10+ Great Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain (and Nearby!)

Last Updated on June 21, 2022

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The High Country is home to many of North Carolina‘s most iconic attractions and at the top of our bucket list, and you’ll always find the Mile High Swinging Bridge and more things to do at Grandfather Mountain.

Since it’s such a massive mountain, home to rare wildlife, and essential to its surroundings, we created this guide as a tribute and to show your around.

We break down the privately-owned attraction side from the entrance gate of Grandfather Mountain up to the top. There’s also a section dedicated to tips for the Grandfather Mountain State Park section since the two are intertwined historically and today.

There’s so much to uncover about Grandfather Mountain that we’ve organized this guide into the following sections:

  • Location Info
  • Grandfather Mountain Facts (History and Ecology)
  • How to Visit Today (Grandfather Mountain Attraction vs. Grandfather Mountain State Park)
  • Ticket Info
  • Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain
  • Grandfather Mountain State Park Things to Do
  • Things to Do Nearby (Blue Ridge Parkway Stops, Mountain Towns, and More!)

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

Where is Grandfather Mountain?

Address: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646

Map of North Carolina highlighting Avery County.svg
Map Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Grandfather Mountain is in Avery County, in the northwestern corner of North Carolina. It is near the border of both Watauga and Caldwell counties and near the following towns:

Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map

15+ More Grandfather Mountain Facts (History and Ecology!)

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain

You’ll better appreciate the best things to do at Grandfather Mountain after understanding its history and these fun facts.

  • Grandfather Mountain is more than 300 million years old, with some rock formations going back 1.2 billion years.
  • The mountain’s original name was “Tanawha,” which means “a fabulous hawk or eagle” in Cherokee.
  • “Grandfather” came later, after western explorers noticed an old man’s face on the mountain.
  • Speaking of explorers, some of the world’s most famous adventurers have spent time at Grandfather Mountain.
    • Daniel Boone (famous pioneer)
    • Andre Michaux (French botanist and explorer)
    • Asa Gray (American botanist)
    • John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club)
  • While Andre Michaux studied the mountain’s ecology in 1794, he reached Calloway Peak and mistakenly thought that Grandfather Mountain was the highest point in North America.
  • Grandfather Mountain may appear taller than its neighbors, with an elevation of 5,946 feet above sea level. However, more than 20 mountains in Western North Carolina are higher than Grandfather.
  • Weather conditions are still fairly rough at Grandfather Mountain, even though it’s not the tallest. Winds can surpass 130 miles per hour, and temperatures drop below freezing during the winter months.
  • Before the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation and the State of North Carolina acquired it, multiple families owned Grandfather Mountain.
  • The descendants of Revolutionary War General William Lenoir owned land that included Grandfather Mountain for much of the 1800s. Then, in the 1880s, Donald MacRae purchased the mountain and surrounding tracts.
  • The MacRae family led the Linville Improvement Company, which included projects such as Yonahlossee Road between Linville and Blowing Rock. Today, it is part of US 221, known as the Little Parkway, one of our favorite scenic roads.
  • Afterward, visitors began arriving via Yonahlossee Road to climb Grandfather Mountain.
  • Donald MacRae’s grandson Hugh Morton inherited Grandfather Mountain in the 1950s. Morton made improvements to the trail that led to the top of Grandfather Mountain and led the construction of the 228-foot Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
  • Mr. Morton also acquired two black bears, one of which (Mildred) could not adapt to the wild. Mildred was recaptured and placed in an enclosed habitat, completed in 1973. Multiple animals live in enclosed habitats, including black bears, elk, cougars, and river otters.
  • In 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Grandfather Mountain as an International Biosphere Reserve. It was the first privately owned property to receive this recognition.
  • Unique biodiversity atop Grandfather Mountain includes dozens of rare, endangered, and imperiled plant species and animals:
    • Blue Ridge Goldenrod
    • Bog Turtle
    • Gray’s Lily
    • Hemlock Parsley
    • Northern Long-eared Bat
    • Peregrine Falcon
    • Pink-shell Azalea
    • Trailing Wolfsbane
  • Hugh Morton died in 2006, and his heirs divided the land to include 2,600 acres of backcountry and sold it to the state to form Grandfather Mountain State Park (established in 2009).
  • They gifted 700 acres to the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. 

