Grandfather Mountain North Carolina

About Grandfather Mountain

mountain vista from near the top of Grandfather Mountainwith ceder trees in the foreground
View from near the top of Grandfather Mountain

As you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock and Linville you’ll see Grandfather Mountain towering above the other nearby peaks. While at 5995 feet, it’s not the tallest mountain in North Carolina, it is higher than its neighbors. And the way it quickly rises to its peaks gives Grandfather Mountain the illusion of being much taller.

Named by early explorers who thought one of the cliffs resembled the face of an old man, Grandfather Mountain remained undisturbed, much like those early poisoners found it, until the mid 20th Century. In 1952 Hugh MacRae Morton inherited 4000 acres on the mountain and set about making it accessible to tourists.

path leading past rocky cliff on foggy day at Grandfather Mountain
A trail from the parking lot at the top of Grandfather Mountain in foggy weather

Morton was not only a renowned photographer, having been published in Life Magazine, National Geographic,and Time Magazine, but he was also a nature conservationist. His goal was to not only open Grandfather Mountain to visitors but to preserve it’s natural beauty at the same time. He was so successful on both accounts that Grandfather Mountain became not only one of the top tourist destinations in North Carolina, but in 1993, it became the first privately held property in the world designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations.

Wildlife at Grandfather Mountain

Because of it’s shear size, Grandfather Mountain is home to no less thank 16 separate ecological zones. You’ll find rich forests in the lower altitudes transitioning into rocky peaks the higher you climb until you reach the summit. Over 70 endangered species thrive on the mountain including 32 that have been listed as globally imperiled.

Pink and white flowers with unopened buds and green leaves growing along a trail at Grandfather Mountain attraction
Great Rhododendron also known as Mountain Laurel growing on Grandfather Mountain

Some of the wildlife you might encounter on your trip to Grandfather Mountain include bald eagles, otters, and elk. However, wild cougars no longer live on the mountain. 200 Different wild bird species live on the mountain or migrate through.

In 1968, Hugh Morton bought two black bears intending to repopulate the species on the mountain. Unfortunately the female bear named “Mildred” could not adapt to life in the wild. She was recaptured and homed in a specially designed enclosure. She was the first of many animals brought to the park because of their inability to be released into the wild. Today Grandfather Mountain’s animal enclosures are home to black bears, river otters, cougars, bald eagles, and more. Unlike the enclosures you’ll find in zoos, these habitats are built around the animal’s natural homes. The enclosures are large, giving animals plenty of room to roam around and find some privacy away from park guests.

Grandfather Mountain Today

Grandfather Mountain State Park

view from below swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain, lush green forest below bridge and foggy above trees
One of the biggest attractions at Grandfather Mountain Attraction is the “Mile High Swinging Bridge”.

After Hugh Morton’s death in 2008, the State of North Carolina bought 2,600 acres of undeveloped land from the family and established Grandfather Mountain State Park. The state park has remained undeveloped and is primarily backcountry. If you’re an avid and experienced hiker or backpacker, this may be the site for you. The main draw is the 12 miles of backwoods hiking trails. There may only be 12 miles, but they are some of the most challenging trails in NC. You’ll travel over steep rocky terrain, and some trails may take a full day to complete. You could hike all the way to the swinging bridge, but be aware that there’s no shuttle service, so if you hike in, you’ll need to hike back out. So plan accordingly.

The state park also boasts 13 backpack camping sites along the trail system. Reservations and permits are are required for camping. Hiking also requires permits, but they are available for free at either the Profile Trailhead on NC 105 or the trailheads along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Access to the state park is free. Whether hiking or backpacking, be aware that this is bear country, so keep a sharp eye and keep all food hanging away form your tents.

Grandfather Mountain Attraction

view of foggy parking lot at the highest parking lot at Grandfather Mountain with swinging bridge from a distance
View of parking lot at the top of Grandfather Mountain from Linville Peak

The rest of the mountain is owned by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation which operates the park built by Hugh Morton on the mountain. They use all proceeds from the park including entrance fees, food and souvenir sales to preserve the park and it’s natural habitat.

The first thing most people do when arriving at the park is visit the top near Linville Peak. You’ll drive up a winding mountain road with lots of switchbacks as you near the peak. There you’ll find the “Mile High Swinging Bridge”. This 288 foot suspension bridge over an 80 foot chasm has been thrilling and terrifying visitors since it was built in 1952. On a clear day the bridge offers spectacular views of not just the valley below but the entire highland region. Walking across the bridge, you’ll find your self face to face with Linville Peak. If you choose to walk onto the peak, is up to you.

close up view of swinging bridge leading to Linville Peak.
Swinging Bridge to Linville Peak offers some of the best views in Western North Carolina.

Weather at the top of the mountain can be unpredictable. Many times, you’ll be approaching the base of the mountain on a bright sunny day, but find that you’re in the middle of a cloud when you reach the peak. If it’s early in the day (and that’s the best time to visit), the clouds may move on after an hour or so. Before giving up on the peak, ask the nice folks in the park store at the top if the weather might clear up. They’ll be able to give you a better idea of the current weather conditions. They also have access to an elevator up to to the platform leading to the swinging bridge. That way all visitors can enjoy the stunning sites from atop the mountain.

It has been reported that Grandfather Mountain has experienced some of the “highest surface wind speeds ever recorded”, and at the top trees have grown to have a permanent windswept appearance.

Top of Grandfather mountain on foggy day. trees growing to one side due to windy conditions.
Windswept trees near the swinging bridge. Foggy days at the top of Grandfather Mountain make the swinging bridge look so treacherous.

After visiting taking in the views at the top of the mountain, they’re still lots of things to do at Grandfather Mountain. Hiking trails run throughout the park. Some are easy some are difficult, and some connect to the trails in the State Park. The wildlife habitats let you get a good look at and learn about species native to the mountain. There’s also a nature museum and the park holds educational programs throughout the day. Special events and clinics happen throughout the year, so be sure to check the Grandfather Mountain website for any you might be interested in.

The mountain has over 100 picnic sites with spectacular views, but if you’d rather not worry with packing your own lunch, Mildred’s Grill located at the nature museum is a great place to grab a bite and take in a little bird watching at the same time. And there’s no better way to finish up your mean than a trip to the mountains famous fudge shop. All proceeds from the park including entrance fees, food and souvenir sales go to preserving the park and it’s natural habitat.

Fast Facts about Grandfather Mountain

Type:State Park and Private Park Attraction
Admission:Grandfather Mountain State Park: Free but permits required for camping and backpacking
Grandfather Mountain Attraction: adults (ages 13-59) $22, seniors $18 and children (ages 4-12) $9 each
Location:Near Linville NC just off Blue Ridge Parkway
Website:State Park and Grandfather Mountain Attraction
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Things to do at Grandfather Mountain:

The State Park and Grandfather Mountain Attraction both offer hiking and plenty of opportunities for nature viewing and great scenery, but the State Park is mostly undeveloped and best suited to experienced hikers. The attraction, however, is accessible to people of all experience levels.

Hiking, bird watching, picnicking, educational programs, wildlife viewing, spectacular views

Map to Grandfather Mountain