Grandfather Mountain, the most iconic peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and the Virginia state line takes you to the highest crags with an elevation of 5,946 feet of heart-stirring views. Upon entering the Grandfather Mountain State Park Entrance on US 221 you can either drive up the ascent or choose among 11 varying trails in difficulty from a gentle walk in the woods to a rigorous trek across rugged terrain.
The mountain's position offers much diversity amongst the land with unusual height, geological significant rock, high pH soil types, moist cool climate and density of vegetation that hosts a home to 16 distinct ecosystems as well as 73 rare or endangered species. You can observe some animals in their natural settings in one of the seven environmental habitats halfway up the mountain. Cougars, white-tailed deer, river otters, black bears and golden eagles are housed here. These animals are ones that can no longer survive in the wild due to injuries or behavior and their habitats aren't like ordinary zoo cages. Instead of being artificially created, they were built around the animals’ native habitats giving you a close up of how they hang wild style. The otters were our favorites, giving us a show of endless backflips and squirms that will overload you with cuteness and make you forget about the real goal here.. hiking to the top of the checkworthy Mile High Swinging Bridge.
After some rock and animal viewing we drove up harpin curves and switchbacks to reach the beginning of the .4 mile Bridge Trail. This well maintained trail moves quickly into a natural area where you can walk through Galax, Red spruce, Fraser fir, Polypody ferns, Yellow birch, and Fall fungi over a rugged terrain of uneven rocks and roots from the nearby trees. The trail climbs up the mountain and travels just under the Swinging Bridge giving you out-of-this-world views of the massive rock outcroppings. The large rocks you see are conglomerate which is a sedimentary rock formed from rounded gravel and boulder-sized clasts cemented together in a matrix. The rounding of the clasts indicates that they have resided in a high energy environment for some time i.e. The Appalachian Mtns. So while admiring the spine-tingling views from Grandfather Mountain, don't forget to observe and nerd out on the geological rock along the trail and beneath your feet.
Now this brings me to talk about the coolest part, the Bridge aka Swoon City. Hrrrmmmmmph. It's Americas highest swinging footbridge sitting 80 feet from the canyon below with a 228 foot suspension. Once you get to the top shop area from the bridge trail you can cross the bridge to Linville Peak which is 5,303 feet in elevation. High gale-force winds cause the bridge to sway and creates an eerie hum as they pass through the span. A blast of cold wind and mist curled around us and nearly swept us off our feet as we stepped onto the bridge. The weather is super unpredictable and usually gustfully windy at the summit, so bring your warmest waterproof jacket regardless of the season. In terms of scenery, you would normally get a 360 degree panoramic view, but due to the weather all we could see were swirling clouds of mist and tree tops below us. Don't get me wrong, walking across the bridge and exploring the rugged terrain of the mountain peak was magical enough and the weather just made the scenery even more dramatic. Ol' grandfather left me awe struck with big ol' heart eyes. That is all.
If a mile high swinging bridge ain't yo piece of pie, you can drive the famous Forrest Gump curve, a part of the film’s scene in which Gump runs across America or check out the exhibits in the Nature Museum. There's a lil love to go around for everyone at Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding Boone/Linville Area. Go get some play time in the High Country.