Read More: 125+ Facts About North Carolina

How to Visit Grandfather Mountain Today

Grandfather Mountain is split into two sections—the Grandfather Mountain attraction (ticket required) and Grandfather Mountain State Park (free admission).

Read More: 30+ Great Things to Do in Boone (Hikes, Eats, and More in App Town)

Grandfather Mountain Tickets

Tickets are required to enter the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation section, also known as the Grandfather Mountain attraction. The attraction is open year-round (weather-permitting), except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

You must purchase tickets online, and entrance times are spaced out.

Tickets do sell out on some days, so we recommend you purchase them 2 to 3 weeks in advance to guarantee entrance to this popular North Carolina attraction. 

Here is a breakdown of prices by age:

  • Adults and General Admission (Ages 13-59): $24
    • AAA Adult: $22 (must present valid AAA card)
  • Seniors (ages 60 and older): $22
  • Children (ages 4-12): $10
    • AAA Child: $9 (must present valid AAA card) 
  • Bridge Club Members: FREE

Buy Tickets to Grandfather Mountain

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain

For this section, we will include things to do at Grandfather Mountain, including the famed Mile High Swinging Bridge.

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain NC Mile High Swinging Bridge

Almost every visitor to Grandfather Mountain has one goal—to cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge! 

Constructed in 1952 (and since reconstructed), the Swinging Bridge is America’s highest suspension footbridge, with an elevation of 5,305 feet. The bridge is 228 feet long and spreads across an 80-foot chasm, which offers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It is named the Mile High Swinging Bridge because it sits exactly one mile in elevation. 

The bridge is accessible for those with limited mobility. From inside the Top Shop, there is an elevator and a 50-yard paved path to the bridge. 

Before Visiting the Mile High Swinging Bridge (Things to Know)

If you plan to walk to the other side of the bridge, we HIGHLY recommend rubbed soled enclosed shoes. This area is a more rugged hiking experience. 

Note that the bridge at Grandfather Mountain may close due to extreme weather conditions because of the elevation. You’ll also find that the temperature is usually 10 to 20 degrees cooler than at the entrance gate and in surrounding towns! 

Read More: 31 of the Best North Carolina Mountain Towns to Visit Now!

Grandfather Mountain Hiking Trails

There are technically more than a dozen Grandfather Mountain hiking trails, with most of them on the state park side. To avoid any confusion, we will only include hikes that you can start after passing the ticketed entrance gate of Grandfather Mountain.

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain Bridge Trail Looking Up
View from the Bridge Trail.
  • The Grandfather Trail (4.8 miles roundtrip): One of the most technical hikes on the East Coast is the Grandfather Trail. During this 4.8-mile roundtrip hike, you’ll gain and return from a total elevation gain of 1,800 feet. The advanced-level hike includes cables and ladders and passes over Grandfather Mountain’s highest point—Calloway Peak (5,946 feet) and MacRae and Attic Window. Unfortunately, Grandfather Mountain is also known for sudden weather changes. Therefore, it is imperative that if you see lightning or a quick weather change, please turn around and hightail it back to the parking area.

You can also access the Grandfather Trail from the Grandfather Mountain State Park trailheads via the Profile Trail (western side) or the Daniel Boone Scout Trail (eastern side). 

  • Black Rock Trail (2 miles roundtrip): Now that we’ve covered the most challenging hike, how about an easier one! The moderate Black Rock Trail starts from below the Swinging Bridge and traverses 2 miles round trip, ending with a scenic rock outcropping. In addition, you can follow the Grandfather Extension Trail (0.6 miles) to connect to the Grandfather Trail.
  • Bridge Trail (0.8 miles roundtrip): The Bridge Trail starts across the road from the same parking lot as the Black Rock Trail. This trail follows a few switchbacks below the Mile High Swinging Bridge before arriving near the Top Shop in front of it.
  • Woods Walk (0.4-mile loop): The Woods Walk is separate from the other Grandfather Mountain Hiking Trails, closer to the entrance gate. This hike is an easy 0.4-mile loop through the woods.

