Grandfather Mountain is a prominent and famous mountain located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Blowing Rock and Boone NC. The mountain and surrounding areas are a beautiful State park and attraction, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
Grandfather mountain is 5,946 feet in elevation, and home to the famous mile-high swinging bridge. The mountain is called Grandfather, due to its profile resembling the face of a Grandfather.
What you need to know about Grandfather Mountain
One of the confusing things about Grandfather Mountain is that's really one mountain, but two different things.
There is Grandfather Mountain State Park, and Grandfather Mountain the attraction. Both are on Grandfather Mountain itself, but in different locations, and serve different purposes, although there is some overlap. You'll sometimes hear the attraction referred to as "Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation" or just "Grandfather Mountain".
We'll address Grandfather Mountain State Park below in its own section, but the main focus of this article is Grandfather Mountain the Attraction, which is home to the well known "Mile High Swinging Bridge".
With that clarification out of the way, here is what you need to know about Grandfather Mountain:
- Grandfather Mountain NC is a fee-based attraction, located near Blowing Rock and Boone NC.
- How much does it cost to get into Grandfather Mountain? 2022 Grand Father Mountain Ticket Prices are: Adults: $22, Senior (age 60+): $20, Child (ages 4-12): $9, AAA Adult: $20 (must present valid AAA card), AAA Child: $8 (must present valid AAA card) - Tickets can be purchased online.
- Grandfather Mountain Hours: Spring (Starting April 2nd) from 9am - 6pm. During the Summer, it's open from 8am - 7pm
- Grandfather Mountain Weather: Weather at Grandfather Mountain is very unpredictable, and frequently far more windy and colder than temperatures on the parkway, or in valleys below. You'll want to dress in layers, and bring a jacket. We also recommend bringing rain gear, as storms can move in VERY quickly. Also note, that it can get very foggy as well, but then that fog can just as quickly disappear. Just part of the adventure when visiting Grandfather Mountain.
- Much of Grandfather mountain is Accessible for those with limited mobility. The swinging bridge pathway is accessible via an elevator in the shop, and the pathway and bridge are accessible as well. Most overlooks and scenic views are accessible, and the Wildlife Habitats are accessible as well. Grandfather Staff are also available to assist you if needed as well.
- Bring Fido! Grandfather Mountain IS pet friendly. Pets are permitted, on a leash. They are not allowed inside the buildings, due to health regulations, or in the Animal Habitats area. Dogs are even allowed on the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Where is Grandfather Mountain ?
Grandfather Mountain is located next to the Blue Ridge Parkway, between Linville NC and Blowing Rock NC. In fact, the famous Linn Cove Viaduct, on the Parkway, flows around the side of Grandfather Mountain.
The entrance to Grandfather Mountain is located on US 221, two miles north of Linville NC, and one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 305.
Grandfather Mountain Directions:
From Asheville NC: Take I-40 East to Marion, NC and take Exit 85. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go one mile to a stoplight. At the stoplight turn left and follow US 221 North to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain (about 30 miles).
From Charlotte NC - Take I-85 South to Gastonia NC, then 321 North to Hickory and I-40. Or take I-77 north to I-40. Go West on I-40 to Morganton (Exit 105). From Morganton, take NC 181 North to Linville, NC. Take US 221 2 miles from Linville to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.
From Boone NC - Take NC 105 South to Linville NC. Take US 221 North 2 miles to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.
From Blowing Rock NC - Take the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Blowing Rock, South to the US 221 intersection at Milepost 305. Take 221 South 1 mile to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.
From Winston Salem NC - Take US 421 North to Boone, NC. Take NC 105 South to Linville NC, and take US 221 North 2 miles to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.
Map to Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain Video
We visited Grandfather Mountain recently, and here is a pretty dramatic video we captured, as storms moved in and they closed the bridge until the storms moved through.
Insider Tips for visiting Grandfather Mountain
We have visited Grandfather Mountain many times over the years, and even RV camped with our children when they were younger. Given that, here are a few tips we've learned along the way:
- Weather at Grandfather Mountain is VERY unpredictable. One minute it may be calm, warm and sunny, and a few minutes later, cold windy, and raining. So dress appropriately. We recommend wearing layers, and brining some rain gear. In fact, temperatures at the top are often 10-20 degrees colder, then the flat areas of the Piedmont.
- Bring good rubber soled Shoes. The pathway to the bridge, and the walking across the bridge is flat and easily done with regular shoes. I you wish to hike up past the bridge a bit on the rocks, for some beautiful views, we recommend hiking shoes, boots, or a good pair of tennis shoes. Just something with good rubber soles.
