When the horse and buggy carrying George Vanderbilt first crested the horizon of his beloved “country home,” it’s safe to say he never imagined Land Rovers zipping around his 8,000-acre estate. How far we’ve come since 1888. Today, visitors can tour the back roads and hidden trails of America’s largest, privately owned home through the Land Rover Experience.

“We try to customize the experience for the guest,” shares location manager and lead instructor Aaron Owens. “We have two networks of trails that total about 100 miles across 3,000 acres of the estate. It’s the most fun you’re going to have driving one to two miles an hour. It’s amazing what you’ll feel the vehicle do when attacking the topographical changes.”

Nope, this isn’t a fast-paced test track. It’s an off-roading experience across rugged terrain, winding creeks, and jagged boulders that leaves drivers with only two wheels on the ground at times. “It’s a ton of fun,” Aaron encourages. “You should see driver’s faces light up when conquering the obstacles.”

Photography by Derek DiLuzio

Buckle up behind the wheel of the latest Land Rovers, including the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Discovery, and Defender models, complete with that distinct new-car smell. “Drivers can request certain models, and we do our best to get them,” Aaron says.   

The two-hour tour is the most popular, but guests can also book one-hour of instruction, or half- and full-day tours that include navigating a variety of off-road elements with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. Sharp inclines, steep descents, side slopes, water crossings, as well as mud and rut work fill the day. Several times a season, Land Rover owners are invited to bring their own cars to traverse the trails. “We have an owner’s day this weekend with 32 signed up,” reveals Aaron. “We see some of the same folks coming back every three to four months, so you build those friendships and acquaintances.”

Having worked at the Biltmore since 2004, Aaron says, “There’s a really good synergy here. We share the same luxury values, committed to guest services and the premium experience.” Bouncing down a rocky road, covered in mud and grins—just like George in 1888.

For more info, visit biltmore.com/things-to-do/activities/outdoors/land-rover.

Make a Weekend of It

No need to rush back to South Carolina. Consider an overnight stay at lodging on the grounds. The Inn on Biltmore Estate is celebrating its twentieth birthday this spring. Archival letters show George Vanderbilt sketched plans for a 50-room inn shortly after completing Biltmore House. His great-grandson, Bill Cecil Jr, erected a 210-room inn on a secluded hilltop in 2001, with the intent of providing travelers a glimpse of what it was like for family guests a century earlier. The inn is a top-ranked luxury hotel, providing world-class hospitality. Other lodging within the gates includes the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, which sits in the heart of Antler Hill Village. Stand-alone dwellings include the new Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, nestled in a woodland setting, within walking distance of nature trails as well as Antler Hill Village and Biltmore Winery; and the Market Gardener’s Cottage, which includes a customized stay with concierge service and a private chef.