Grandfather Mountain: the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Tar Heel State
Flowers, trees and a beautiful mountain beckon to you
Any excursion to western North Carolina must include a visit to Grandfather Mountain (www.grandfather.com), located east of Asheville and two miles north of Linville, along State Road 221.
At the front gate, you will be given a CD which has an audio guided tour of the park. It’s a 2.5-mile drive to the top of the mountain. The perfect traveling speed to say in sync with the audio is 15-20 miles per hour. The first thing you’ll see is MacRae Meadows, the site of the Scottish Highland Games, held every July for Scottish clans.
THE FLORA AND THE FAUNA
After passing MacRae Meadows, stop at the Half Moon Overlook where hundreds of pink shell azaleas and Catawba rhododendrons grow. 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). At Grandfather Mountain, there are 19 tree types; 64 varieties of plants and flowers; and 73 rare/ endangered species.
As you drive up Grandfather Mountain, check out Sphinx Rock and Split Rock. Both rocks are older than Grandfather Mountain itself, as they are thought to be roughly 640 million years old.
ENJOYING LUNCH & LEARNING ABOUT ANIMALS
Your next stop should be the Nature Museum and Mildred’s Grill. The museum has a self-guided tour of what animals live in the area (which includes bears), what precious stones have been excavated from this region, and the replicas of the gun and powder keg owned by a famous pioneer who once walked around Grandfather Mountain in the late 1760s — Daniel Boone. There is an Animal Habitat at the park where black bears, otters, cougars, white tail deer, golden eagles and bald eagles live in separate/controlled outdoor environments.
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, but 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. She was named Mildred. She died in 1992.
DESTINATION: THE MOUNTAIN TOP
Once you start heading toward the top of the mountain, pull out your binoculars. The views are spectacular. The Bridge Trail will take you to Linville Peak and Second Peak. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you can then walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which is the link between the two peaks. Many visitors consider the walk across the bridge to be the highlight of their trip to Grandfather Mountain. The Mile High Swinging Bridge was first constructed in 1952 and was originally made of wooden floorboards.
GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN: NEWS AND NOTES
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, which live on Grandfather Mountain.
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.
Mike May is a freelance sports industry publicist based in Wellington, Florida. Over the years, he has made more than 2,000 “live” appearances on local and national morning, mid-morning, midday, and weekend television newscasts as a guest discussing many of the product innovations in the sports industry, including segments in recent years showcasing cardio tennis and POP tennis. Mike, an avid golfer, is also an accomplished travel golf writer and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.