Treasure a Day at Grandfather Mountain
Take a day trip to Grandfather Mountain, and you will discover a true N.C. treasure, less than 120 miles from Winston-Salem. (Add about 30 more miles from Greensboro or High Point.) This month is the perfect time to visit, with fall foliage at its peak from Oct. 5-25. Go early, however, as traffic can get snarled on Highway 221 entering the park.
What to Know about Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves and is the only privately owned biosphere in the world. The designation means the mountain has global ecological significance, is legally protected from development, has a history of scientific study and provides for public education.
Grandfather is 5,964 feet above sea level and is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Range. While the mountain itself is 6.5 million years old, the rock underneath is 1.2 billion years old.
Starting at the Top
Kelly, Wills, Joseph and I went to the Grandfather Mountain (so named by pioneers because its ridgeline resembles an old man looking into the sky) during a foggy morning on Labor Day weekend. We decided to start our adventures at the top because the kids were so excited about seeing the Mile High Swinging Bridge — the highest suspension footbridge in America. So we drove all the way to the parking lot at the top of the mountain, hoping to get above the fog.
It was still foggy when we arrived at the top, but we climbed the stairs and traveled across the bridge to the other side anyway. Crossing is not nearly as scary as I had imagined, and on the other side there are beautiful rocks to climb all over and take in the views.
After that, the boys were ready for a hike, so we went down the Bridge Trail, a .4-mile trail that winds its way under the Mile High Swinging Bridge and down to a lower-level parking lot. There are a lot of rocks to climb over and around, and going down can be tricky for little kids. Climbing back up the trail is easier and more sure-footed, and we did that in around 20 minutes.
By the time we came back up the trail, the fog had cleared, and it was turning into a beautiful day, so we took the time go back out over the Mile High Swinging Bridge and take in an even better view.
While you are at the top, don’t miss the store above the gift shop with Tom Wolfe carvings. We purchased two Christmas ornaments: a star and a bear, to remind us of our visit — and we met the carver himself!
Halfway Down the Mountain
It was around noon when we finished on the top, and we were all starving. As we made our way down toward the restaurant, we congratulated ourselves on starting at the top of the mountain. Cars were already getting backed up waiting to get up to the parking lot for the swinging bridge.
We parked at the Nature Center with the adjoining Mildred’s Grill, which has a good variety of sandwiches, salads, burgers. Lunch was delightful, and we ate outside at one of the picnic tables in the vicinity of several hummingbirds that were visiting their feeders.
After lunch, we took a tour of the Nature Museum, with beautiful exhibits that portray the natural history of Grandfather Mountain. The boys were fascinated by such exhibits as how many varieties of mushrooms and how many varieties of wildflowers grow on the mountain.
The Nature Museum also shows, free of charge, award-winning films that portray the natural history of Grandfather Mountain in ancient and modern times. But the boys were too anxious to return outside and see the animals, so we didn’t pause for a film.
Instead, we strolled down the footpath to view the animals including panthers, deer, otters, eagles and — everyone’s favorite — the bears. The animal enclosures are designed so you can get a feel for how these animals lived 200 years ago; however, one of the bears is quite the crowd pleaser, sitting up on hind legs so the crowd can get better pictures.
Just a short walk from the animal enclosures are the Split Rock and the Sphinx Rock, which both boys thought were very cool.
By mid-afternoon, the boys were exhausted and ready to head out. But we had not even scratched the surface of all there is to see on Grandfather Mountain. With 13 miles of trails and many species of animal and plant life to view, we will definitely be back soon.
U.S. 221 and Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville
(800) 468-7325, (828) 733-4337
Open daily all year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Ticket Sales: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., winter; 9 a.m.-5 p.m., spring/fall; 8 a.m.-6 p.m., summer. The park closes one hour after ticket sales stop.
Fees: Adults (13-59) $14, seniors (60+) $12, child (4-12) $6, child (under 4) free.