Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

RR October 12, 2010 No Comments

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Experience Thrill Without a Ride

World renowned tourist attractions such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Hawaiian beaches, historic Boston, romantic Rome and others become household names thanks to TV documentaries, movies, books and magazine cover stories devoted to each and every aspect  associated with them. That doesn’t mean that places less written or talked about are any less impressive however. The truth is –no matter where we live, we are surrounded by beautiful, historic, awe-inspiring places sure to capture our hearts and kindle inspiration. But if they haven’t caught the national or world media’s attention yet because of their geography or lack of promotion, we are likely to miss experiencing them unless we keep our eyes and minds open.  Taking some time to explore our surroundings often reveals surprising discoveries and wonderful secrets that we may never read about in travel magazines or see on TV.

Nestled in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina is one such natural attraction few outside the state may have heard about.  Grandfather Mountain, described as ‘the most rugged mountain in east America’ is a fantastic family destination where one can easily spend anywhere from 2 hours to an entire day and always leave with a desire to return again soon.  The United Nations recognizes Grandfather Mountain as one the world’s Biosphere Reserves. At almost 6000 feet above sea level, this is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although the mountain is over 65 million years old, its name has as much to do with its northern profile as its age. At a certain angle, the mountain appears to resemble an old man looking towards the sky.  Squinting to spot that resemblance is part of the experience of visiting Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain North Carolina

Fall colors near Grandfather Mountain

That’s not all, of course.

Having lived in the area for several years, we must have paid the old man at least half a dozen visits.  And if there’s one thing I can say with confidence, it’s that we barely scratched the surface of this humbling mountain.

First things, first.  If you enjoy winding mountain roads, then the journey to Grandfather Mountain itself is sure to be a treat. Blue Ridge Parkway and Highways 321 and 221 are a dream come true for passionate drivers who love to tackle sharp bends and blind curves. ..needless to say the drive is a visual treat for any nature lover throughout the year. Fall is probably the best time to drive up there – it’s not easy to describe in words an entire mountain drenched in the colors of the rainbow, sprinkled with golden sunlight against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky. However, every season has its own way of dressing up the valleys and ranges and do take your time to stop at least at a couple of overlooks and inhale the beauty before you proceed to Grandfather Mountain.

Things to do in Grandfather Mountain

Once you get in, you’ll pass through a native wildlife habitat on your way to the top. You should definitely stop here and spend at least 30-40 minutes watching the cougar, bald eagles, deer, otters and other animal friends in their habitats. If you’re lucky you might even get a peek at the bear family. This is a great place for young kids to get the feel of a forest and see how animals lived hundreds of years ago.

As you climb up, there are a few more overlooks and picnic areas that welcome you. But the real thrill begins once you’re at the top – near the visitor’s center. This is where you get to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and prepare yourself for the exhilarating walk across the mile high swing bridge. That’s right. It’s one mile high. And it’s a swinging bridge – the highest of its kind in America! The highlight of Grandfather Mountain for most visitors is a walk across this bridge to the rocky edge of the mountain that is not fenced in.  It’s a truly liberating experience to walk among the clouds and mist, with views of a lake, the mountains and the Appalachian forests below. For many, those few moments when you’re walking over the bridge will most likely bring you closer to nature than you ever thought possible. We like to spend hours sitting on those rocks with nothing between us and the mountains, just staring out into infinity. 

Mile High Swing Bridge Grandfather Mountain NC

Mile high swing bridge

If you’d like a little more action than that though, be sure to check out the trail maps and pick a hiking trail that fits your schedule and fitness level. There are a few challenging ones that may not be suitable for kids and one or two that are more child-friendly.  I know for sure that the Grandfather Trail is the most difficult. It starts at the visitor center and you get to scale the mountain’s tallest peaks before reaching the very top.  A great hike if you’re up for 4 hours of very serious climbing. The Woods Walk Bridge Trail is a short, easy trail that takes you from the lower part of the mountain to the Swinging Bridge.

Besides the Swinging Bridge, the hikes and the habitat, there’s also a Nature Museum where you can watch nature films about the mountain. There’s also a restaurant and a gift shop worth checking out if you have the time.

Grandfather Mountain is not for you if you like a fully-packed schedule with ‘What’s next?’ constantly on your mind. There are no thrill rides or fast track entertainment options here.  Grandfather Mountain is about slow-paced self- discovery, the soulful sounds of silence, expanding natural beauty and an enriching, wholesome day spent with your family challenging and advancing your knowledge of nature.  Venture here only if you can handle true joy – the kind that comes from realizing the power of nature and not from a thundering roller coaster.

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RR writes on intentional parenting, holistic living, travel and other topics. Visit her blog on reading to kids

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