Located beside Sugar Mountain (elevation 5,236 feet) is the famous Grandfather Mountain (elevation 5,946 feet) with the popular mile-high swinging bridge. In addition to being one of the top scenic attractions in North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain is recognized by the United Nations as a nature Biosphere Reserve of global importance. Rock formations on Grandfather Mountain date back 1.2 billion years.
There are two areas to enjoy this amazing mountain. Most visitors head around the mountain from Sugar to drive to the top (make online reservations in advance!). If you want to hike the Profile Trail, see info at bottom of page.
To enjoy the attraction (operated by a non-profit Foundation), drive around the mountain – about 6 miles. After purchasing your ticket at the entrance, you explore the park on your own. Drive to the top via the winding road and feel the temperatures drop. Take a jacket, even for summer days. The summit is often in the clouds, and you can see the profile view from many Sugar Mountain vacation rentals.
At the top of the mountain, find a gift shop, snacks and the foot suspension mile-high bridge with 360-degree views. Walk along the rocky ridges beyond the bridge (be careful!) for even more dramatic views. The bridge is even wheelchair accessible via an elevation in the Top Shop. At the top, you can hike several trails, including the challenging hike up to Calloway peak, the highest point on Grandfather.
Nature Conservancy considers Grandfather Mountain an ecological site of global significance, as it provides habitat for more globally rare species than any mountain east of the Rockies. Grandfather Mountain supports 16 distinct ecological communities due to its abrupt rise above the valley floor.
Bears & Wildlife Viewing
As you descend the mountain, don’t miss the environmental habitats for native wildlife and a natural history museum. Get up close to black bears, river otters, cougars, bald eagles and elk. Staff naturalists offer an array of programs included in the cost of admission – plus behind-the-scenes tour for an additional fee. Also find a restaurant – perfect place to pick up picnic supplies – and a fudge shop. There are more than 100 picnic tables spread across the mountain.
Grandfather Mountaintop Hiking Trails
Grandfather Trail: This upper ridge trail provides astonishing variety with spruce, fir, rock pinnacles and open spaces with panoramic views of mountains. The trail follows the crest of Grandfather Mountain from the Swinging Bridge Parking out 2.4 miles to Calloway Peak. It’s very strenuous, so this is not the casual forest walk. There are chutes where progress is hand-over-hand and some extra steep sections where your use cables and ladders. If you want to by-pass the ladders up MacRae Peak, take the Underwood Trail.
Underwood Trail: Beginning along the Grandfather Trail near the half-mile marker, the trail rejoins the Grandfather Trail at MacRae Gap about a mile out. The strenuous trail makes a long, steep, rocky turn around Raven Rock Cliffs by way of one long ladder. Going out along Grandfather and returning along Underwood makes an excellent loop hike from the Swinging Bridge.
Black Rock Nature Trail: Begins at the Hiker’s Parking Area (three curves below the summit) and slopes out gradually to a wide angle view of the Swinging Bridge, MacRae and Attic Window Peaks, as well as Beacon Heights and Grandmother Mountain to the southwest. The gradual, moderately rocky one-mile trail takes you through fragrant hardwood and spruce forests.
Bridge Trail: Begins at Hiker’s Parking Area and takes you rhododendron, galax, red spruce, Fraser fir and yellow birch. Four-tenths of a mile in length, the trail switchbacks up the mountain by massive rock outcroppings, traveling under the Swinging Bridge before ending at the Top Shop.
Hours & Tickets
Grandfather Mountain is open all year, weather permitting, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. It often closes in the winter due to snow or high winds. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. spring and fall, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. summer, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. Tickets are $22 adults (13 to 59), $20 seniors (60+), $9 children (4 to 12), free for children under 4. New for 2020: Make online reservations in advance for timed entry. To purchase tickets and get the latest info, go to the Grandfather Mountain website.
Grandfather Mountain is located on U.S. Highway 221, two miles north of Linville, and one south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. GPS Address: 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville, NC.
From the main entrance of Sugar Mountain, it’s an easy 7.5 miles drive to the entrance gate. From the mountain, turn right onto NC 184. At the stoplight, turn right on NC 105. At the intersection with US 221, head north.
Grandfather Profile Trail
Just two miles from the main entrance to Sugar Mountain is the Profile Trail trailhead. This popular hike climbs the “backside” of the mountain – not part of the paid attraction area that includes the Swinging Bridge. This strenuous hike of 7.2 miles roundtrip has an elevation gain of 1,800 feet before merging with the Grandfather Trail along the crest. Continue another half mile up to Calloway Peak. This trail is part of the State Park, so there is no admission fee. Trailhead Location: 4198 NC Highway 105 N, Banner Elk (across from Pedalin’ Pig BBQ). Go to the State Park Website for updates.