Grandfather Mountain might be best known for its Mile High Swinging Bridge — which might just be one of the best places in the Blue Ridge Mountains to take in
Grandfather Mountain might be best known for its Mile High Swinging Bridge — which might just be one of the best places in the Blue Ridge Mountains to take in the brilliant fall colors — but there’s more to the iconic peak than a suspension bridge.
The mountain was formed more than 750 million years ago and is the site of some of the oldest geological formations on earth; it’s also a Biosphere Reserve that is home to 72 rare or endangered species.
Explorers like Daniel Boone and John Muir visited Grandfather Mountain as early as the 1760s, and today, the nonprofit nature park remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in North Carolina.
At more than a mile above sea level, Grandfather Mountain offers visitors a unique vantage point to the natural world, with majestic views of the North Carolina High Country, the Mile High Swinging Bridge, wildlife habitats, hiking trails, and more.
“There is nothing like being fully immersed in the wonders of the mountain,” says John Caveny, a natural resource management specialist at Grandfather Mountain. “It’s good for the soul to disconnect and spend time in nature.”
Whether you want to explore the natural wonders, enjoy the view from the top of the mountain, or snap a selfie in the middle of the suspension bridge, Grandfather Mountain delivers experiences for every interest and adventure level.
It’s true that no visit to Grandfather Mountain is complete without crossing the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Built in 1952, the suspension bridge hangs across a 228-foot span between Convention Table Rock and Linville Peak. The bridge earned its name because it sits at one mile above sea level (but not quite that far from solid ground!). It’s the highest suspended footbridge in the nation.
The bridge is one of the best spots in the park to take in the panoramic mountain views. An elevator and ramp lead from the visitor’s center to the bridge, making it accessible to all who want to enjoy the high altitude.
“The swinging bridge makes the wildness of Grandfather Mountain available to everyone,” Caveny says. “The views are nothing short of spectacular.”
Climb ladders and cables over sheer cliff faces and shimmy between rock outcroppings as you make your way along the 2.4-mile-long Grandfather Trail to reach Calloway Peak.
Caveny believes the out-and-back trail is one of the toughest and most technical hikes in the Southeast — and totally worth the effort.
“It’s a rugged and difficult trail but there are amazing views every step of the way,” he says.
Pack a lunch — and your camera — and enjoy your reward at the end: majestic views from the peak.
You don’t have to be a mountain-climbing daredevil to experience the wonder of Grandfather Mountain. Hike along the Woods Walk Trail through a hardwood forest. The gravel trail, which is less than a half mile long, includes several interpretive signs and activities for children. Park educators also lead guided nature hikes and wildflower walks along popular trails.
“It opens up conversations about conservation and wild places and the reasons it’s so important to preserve places like Grandfather Mountain,” Caveny explains. “There is something magical about stepping off the pavement and getting into the woods.”
You might never encounter cougars, black bears, or river otters in the wilds of North Carolina, so Grandfather Mountain established wildlife habitats where visitors can witness animals in their natural habitats. Children especially love watching the river otters gliding through the water.
All of the animals in the wildlife habitats are not able to live in the wild, according to animal habitats curator Christie Tipton. Some were injured and others were orphaned and wouldn’t have survived without rehabilitation.
“They are doing a great service for their species by being part of our education program,” Tipton says. “When people form a connection to the animals, it hopefully drives them to want to protect them and their environment.”
During behind-the-scenes tours, visitors can get an even more intimate peek at how the animals live and what the keepers do to provide the right nutrition, habitat, and enrichment.
During fall migration, it’s not uncommon to see bird-watchers with their binoculars pointed toward the sky.
“Avid bird watchers know Grandfather Mountain is one of the best places to see rare and migrating birds,” says Lauren Farrell, naturalist and education coordinator for Grandfather Mountain.
Rare species such as black-billed Cuckoo, Hermit Thrush, Southern Appalachian Red Crossbill, and Appalachian Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have all been spotted in the park. Farrell is especially excited about the raptors that pass over Grandfather Mountain during their fall migration.
During the fall Hawk Watch event, it’s not uncommon to see hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of broad-winged hawks and other raptors in the sky as they make their way to warmer climates for the winter.
“It catches people by surprise,” Farrell says. “They go out to take a photo on the [Mile High Swinging Bridge] and see a tornado of hawks in the sky.”
The unique ecology on Grandfather Mountain makes it unlike any other place in the Southeast. The 3,200-acre mountain preserve is home to 16 distinct ecological communities and several species of endangered flora and fauna.
“The high, rocky peaks, acidic soil, and unique climate have caused a lot of rare plants to thrive here,” Farrell says. “You can see plants here that people would have to hike 3,000 feet in elevation to see elsewhere without getting off of an easy, flat path.”
Farrell suggests looking out for Heller’s blazing star (Liatris helleri) and Blue Ridge goldenrod (Solidago spithamaea). The imperiled fall-flowering perennials are native to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Nature Museum houses exhibits showcasing birds of North Carolina, wildlife habitats and climate science that highlight the uniqueness of the North Carolina gem.
2050 Blowing Rock Highway
Linville, NC 28646
Note: Guests must purchase tickets to Grandfather Mountain online. Book your tickets in advance here.