Roanoke and Asheville, North Carolina are bookends on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Both have rivers in their midst and mountains close at hand.

There are major differences as well. Asheville's terrain is taller. Its whitewater rapids are more challenging. And hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails are located within minutes of downtown.

"I've been all over the world and this is still my favorite place to hike," said Jennifer Pharr Davis. "I love it here."

Davis holds the record for the fastest thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.  She appreciates the scenic terrain in southwestern Virginia too, but says the opportunities close to her home are hard to top.

"In fact, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell is just up that way, and I know when I was training, trying to do some really long hikes, one of the hikes I did was starting in downtown Asheville to hike all the way up to Mount Mitchell," she said.

Long before George Washington Vanderbilt imagined the Biltmore, Asheville had a history of hospitality and a reputation as a mountain retreat. Today, the portfolio of businesses that offer visitors an outdoor experience is huge.

Jay Curwen is a former professional triathlete. He now works for the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the nation' s largest whitewater rafting company.   "And the resource is right here," Curwen told us. "It's really tough to manufacture that, but what you need to do is be able to capitalize on what you have and make do with the best you have and we're fortunate. We've got water and dirt right here and it's beautiful."

And it doesn't hurt that Asheville also has 250 independent restaurants, more than a dozen craft breweries and a lively art scene.

Marla Tambellini is the Marketing Director with the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Asheville is not just a brand, it's a way of life," she said. "And it's a very vibrant, welcoming community surrounded by all of the amenities you could want."

Tambellini says spreading the word about that "way of life" is an intentional effort backed by a six-million dollar annual budget.

"Tourism is economic development," she said, "and I think when communities understand that, and are willing to make the investment required, they'll reap great benefits."