Among High Country landmarks, perhaps no place more typifies the sentiment of the great conservationist Muir than Linville’s Grandfather Mountain. John Muir, nature connoisseur and founder of Sierra Club, upon visiting the great mountain in 1898 while ill with a cough, wrote his wife saying, “The air has healed me. I think I could walk 10 miles and not be tired.”
Muir is one among many notable visitors to Grandfather Mountain, whose name was derived from pioneers who recognized the face of an old man in one of the cliffs. Many vantage points reveal different faces, so there is no one official profile of the mountain, but the most popular can be seen from the community of Foscoe, seven miles north of Linville and 10 miles south of Boone on N.C. 105.
Grandfather is among the most recognizable and visited attractions in the state of North Carolina for myriad reasons. From its unique and lovable animal habitats to the opportunities for visitors to experience hands-on opportunities to get up close and personal with nature in a summer climate that beckons tourists to escape the heat of the lowlands to the cooler climes of a mile-high elevation, Grandfather Mountain combines the thrill of experiencing the fun of the great outdoors with educational experiences with no equal.
“Grandfather Mountain is a special place, and it always has been, even before Hugh Morton established the park as a nature preserve and attraction in 1952,” Frank Ruggiero, director of marketing and communications with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees and operates the park, said. “Here, you can experience and embrace nature at your own pace, even if you’ve never so much as looked at a hiking boot. Or if you enjoy climbing ladders up mountainsides more than a mile above sea level — and all points in between. You can come face to face with a black bear in our environmental wildlife habitats, watch river otters frolic, cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge and make mountains of memories.”
Among the mountain’s newest offerings are both unique educational opportunities, as well as a few new residents.
The popular “Grandfather Presents” Lecture Series offers a number of lectures and workshops through the summer featuring experts discussing topics ranging from ecology to ocean conservancy. The mountain also offers educational workshops through the summer and fall with topics that include methods of teaching environmental education and workshops all about elk and black blears.
“On the mountain, we like to bridge outdoor fun with education,” Ruggiero said. “With our ‘Grandfather Presents’ series, guests can enjoy presentations from some of the country’s foremost experts on conservation, including professors, naturalists, scientists, photographers, writers, historians and artists.”
Always popular among visitors to the attraction are the wide range of animal exhibits, where everything from playful otters swim to majestic elk roam. Additional animals, including deer, eagles, bears and more are available for viewing in their natural surroundings.
Although the mountain makes its own statement with its inhabitants and majestic beauty, its caretakers, the staff and employees that maintain the operate the attraction, are in a class by themselves.
“Another major draw is our reputation for customer service,” Ruggiero added. “Our staff always goes above and beyond to make sure our guests have an extraordinary experience. We’re not about moving mountains; just people.”
Grandfather features unique hiking trails and pathways for visitors of all ages seeking a time to venture out and grow closer with nature, but may have varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to reaching one’s destination.
“Oftentimes, this is people’s first connection with nature at Grandfather. Maybe someone has read about it or gone on a brief stroll on a greenway, but hasn’t really ventured out into the woods gotten and up close with nature. A lot of people have genuine concerns about that, and whether it’s safe, especially out alone, so we like to offer kind of a bridge to that world as well,” Ruggiero said. “They can drive up to a trail, they can take a short stroll, or if they’re more experienced hikers, they can venture for miles. They can go to Calloway Peak or MacRae Peak and get back into the backcountry. There are hiking possibilities for any level, whether beginner or strenuous hikers, and all points in between.”
From the Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum to the vast array of environments and wildlife habitats to the museum restaurant with fresh-made fare that includes its popular and sustainably made fudge, there’s something for everyone at the mountain.
“You can spend the entire day here and find a whole new set of activities to do here the next day as well,” Ruggiero added.
Grandfather Mountain is perhaps best-known for two facets of the attraction: the Mile-High Swinging Bridge and its wildlife habitats. The Mile-High Swinging Bridge, America’s highest suspension footbridge, was built to give visitors easy access to the breathtaking view from Grandfather Mountain’s Linville Peak. First built in the early 1950s and later receiving an updated renovation, the suspension bridge spans 228 feet and an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation, and is a highlight of any trip.
Grandfather Mountain’s wildlife habitats are a must-see for any visitor, featuring a variety of animals found in a habitat most like its natural surroundings outside of captivity.
Throughout the decades, Grandfather Mountain has attracted visitors from all walks of life. The mountain welcomes all comers through its gates to, as Muir so eloquently described, “take a course in the eternal youth of Nature.”
“Grandfather Mountain has attracted visitors throughout the centuries, from French botanist Andre Michaux to country legend Johnny Cash. Like our guests today, they were drawn to the mountain’s dramatic, natural beauty,” Ruggiero explained. “The mountain is hundreds of millions of years old, yet timeless. When you stand on a cliffside looking toward the horizon, you feel as though you’re in another world, another time and place.”
COVID-19 protocols continue to be in place at the mountain. Tickets must be purchased online by clicking to https://tickets.grandfather.com. Per state regulation, Grandfather Mountain requires that guests wear face coverings in all indoor facilities and anywhere outdoors where safe six-foot distances cannot be maintained.
Whether you’re a frequent visitor to Grandfather or simply wish to experience nature at an elevated level for the first time, Grandfather Mountain offers something for everyone that few locations can boast.
“There’s practically a mile-high list of things to do when you visit Grandfather Mountain. We always recommend that folks spend at least three to four hours on the mountain to enjoy much of what we have to offer, although it’s not usual for a family to spend a whole day here and then come back later the same week for a whole new experience,” Ruggiero said. “As we like to say, the wonders never cease.”
To book a visit, learn more about the mountain’s offerings and history, and updated protocols and information, click to www.grandfather.com.