Hiking in Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Mountain State Park, one of North Carolina’s newest, covers 2456 acres of the Blue Ridge’s highest peak. The mountain for which the Park is named is one of the most easily recognized and spectacular in the Appalachian range, and reaches nearly 6000 ft in elevation.
Grandfather Mountain Fall Color The Profile Trail winds its way up the ridge containing the rock features that give Grandfather Mountain its name.
High-elevation spruce-fir forests cover the rugged, rocky summit and higher slopes. Striking natural features on the mountain include steep, rocky knobs, and at least two competing “profile” views that ultimately gave the mountain its name.
The Blue Ridge Parkway and US Highway 221 wind along the southeast side of the mountain, making parts of it (including the Attraction area) easily accessible. (This section of the Parkway – including the Linn Cove Viaduct – was the last part of the Parkway to be constructed and opened in 1989).
A road within the attraction property winds its way up the southern part of the ridge, bringing visitors all the way up into the high elevation forest zone. A good network of trails thread the more northerly peaks and descend into the valleys below, making this an exceptional destination for Blue Ridge hiking.
Several long and challenging hiking trails are available in the Park, as well as some shorter and easier ones. There are two main “free parking” areas to access the public side of the park outside the Attraction area, for a more backcountry experience. Parking areas inside the attraction require a fee to access, but give you access to the high peaks more quickly and, of course, include access to the rest of what’s there.
West Side Public Access
Grandfather’s Profile Hike
- Ascending Grandfather Mountain’s Profile Trail, this hike takes you past some of the features that inspired its name. You’ll ascend from the middle elevation creeks and streams, past a variety of features including views and rock outcroppings, and.
- 7.6mi, Climbs Steeply
- Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
There is a big new parking area on the West side of the mountain, just north of the junction of NC Hwy 105 and NC Hwy 184 between Linville and Foscoe. The Profile Trail ascends from the Watauga River headwaters here to the top of the ridge near Calloway Peak where it connects to the Grandfather Trail, making a great summit route.
East Side Public Access
Another public parking area can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway, at the Boone Fork parking area.
The Daniel Boone Scout Trail, with the adjoining Cragway and Nuwati trails, ascend Calloway from the Blue Ridge Parkway. All of these trails are heavy on scenery and spectacular natural features, and shouldn’t be missed.
The Tanawha Trail winds along the middle elevations of Grandfather Mountain, paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a fantastic trail, and you can use parts of it to access trails in Grandfather Mountain State Park, but it is covered separately in the Blue Ridge Parkway Section 2 Trailhead area since it’s mostly on Parkway property.
The Grandfather Trail runs along the spine of the rocky peak. The south ends starts in the Attraction area and ends at Calloway Peak, passing into the State Park along the way. At an altitude of 5964 ft, Calloway is the highest peak in the park, on the mountain, and in the Blue Ridge range, and rises nearly a mile above the Piedmont region below. The trail passes several other exposed, rocky peaks, alpine meadows, and cool forests along the way – sometimes requiring the use of ladders to negotiate the rugged, rocky ridgeline!
⚠ Caution: Anyone planning to access the Attraction area from one of the public access parking areas should think twice, sleep on it, and think again. It can be done as a very long and strenuous day hike (12+ mi with over 3000 ft climb), but only the most seasoned hikers in tip-top shape should even attempt it. There is no transportation if you find yourself at the Swinging Bridge area without enough time or energy to make it back along the very strenuous trails through the backcountry to the parking areas. Visitors must be out of the Attraction area by closing time, and must have a camping permit to stay at one of the sites within the state park. The only feasible way to hike the most popular parts of the Grandfather trail for most hikers is to pay the fee and park within the Attraction area’s hiker parking area. It’s worth it.
This is just an overview of the trails in the park. For all the information on each individual trail, visit the Trails page.
The Morton family still operates the Grandfather Mountain attraction, with the museum, picnic areas, wildlife habitats, swinging bridge, and concessions. This area occupies roughly the southwest 1/4 of the mountain itself. There is a fee to enter the attraction, but it’s well worth paying.