Read more: 100+ of the Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

More Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain

The Mile High Swinging Bridge and hiking are two of the most popular things to do at Grandfather Mountain. Here are some other fun activities to explore after passing the entrance gate.

Overlooks

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain NC Half Moon Overlook
Half Moon Overlook.

Before you reach the top of Grandfather Mountain, you can stop at one or all of its roadside overlooks. Grandfather Mountain overlooks include Half Moon Overlook, Cliffside Overlook, and Sheer Bluff.

Split Rock and Sphinx Rock

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain Split Rock

While driving up Grandfather Mountain, a fun stop is Split Rock and Spinx Rock. These are rock formations that have been here longer than Grandfather Mountain.

More than 640 million years old, Sphinx Rock and Split Rock are on the right side of the road on your way up the mountain, before the Forrest Gump Curve. It’s believed that these rock formations sat at a much higher elevation before tumbling down.

Here’s a quick individual breakdown of each rock:

  • Split Rock: You can easily see Sphinx Rock from the road but should get out for a closer look at Split Rock. A roadside walkway will take you to both rocks. Millions of years of weathering and small cracks from ice are responsible for the split in Split Rock.
  • Sphinx Rock: Sphinx Rock resembles a pharaoh’s head on a lion’s body, similar to the famous monolith in Egypt.

Climbing on these rocks is prohibited.

Forrest Gump Curve

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain Forrest Gump Curve

The acclaimed movie Forrest Gump used locations across the United States, but a critical scene was filmed in North Carolina

While Forrest is running across America, Grandfather Mountain appears halfway through his trek. While running solo until this point, his scene running around this iconic curve is the first sequence with a crowd of followers. 

It’s only a short clip but a great reminder that sometimes you need some support to put your past behind you. 

Wilson Center for Nature Discovery

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain Wilson Center for Nature Discovery

Newly renovated to double in size, the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery features interactive exhibits for visitors to learn about the natural environment of Grandfather Mountain.

Learn about the natural history, flora, fauna, geology, and weather phenomena on the mountain. 

Wildlife Habitats

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain NC Wildlife Habitats Bears

To see Grandfather Mountain’s Wildlife Habitats, you’ll park in the same lot as the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery. The habitats are animal enclosures that mimic native settings.

They are separated from views by nets, moats, or high retaining walls. Within a short walk on an accessible pathway, you can see bears, otters, cougars, elk, and bald eagles in their element.

There are daily programs at the Wildlife Habitats throughout the year, including Keeper Talks, Animal Encounters, and more!

Pets are not allowed to enter the Wildlife Habitat section of Grandfather Mountain.

Read More: The Wild and Wonderful WNC Nature Center in Asheville

Mildred’s Grill

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain NC Mildreds Grill Food

If you’re hungry at Grandfather Mountain, Mildred’s Grill is a 140-seat restaurant named for Mildred the Bear and ready to serve delicious, family-friendly favorites. Enjoy a Mile High Burger (chili on a burger!) or a healthier salad, but make sure you save room for some freshly made fudge and ice cream! 

Read More: 20+ Delicious Restaurants in Boone for Your Next Meal Out!

The Top Shop

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain Top Shop Hugh Morton

The Top Shop’s first floor is Grandfather Mountain’s more extensive gift shop, with souvenirs, snacks, and drinks. You can take an elevator to access the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

On the second floor, you’ll find a great photo exhibition covering the life and work of Hugh Morton. While he oversaw much of Grandfather Mountain’s development (and North Carolina’s tourism development), Morton was also a prolific photographer.

UNC-Chapel Hill also exhibits Morton’s photographs and films.

