At 5,964 ft/1,817 m, Grandfather Mountain (near Linville) is one of the highest points in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the section of the Appalachians running from northern North Carolina into southern Virginia. A trip to the top of this privately owned peak offers more than great views, however. A nature preserve protects bald eagles, black bears, cougars and other species—some of which can be viewed in natural-habitat areas—and a nature museum has some excellent exhibits about the animals and plants of the area. The mountain's famous Mile High Swinging Bridge really does swing, and it's quite a thrill when you look at the chasm that's below you.
But the best part of Grandfather, in our opinion, is the network of hiking trails that run for 12 mi/20 km across the face of the mountain: Some incorporate ladders to negotiate the rugged terrain. A word of caution: Many of these hikes are strenuous and could be life-threatening if you wander too far out on any mountain ledge.
It's also possible to hike up and down the mountain along several routes, rather than drive it, though it's a strenuous climb of several hours each way. You need to buy a hiking pass before you make the climb (available at the entrance gate to the mountain or at wilderness outfitters in the area). The Highland Games (a Scottish heritage festival) take place at the mountain in July.
Grandfather Mountain is just one of several attractions in the region, which is generally known as the High Country. It's a popular summer resort area, especially for vacationers from Florida, and contains several of the state's resorts with skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing available. Appalachian Ski Mountain has nine slopes and a vertical drop of 365 ft/111 m; Beech Mountain offers more than a dozen slopes and a vertical drop of 830 ft/253 m; Sugar Mountain has 18 slopes and a vertical drop of 1,200 ft/366 m; and Hawksnest has 12 slopes and a vertical drop of 619 ft/192 m.
About 15 mi/24 km south is the Linville Gorge Wilderness, an extremely rugged chasm carved by the Linville River—this is a great destination for backcountry hiking and primitive camping. But be careful if you visit: Some people who have descended into this wild country never came out. For a less demanding but very scenic experience, see Linville Falls, two towering cascades at the head of the gorge that can be reached after a short hike.
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