A few trails are only accessible from inside the attraction, and many of the best backcountry trails in the park can also be reached from parking areas there. So even if you’re a hard-core hiker, don’t miss it and consider starting your hike in the attraction area to fully explore Grandfather Mountain and support an old and distinct local business. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com.
Swinging Bridge and Linville Peak
Grandfather Mountain itself has long been open to the public as a private park. The “mile-high swinging bridge”, which is reached by an easy path after a scenic drive up the mountain’s southwest side, is an iconic fixture and a walk across it is exhilarating to say the least. The mountain’s rocky, rugged ridgeline makes a picture perfect for postcards. But there’s more to Grandfather Mountain – which is also an International Biosphere Reserve and habitat to 70+ rare and endangered species – than can be appreciated solely as a tourist attraction.
Company founder Hugh Morton, a renowned photographer and conservationist, recognized this. He (and his heirs) had a vision to guarantee the mountain’s continued protection, and after he passed away in 2006, the North Carolina State Park system reached agreement with the Morton family to purchase “the backcountry” areas of the mountain owned by the Morton family. The purchase took place in 2008, and in early 2009, the N.C. General Assembly formally authorized Grandfather Mountain State Park.
The Nature Conservancy holds conservation easements on a further 4,000 surrounding acres, and while not open to the public, this land is protected from the rampant development common on surrounding mountains, and assures that Grandfather’s rare and spectacular scenic beauty will remain into the future.
The State Park is still new, so it is still undergoing a master planning process for its future, but there is plenty to enjoy right now – especially if you like hiking!
Hiking Grandfather Mountain: A guide to High Country’s best views
Steep ladders with sheer drops on all sides. Cable-assisted climbs along narrow ledges. Rock scrambles down 100-foot-long chutes. Hiking Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina’s High Country isn’t for the faint of heart.
Hikers brave the obstacles to reach the views from two summits — Macrae Peak and Calloway Peak. Plus, there’s a swinging bridge, plenty of other viewpoints, and some of the most beautifully secluded backcountry campsites you’ll find east of the Mississippi.
I’ve hiked nearly every trail in Grandfather Mountain State Park. I’ve watched the sunset and climbed down ladders in the dark. I have scrambled the cliffs with a 25-pound pack on my back. In this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to add this mountain to your NC mountains bucket list.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.
Orientation for hiking Grandfather Mountain
Views of Calloway Peak from the Daniel Boone Scout Trail
Grandfather Mountain is composed of two areas: the private park you can drive up to, and the state park encompassing two of the three trails to the peaks. You can hike between them to cover all the trails in the park.
The private park is most famous for the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, and is the way most visitors experience the mountaintop. The suspension bridge offers sweeping views of Blowing Rock, Sugar Mountain, and all the way to the Grayson Highlands in Virginia. It’s a popular tourist attraction and an accessible option for anyone, hiker or not, to explore the mountain. Mobility-impaired visitors can take an elevator to the bridge and are able to cross.
However, the private park is not a great destination for hikers. The entrance fee is absurdly steep — $22 for adults, $9 for children. And if you want to visit on a weekend, you have to book tickets in advance. (A small number of drive-up tickets are available on weekdays but it’s a safer bet to book in advance then too.)
Instead, it’s best to take one of two backcountry trails to the summits when hiking Grandfather Mountain. The trails start on opposite sides of the mountain, so the only way to do both is by backpacking them with a shuttle. The two trails are called the Profile Trail (trailhead just outside Linville) and the Daniel Boone Scout Trail (trailhead at Boone Fork Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway).
Parking at both trailheads is free and plentiful. You can only leave your car overnight if you have a backpacking permit.
Who should attempt the Grandfather Mountain hiking trails?
This view just below Calloway Peak requires a steep hike up the Profile Trail, but no ladders.
If you’ve used social media to research your trip to Grandfather Mountain, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s an accessible, family-friendly hiking destination. And indeed, you will see families with children and very newbie hikers on the trails.
However, the backcountry trails are steep, long and difficult. The weather can be treacherous even when the forecast is clear. Hiking Grandfather Mountain is best suited for experienced hikers.
