Family adventures always include at least one special thing that we want to experience or enjoy, but Grandfather Mountain surprised us with four—otters, bears, a swinging bridge, and the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Needless to say, everyone in the family was satisfied.
About Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak on the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 5,946 feet. It is comprised of 16 distinct ecological communities along with hidden caves and noteworthy cliffs. The surrounding regions, Linville River Valley And Catawba River basin, sit 1500’ and 4000’ (respectively) below Grandfather. These extreme variations in elevation create the conditions for the ecological diversity.
Some of the natural wonders you can expect:
- rich cove forest
- acidic cove forest
- heath balds
- high elevation rocky summits
- mountaintop “island” biome of Southern Appalachians Spruce Fir
- 200 different bird species
Grandfather Mountain State Park wasn’t established until 2009. Before then it was privately owned. The Swinging Bridge, Wildlife Habitat, and MacRae Meadows are all privately owned attractions. However, the entrance fee to access this private section benefits the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation (non-profit org.) which is used to preserve and protect the mountain for future generations.
Grandfather’s Four Peaks
- Calloway Peak- 5,964 feet
- Attic Window Peak- 5,949 feet
- MacRae Peak- 5,844 feet
- Linville Peak- 5,295 feet
Mile High Swinging Bridge
Grandfather Mountain is best known for its mile-high swinging bridge which is the highest in America. The bridge was built in 1952 and links two of the mountain’s rocky peaks. It’s referred to as a “swinging” bridge because of its sway in high winds. Some of the highest wind speeds ever recorded have been reported from Grandfather Mountain. (Unverified speeds of over 200mph. New wind equipment upgrades have recently been added on the swinging bridge to attempt to verify these records.)
Walking & Hiking Trails
Grandfather Mountain hosts 11 trails varying in difficulty from a “gentle walk in the woods” to a rigorous trek across rugged peaks. From their website:
- In–Park Nature Trails– Grandfather has a number of gentle paths that can be accessed from the summit road. Designed to offer a low-impact foray into nature, these paths allow guests to get out in the woods without requiring a long and strenuous commitment.
- Backcountry Hiking Trails-
- Grandfather’s backcountry is very different from other areas in the South.
- Trails take you through forests usually found in Canadian climates.
- Many of the trails use ladders and cables to climb sheer cliff faces.
Grandfather Mountain’s Wildlife Habitat was a big part of the decision for us to take a detour on our road trip to visit this terrific park. They house seven different environmental habitats for cougars, black bears, bald eagles, river otters, and elk. Our experiences with visiting various types of animals in captivity are prolific and we can honestly say this was the best one we have seen to date. The animal’s enclosures are built around their actual natural habitat. All of these animals are part of the elusive wildlife of the area except the cougar who no longer lives in the wild here. Throughout the day you can learn more through their programs and special events.
The Nature Museum is next to the Wildlife Habitat. It is housed in a large building that includes an eatery, gift shop, and restrooms. The museum is a really interesting stop if you have time. There is a scale model of the mountain; displays of North Carolina’s gems and minerals, the birds of North America, early explorers of the area, and more; ” lifelike wax models of wildflowers, berries and mushrooms found on Grandfather crafted by the late Paul Marchand”; and an auditorium for nature videos that have been filmed on the mountain.
Important Bird Area
The Audobon of North Carolina recognizes Grandfather Mountain as an Important Bird Area. “Variations in terrain, soil, vegetation, wind, water, sunlight and microclimates create habitat for as many as 200 different bird species. About 100 of these are documented breeding colonies, which according to David Lee, former Curator of Birds at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, is one of the highest number of breeding birds in the east.” Check out their website for clues on where to find them and the Full Hawk Watch.
Take the Tour
If you plan to enjoy the park’s main attractions, there’s a nice surprise in store for you. The park staff will give you a CD at the entrance gate with your admission tickets to play in the car during your ascent up the Mountain. The CD goes through history and facts of Grandfather Mountain step by step as you climb towards the top. You can pause at any time you choose to stop and enjoy the beautiful views, rest areas, and attractions along your route.
- A scene from the 1994 film Forrest Gump was filmed here. The main character, Forrest, runs on a curvy Mountain road.
- “Grandfather is home to 16 distinct natural communities/ecosystems.”
- “The Mountain is home to 73 rare or endangered species, including 32 that are globally imperiled.”
- “Grandfather is part of the United Nation’s international network of Biosphere Reserves.”
- “Peregrine falcons and ravens nest among the many rocky cliffs.”
