During our recent stay along the Blue Ridge Parkway we decided to venture to Grandfather Mountain to take in all the beautiful fall colors. While we ultimately had intentions of arriving early, that didn’t happen. Those of you that are familiar with our travels know that while we always have intentions of an early arrival, it rarely happens.
While we weren’t the first ones to arrive at Grandfather Mountain, we did manage to get there before the bulk of visitors started showing up. This is always a good thing when trying to park a bus in small area.
Spending the day at Grandfather Mountain
Upon arriving, our first stop was the Visitor Center. This is where we picked up the boys books so that they could add another Jr. Ranger certificate to their list. They also told us that if we planned on heading to the swinging bridge that it would be best to go ASAP. As the day goes on, it would be harder to park our bus since parking is limited at the top.
On the way up to the Swinging Bridge be sure to keep an eye out for the “Forest Gump Curve“. This was the filming location of the scene when Gump was running continuously across country.
Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge
The mile-high swinging bridge has been in place since 1952 and offers 360-degree panoramic views from Grandfather Mountain. The bridge doesn’t feel like it’s constantly swinging, but once you stop walking you can feel it lightly swaying back and forth. Add a few people and higher winds and you can definitely feel it moving. Little Luke was all for going across the bridge until I let go of his hand to try to snap a picture of them at the 1-mile high mark. About the time I let go of his hand, more people starting coming onto the bridge and you could really feel it swaying. This was as best I could get in term of pictures.
While the Mile-High Bridge at Grandfather Mountain is the star of the show, it isn’t the only thing to do. Once you come back over the bridge, be sure to stop at the gift shop and head upstairs to the art exhibit area. There you’ll find a gallery of beautiful pictures taken by Hugh MacRae Morton. Hugh Morton was a well-known sports photography that inherited Grandfather Mountain in 1952. Once he inherited the property, he began the project of opening the mountain to the public by adding an access road and the first Mile-High Swinging Bridge. In this area you’ll also find pictures showing the different stages of the bridge being built, and pictures of Grandfather Mountains first bear – Mildred.
Additional Grandfather Mountain Activities Include:
Hiking trails: Grandfather Mountain is home to 11 hiking trails all varying in difficulty. From a beginner walk to a rigorous trek across rugged peaks, you’re sure to find a hike that you’ll love. What’s really amazing about some of Grandfather Mountains trails is the varied elevation and climates that are found. Also, the mountain is home to 73 rare or endangered species.
Since the boys really wanted to get down to the Wildlife Habitat before the enrichment programs started we didn’t have time to do any hikes. In the past we have taken the short hike from the hiking parking lot up to the swinging bridge and really enjoyed it. We do plan to head back just for the hiking (and the Wildlife Habitat).
Wildlife Habitats: This is my second favorite section in Grandfather Mountain, it’s like a small zoo where you can get up closer and personal with the animals. I adore watching all the animals they have. In the Wildlife Habitat you’ll find a cougar, bald eagles, otters, bears and coming soon will be elk. The cougar is pretty shy and for the most part won’t come out until they do the enrichment activities. This was the main reason the boys had us on a schedule as far as hiking. Of course like with all animals, there’s no guarantee that the cougar will come out even for the enrichment activity. He never came out during our visit, but we did see…
The otters…oh how I love these little guys. They are always ready to put on a show even without an enrichment activity. I could spend hours just watching them run, flip and swim in their habitat.
The bears are pretty amazing as well. Grandfather Mountain currently has four bears. One male, three females. I love how close you can get to the bears and enjoy them in what would be their natural habitat. Each set of bears get to roam on 2 acres each. They have trees to climb, rocks to roam about and they also are provided an area for hibernation. We learned a lot about bears during the enrichment activity.
The bald eagles are a beautiful site to see. It’s rare to be able to see such a majestic bird so close.
Split Rock and Sphinx Rock
These rock formations are amazing! Weighing in at more than 2 million pounds, the boys enjoyed climbing up on these for a birds-eye view of their surroundings. Here’s a picture I took of them under the Sphinx Rock.
The Nature Museum has over two dozen exhibits that show the natural history of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding region. We enjoyed spending time in this area and educating ourselves on the rich history of the area, as well as enjoying the collection of North Carolina gems that are on display. We also had a few Jr. Ranger questions that needed to be answered in this section.
While we chose to enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the numerous picnic areas available, they do have the Fudge Shop which is one of the mountains most eco-friendly buildings. How do we know this? This was one of the questions that the boys were required to answer in order to get their Jr. Ranger pin and certificate. We were completely impressed with all the measures they have in place there. If you ever get a chance to visit, be sure to ask them the ways that make them eco-friendly, even if you aren’t getting a Jr. Ranger badge.
If you’re looking for something other than delicious ice cream, cookies and fudge then theirs Mildred’s Grill. The entire time we strolled along the animal habitat, we smelled the mouth-watering food cooking. Mildred’s Grill is named after the very first bear at Grandfather Mountain and seats up to 140 people. While we didn’t eat there during this visit, we have in the past and I remember being very pleased with the selection and reasonable prices.
Things to know when visiting Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is open every day of the year (weather permitting), except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission cost is $20 for adults, $9 for 4-12 and under 4 get in FREE. They also offer daily enrichment activities that involve the animals. It’s a great way to enjoy the animals in their habitats.
If you’re unable to climb the stairs to reach the swinging bridge, there is an elevator access
Just looking to hike? No problem. Hikers can access the the trails inside Grandfather Mountain State Park for FREE from trailheads outside the attraction.