If you plan to catch big views, you have three options: Go to the swinging bridge only, start at the swinging bridge and go 2 miles up the first set of ladders, or take on an 8+ mile day hike with 3,000+ feet of elevation gain and multiple stretches of ladders, exposed scrambles, and cable-climbs. The first two options both require entering through the private park and paying admission.
Additionally, while you will see people attempting it, it’s not a good idea to bring pets unless they fit into your backpack. Even if you can get your pup up the ladders, you’d put the people around you at risk — many ladders end on very narrow rock faces with little room to pass and big lines waiting to go down.
Is hiking Grandfather Mountain safe?
You can reach the Profile View without navigating any ladders.
This is the #1 question most hikers worry about with a Grandfather Mountain hike. After all, hear “ladders” and you may picture “rickety devices rigged up by the Forest Service 30 years ago and never checked on since.” And, honestly, based on my experience elsewhere in the Carolina mountains, that would be a reasonable concern.
But the ladders and cables at Grandfather Mountain are extremely well-maintained. Like, big, sturdy wooden ladders that don’t jiggle at all, even with 20 people on them at a time. Weatherproof cables bolted into the rock. Everything looks nearly new.
The most comparable hike I’ve done was Angels Landing in Zion National Park. I found Grandfather Mountain a little scarier, mainly because I was hiking with a backpacking pack. The ladders are very exposed, particularly on the Grandfather Trail. One of the ladders on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail is uncomfortably narrow. There are a few exposed scrambles — no big deal going up, but pretty scary going down.
So, is it safe? Eh, you’d probably get seriously injured in a fall. But I researched extensively and couldn’t find more than a tiny handful of examples of hikers falling. In other words, Grandfather Mountain is safer than many of Western North Carolina’s waterfalls and most popular trails.
One caveat: it is absolutely not safe to hike Grandfather Mountain when the weather is bad. “Bad” could mean lightning, extreme cold, fog or ice. This past summer, four hikers were injured when a freak storm blew in and trapped them on the rock faces. Winter temperatures routinely drop into the teens, and the summits can be icy from October-April. Fog = condensation, and condensation = wet ladders and rock faces. It can be hard to get an accurate forecast until you’re on the mountain, so when in doubt, turn around.
Route options for hiking Grandfather Mountain
The Grandfather Trail takes you on a set of steep, exposed ladders 1,000 feet above the swinging bridge.
There are three main Grandfather Mountain trails to the peaks: the Grandfather Trail, Profile Trail, and Daniel Boone Scout Trail. If you’re only visiting for a day, you’ll need to pick one — or, if you’re a very fit hiker, two.
The three trails run to the two summits: Macrae and Calloway. Both are in the backcountry — the swinging bridge is nearly 1,000 feet below them. Calloway is further east above the “profile” of the grandfather, while Macrae is a rocky summit atop the ridge.
Macrae is accessed up an exposed ladder and has a 360-degree view. Calloway is more of a scramble to the summit, with just a couple small ladders, and has a 180-degree view from the peak itself — but you can see a 180 in the other direction from a few feet away.
Personally I like the views from Calloway better. Macrae is the more popular peak. It’s possible to see both in a day if you can hike 12 strenuous miles, but most people choose one.
In the trail descriptions below, I’ve estimated the hiking time for the average hiker — someone who hikes a few times a month at home but isn’t accustomed to mountain terrain. More experienced hikers should assume a 1-mile-an-hour pace along the ridge, mainly due to choke points at the ladders with long lines.
The Grandfather Trail to Macrae Peak
Distance: Just under 2 miles
Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
Ladders/cables/obstacles: The steepest, most exposed, longest ladders in the park, lots of cables
Difficulty rating: 8/10
Fun rating: 6/10
Time needed to hike: 3 hours
The most intimidating, and most scenic, hike in Grandfather Mountain State Park is along the Grandfather Trail. This trail starts from the Mile High Swinging Bridge and runs to Calloway Peak, but most hikers stop at Macrae Peak.
The defining feature of this hike is an average elevation gain of nearly 1,000 feet per mile. How does it accomplish that, you ask?
Through ladders that ascend directly up the cliff faces for about 200 feet.
