Growing up my family would always take our summer vacation in North Carolina. We are continuing this tradition with our children. One of the must-see attractions for families is Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina.
We began our day at Grandfather Mountain by stopping at the Welcome booth. This is where you will pay for your tickets. At the time of our visit, adults were $22 and children were $9. We had a coupon that we had picked up at Linville Caverns that saved us $5 so keep an eye out for those! Even with the coupon, I was a little surprised at the price. However, after spending the day at the park I realized it was a fantastic deal for a vacation spot in North Carolina. In addition to all the park has to offer your family, your ticket purchase also benefits the nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. The Foundation protects and preserves the park for future generations. You can learn more about the Foundation in the nature center.
CD Audio Tour
At the welcome booth you will also receive a cd audio tour. I thought this was a fantastic resource to have while visiting Grandfather Mountain North Carolina. There is a little sign just beyond the welcome booth that tells you when to begin the audio tour. The audio tour guides you as you drive up the mountain. It points out the history behind certain features of the park and plays beautiful bluegrass music in the background.
Programs Included With Admission
There are several activities that your family can participate in that are included with your admission ticket.
Junior Ranger Program
This 20-minute program allows kids to participate in hands-on activities to learn about Grandfather Mountain’s wondrous ecosystem. The program is geared toward children ages 5-12. The class meets at the butterfly garden which is located just outside the fudge shop. If you are visiting in 2019 the class is offered daily at 11:30 am May 27th through August 18th. It is offered only on the weekends of August 19th through September 30th.
Otters, eagles, and bears, oh my! My children really enjoyed visiting the animal exhibits located in the park. Held April 1 through October 31 the animal encounters provide you an opportunity to experience the North Carolina native animals up close. It also provides you an opportunity to ask questions from the staff. We found the staff to be very kind and willing to answer our questions. All of the animals are included in these encounters throughout the day. Check the brochure you receive at the welcome center for the times the encounters will occur.
There are also Keeper Talks where you can learn about some of the off-display animals and ask questions. These talks are available at 2 p.m. on weekends, April 1 to October 31st.
Peaks and Profiles At The Bridge
This experience provides you the opportunity to join Grandfather Mountain’s naturalist to explore the mountain’s unique weather, climate, flora, and fauna. This program meets at the Mile Hile Swinging Bridge. It is offered on weekends from April 1 to May 27th at 1 & 3 pm. It is offered daily from April 1 to September 30th at 1 & 3 pm.
Additional Cost Experiences
The tours presented below require a reservation so be sure to call (828) 733-8715 or inquire at the Nature Museum Gift Shop to save your spot.
Behind-The-Scenes Habitat Tour
What better way to learn about the North Carolina native animals than experiencing them up close? In this experience, you will take a 90-minute tour to see the resident animals. You can participate in this tour on weekends (12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m) April 1 through October 31st.
Meet The Cougars: VIP Tour
Maybe you are a big fan of cougars. In this 30-minute tour you will get the opportunity to meet the mountain’s resident cougars. This presentation is offered at 11:30 a.m. to noon on weekends, April 1 to October 31.
Keeper For A Day Habitat Program
This experience sounds like a blast. You will learn what it takes to be a Grandfather Mountain habitat keeper. This presentation is offered Tuesdays, April 1 through October 31.
Forrest Gump Curve
As you climb the turns of Grandfather Mountain be sure to keep an eye out for Forrest Gump Curve. The portion of the movie when people start running behind Forrest was filmed on this curve. Be sure to listen in to your audio guide for the fun surprise that happened during filming!
One thing you want to remember when you come to Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina is your picnic lunch. We got a late start to our day so we ended up stopping at another picnic spot before arriving at the park. Boy were we disappointed when we realized what beautiful picnic spots were available at Grandfather Mountain. As you meander up the mountain your first stop with picnic tables is the Woods Walk picnic area. In addition to the picnic tables at Woods Walk, you can find a nice .4 of a mile walk through nature.
Cliffside-the picnic spot pictured above is the next stop on your journey up the mountain. The Cliffside picnic area is absolutely stunning. This was originally where the road ended before the swinging bridge was built in 1952. With views of Mount Mitchell to the Southwest and views of Grandmother Mountain, the panoramic views at Cliffside are not to be missed. When we go back next time this will definitely be where we stop to eat! If you happen to forget a picnic, Mildred’s Grill located at the Nature Center will pack you a picnic lunch. As you travel up the mountain keep a lookout for the picnic areas. It’s not hard to identify all the wonderful spots you can have a picnic with your family at Grandfather Mountain.
