Hiking in Grandfather Mountain State Park

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sitting at an elevation of 5946 feet, Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is best known for its "Mile High Swinging Bridge" and the Linn Cove Viaduct.

The "Mile High Swinging Bridge", the highest such bridge in America, was built in 1952 by Hugh Morton, who inherited the mountain from his grandfather and developed the tourist attractions. The 228-foot long suspension bridge, sitting one mile above sea level, spans an 80-foot chasm that links two of the mountain's rocky peaks. It’s known as a "swinging" bridge due to its tendency to sway in high winds. Visitors wishing to cross the bridge will have to climb 50 stairs just to reach it.

The park is also famous for being home to the Linn Cove Viaduct. In November of 1982 the final link of the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed along the flanks of Grandfather Mountain. This quarter-mile long bridge, known as the Linn Cove Viaduct, finally completed the 470-mile scenic road that connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The viaduct has won 12 national design awards and is the most popular section of the Parkway.

Grandfather Mountain was officially established as a state park in June of 2009 after the Morton family agreed to sell 2600 acres of the undeveloped portions of the mountain to the state of North Carolina during the prior year. The family continues to operate the nature park as a travel destination, and is administered by a new not-for-profit entity known as the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.

Hiking at Grandfather Mountain State Park

Grandfather Mountain has 11 trails that vary in difficulty - from a gentle walk in the woods to a rigorous trek across rugged peaks. The mountains position, unusual height, high pH soil types, density of vegetation, moist cool climate, and other features, combine to produce a mosaic of specialized habitats. In fact, Grandfather Mountain is home to 16 distinct ecosystems, as well as 73 rare or endangered species, including 32 species that are globally at risk.

Many of the trails will take you through forests that are normally found in Canadian climates.

Access to the trails in Grandfather Mountain State Park is included as part of your attraction admission. Guests who purchase a ticket to the attraction may access the state park from the Hiker's parking area below the Swinging Bridge.

For hiking only you may access Grandfather Mountain State Park from off-mountain trailheads. You will, however, be required to register for a free hiking permit at one of the area outlets.

For those with a fear of heights, please note that some trails will require the use of ladders and cables in order to climb sheer cliff faces.

Hiker's Parking Area Trails:

The Black Rock Nature Trail is a self-guided, one-mile nature trail beginning at the Hiker's Parking Area (three curves below the summit). The trail offers wide angle views of the Swinging Bridge, MacRae and Attic Window Peaks, as well as Beacon Heights and Grandmother Mountain to the southwest.

The Bridge Trail, at four-tenths of a mile, moves quickly into a natural area where visitors can walk through red and white rhododendron, galax, red spruce, Fraser fir, and yellow birch. The trail climbs up the mountain and travels under the Swinging Bridge before ending at the Visitor Center. You'll have outstanding views of the massive rock outcroppings on this trail.

East Side Trails:

There are two points for accessing East Side trails. Most hikers use the Boone Fork Parking Area at mile 299.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The alternative is the Asutsi Trail which begins across from Serenity Farm on US 221, which is also the only winter access when the Parkway is closed.

Daniel Boone Scout Trail climbs roughly 2,000 feet in just over 3 miles. The hike begins at the Tanawha Trail and climbs to the summit of Calloway Peak (5,964'), the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Roughly half way up, at Flat Rock View, hikers reach the Cragway Trail junction. Beyond the junction you’ll have outstanding views of Price Park and the Linn Cove Viaduct. Just before reaching the Calloway Peak summit, you’ll find a series of ladders and cables to help you through the steeper sections.

The Nuwati Trail follows an old logging road for 1.2 miles before reaching Storyteller's Rock where you’ll have a spectacular view of an isolated valley that some geologists think was carved by glaciers. Along the way cross over a couple of streams and pass a solitary stand of Quaking Aspens. Nuwati, meaning "medicine" in the Cherokee language, is an easy but rocky hike.

Cragway Trail is a steep, strenuous hike with excellent views of the Boone Fork Bowl. This trail links the Nuwati and Boone Trails, making for an excellent loop-hike. When returning back to the parking area from the Boone Trail, hikers have the option of following the Cragway Trail to the Nuwati Trail.

Asutsi Trail is a short, easy trail of just 0.4 miles that links Serenity Farm on US 221 and the Tanawha Trail. The trail also provides alternative access to the Nuwati and Boone Trails. Fittingly, Asutsi means "bridge" in the Cherokee language.

West Side Trails:

West Side Trails are accessed from NC 105, roughly 0.7 miles north of the intersection with NC 184.

Profile Trail Although the lower portion of this trail is easy, the upper section of this 3.1 mile trail is strenuous. The trail crosses the Watauga River and travels through rhododendron thickets and under a hardwood canopy for much of its length. After the trail begins to get steeper you’ll reach Profile View, which offers a view of the famous Grandfather Profile at roughly 2 miles from the trailhead. Shanty Spring, at roughly 2.7 miles into your hike, marks the transition of this trail into a strenuous pathway of tumble-down rocks before reaching the Grandfather Trail at 3.1 miles.

Calloway Trail is only 0.3 miles in length, but it’s a strenuous hike. The steep and rocky path calls for some careful footwork. Your reward, however, are the views that open up as you hike along the Grandfather Trail.

Crest Trails:

Crest Trails are accessed from the summit parking lot or the Hiker's Parking Area, as well as from the Profile Trail or Daniel Boone Trail.

Grandfather Trail is a 2.4 mile, very strenuous hike that includes sections where hikers must use cables and ladders. The route follows the crest of Grandfather Mountain from the Hiker's Parking Area to Calloway Peak, and features panoramic views of mountains in every direction.

It was along this trail two centuries ago that noted French explorer and botanist Andre Michaux broke into song thinking he had arrived at the highest point in North America. A century later, famed naturalist John Muir was inspired to describe the sight as "the face of all Heaven come to earth."

An alternative to taking the ladders up MacRae Peak is to opt for the more sheltered Underwood Trail (see below).

Underwood Trail splits-off from the Grandfather Trail near the half mile marker and bypasses the ladder climbs on MacRae Peak before rejoining the Grandfather Trail at MacRae Gap, roughly one mile from the trailhead. The trail makes a steep, rocky loop under the crest line around Raven Rock Cliffs.

Key Links:
Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Mountain Trail Map (PDF)
Blue Ridge Parkway


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