After an initial easy climb from the swinging bridge, the trail relentlessly gains elevation on a series of rock traverses with cable assists. Then, you’ll scramble through a narrow cave. The cave drops you at the base of the steepest set of ladders in the entire park — where you’ll often have to wait in quite a long line for hikers to pass in the opposite direction.
Once you’re on top of the ladders, the trail follows the ridge and keeps climbing. Your thighs will be burning when you finally hit the last ladder to Macrae Peak, which also has crowding issues.
When you’re done soaking in the views, return the way you came. And yep, the ladders are worse going down.
This trail would get a higher fun rating if it weren’t for the massive overcrowding. Because it starts from the swinging bridge and it’s not very long, the Grandfather Trail gets the tourist crowds in full force. Couple huge crowds with choke-points that only one hiker can pass through at a time, and you have lots of standing around waiting.
If you decide to do this trail and want solitude, backpack into the park and stay at Attic Window. Start hiking from the campsite to the swinging bridge as soon as the sun comes up and you’ll make it back before the worst of the crowds set in. I set out from the campsite below Calloway Peak at 9 am and made it to the meadow above the swinging bridge before it got crazy-crowded, but it was a foggy morning with no views. The crowds going back were terrible.
If you want to avoid the worst of the ladders and still see Macrae Peak, you can take the Underwood Trail, which runs below the ridge. You’ll need to double back a little to reach the summit.
The Profile Trail to Macrae Peak (with Calloway option)
Distance: 8.6 miles
Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
Ladders/cables/obstacles: Tough scramble down a 100-foot chute. Long, exposed rock traverses. One major ladder and a few small ones.
Difficulty rating: 8/10
Fun rating: 8/10
Time needed to hike: 8 hours
The Profile Trail is the perfect option for hikers who want a little adventure, but aren’t the best with heights. This hike allows you to see both peaks with minimal obstacles.
The trail starts from a large parking lot outside the town of Linville. You’ll climb — gradually at first, then up a set of steep stone steps. About 2 miles in, you’ll reach a lovely view of the profile of the Grandfather. It’s marked with a sign.
The Profile Trail ends at the gap between Macrae and Calloway Peaks. If you want a longer hike with maximum views, start by taking a left and doing the quick half-mile out-and-back to Calloway Peak. There are a few small ladders and several places to take in panoramic views.
To reach Macrae Peak, take a right at the junction. The trail meanders along the ridge for awhile. After half a mile, you’ll reach a long, exposed rock traverse with fabulous views to your right. Next you’ll pass a cave, shortly before this trail’s biggest obstacle — a 100-foot-long, steep chute.
Going down the chute is pretty nerve-wracking. I can’t emphasize enough how much better it is if you arrive at this spot by 9 am (requiring a 6:30 am start from the trailhead if you’re a quick hiker) — you’ll be able to take your time and there won’t be traffic coming in the opposite direction. It’s much easier going up after the crowds arrive, I promise!
Finally, a set of ropes helps you navigate the cliff right below Macrae Peak. Then it’s a short climb up a steep, exposed ladder to the top, with 360-degree views. Return the way you came.
Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak (with Macrae Peak option)
Distance: 11 miles to Calloway; 13 miles if you go all the way to Macrae
Elevation gain: 3,600 feet
Ladders/cables/obstacles: A couple very steep ladders just below Calloway Peak
Difficulty rating: 8/10
Fun rating: 10/10
Time needed to hike: 10 hours to Calloway; 12 hours if you go all the way to Macrae
Daniel Boone Scout Trail is the hidden gem of the Grandfather Mountain Stake Park hikes. It’s the best Calloway Peak hike, offering gorgeous views and a beautiful old-growth forest on the way up. Plus, the length deters most day-hikers, so crowds are lighter than elsewhere in the park. But it’s actually an easier hike than the Profile Trail if you’re able to do the length.
The hike starts from the Boone Fork Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are two route options: you can stay on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail the whole way, or take the Nuwati Trail for the first two miles. They’re the same distance and elevation profile, but the latter has nicer views.
Once you start climbing, you’ll pass through several microclimates with distinguishable plant life. First you’ll see mostly hardwoods, then spruces start to mix in, and eventually you’ll be in pine forest with rhododendron bushes in the exposed areas.
