Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grandfather Mountain and the mile high swinging bridge

After spending the night in a tent at Linville Falls campground and touring the falls the following morning, we had a pretty early start on the Blue Ridge Parkway Sunday morning. The rain had temporarily let up and spirits were high as we pulled off the National Scenic Highway and joined the queue outside Grandfather Mountain. That’s right, there was a line of cars lined up outside the privately owned park. A popular tourist destination in the area, the entrance fee is rather steep – plan on spending a good bit of time here if you decide to visit. The park is open about 8-5 (this changes based on season) and adult admission is $18. Not to be confused with Grandfather Mountain State Park (to which admission is free) or the Pisgah National Forest, the private portion contains the 5,946ft Grandfather Mountain, the infamous “mile high swinging bridge,” a small zoo, a nature museum and various hiking trails and picnic areas.

Upon paying the fee we were given a brochure and an informative audio CD with information about the area that we could listen to while driving from stop to stop. We opted to drive the entire 2.5 miles to the very top and then stop at the various attractions on our way back out. The mountaintop is wheelchair accessible, although everything past the swinging bridge is rugged with large drops on all sides. The danger didn’t deter the large crowd of people intent on experiencing the spectacular views of the mountains or the exhilarating dose of adrenaline after clambering around on this peak.

Up until the 1800s it was thought that Grandfather Mountain was the highest peak east of the Mississippi, but as I mentioned in my previous post Mt. Mitchell was determined to be 738 feet taller. However, this lack of title didn’t make any difference in scenery; the 360˚ view is grand indeed. The bridge spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation, giving visitors access to rocky Linville Peak. The 228 foot long bridge is the second in this location; the first one was built in 1952 and was replaced in 1999 with galvanized steel. Originally made of side rails, floor boards and cables that put the “swing” in swinging bridge, there is still enough give to rock the bridge, and even though the bridge isn’t a mile above the floor of the gorge (it is a mile high in elevation, hence the name), the view down is dizzying nevertheless.

Skipping the gift shop and trails (some of which led to the State Park portion of Grandfather Mountain) we slowly made our way down the switchbacks* to the nature museum. Just beyond are the animal habitats, home to black bears, river otters, cougars, bald and golden eagles and deer. The cougars were in hiding, but we saw the rest of the animals in somewhat natural looking enclosures, even catching the otters in the water from the underwater viewing area. A stop in the museum and then we were on our way again, looking for a spot to eat lunch.

Not a dog, but a black bear
Just next to Sphinx and Split Rocks we found a secluded picnic table and settled down to lunch. We had barely finished eating when the dark rain clouds that had been threatening ever since our descent from the swinging bridge let loose a deluge, and it was a slightly wetter bunch that jumped back into the car. As the rain didn’t show signs of letting up we saw the rest of the park from the comfort of our car before turning back towards the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue our adventure.

* One of these switchbacks might be familiar looking, as it was in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump” – it’s right before Gump realizes he’s got company on his run across the country.

Source for Forrest Gump picture: here


  1. Wow - beautiful scenery Liene. I must say that I'd be terrified one of my children would be trying to climb over the bridge (I'm sure it's much safer than it looks). It sounds like a great family day trip... was it hot for the bear to have its tongue hanging out??! xx

    1. Thanks Heidi! Be assured we had Lauris firmly by the hands and Mikus secure in the backpack carrier while up there... Still got my pulse rate up! But yes, a beautiful day and not too hot - I think the bear was yawning!

  2. Great post Liene. I didn't know they were now including the audio cds. Glad you enjoyed Linville Falls as well. We just posted the results of our Favorite Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls poll and Linville Falls was number 1!

    1. Very cool! I've included your infographic on my Linville Falls post, thanks!


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