Top 5 Reasons To Visit Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain offers a one-of-a-kind North Carolina experience for visitors of any age. Interestingly, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation operates the mountain and swinging bridge. It’s a unique situation that the site isn’t run by the National Park Service or as a North Carolina State Park.

Still, this is one of the reasons Grandfather Mountain is such an intriguing visit. The foundation’s entire focus is preserving and operating 700 acres of mountain land. Partially as a result of this arrangement, you have access to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, Wildlife Habitats, and the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery.

While the hiking at Grandfather Mountain is breathtaking (in more than one way), the hiking trails are just the beginning of the overall experience.

Top 5 Reasons To Visit Grandfather Mountain

Peak at Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain is a tall peak that is only one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Linville, North Carolina, is the closest town, but several other high-country attractions are close by.

Sugar Mountain, which features some of the best ski slopes in North Carolina, is only a few miles away. The Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster and Hawksnest Snow Tubing are also close by.

Still, Grandfather Mountain offers a unique experience. Our favorite reasons to visit are the swinging bridge, hiking trails, incredible views, and wildlife habitats at the Wilson Center.

1. Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Before the 1950s, visitors couldn’t easily make it to the top of Grandfather Mountain. But the Mile High Swinging Bridge opened in 1952 as the highest suspension footbridge in the United States. There is also a parking lot and visitor center close to the bridge, which makes these incredible views accessible without an entire hike to get there.

The suspension bridge is more than 200 feet long, and while you may feel some slight movement, the bridge is safe and sturdy. The suspended bridge hangs one mile above sea level, giving the bridge the name Mile High Swinging Bridge.

One reason the bridge is so popular is that it offers 360° views from one of the tallest peaks in this region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And while I’ve seen some people that are afraid to walk across the bridge, it’s more of an invigorating experience than an intimidating one.

The bridge crosses an 80-foot chasm, which is plenty high but not as tall as the Mile High name might suggest.

The adjacent visitor center is referred to as Top Shop. It features an education exhibition, an elevator to make the bridge more accessible, plus snacks and gifts.

2. Hiking at Grandfather Mountain

Hiking Trails at Grandfather Mountain

Naturally, Grandfather Mountain features some of the most beautiful hiking around. And some of the hikes are more difficult than you might find elsewhere. Some of the trails require climbing up and down wooden ladders, which probably indicates what the hikes are like.

The Grandfather Trail is one of the challenging hiking trails that spans 2.4 miles. You should avoid Grandfather Trail if you are a novice or weary of draining hiking experiences. Those choosing to cross Grandfather Trail will traverse rocky inclines with cables and ladders.

Of course, the reward for conquering Grandfather Trail includes beautiful views. You will also have the opportunity to climb up to the highest peak on Grandfather Mountain. Calloway Peak reaches an elevation of 5,946 feet.

There are also easy and moderate hikes on Grandfather Mountain, so it’s not like you need a rock climbing harness. Most of the trails are much more accessible than the infamous Grandfather Trail. Other trails include the Black Rock Trail, Grandfather Loop, Woods Walk, and Bridge Trail.

Keep in mind that these trails are all accessible within the Grandfather Mountain grounds, which require an entrance fee and are operated by a non-profit. There are additional hikes that are accessible from Grandfather State Park.

Hiking on the Grandfather trails can be easy or difficult, depending on your chosen trail, but it is always serious. The team that operates the mountain and attractions will send out a search party if you haven’t returned to your car by closing time.

The biggest takeaway here is to choose wisely and be careful, but enjoy your hike all the same. We also like the hiking at Moses Cone Manor, which is a short drive away, but these Grandfather hikes are unique and beautiful, and they should be fully enjoyed.

3. Wildlife Habitats

Bald Eagle Wildlife Habitat

Kids and adults alike will love the Wildlife Habitats. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to see animals they would otherwise never see? You might see some people ask about the Grandfather Mountain Zoo, but this isn’t really a zoo.

The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation maintains environmental habitats for five select animals. You will have the opportunity to see bald eagles, black bears, cougars, elk, and river otters when you visit the Wildlife Habitats. In our book, that is pretty cool.

My favorite animals are the majestic-looking bald eagles, which live in an aerially enclosed habitat. You are likely familiar with bald eagles because they are the national bird of the United States. Still, you are missing out if you’ve never seen a bald eagle in person. They are lovely birds.

Really, all of the animals in the Wildlife Habitat are impressive. Most people will never see a black bear, a cougar, or an elk in the wild, which is likely a good thing. But when you get to see them in person, their beauty, power, and intellect are all captivating.

The river otters live in an environmental habitat that includes a pool for them to play in. One side of the pool abuts a viewing wall where visitors can see the otters swimming in the water. River otters are beautiful and were trapped by early settlers for their fur.

Several of these animals are either endangered or have decreasing populations. The Wildlife Habitat often acts as a place for rehabilitated animals to live out their days in peace. The animals are well taken care of, and we humans have the opportunity to appreciate their beauty.