The last 0.25 miles to Calloway Peak require a couple ladder climbs. One of them is long and narrow. When you reach the summit, you’ll come to the least impressive view first — walk around the entire area to find other viewpoints.
If you want to continue to Macrae Peak, simply follow the Grandfather Trail to the gap and follow the directions above under the Profile Trail from there. It’s a long, tough day to try to do both peaks from the Daniel Boone Scout Trail, and you have little chance of beating the crowds to the section between peaks.
Backcountry Camping: The best option for hiking Grandfather Mountain
During peak fall colors, you need to reserve backcountry sites weeks in advance.
Grandfather Mountain isn’t the most accessible destination for day-hikers. Cost deters people from starting at the Swinging Bridge, while distance and difficulty make long day hikes in the backcountry unrealistic for many.
But there is another option. Grandfather Mountain State Park operates 13 backcountry campsites on the slopes and ridge. Each site has remarkable privacy, good tent and hammock space, and access to a peak for sunrise/sunset views.
You have to reserve campsites in advance, and they book out quickly from May-October. I’d recommend booking at least a month ahead of your trip. Small-group sites cost $15/night, while group sites cost $32. You aren’t allowed to book a group campsite unless you have 6 or more people.
You might be wondering how the heck you carry all your gear into the backcountry when there are so many ladders and scrambles. The good news is, many campsites are accessible without navigating technical terrain. So you’ll need to decide your comfort level for climbing (and especially descending) ladders with a pack — and choose your campsite wisely.
The sites on the ridge all require at least one technical section, while the ones along Daniel Boone Scout Trail and the Profile Site do not. Attic Window would be especially difficult for anyone nervous about ladders with their pack, as would Cliffside if you plan to descend the Daniel Boone Scout Trail.
Grandfather Mountain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in western North Carolina. As the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it has been a destination for naturalist for over 200 years.(Elevation of 5,946 ft) . It’s about 80 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the bottom of the gorge. It is the only private park in the world designated by the United Nations as an International Biospere Reserve. (encompassing many different species of plants and wildlife that are rare and almost extinct.) There are several other peaks in North Carolina higher than Grandfather Mountain, with Mt. Mitchell being the highest in eastern America at 6,684 feet, but they are not in the Blue Ridge range. Most are in the Great Smokies. Mt. Mitchell is in the Black Mountain Range.
Location is just 2 miles south of Banner Elk, NC. and two miles north of Linville coming from 221. Off the Blue Ridge Parkway it is milepost 305. Rising nearly 4000 feet above the Yadkin and Catawba River Valleys, Grandfather supports 16 district habitat types in abut 3,000 acres. Such variations include: Northern Hardwood Forests, Heath Balds, Red Spruce, Fraser Fir Forests, and high elevation Rocky Summits.
Grandfather Mountain Location:
The street address is: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC 28646.
Hours & Rates:
|Children Under 4||Child 4 – 12||Adult 13 – 59||Senior 60+|
Be sure to check out the Grandfather Mountain Specials they offer in April and other great times thru-out the year!
- Mile High Swinging Bridge – Visitors can walk this 250 ft. long bridge that swings 5,305′ above sea level. Enjoy the thrilling walk and breathtaking views.
- Nature Museum – The museum is a 2,200 exhibit area displaying features of the mountain’s geology, animal and plant life. The museum complex houses a spacious restaurant and dining area, restrooms, a gift shop which offers high quality, nature-oriented souvenirs, and a 165-seat auditorium where visitors can enjoy free nature movies filmed mostly at Grandfather Mountain.
- Wildlife Habitat – Visitors may visit with Cougars, Eagles, Deer, river Otters, and Black Bears. These habitats are large enclosures that allow visitors to see animals in natural settings. Separated from the animals by moats or elevated above the habitats on large retaining walls, these viewing areas allow you to stand only a few feet away from animals you probably won’t see in your everyday life. Peanuts may be purchase for giving the bears an afternoon snack.
- Hiking Trails – More than 12 miles of regularly maintained trails ranging in difficulty from easy nature walks to strenuous back country challenges.
