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Blue Ridge Parkway: Grandfather Mountain wows travelers from its forested slopes to its mountaintop

The Mile High Swinging Bridge on top of Grandfather Mountain wows visitors with sweeping views.
The Mile High Swinging Bridge on top of Grandfather Mountain wows visitors with sweeping views.David Muenker

Grandfather Mountain, near Linville, North Carolina, entertains a variety of travelers: sightseers, hikers, and admirers of engineering feats. The entrance is one mile south of Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 305.

Mountain Top Views

The peak-top attractions in Grandfather Mountain State Park are popular favorites with sightseers, especially the Mile High Swinging Bridge. As visitors walk on the bridge, they can peer down into an 80-foot chasm. For many, the act of crossing the bridge is a white-knuckle adventure of a lifetime and an accomplishment which brings grins to their faces. For Denverites and others accustomed to mountain heights, crossing the bridge is still a fun, scenic experience. The setting also captures a panoramic view of the North Carolina High Country.

At the park’s Wildlife Habitats, travelers can view animals native to the region in their natural settings. Black bears and their cubs eagerly wait for visitors to toss them park-approved snacks. Handsome cougars pace the length of their enclosures. Playful otters romp and swim. And eagles display their powerful beaks and talons. The grounds also feature a Nature Museum, which has exhibits about the region’s natural history.

Hiking
The variety of ecosystems on Grandfather Mountain attracts hikers of all levels to its trails. Options range from a gentle walk in the woods to strenuous treks. Hikers looking for challenge head to the backcountry where some trails require using ladders and cables to climb sheer cliffs. Access to the hiking trails is included in the admission to the mountain's attractions.

Engineering Feat
A 7.5-mile section that hugs the side of Grandfather Mountain impeded completion of the Blue Ridge Parkway until 1987. For 20 years, architects, engineers, environmentalists and adjacent landowners worked together to devise a way to preserve the mountain’s scenic and fragile environment.

The solution was the impressive Linn Cove Viaduct. Made of 153 concrete segments weighing 50 tons each, the viaduct was airlifted into place to avoid defacing the mountain with heavy equipment. Only the southernmost section of the 1,243-foot viaduct is straight. Considered to be the most complicated concrete bridge ever built, it snakes around Linn Cove in a sweeping "S" curve.

Before the 7.5-mile section was completed, travelers had to take a narrow, winding 14-mile detour around Grandfather Mountain via the Yonahlossee Trail (U.S. 221). Now travelers enjoy a road that gently curves as it hugs the contours of Grandfather Mountain. They can stop to admire magnificent views of the mountain and the surrounding region at a dozen scenic overlooks, many with easy access for RVs.

How to Get to Grandfather Mountain off Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 305 from Denver, Colorado

To start at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, take Interstate 70 east to St. Louis, take Interstate 64 east to Waynesboro, VA, and continue east 3 miles to the parkway entrance. Drive south on the parkway to milepost 305. Exit the parkway south onto US Hwy 221 and go one mile to the Grandfather Mountain entrance.

To start at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, take Interstate 70 east to St. Louis, Interstate 64 east to Lexington, KY, Interstate 75 south to Knoxville, TN, Interstate 40 east to Kodak, TN, and Tennessee State Hwy. 60 to Gatlinburg, TN and across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the parkway entrance. Drive north on the parkway to milepost 305. Exit the parkway south onto US Hwy 221 and go one mile to the Grandfather Mountain entrance.

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