You might not find yourself in Linville, North Carolina unless it’s ski season or you’re visiting a student at nearby Appalachian State University. But the town’s claim to fame is a park known as Grandfather Mountain, which looks like the craggy face of an old man.
But the site is more than just saggy rocks. It’s a wildlife refuge for native black bears, cougars, deer, river otters, and other animals. Mildred the Bear was the mountain’s most famous resident for many years, brought here from Zoo Atlanta in 1970. She died in 2004, but many of the other bears are her relatives.
It has the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, as well as miles of hiking trails. And if that’s not enough, you can drive the famous Forrest Gump curve, a part of the film’s scene in which Gump runs across America.
I recommend getting one of the CD tours, which navigates through your car’s stereo as you drive through the park. There’s also a cafe where you can warm up with a cup of coffee, or enjoy a picnic outside on a nice day.
If You Go
Grandfather Mountain makes for an easy day trip from Asheville, only an hour’s drive. Tickets are $22 for adults 13 and older, $20 for seniors 60 and older, $9 for children aged 4-12 and free for children under 4. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm, but can vary by season, so check the website before you go. Be sure to bring a jacket, as it is colder on the mountain than down below.
The fastest route is to take I-40 East to Marion, North Carolina. Take Exit #85. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go one mile to a stoplight. At the stoplight turn left and follow US 221 North to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain (about 30 miles). The Blue Ridge Parkway links Grandfather at Milepost 305 with Asheville at Milepost 382. Plan on a 2.5 to 3-hour drive if you take the Parkway.