious as long as you don’t let the forks deceive you. The most obvious fork in the road is 3.8 miles after you turn onto Dillingham rd; just stay to the Right at the fork to stay on Dillingham. After another mile from the fork, the road turns to dirt and you’re in the Big Ivy wilderness.
For the Barnardsville boulder, drive 2 miles up the dirt road and park in a pullout in a bend where the creek goes beneath the road. Hike up the 4WD road to the left of the pullout for about 100 yards. You can’t miss the boulder.
For Walker Creek, take the first right turn that comes about a half mile after the road turns to dirt in the National Forest. Take this road down to where it dead-ends in a dirt parking lot for the Mountain Light Sanctuary and Walker Creek trailhead.
The main boulder here (I’ve been calling it the Sanctuary) is just above the parking lot. In fact, if you look up the hill and to the right from the lot, you can just see it through the trees, even in summer. The best way to access the Sanctuary boulder is to walk up the Walker Creek trail about 30 yards. I’ve put a small cairn on the left side of the trail. Cut into the woods here and follow the faint trail up and left back towards the boulder. It’s a bit longer of a hike this way than cutting straight up the hill (2-3 minutes total maybe), but less steep (and so probably better for erosion).
There are some more mossy boulders as you continue to hike about 10 mins up the Walker’s Creek trail. You can see pics of them in this old post. Go explore if you’re feeling adventurous.