- For hiking only you may access Grandfather Mountain State Park from off-mountain trailheads. You will be required to register for a free hiking permit at area outlets.
History of Grandfather Mountain
The name Grandfather came from the profile of the Mountain’s face resembling that of an old man.
Some local residents have different opinions over which is the “official” profile, but the one most frequently mentioned can be seen from the village of Foscoe, seven miles north of Linville and ten miles south of Boone on NC 105.
1962 US Geological Survey reported that some of the rock formation on Grandfather are 1.05 billion years old, dating back to the Precambrian period. The mountain itself, in its present character, is 620 million years old.
Gold was mined from three shafts on Grandfather prior to the 1849 California gold rush, but the high grade ore was played out long ago and even at today’s prices, mining is no longer cost effective.
In 1885, Hugh MacRae graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and began work as a engineer at the mica mines on Bailey Mountain in Mitchell County. While at this engineering job he made several trips by horseback and discovered Avery County. He was so taken by the natural beauty of the area that he immediately convinced his father Donald MacRae, to purchase 15,750 acres encompassing Grandfather Mountain, parts of Sugar Mountain, Grandmother Mountain and Flattop Mountain. Most of the tracts purchased between 1885 and 1890 by Donald MacRae belonged to Walter Waightstill Lenoir, grandson of General William Lenoir, for whom the town of Lenoir is named.
In 1889, Hugh MacRae founded the Linville Improvement Company and designed the Golf Course community called Grandfather Country Club at the foot of the mountain. It was the first Mountain golf course community in North Carolina.
In 1891-92, MacRae built the Honahlossee (pronounced “yon-a-la-see)” Road from Linville across the eastern slope of Grandfather to Blowing Rock. This opened his resort to personal transportation. He also starteda stagecoach line across the 20 mile scenic route that today is known as US 221.
By 1913, Linville was one of the smaller stations on the Eastern Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, affectionately known as “Tweetsie” for the shrill whistle of her narrow gauge steam engines. Those same engines now operate at the Tweetsie Railroad attraction.
There was a horseback trail up the slope of Grandfather to an overlook known as “Cliffside,”, and in the early 1900s, MacRae’s son Donald and Julian Morton, husband of Agnes MacRae Morton, widened this path into a one-lane road that was passable by automobiles. A wooden viewing platform was constructed and a nominal toll was charged to those who wished to travel to the spectacular view from Grandfather.
In 1946, Hugh Morton, the eldest son of Julian and Agnes, returned from the service as a United States Army cameraman in the South Pacific and took over his late father’s duties as president of the Linville Company. Hugh dreamed of a road leading to the crest of the Grandfather with a bridge across to Linville Park. However, family stockholders disputed Morton’s premise that more people would pay to see the view from the top of the mountain. Morton was successful, however, in widening the existing road to two lanes and improving the quality of access.
In 1952, the Linville Company was dissolved and its assets distributed among the family members. Hugh Morton, whose love for Grandfather had been life-long, became the sole guardian of the mountain and he immediately went to work on fulfilling his dreams.
Six months later, on September 2, 1952, Governor William Umbstead held a ceremony and dedicated the Mile High Swinging Bridge and the roadway to the top. The governor’s nine-year-old daughter, Merle, was the first to officially cross the suspension bridge. The Bridge is 5,305 feet above sea level.
This spectacular suspension bridge was constructed by architect Charles Hartman, Jr. to withstand three million pounds. Most visitors find this figure too large to believe, so a sign was posted suggesting a load limit of 40 persons as a more believable capacity.
In 1968, a local wildlife club asked Grandfather Mountain to participate in a black bear propagation program. Visitor Center Manager Winston Church was sent to the Atlanta Zoo to bring back a pair of bears for release the following spring. It was not until his return to North Carolina that Church realized he had two male bears. Arrangements were made to return to Atlanta for a female. By accident he was given the zoo’s pet, which was raised by the office staff.
The two bears were retained in a holding cage until spring, when the male was released. He ran into the forest, never to be seen again. The staff waited to release the friendlier female because the Arthur Smith television crew was filming a show and wanted to use her in a video version of a tune called “The Preacher and the Bear.” It was Brother Ralph Smith who gave his new co-star the nickname “Mildred.”
