Explore one of the oldest and most biologically diverse mountains on the continent on one of these hikes in North Carolina's Grandfather Mountain State Park.
Grandfather Mountain is famous as the highest point of the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains and is one of the top must-visit destinations in western NC. With an elevation just under 6,000’ above sea level, the massif hosts 16 distinct ecological communities and is considered by many sources to be one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. Jagged peaks and steep cliffs hide caves and caverns. It has "been reported that Grandfather Mountain has experienced some of the 'highest surface wind speed ever recorded,'” though the source also notes that 200 mph wind speeds are unverified as of yet. Blanketed with a web of trails circling – and summiting – its many peaks, this round-up covers six of the best ways to explore the Grandfather Mountain, no matter what kind of hiker you are.
On the shorter end of things and situated along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Beacon Heights and Stack Rock are two easier and shorter hikes with convenient access from the road. Minutes apart from each other, Beacon Heights explores a stunning rock face with long-reaching views down into the valley below. It is spectacular around sunrise and sunset, and the overlook is a great family-friendly option to enjoy lunch with a view. Minutes away, Stack Rock is similar in difficulty and distance but explores a unique rock formation below the road. A wooden staircase offers several angles to observe the rock, and winter offers excellent views once the trees drop their leaves. Of course, the views from nearby Rough Ridge are also spectacular and well worth the visit.
If you’re not afraid of heights and are ready to enjoy some of the best views on the mountain, then head to Grandfather Mountain State Park and take a walk along the Mile High Swinging Bridge. An engineering marvel and a “true landmark of a pioneering spirit,” according to the park notes, the 228-foot bridge hovers nearly 80 feet above a gap in the peaks. Seen here, the lower parking area offers a nice uphill warmup on the Bridge Trail, but you could also start from the upper parking lot and shorten your hike a bit. The upper lot is also wheelchair-accessible, and benches offer great views for those who don’t feel comfortable on the bridge. A fee is also required to enter the park, though restrooms, water, and a visitor center are available during business hours.
If you’re looking for a backcountry adventure, then the Profile Trail or Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak might be for you. Both are considerably more difficult and longer than the other hikes on this list. Each of these hikes toes the line between a half- and full-day outing, depending on your ability and speed. The wildflowers, fungi, and beautiful spruce-fir forest you’ll hike through is well worth the effort, though. Hiking in the winter is an option, but access can be limited due to temporary closures for ice and snow. The fall colors along the mountain are also a sight to behold.