Sphinx and Split Rocks
Located just beyond the Woods Walk Picnic area you will come upon the Spinx and Split Rocks. Weighing in at 2 million pounds these rocks are an impressive sight. Our children enjoyed parking and seeing the rocks up close. Not only did they see the rocks but they went over, under, and through the rocks which was fun.
Grandfather Mountain Nature Center
The Grandfather Mountain Nature Center was definitely one of our favorite stops. As mentioned above there are picnic shelters located at the nature center. So if you are looking for a shady picnic or escape from the elements these are the picnic tables for you.
As you enter the Nature Center you will find a natural history museum. This museum is full of natural history featuring North Carolina artifacts and native plants and animals. You will first see a beautiful display of North Carolina gems & minerals. There is also a display of the native birds and plants/flowers in North Carolina. The exhibit also pays homage to the early explorers at Grandfather Mountain. You will also find a weather exhibit with interactive touch screens.
At the Nature Center there is also an auditorium which shows free films. The featured selection plays on a loop throughout the day. You will also find clean restrooms at this stop. As mentioned before, Mildred’s Grill is located inside the Nature Center. At Mildred’s Grill you can take a break to rest your feet and you can grab a hot delicious meal at an affordable price. For prices view the menu here.
Finally, what is visiting one of these places with kids without visiting the gift shop? 😉 You will find that the location of the gift shop is nice because you can avoid it if you want to. We wanted to grab some postcards so we took a quick stop to get a couple.
Just outside the Nature Center you will find the animal habitats. This was definitely one of the favorites for our kids. In this section of the park you can see otters, bears, elk, cougars, and bald eagles. As mentioned above there are times throughout the day where you can hear talks from the keepers. They will also feed the animals which will bring them closer to the fences for you to see. When we were there you could not see the bears until the keeper came and fed them.
I shall not tell a lie 🙂 The fudge shop was the favorite stop for mama. With several flavors to choose from you have to take a minute to go in the fudge shop. Even if you don’t want to buy any, do yourself a favor and go inside and grab some samples. They are very generous with the samples and they will let you taste as many as you like. I’m pretty sure if you have any flavors we tried you won’t want to pass it up. We bought two squares-peach and snickers and seriously they were the best fudge I’ve ever had.
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina has both Backcountry Hiking and Attraction Side Trails. You can find detailed information regarding the trails here. Since we were hiking with children we didn’t strap on our boots to partake in the backcountry hiking. The trail we decided to take is called the Bridge Trail. As you head up the mountain from the Nature Center keep an eye out for signs. You will park on the right side of the road and walk across the street to access the trail.
While only 0.4 miles, the bridge trail will get your heart pumping. It is a winding trail made mostly of rocks but a great way to get up to the mile-high bridge. Our 6 and 8-year-old children were able to do it with no problems. The three-year-old was able to make it most of the way but had to be carried in a child carrier similar to this one part of the way. We also have a Kelty that we love to use when we are out hiking-especially for a toddler but we forgot that one at home 🙁
Grandfather Mountain closes at 7 p.m. but you must be back to your car by 6. Be sure to plan plenty of time to hike both to and from the top of the mountain and have time to enjoy the swinging bridge and museum at the top. We hit the trail at 4:30 and it was just enough time. Be sure to also bring your hiking with kids essentials of a first aid kit, water bottles, and bug spray with picaridin to name a few.
The Mile High Bridge
Standing 5,280 feet above sea level and 80 feet above the canyon below, the swinging bridge is likely one of the main reasons you chose to visit Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. It is definitely a sight to see. It has changed some since it’s inception in 1952. The original bridge had wooden floorboards. I remember coming as a child and being so scared to cross the swinging bridge-because it really did swing back then! However, in 1999 the bridge was rebuilt with galvanized steel. Some people now call it the singing bridge instead of the swinging bridge.
My kids had no fear when it came to crossing the bridge. However, once you reach the other side it does become a lot more dangerous. There is a little area to stand once you get to the other side. However, if you have the daredevil gene you can walk out further to a boulder with spectacular views. (this area has no guardrails though). I decided to stay where my feet were firm and my husband took turns taking my middle child and youngest child out to see the view. My oldest was just fine to hang with mom.
In addition to the Mile High Bridge, you will find the Top Shop. The Top Shop has restrooms and a gift shop. It also has a small museum with pictures showing Grandfather Mountain through the years. The Top Shop also has an elevator making the bridge accessible to people with disabilities.
Whew! You made it. We hope this guide inspires your family to take a trip out to Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Be sure to check out our things to do with kids in Boone NC for more family-friendly attractions near Grandfather Mountain. If you are wondering how you can afford your next vacation be sure to check out my post on how to save money on your next vacation. In the meantime- Stay Peachy!