Hiking the Blue Ridge: Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain Trail1

            The attendant at the front gate gives you a guided tour CD at Grandfather Mountain. There’s a sign that tells you when to hit play on the official Grandfather Mountain guided tour CD, and a grandfatherly narrator and banjo noodling illuminate your path full of monuments.

Grandfather Mountain Trail Cairn

            The curve Forrest Gump ran up is covered in great detail, including a charming anecdote about Tom Hanks (note: all anecdotes about Tom Hanks are charming anecdotes). Grandfather Mountain is different than other must-see mountains in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge in that its presentation is very commercial, tuned to the family of 8 looking to tell their friends in Duluth they saw the best view in the world. As a crank, I tend to be highly skeptical of these experiences—I want a silent trail where I can do my best contemplative artsy fellow routine. I am not a fan of crowds and often treat the “must-see” places as a slog accomplished solely for telling the next relative to visit I had done it and knew a better thing to do. 

Grandfather Mountain Deer

            So, it was with great surprise that the first living creatures we encountered after stepping out of the car were a pair of deer casually grazing near the trailhead. The deer welcomed me into a forest fit for faeries and elves, all moss and boulders leftover from a time when magic still coursed through the world. It was quiet and serene—I came across two or three other people, otherwise left to take in the winding trail in comforting silence.

Grandfather Mountain Trailhead
Grandfather Mountain Trail Rocky Steps
Grandfather Mountain Mossy Tree
Grandfather Mountain Moss

            Perhaps this trail is so quiet because Grandfather Mountain gives you the easy way out: this path up the side of the mountain is entirely skippable if the swinging bridge is your goal. The mile-high bridge is only a few hairpin curves away by car.

Grandfather Mountain Hairpin Turns

These turns, fittingly, are another of the most photographed places in Western North Carolina: it seems every car company that wants to accentuate sportiness, handling, and adventure loads their latest commercial with footage of a car or truck hauling up these curves. It is a fun drive, but it’s the sort of empty fun you’ll get from taking a picture of yourself next to the Mona Lisa or climbing the steps in Rocky. You’re not the first one there, and you won’t be the last.

Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge

            So, it took some adjustment mentally when I came out of a forest where it was just me, my girlfriend, and our dog to find a fairly busy tourist destination.

Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge From the Side
Grandfather Mountain Spider on the Bridge

            The swinging bridge is all it’s cracked up to be. It swings, it’s a mile up in the air, and it is the only time I’ve lost my gut to heights in recent memory. I know—it’s totally safe! But something about that sensation of bobbing and swaying up in the air made my stomach turn, and I didn’t help it by walking across the peak to a rocky outcropping for a picnic.

Grandfather Mountain Overlook
Grandfather Mountain Overlook Parking Lot

After I got acclimated, the view was quite nice. The real highlight was on the other side of the bridge, where clouds continually rolled across the peak of Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain in the Fog

            The fog gives an otherworldly sense to the Blue Ridge. It’s fantastic and ethereal, strange and enthralling. I don’t think any other natural process on the planet comes close to the feeling you get when literally walking through a cloud. Heavy fog is an element in my quixotic search for the perfect hike, along with complete solitude, sweeping vistas, and forests full of life.

Grandfather Mountain Bird on Overlook
Grandfather Mountain Overlook Clouds

I found most of that at Grandfather Mountain, punctuated by a second run-in with deer on the trail.

Grandfather Mountain Deer Close Up

It’s a place I’ll keep coming back to, simply to watch it change with the seasons. It’s a reminder that sometimes things, like listening to the Rolling Stones, are the thing you have to do because they really are that good.

Grandfather Mountain Forrest Gump Sign

            Oh, and on the way back down I took pictures of the dang Gump Curve.

Grandfather Mountain Trail Leaf