The first time my grandson Sam saw Grandfather Mountain, he pulled against the straps of his car seat and said, “Look, Papaw! That man is smoking!”
I looked to see a fluffy cloud floating above the famous profile, looking all the world like a plume of smoke from a just lighted cigarette.
No one ever forgets the first time they see Grandfather. And everyone, once they visit him, cannot wait to stopover again.
“Three hundred million years of landscaping” has created a park of natural delights, curated by knowledgeable folks who love the park and adore visitors who appreciate natural beauty.
Open every day of the year, weather permitting, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, entrance tickets range from $20 ages 13-59, $9 for children ages 4-12, with children under 4 free. Senior citizens 60 plus get a $2 discount.
At the park’s website, a perusal of the “Plan Your Visit” button provides a complete, dated schedule of events, seasonal, special, and regular.
Autumn offers the opportunity for a “Beauty of the Night Hike” where naturalists, “challenge your senses and [enable you to] experience the beauty of the night atop the mountain.” Cost is an extra $20 and you may need a jacket.
One can “Celebrate Migration on Grandfather” by joining a 6-hour course on raptor migration. Cost is an extra $40. These birds are bigger in person than they look on TV, so be prepared to be impressed.
Another exciting special event is the “Creatures of the Night Bonfire Delight” where folks can “Enjoy rare after-dark tours of Grandfather Mountain, fireside tales and a chance to meet the park’s nocturnal residents!” Cost is an extra $20 and this event always sells out weeks in advance.
Some free special events are the “Guided Walks,” such as the “Colors of Grandfather,” where visitors can see the splendor of the leaves changing immersed in the park. Halloween offers the free event “A Beary Scary Halloween” where kids experience “a full day of nature programs about animals considered creepy and crawly! This fun-filled day includes an opportunity to create animal enrichments, as well as trick-or-treat through the animal habitats.” For some reason children love creepy and crawly things, and they will delight in the magic of insects and creatures that make adults shiver but makes kids squee in glee.
An important event for teachers is the “Methods of Teaching Environmental Education,” a ten-hour “workshop to prepare participants from a variety of educational backgrounds and experiences in both the formal and non-formal sectors to use exemplary Environmental Education teaching methods.” This workshop is free. This event is a worthwhile presentation for anyone interested in teaching the curation of the planet to younger generations.
A plethora of regular, daily events are also offered throughout the year.
Very popular with children are the “Habitat Animal Interpretive Talks.” Including such animal friends as bears, cougars, otters, and eagles, each talk “provide[s] an opportunity to see the habitat animals up close and learn about those native to the mountains of North Carolina. Animals will receive an enrichment toy or treat, and staff will be available to answer questions afterward.” Only lasting about 15 minutes or so, these interactions with the animals are perfect for younger children and those with short attention spans. Some animals, like the bears, offer up to twice per day interaction. There is no cost for these interpretive talks. My grandson Sam especially loves these interactions with the animals.
Saturdays from 10am to 12pm, the park offers “Interpretive Hikes” that are included in the admission price. “Starting at the Black Rock Trail Trailhead,” visitors “venture into the backcountry of Grandfather Mountain with […] trail experts on this two-hour hike. Experience the mountain’s unique flora and fauna on one of the most beautiful trails in the Southeast.” These hikes are also included in the price of admission.
Twenty minutes seems a long time for a kid, but time will fly when they take part in the park’s “Junior Ranger Program.” “Kids are invited to learn about Grandfather Mountain’s animals through hands-on activities at the Nature Museum’s Butterfly Garden (located adjacent to the Fudge Shop).” Wait, there’s a Fudge Shop?
At the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, “Grandfather Mountain’s expert naturalists [teach] about the mountain’s unique weather, climate, flora and fauna.”
And that bridge—that BRIDGE!—that MILE HIGH SWINGING BRIDGE! The website states that “the 228-foot suspension bridge spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. Surveys show that the journey to the other side is always considered the highlight of a trip to Grandfather Mountain.”
I’ve seen folks go without crossing the bridge, but a trip to Grandfather must include the trip across with a slight stop in the middle to take in the 360 degree panoramic view. It’s a breathtaking experience and not for the faint-of-heart.
Rest up in the Nature Museum, a repository for all things natural to North Carolina, including gems and minerals, a display of native birds, and a relief model of the mountain itself. Included is wax flower and plant models by the late Paul Marchand.
Mildred’s Grill offers an opportunity to eat and rest a while with a cold drink and the pleasant sounds of conversation and silverware clinking on plates.
“But what about the Fudge Shop?” Sam asks.
Housed inside the mountain’s most eco-friendly building, The Fudge Shop offers “standard flavors like chocolate and cookies & cream, or ask about the seasonal flavors like pumpkin pie and peppermint candy. Ask for samples, and then take home your favorites to help you remember your day. Now also serving hand-scooped Hershey’s ice cream!”
Please visit Grandfather Mountain’s website at www.grandfather.com for more details.
You’ll have to excuse me now; Sam wants peanut butter fudge. “Only if you’ll go back to the swinging bridge,” I say.