- The Swinging Bridge does move, but not a lot - While the bridge is called a Swinging bridge, it really doesn't move a significant amount. The bridge is steel, and very strongly reinforced, with railings. It does move some though, especially when it's windy.
- Consider bringing a picnic lunch - There is one restaurant at Grandfather, Mildred's Grill. During the busy months, on weekends it gets busy fast. So factor that into your planning. A better option, might be to bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy it at one of the many picnic locations or scenic areas.
- When is the best time to visit? Well, that depends on what you're interested in, but we think the Fall is the best time to visit. While it is colder, visiting during peak Fall colors is just magical. If you prefer warmer temps, summer is going to be your best bet.
- Plan to spend the whole day - there is lots to do and see at Grandfather. We recommend arriving early, and hitting the Mile High Swinging Bridge first, as it's the busiest attraction. This will allow you to beat the crowds. Then you can do some of the many other activities there, including hiking or visiting the wildlife habitats.
- If you plan to hike, come prepared. The hikes at Grandfather Mountain are real hikes, especially the Grandfather trail. You'll want to pack water, snacks, a small backpack, and other day-hiking essentials. Also be aware, that you cannot hike at night. You must be back at your car by 5pm.
- Don't miss the Nature Center and Wildlife Habitats - You'll get to experience many native North Carolina and Grandfather Mountain area animals, up close. This is a real treat of visiting the park, and almost as awesome as the swinging bridge!
The Drive up through Grandfather Mountain
From the entrance gate, you'll begin your ascent up Grandfather Mountain. This windy paved road, will take you past all of the attractions at Grandfather Mountain, along with picnic areas and a number of scenic overlooks that provide stunning views.
Forest Gump Curve
Along the way, you'll also drive through Forrest Gump Curve - Just watch for the sign. The curve and view was featured in the blockbuster hit movie, Forrest Gump. About half-way through the movie, as Forrest is running across the country, Forrest is seen running in front of a crowd of followers as a beautiful evening sky lights up the Blue Ridge Mountains in the the background.
It's a beautiful scene that is hard to forgot. Here is a screen shot from the movie - btw, that's not Tom Hanks, but really his brother.
The scene was filmed at Forest Gump Curve on Grandfather Mountain.
Forrest Gump Curve is located on the main road to the summit, between the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery and the Mile High Swinging Bridge. A parking and picnic area is conveniently located just before this iconic stretch of road.
Please be aware, that due to traffic, walking or running on the road or in the curve is not permitted.
After passing Forest Gump Curve, the road will narrow out and begin a steep ascent up to the summit parking area, where you can access the Top Shop and the Mile High Swinging Bridge. The views from the parking lot alone are breathtaking.
Things to do at Grandfather Mountain
You'll find no shortage of both indoor and outdoor things to see and do when visiting Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather Mountain is full of things to see and do including:
- The Mile High Swinging Bridge
- Hiking and Walking Trails
- Wildlife Habitats
- Nature Museum
- Food and Picnics
- Special Events
- and more!
Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge - "Mile High Swinging Bridge"
The main attraction, and what Grandfather Mountain is most well known for is the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Since 1952, visitors have walked across the 228-foot suspension bridge, that spans an 80-foot chasm across two peaks of Grandfather Mountain. The Bridge itself is literally a mile high in the air, at 5,305 feet.
To reach the Mile High Swinging Bridge at the top of Grandfather, drive two-miles up the winding and incredibly scenic road to parking area at the top. You'll then need to either climb 50 stairs up to the paved trail to the bridge, or catch the elevator inside the "Top Shop" to reach the pathway to the bridge.
Walking across the bridge provides 360 degree views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. Be sure to take your time crossing, and enjoy the incredible views! For some it will be a bit scary, but it's so worth it!
On the other side you can climb up the rocks and explore more for additional views, and for some fantastic views of the bridge. Just be careful, and keep your kids close. The ledges here are unprotected, and people have fallen to their deaths. We recommend staying far away from the edges, as temping as the views can be.
For those that might have been visiting Grandfather since the early days, the bridge was upgraded in 1999, making it stronger, easier to maintain, and more stable, especially when it's windy.
Grandfather Mountain Wildlife Habitats / Zoo
While it's not really a zoo, many refer to it as one. Grandfather Mountain takes very good care of their animals, and the habitats are high quality, and natural. The Wildlife Habitats are one of the big attractions at Grandfather and for good reason.
While visiting, you can see:
- Black bears
- Bald eagles
- River otters
You will be able to observe the animals up close an in artificially created scenes that are very native to their natural settings. All of the animals featured here were injured, rescued, or orphaned. The animals could not survive on their own if returned to the wild.