- One of North America’s largest Highland Games is held here. These games celebrate the Scottish ancestry of pioneers who settled around the mountain and they feature traditional Scottish games and music. It is considered one of the best due to Grandfather Mountain’s resemblance to the Scottish homeland. Visit: Grandfather Mountain Highland Games
Visit Grandfather Mountain
- 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646
- State Park Website (great trail descriptions here)
- Grandfather Mountain Attractions Website
- Dogs– “Pets are permitted inside the park on a leash. They are not allowed inside the buildings, due to health regulations, or in the Animal Habitats area.”
- Admission (One ticket price includes everything)Guests purchase tickets (one ticket per person) and drive their own vehicles through the park, stopping along the way to enjoy a variety of activities.
- Proceeds from your ticket are used to preserve and protect Grandfather Mountain for future generations.
- Adult: $22, Senior (age 60+): $20, Child (ages 4-12): $9
- AAA Adult: $20 (must present valid AAA card), AAA Child: $8 (must present valid AAA card)
- Hours- The state park is open 8:00am till about sunset every day. Their office hours are Mon-Fri 8:0am-4:30pm. The attractions are open 8:00am till 7:00pm during the summer (hours reduce slightly for the other seasons). Check out both websites for exact hours when planning your trip.
- Things to know (most of the following info was taken directly from Grandfather Mountain website )
- Permits are required for camping and hiking.
- Access to the trails from the Swinging Bridge require the purchase of a ticket to the attraction.
- For safety reasons, walking down the road is not permitted.
- Hiking trails within the attraction are subject to weather-related closings throughout the winter months. For the most up-to-date information on trail closures, please call our Entrance Gate prior to your visit at 828-733-4337.
- If you want to enter Grandfather Mountain State Park while visiting the attraction:
- Access to the hiking trails in Grandfather Mountain State Park is included in the price of admission. To access the start of the Grandfather Trail, please park at the Hiker’s Parking Area, a quarter-mile below the summit.
- Please return to your vehicle at least one hour before closing time. If, in an emergency, you leave your car on the mountain, please call 828-733-2800 (Top Shop), 828-733-4337 (Gate) or 828-733-1059 (Nature Museum) as soon as possible to notify Grandfather Mountain staff. If you do not call, we will send out a search party.
- If you want to enter Grandfather Mountain State Park without visiting the attraction:
- Guests wishing only to hike can access Grandfather Mountain State Park for FREE from one of the two off-mountain trailheads located either on the Blue Ridge Parkway (or U.S. 221 in winter) or N.C. 105. A trail map will be available when hikers register at the trailhead.
- If you park at an off-mountain trailhead, plan on hiking back to your car. No shuttle service can be provided.
- If you plan to have someone pick you up at the Swinging Bridge, the driver of the pick-up vehicle will be charged regular gate admission to come into the travel attraction to pick you up.
- Grandfather Mountain is not able to provide rides to or from trailheads.
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Cost– If you’re an expert hiker and you just want to tackle these mountains, then your only cost is travel and sustenance. For a family of five who would like to enjoy the highlights of the mountain, then your cost is between $64-$82 for admission. You will need to add travel and meal costs. You can bring your own food and drink to save money. Gift shops are always optional.
Parking & Transportation– There are parking lots at every attraction and entrance. When we visited during a busy Spring day the lots were busy, but there was still ample space. I can see where it would be advantageous to arrive early and avoid congestion during their busy season. They do not offer shuttle services other than large tour groups. Even if you could find mass transit to the park, it’s a “hike” to get around without a vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle, but can get to a major city, you can find a tour group. Asheville has info on their website.
Location– Natural wonders are always due to their location. Grandfather Mountain is part of the largest chain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachians. The most amazing parts of its beauty are the varieties of landscape and eternal views. North Carolina is also a centrally located state on the East Coast which makes it a terrific road trip destination for this side of the U.S.
Day Trip or Overnight– The park offers camping, but it’s more intense than what most people are used to and requires a permit. Anything larger than 28’ is too large for the park roads due to the “hairpin” turns up the mountain. This is a day trip if you live close enough to commute or can find lodging nearby. Asheville has great info on their website.
Experience– You’ve probably “heard” me say it before, but exploring the outdoors has been the best and most rewarding experiences our family has had. There’s the need for communication, team work, and listening to help each other succeed when climbing boulders, reading maps and accessing trail markers to reach a destination. I know these are the memories my children will cherish when recounting their childhood. This is one of our must-see parks.
Combination– Grandfather Mountain is a serious all day adventure. Whether you plan to visit the attractions or just hike one of their hardcore trails, it will take you most, if not all, of your day. If you want to see more of North Carolina you will have to make it a multiple day adventure. Another one of our favorites is Pisgah National Forest