Grandfather Mountain is the Crown Jewel of the Tar Heel State

Destinations

Visit the western portion of the Tar Heel State where Grandfather Mountain beckons hikers, wildlife viewers and fresh air seekers

Any excursion to western North Carolina must include a visit to Grandfather Mountain. The majestic outdoor playground is located east of Asheville and two miles north of Linville, along State Road 221.

Upon arriving at the front gate, you will be given a CD which has an audio-guided tour of the park. The 2.5-mile drive to the top of the mountain pairs perfectly with the appropriate traveling speed of 15-20 miles per hour to stay in sync with the audio. The first thing you’ll see is MacRae Meadows, the site of the Scottish Highland Games, held every July for Scottish clans.

Grandfather Mountain Sites

After passing MacRae Meadows, stop at the Half Moon Overlook. When you stop here, notice hundreds of pink shell azaleas and Catawba rhododendrons growing. Significantly, Grandfather Mountain is home to the world’s largest concentration of pink shell azaleas, which are native to northwest North Carolina. Those azaleas are in full bloom in May and the rhododendrons are their most beautiful in June. From Half Moon Overlook, you can see the top two peaks of Grandfather Mountain – Linville Peak and Second Peak (5,946 feet high). Moreover, Grandfather Mountain is home to 19 tree types, 64 varieties of plants and flowers, and 73 rare/endangered species.

Grandfather Mountain has two peaks – Linville Peak and Second Peak.

Grandfather Mountain has two peaks – Linville Peak and Second Peak.

As you drive up Grandfather Mountain, check out Sphinx Rock and Split Rock. Incredibly, both rocks are older than the mountain itself, as they are thought to be roughly 640 million years old.

Wildlife Education and Lunch in the Tar Heel State

Afterward, your next stop should be the Nature Museum and Mildred’s Grill. The museum has a self-guided tour of many unique North Carolina facts. Ascertain what species of animals live in the area (bears included) and precious stones that have been excavated from the region. Additionally, groups can see replicas of the gun and powder keg owned by a famous pioneer. Did you know that Daniel Boone once walked around Grandfather Mountain in the late 1760s? In addition, there is an Animal Habitat at the park where black bears, otters, cougars and white tail deer live. Also found here are majestic golden eagles and bald eagles, all in separate controlled outdoor environments.

Furthermore, adjacent to the museum is Mildred’s Grill and a gift shop. Mildred’s offers your typical lunchtime fare of hamburgers, fries, and soft drinks. However, I highly recommend the vegetable beef soup, the sweet potato fries, and iced tea. Why the name Mildred? It’s named after the first black bear that lived in captivity in the Animal Habitat who died in 1992.

A Swinging Bridge Between Two Peaks

Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain. Photo courtesy of Jared via Flickr

Once you start heading toward the top of the mountain, pull out your binoculars because the views are spectacular. The Bridge Trail will take you to Linville Peak and Second Peak. Afterward, once you reach the top of the mountain, you can then walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge.  This incredible feet of engineering is the link between the two peaks. By and large many visitors consider the walk across the bridge to be the highlight of their trip to Grandfather Mountain. In fact, the Mile High Swinging Bridge was first constructed in 1952 and was originally made of wooden floorboards.

Noteworthy Granfather Mountain Facts

While walking along one of Grandfather Mountain’s 11 hiking trails, watch out for a Weller’s salamander, the Canada warbler, and possibly black bears.

Particularly noteworthy is an interesting tidbit for movie buffs. Do you remember when Forrest Gump ran across the United States in that popular movie? Well, a portion of his run was filmed on Grandfather Mountain. The occasion is marked with a sign on one of the hair-pin curves, entitled Forrest Gump Curve.

As for the roots of Grandfather Mountain’s name, there are two scenarios. Some believe that its age (estimated at 300 million years old) is why it is called Grandfather Mountain. Others believe that when the mountain was first discovered by explorers, the mountain looked like the face of an old man – thus the name, Grandfather Mountain.

 

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By Mike May

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