The Wildlife habitats are very large protective enclosures that allow you to see the animals in close to natural settings. Viewing areas allow you to view the animals from only a few feet away. A special aquarium-like setting, allows you to enjoy watching the river otters play and interact above or below the water.
We really enjoyed walking through the various habitats and seeing the animals, and it turned out to be one of our favorite parts of our visit. Be sure to watch our video (above) for a tour of the Wildlife Habitats.
Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum and Wilson Center
Next to the Wildlife Habitats, are the Grandfather Mountain Nature Center and under construction Wilson Center.
The Nature Center includes a Nature Museum, Mildred's Grill (the main Grandfather Mountain restaurant), and restrooms. You'll also find the Fudge Shop here as well.
Currently, the Nature Center is undergoing a significant expansion. When visiting during 2022, you may find the Nature Center closed all together, or portions of it closed.
The new and expanded Museum and Wilson Center will feature new state-of-the-art interactive exhibits, allowing you to make real connections to the natural history, flora, fauna, geology and weather of the mountain.
Additional and revised classrooms and an auditorium will bring more educational opportunities. It will be part of the new Conservation Campus with outdoor learning spaces, an amphitheater, a pavilion and botanical gardens.
While visiting this area of the park, be sure to check out Split and Sphinx Rocks, two very interesting rock outcroppings that make for some great photo opportunities.
Picnic at Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain has one main restaurant, Mildred's Grill that is really good; however, during busy times the restaurant can get very busy. Enjoying a picnic at Grandfather is a very popular activity that will not only allow you to avoid the crowds, but save a little money as well.
Grandfather Mountain has more than 100 picnic tables and grills throughout the park. One of the nicest being the Woods Walk Picnic area about 1/3 up the the mountain entrance road, on the right. The picnic area has a number of picnic tables, restrooms, and water.
You'll find additional picnic areas around the various attractions and along the main access road.
Hiking at Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain offers up more than 12 miles of very well maintained hiking trails. These trails range from easy to very strenuous and challenging. In fact, the Grandfather Trail, one of the most talked about trails in the park will have you hiking out over summit ridges for over 2 miles to simply stunning views at Calloway Peak or MacRae Rock. Along the way, you'll climb ladders, and hang onto cables to navigate the mountain top!
Grandfather Mountain Trail
This trails is a very challenging and strenuous 4.8 mile roundtrip hike is designed for experienced hikers in excellent shape. The hike will have you climb across the rugged peaks of Grandfather Mountain, including the highest point at Calloway Peak at 5,946 feet!
Some portions of this trail require hand-over-hand hiking, with the use of cables and steep ladders. This trail is NOT for the faint of heart, and if you are afraid of heights, we highly recommend skipping this trail.
This is one of the most technical hikes on the east coast that doesn't require and special gear.
Easy to moderate Hiking Trails
Grandfather Mountain also has a number of popular easy to moderate hikes as well, including:
- Woods Walk - This loop trail is located in the picnic area, just up from the entrance gate. This woodland stroll is 0.4 miles.
- Bridge Trail - This 0.4 mile one way trail, begins at Black Rock Parking area and ends at Top Shop near the Mile high Swinging Bridge, and takes you under it.
- Block Rock Trail - One of the more scenic trails in the park, this 1 mile one way trail begins at the Black Rock Parking Area, and ends with incredible scenic views on top of a massive rock outcropping
- Mile High Swinging Bridge - This trail, or pathway, begins above the summit parking area and next to Top Shop. The trail will take you across the ridge and the Mile High Swinging Bridge. For those seeking a bit more adventure, you can hike out onto the rock cliffs on top of Linville Peak - just use caution.
Grandfather Mountain Highland Games
Come experience "A wee bit of Scotland in the High Country of Western North Carolina".
The most popular event at Grandfather Mountain and one of the most popular events in the Blue Ridge Mountains are the The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which takes place in June. Each year, hundreds of tartan banners unfurl, and the sounds of bagpipes and kettle drums can be heard echoing through the hollers and valleys.
Thousands of kilt-clad Scots make their way to Highland Games location at MacRae Meadows for the annual gathering and games.
- Border collie sheep herding demonstration,
- Celtic entertainment and the running of “The Bear”, a 5-mile footrace that climbs 1,568 feet from Linville NC to the summit of Grandfather Mountain.
- A torchlight Opening ceremony begin at dusk. representatives of each of the 100 clans and 16 societies announce their family’s participation in the gathering.
