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, at 5,946 feet high.
The History of Grandfather Mountain
Some of the rock formations within Grandfather Mountain are 1.2 billion years. The Cherokee called this land “Tanawha,” meaning hawk or eagle. The European pioneers gave it its current name when they settled in the area.
Daniel Boone was one of the many explorers to navigate the area in the 1700s, along with famed naturalist John Muir. Samuel T. Kelsey, the founder of nearby Highlands, purchased the 16,000 acres of land around Grandfather Mountain in 1885. In the 1900s, it opened to tourists as roads developed for automobile traffic.
The site is a part of the Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Reserve. The site is made up of a large section that is owned by the state, which includes the wildlife refuge and Mile High Bridge.
The rest is made up of the state park that is open to visitors. This area has some of North Carolina’s best hikes, including the popular Profile Trail and the Daniel Boone Scout Trail on the eastern and western sides of the mountain.
What You’ll See at Grandfather Mountain
But the site is more than just 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. Hugh MacRae Morton purchased Mildred in 1968 with the intention of releasing her, but she liked Grandfather too much to leave. 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.
Tips for Visiting Grandfather Mountain
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. Admission supports the maintenance of the park.
The park is open from 8 am to 7 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.
Where to Eat Near Grandfather Mountain
If you’re hungry after a day of exploring, Grandfather Mountain has an onsite restaurant. Mildred’s Grill can accommodate 140 visitors and serves a diverse selection including soups, sandwiches, burgers, and vegetarian options.
The closest town for dining is Banner Elk, one of the charming High Country communities. Here you can enjoy authentic North Carolina barbecue at The Pedalin’ Pig or seasonal dishes and craft cocktails at Reid’s Cafe. Little Deer Cafe in Linville is another option.
Where to Stay Near Grandfather Mountain
The Best Western Mountain Lodge At Banner Elk is close to all the area’s communities and ski resorts with an outdoor pool and spacious rooms. The Inn at Crestwood in Boone has standard rooms, suites, and villas along with an onsite restaurant and spa.
This region also has a number of rentals like this rustic Linville cabin and the Fox Wood in Boone. If you’d rather be camping, there are primitive campsites in Grandfather Mountain State Park. Grandfather Campground RV Resort & Cabins is another option, with RV and tent sites and fully equipped cabins.