The Blue Ridge Escarpment reaches its loftiest and arguably most impressive point in the form of 5,946-foot Grandfather Mountain, a steep, gnarled massif boasting dramatic cliffs and ledges of the sort relatively rare in the Southern Appalachians. Grandfather Mountain’s impressively varied lineup of ecosystems range from low cove forests and pine-hardwood stands to mountaintop spruce-fir forests and health balds, plus plenty of rock-outcrop communities. Edged by the Blue Ridge Parkway, this fabulously rugged peak offers a truly unique destination for outdoor adventure and nature appreciation.
Long privately owned, Grandfather Mountain now comes split into two sections: the more developed acreage maintained by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation and the much larger, mostly backcountry section within Grandfather Mountain State Park.
In the Stewardship Foundation’s portion, you’ve got lots to see and do, the most famous attraction being the Mile High Swinging Bridge. The highest suspension bridge in the country, this nearly 230-foot-long span was built in 1952 and rebuilt in 1999. It spans an 80-foot defile and offers wonderful views of one of the Grandfather Mountain subpeaks, Linville Peak.
The Stewardship Foundation lands also include natural outdoor exhibits of native wildlife, among them elk, black bears, river otters (with underwater viewing), and cougars—the big cats that once roamed these Southern Appalachians highlands, but no longer.
The Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum, meanwhile, houses some fantastic interpretive exhibits primarily designed by a former Smithsonian Institution chief of natural history exhibits, Dr. Rolland Hower. Here you’ll find the finest collection of the Tar Heel State’s minerals and gems, including the heftiest amethyst (a colorful form of quartz) ever found on the continent.
There’s also a one-of-a-kind collection of wax botanical models sculpted by David Marchand and several nature films on rotation in the Nature Museum Auditorium.
The primary attraction of Grandfather Mountain State Park, meanwhile, is the trail system: some of the most scenic and challenging hiking routes in the region. The steeper sections of such routes as the three-mile (one-way) Daniel Boone Trail and the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail, both of which access Grandfather Mountain’s high point at Calloway Peak, incorporate ladders and cables to aid your traverse. If you aren’t feeling up for the most strenuous treks, don’t worry: There are easier trails in the state park as well that deliver whopper views, including the 1.2-mile Nuwati Trail to Storyteller’s Rock.
Grandfather Mountain State Park also boasts a baker’s dozen of backcountry campsites offering fine wilderness overnighter experiences, and also offers various organized events, including guided hikes and nature talks.
From the photo ops of the Swinging Bridge and the eye-opening wonders of the wildlife exhibits and Nature Center to the soaring views available from the backcountry trails, Grandfather Mountain truly ranks among the most special and fascinating destinations in the Blue Ridge Mountains: a must-visit!
– You can access the 12-plus miles of trails in Grandfather Mountain State Park by foot for free via the Profile and Daniel Boone Scout trailheads. You can also reach the trail network via the private Grandfather Mountain attraction, but you’ll need to pay the entry fee to do so.
– You need a reservation to pitch a tent at one of the state park’s hike-in backcountry campsites, but don’t wait till your there to do so: Cell service isn’t great in the park, so call before your trip.