Read More: 25 of the Best Things to Do in Chapel Hill and Orange County (Food, Outdoor Fun, and More!)

Grandfather Mountain State Park

Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain NC Grandfather Trail
Grandfather Trail.

Grandfather Mountain is home to some of the most rugged hiking trails in North Carolina outside the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. 

There are multiple ways to enter Grandfather Mountain State Park. Here are addresses to each parking area and trails that start from them:

  • Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail Parking Area: 4198 NC 105 N, Banner Elk, NC 28604
    • You can connect to the Grandfather Trail via the strenuous Profile Trail (3.6 miles), starting from the Profile Trail Parking Area. The Profile Trail doesn’t involve ladders but is an uphill trek that leads to Foscoe View and Profile View.
  • Boone Fork Parking Area (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 299.9), Banner Elk, NC 28604
    • The strenuous Daniel Boone Scout Trail (3 miles) begins here, at the 13-mile Tanawha Trail leading to Rough Ridge and Beacon Heights. Stay on Daniel Boone, and you’ll gain 2,000 feet and reach Calloway Peak, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range (5,946 feet).
    • Nuwati Trail (1.2 miles) is a more leisurely hike, which you can access from Boone Fork Parking Area or the Asutsi Parking Area nearby. The trail follows an old logging road and offers Calloway Peak and the Boone Bowl views. Stream crossings here can be dangerous, so practice extreme caution and don’t attempt to cross when there’s high water.
    • Cragway Trail (1 mile) connects Daniel Boone and Nuwati and is a very steep, strenuous hike. However, you’ll find Calloway Peak and Boone Fork views via this trail.
  • Asutsi Trail Parking Area, Blowing Rock Highway (US 221), Blowing Rock, NC 28605
    • The Asutsi Trail (0.4 miles) is a short and easy connector trail to Nuwati and Daniel Boone. Asutsi is the only access to these trails when the Blue Ridge Parkway closes during winter.

Note that hike distances are one way unless otherwise stated.

Read More: Amazing Hikes near Boone and Blowing Rock (45 of the Best!)

Ready to Explore Grandfather Mountain?

Grandfather Mountain’s rugged peaks are always around the corner, whether you’re driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville or staying in nearby Banner Elk.

These things to do at Grandfather Mountain will require multiple visits, which we hope you’ll make time to pull off! The sheer size can seem overwhelming, and we hope our guide helps you navigate this iconic attraction.

If you’ve visited either the ticketed side of the state park side of Grandfather Mountain, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know about your favorite things to do in the comments section or email us.

Don’t forget to share your Grandfather Mountain adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Things to do Near Grandfather Mountain

We’ve covered things to do at Grandfather Mountain, but now we’ll dig into its surroundings.

Read More: 20 of the Best Day Trips from Boone (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Annual Events

There is always something spectacular happening at Grandfather Mountain! While the most notable event is the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in July, there are also monthly programs that take place too! 

  • New Year’s Day Sunrise (January): You can watch the first sunrise from the Mile High Swinging Bridge and enjoy a rare visit to Grandfather Mountain before regular operating hours.
  • Singing on the Mountain (June): Singing on the Mountain is a free gospel music festival that occurs each year in MacRae Meadows. This is one of the oldest events in NC and the longest-running of its kind in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
  • Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (July): The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in MacRae Meadows is an annual display and celebration of Scottish culture, including music, dancing, food, and field games! 

Check out the special events calendar for more happening at Grandfather Mountain, including the Grandfather Presents speaker series! 

Read More: Summer in North Carolina (and 50+ Great Events!)

Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby

Hikes near Boone NC Rough Ridge Overlook Trail

The entrance to Grandfather Mountain is on US 221, which many people reach via intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 294.6. Here are a few stops nearby, starting with those north of the junction:

Blue Ridge Parkway Stops North of the US-221 Junction

  • Linn Cove Viaduct (13 minutes away): The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Grandfather Mountain, thanks to the Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304.4), completed in 1987 after many years of hard, dangerous work. You can stop for a closer look at this mesmerizing bridge. Just don’t attempt to walk on Linn Cove Viaduct, as there is no room for you and cars passing through!
  • Rough Ridge Trail (15 minutes away): Don’t tell anyone, but this is our favorite hiking trail near Boone! Located at MP 302.8 (303), Rough Ridge is a short 1.5-mile hike that offers incredible views of all of the above and an iconic rock outcropping that people always confuse for McAfee Knob in Virginia.

Blue Ridge Parkway Stops South of the US-221 Intersection

  • Beacon Heights (11 minutes away from Grandfather Mountain): Beacon Heights is a kid-friendly hike that starts at MP 305. The half-mile hike is part of the longer Tanawha Trail and the much longer Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The large rock outcrop offers a picnic spot, views of Grandfather Mountain to the north, and views of Table Rock and Hawksbill (among others) to the south.
  • Grandfather Mountain Overlook (13 minutes (MP 306.6): Continue north about 1-1/2 miles from Beacon Heights, and you’ll reach the Grandfather Mountain Overlook. It’s a great look up at the mountain from below.
  • Linville Falls (MP 316.4): About 10 miles north on the Parkway past the Grandfather Mountain Overlook is Linville Falls.

Read more: How to Find Wiseman’s View of the Linville Gorge Wilderness

The Little Parkway

Green Mountain Creek Falls Roadside Waterfalls near Asheville NC

US 221 between Blowing Rock and Linville is also known as the Little Parkway. This short and curvy scenic road connects the two mountain towns via Grandfather Mountain.

Along the way, you’ll pass the entrance to Grandfather Mountain. In addition, a beautiful roadside waterfall, Green Mountain Creek Falls, also sits along this way and is worthy of a stop.

The road also passes Westglow and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, two interesting historical spots.

Read more: 20 Beautiful Waterfalls near Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk

Nearby Mountain Towns

Things to Do in Blowing Rock Downtown Boone NC
Downtown Boone.

Speaking of Blowing Rock, it’s one of a few interesting small towns near Grandfather Mountain. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Sugar Mountain (15 minutes away from Grandfather Mountain): Drive down NC-105 toward Banner Elk, and you’ll pass through Sugar Mountain. The village is home to one of NC’s best ski resorts, which is also fun during the warmer months. First, take a ski lift up to the top of the mountain. Then, you can either go back down via the same ski lift or your mountain bike during warmer months. Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is near Sugar Mountain Ski Resort and is an exciting attraction with a 27-mph thrill ride and a fun ropes course, too!
  • Banner Elk (25 minutes away): Floating high at 3,700 feet is the quaint mountain town of Banner Elk. On Tynecastle Highway and Main Street, you’ll find interesting local businesses outside of town, like Apple Hill Farm and wineries such as Banner Elk Winery and Grandfather Vineyard. Even more outdoor wonders surrounding Banner Elk include Elk River Falls in Elk Park, Waterfalls Park in Newland, and Roan Mountain.
  • Blowing Rock (30 minutes away): Blowing Rock is another excellent base to prep for these great things to do at Grandfather Mountain. Downtown Blowing Rock is full of adorable shops and restaurants and access to the fantastic Glen Burney Trail. The town also features some wonderful places to stay, including the historic Green Park Inn and the luxurious Chetola Resort. Don’t forget to stop by The Blowing Rock, the oldest attraction in North Carolina.
  • Boone (40 minutes away): Boone is a bit further away from the rest but still one of our favorite jumping-off points for Grandfather Mountain. Every time we visit, we dream of our next home here, but don’t tell our friends in Durham that! Appalachian State University (aka App) is here, and the town offers local shops, delicious restaurants, and great breweries. In addition, Boone’s genuinely a four-season destination: they boast hiking and waterfalls in spring through fall and world-class skiing in the winter.

Read More: 75+ Fun Day Trips from Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

More Things to Do Near Grandfather Mountain (Travel Guides)

These NC travel guides mention things to do at Grandfather Mountain and nearby!

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