Mildred preferred human company and refused to depart for the woods. She hung around and pestered the camera crew all day and when they finished filming, Mildred strayed into the valley in search of companionship. After several days of upturning trash cans at local homes, Mildred was returned by wildlife officials to Grandfather Mountain for safe-keeping.
For several summers, Mildred and her cubs, Mini and Maxi, posed for pictures three times a day, returning to their cages between “shows.” Then, in 1973, Mildred and her family moved into a spacious environmental habitat built in one of the most picturesque spots on the mountain. The large enclosure allows the bears to make real dens and to seek privacy when they need it. Considered the most humane concept in zoo enclosures, the Grandfather habitats are truly the most natural setting possible for these bears.
The displays were expanded to include a separate enclosure for a mother bear with cubs, a cougar habitat, a deer habitat, and two small, open-air habitats for bald eagles and golden eagles.
On July 13, 1974, John Harris of Kitty Hawk, NC became the first man to fly a hang glider off Grandfather Mountain. In the decade that followed, hang gliding flourished at Grandfather.
Professional pilots gave demonstrations four times daily during summer, when weather would allow. Competitions were also popular, prompting Grandfather to host a U.S. Open tournament and to sponsor the international Masters of Hang Gliding Championship.
By 1986 the gliders had evolved into much faster, high-performance wings. The small landing areas at Grandfather became increasingly unsafe for the larger gliders, and demonstration flights were suspended in 1987.
The latest chapter in the history of Grandfather Mountain is highlighted by the opening of its new Nature Museum in late May of 1990.
The Profile Trail
The Profile Trail of Grandfather Mountain offers spectacular views and challenging terrain. The trail to the top is 3 miles long, going through a 2,000’change in elevation. The top is somewhere around 5,400 feet. The first mile and a quarter is fairly easy and you see many families hiking here. There is a nice stream running over boulders in the middle of the forest. From here, hike about 1 mile on some more challenging terrain. Lots of switchbacks and much steeper here…great view of the “Grandfather” profile which gives the mountain the “Profile” trail name. You will then reach a rock cliff…take a rest here. The next 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile goes up steeply across boulders. Once you reach the top and decend about 50 feet, you will come to a junction. If you turn right, you will reach the mile high swinging bridge. Once you there, turn back and head for the car. The total hike will probably take you 4-5 hours unless you into fast hiking. In summary, the trail is scenic, convenient, patrolled, and well-maintained.
Directions to Hike
South on 105 from Boone, NC. Trailhead is well marked on east(left if heading South) side of the road. Parking for approx 10-12 vehicles; steep, winding, paved entrance.
South’s Most Alpine Climb
Length: 2 miles Level: Expert
From the Swinging Bridge area, climb the Grandfather Trail up cliffs on ladders to the massive, teetering boulder of MacRae Peak. Loop back on Underwood Trail.
Postcard Perfect (and partly handicapped accessible)
Length: 1.5 miles Level: Easy-to-Intermediate
Hike to the spot where Hugh Morton took his famous postcard pictures of Linn Cove Viaduct. From Linn Cove Visitor Center, the Tanawha Trail — 0.4 miles under the span is paved and flat — explores a boulder garden on the way to a great view.
Birth of a mountain stream
Length: 0.5 to 2 miles Level: Easy
The start of the Profile Trail is an easy amble along the fledgling Watauga River. Spot trout in pools. Youngsters welcome.
N.C.’s “Old Man of the Mountains”
Length: 4 miles Level: Strenuous
New Hampshire’s famous “Old Man” formation fell off his mountain in 2003. His “relative” may be here. People see a number of faces on Grandfather Mountain, but the most startlingly realistic is an awesome view from the Profile Trail near Banner Elk. Falcons nest atop that rocky ridge.
South’s only glacial cirque
Length: 4 miles Level: Easy-to-Intermediate
Did a glacier rest in the scoop-shaped “Boone Bowl” below Calloway Peak? It looks like one did, and that once had geologists guessing. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, take Nuwati Trail to a spectacular valley and awesome viewpoints.