- “Turning the Caber” which requires athletes to flip a telephone-pole-sized tree trunk over
- “Tossing the Sheaf” challenges athletes to throw a 16-pound sack of hay over a crossbar more than 20 ft. off the ground.
- Highland wrestling, putting the stone, the hammer throw and other various weight throws.
- A trust test of endurance is the the running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.
During the events, there is:
- Highland dancing
- Bagpipe parades, piping, drumming and harp competitions
- An open air market where merchants sell all kinds of gift items, foods, and beverages. Don't miss the meat pies!
The event is fun for all, and one that should not be missed!
Grandfather Mountain State Park
We mentioned early in our guide, that Grandfather Mountain was a mountain, attraction, and state park. We have covered the Attraction in the sections above, and now we'll cover the State Park portion of Grandfather Mountain. We know, it's a bit confusing!
What is Grandfather Mountain State Park?
Grandfather Mountain State Park extends the Grandfather Mountain Attraction to cover more than 2400 acres of the mountain's backcountry. The State Park is known for hiking trails and camping facilities.
Directions to Grandfather Mountain State Park
Hiking trails are accessible from Grandfather Mountain Attraction, and two addition locations in the State Park:
West Side - From NC 105 near its intersection with NC 184 in Banner Elk, the trailhead for the Profile Trail offers parking. At Calloway Gap, along the ridge, the Profile Trail connects to other trails in the system.
East Side - From the Blue Ridge Parkway area, there are two points of access. Most hikers use the Boone Fork Parking Area at mile 299.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The second is the Parkway's Asutsi Trail (the only winter access when the Parkway is closed) – located on Hwy 221, 1.6 miles south of Holloway Mtn. Road. From either of these points, hikers can follow the Parkway's Tanawha Trail south to reach Grandfather's Nuwati and Daniel Boone Scout trailheads.
Hiking in Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Mountain State Park, provides over 12-miles of hiking trails through it's more than 2400 acres of land. Most of the trails are steep and very challenging. The Park recommends planning an entire day for your hike, and for planing to return to your vehicle by dark.
Parking permits are required and can be obtained from the Profile Trailhead parking area located off of N.C. 105 and along the Tanawha Trail before accessing the Nuwati and Daniel Boone Scout trails located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In addition to the trails accessible from the Grandfather Mountain Attraction, mentioned above, Hiking Trails in Grandfather Mountain State Park include (from moderate to most strenuous):
This 3.0 mile roundtrip and moderate hike is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Boone Fork Parking area (MP299.9). The trail follows the track of an old logging road. There are several creek crossings and the trail is very rocky with lots of roots. Views from the top are fantastic, and well worth the hike. You will need to scramble up Storyteller rock at the top for the best views.
Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.
Daniel Boone Scout Trail
Accessible from the Boone Fork Parking area off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP299.9), this 6.0 mile roundtrip and strenuous hike, climbs 2,000 feet in elevation to Calloway Peak, at 5,946 feet. The second half of the trail is tough, but full of great views, including one of the Linn Cove Viaduct.
Near Calloway Peak, hikers will need to negotiate in-place ladders and cables through steepest sections. The upper portion of this trail is not recommended for pets.
To reach the trailhead, from the parking lot, follow the Tanawha Trail for 0.6 miles to the Daniel Boone ScoutTrailhead.
This 7.1 mile roundtrip and strenuous trail begins at the Profile Trail parking area, at 4198 NC Hwy 105 N and ends at the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap. This is a challenging and not for the faint of heart trail. The second half of the trail is a particularly difficult.
The trail starts as a rolling pathway through seasonal wildflowers, this trail crosses the Watauga River and travels under a hardwood canopy for much of its length. The Upper sections, beginning around Foscoe View, get significantly steeper.
Shanty Spring, at the 3.2 mile mark is a a transition into a strenuous hike of rock that joins the Grandfather Trail after a climb of 0.4 mile. The trail then makes the transition out of the hardwoods and into the fir tree zone of the crest.
The upper section is very steep and rocky and calls for careful footwork; this section is not recommended for pets. This hike is recommended for experienced and in shape hikers only.
Camping at Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Mountain State park has 13 backpack camp sites that require reservations and a camping permit. Additionally, all campsites must be reserved in advance and there is a camping fee.
Visit the Grandfather Mountain State Park Camping page for more information.
Where to Stay when visiting Grandfather Mountain
When visiting Grandfather Mountain, there are a number of options for where to stay. The following towns are nearby:
All of these towns provide hotel, cabins, and camping options. They also provide options for where to eat, and additional things to do and see.
If you are looking for a great RV Campground to stay out, we've personally stayed a number of times at Grandfather RV Park in Banner Elk NC, and really enjoyed it.