4. Wilson Center & Daily Programs

Views from the mountain.

The Wilson Center is an interactive educational exhibition that is located about halfway up the mountain. The Wilson Center is next to the Wildlife Habitats, so you can in the shared parking lot to experience both settings.

Some other exhibitions include items like an interactive 3D map of the mountain, a mineral cave where you can see minerals glow under black light, and a shadow play center where you can learn about the silhouettes of various birds and bats.

It is the perfect place for kids to explore and learn about the intricacies of nature. My kids love the exhibition, which teaches about wind by sucking playful fabric up a tube and tossing it out from above to float back down to the ground. It is part of the center’s growing focus on Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).

The Wilson Center is also home to the Hodges Theater, where you can watch a documentary or come to listen to the speaker series. You will also find Mildred’s Grill at the Wilson Center. There is enough to do for you to stay all day on the mountain, so it is nice that a small restaurant offers an on-site eatery option.

5. Unbelievable Views & Scenery

Blue Ridge Mountains from Grandfather Mountain.

The views from Grandfather Mountain are so picturesque that they are hard to capture in a picture fully. The peaks at Grandfather Mountain rise above much of the surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway. From the top of the peaks, you can fully appreciate why the Blue Ridge Mountains get their name.

Each ridge in the distance is painted slightly different shades of blue. The layers of blue look like they were creatively imagined by an artist. Instead, the canvas of blue serves as inspiration for everyday visitors.

The trek to the top of Grandfather Mountain is about two miles long from the main entrance. Along the ascent, there are multiple areas to pull to the side to take pictures, and you will certainly want to do just that.

The ascent to the top of Grandfather Mountain is fairly steep. The top of the mountain is so high that it can be drastically colder and windier than the base of the mountain. Because of the steepness and height, it almost feels like you are driving above the rest of the world as you make your way to the top.

Perhaps that is why Forrest Gump includes a scene with Forrest running up these various mountain roads. The scene from the film is marked, and when you see the views for yourself, you will understand why this was a perfect location to film.

More About Grandfather Mountain

Elk in Environmental Habitat.

Truly, you can visit this beautiful mountain time and time again. And each time you visit, you might explore a different aspect of the mountain. Some people might be hesitant to spend money to drive up the mountain, but the entrance fee is totally worth it.

The drive to the top of the mountain is shockingly scenic, and the swinging bridge is a one-of-a-kind experience. The hikes (some of which include ladders and cables!) are unique, and the Wilson Center and Wildlife habitats are just the icing on the cake. This is especially true if you have kids.

How Much Time Should You Spend At Grandfather Mountain?

Most people plan to spend two or three hours at Grandfather Mountain, but you could spend much longer than that if you want to go hiking. Still, two or three hours is enough time for the Mile High Swinging Bridge and Wildlife Habitat.

There is a grill and restaurant on site for those that plan to spend an extended amount of time inside the park. And since you have to pay to enter, you might as well stay for a while and get your money’s worth!

Grandfather Mountain Elevation

The tallest peak at Grandfather Mountain rises 5,946 feet above sea level. Most people will visit Linville Peak, where a swinging suspension bridge hangs above an 80-foot chasm. The suspension bridge is a mile above sea level, which is why it is called the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

For those that want to climb the elevation, consider the Profile Trail, which is a 3.6-mile trail that begins near N.C. Highway 105. The difficult trail rises 1,775 feet from the base to its peak.

Hotels Near Grandfather Mountain

For those interested in staying in a hotel near Grandfather Mountain, we recommend that you consider hotels near Boone or Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Both drives are a short drive away. Most of the restaurants, stores, and other amenities will be located in these two towns.

There is also a vast network or short-term rentals in the high country, so you can also consider looking for an Airbnb or VRBO property.

Is Grandfather Mountain Worth The Money?

Mile High Swinging Bridge is tallest pedestrian suspension bridge in the United States.

The fee required to enter Grandfather Mountain supports its preservation and the maintenance of the various attractions. After you cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge, visit the Wilson Center, and watch animals at the Wildlife Habitat, you will realize that visiting the mountain is well worth the money.

Many of the local high country hikes are accessible for free, so the fee might catch you off guard if you’ve never visited. Still, Grandfather Mountain is much more than the location of a few popular hiking trails. It’s a full-day destination.

Reservations and Costs

You must make a reservation to visit Grandfather Mountain. You can buy tickets through the foundation’s website, and the costs are very reasonable. There are also discounts available for AAA and for those meeting various criteria.

What Is Grandfather Mountain Known For?

Grandfather Mountain is best known for the Mile High Swinging Bridge, the highest pedestrian suspension bridge in the United States. Grandfather Mountain is also home to the Wilson Center and a wildlife habitat that is home to bald eagles, bears, cougars, and more.

While it is also cool that a scene from Forrest Gump was filmed on the winding mountain roads, the views are the best reason to visit. Whether on the drive to the top or standing in the middle of the swinging bridge, the views are surreal.

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.