If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you are truly on top of the world, Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, is the spot for you. It’s the only place I’ve been (beyond an airplane) where I was looking DOWN at the clouds below me.
The area around Grandfather Mountain is famous for its skiing options, but this particular destination should be a must-see for everyone visiting the region.
It’s about a 20 minute drive from Beech Mountain and well worth the short trip over.
With your admission fee you can get a CD to play through your car stereo that serves as your personal guide up the mountain. It’ll point out the rock formations you see on your way up, around each curve. You can pause at any moment if you want to get out and walk around a bit and explore. Or, you can skip a track and go back to it later if you want. That’s what we did since our priority was to get to the swinging bridge before fog set in—hoping to get the best view from the top.
It was a smart move.
Of course, you can hike the trails all the way to the top if you prefer not to drive, but we were in a rush, with sore muscles from two days of skiing before, so we drove all the way to the base of the swinging bridge. We parked and bundled up (it’s breezy and cold when you’re a mile high) and made our way to the foot of the bridge.
The swinging rope bride has been replaced with a steel bridge, so it doesn’t really swing anymore, but it’s still a narrow bridge a mile up in the air, connecting you to a smaller mountain top where you will be rewarded with incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains around you.
Being the first to arrive that day paid off for us as we were able to take some gorgeous pictures before the crowds poured in, something I considered pretty priceless. There was a great photo opp everywhere I turned. I’m told they host sunset and sunrise photo walks during certain times of year, so check into that if you’re interested.
We made the most of our time at the top, and I have to warn there were moments when my heart skipped a beat in my chest realizing it wouldn’t take much to trip or fall and end up waaaaaaay down the mountain, most likely not in one piece. It’s not a place to send your toddlers without a guardian holding hands for each person. The mom in me wondered why there was no fencing, until I realized the entire mountain would have to be fenced off, and nobody wants to see that (nor would it really be possible).
So go, just be cautious when you do it.
Back at the base of the mountain there’s an animal habitats section where you can see black bears, cougars, deer, otters and eagles. We were disappointed to only see the otters and eagles while we were there, but that has to do with timing more than anything. There’s also a Nature Museum where you can learn about the trees and gemstones found in the area, among other things.
If you would like only to hike the trails without visiting the travel attraction (Swinging Bridge, wildlife habitats, etc.), you may access Grandfather Mountain State Park for FREE from off-mountain trailheads on N.C. 105 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Note—if you’re considering doing this with kids, it’s two miles to the top).