5 Surprises You’ll Find on Grandfather Mountain
JUST TWO HOURS AWAY FROM CHARLOTTE, Grandfather Mountain towers over Western North Carolina as the Blue Ridge Mountains’ highest peak (at an elevation of 5,946 feet). But it’s much more than just a mountain: It’s a scenic destination abundant with attractions. Many know about the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a landmark that offers 360-degree panoramic views from the mountain. Others who have briefly visited the mountain may have seen the Nature Museum's offerings.
The mountain’s countless hidden features have likely proven more elusive for you. Below, we’ve collected five of the best surprises contained within Grandfather Mountain.
1. The Fudge Shop
There’s a phrase that Beth Grant, manager of The Fudge Shop, hears about five times a day. “You have the best job in the world!”
Take a glance inside the shop, and you’ll likely agree with those patrons. Grant says that it’s the view from the inside to the outside that also brings gasps. “The view that we get to look at throughout our work day is something that so many people travel many miles to see,” she says, “so we do have an amazing job here in the little Fudge Shop on top of Grandfather Mountain.”
The shop opened in 2008, and though you'll always have standard flavors like maple walnut, peanut butter, cookies and cream, or chocolate, be sure to take advantage of the seasonal offerings. During the summer, there's orange cream, raspberry, and dark chocolate with caramel and seasalt. The fall brings pumpkin pie and carrot cake; winter is marked with peppermint and coconut fudge.
Also, in keeping with Grandfather Mountain's mission of conservation and sustainability, the Fudge Shop was designed and built with eco-friendly materials. Solar thermal panels on the roof of the building, bamboo floors, skylighting, and rainwater barrels to catch runoff are all part of that effort. And that thread continues through the entire site, from the materials used at the Nature Museum & Restaurant to the coffee served, which is shade-grown and organic.
2. Endangered Species and Diversity
Grandfather Mountain contains a complex ecosystem of hundreds of species of flora and fauna. You'll recognize many of them. Yet, the mountain contains several endangered and rarer species otherwise difficult to find in the world. “Grandfather’s wildlife diversity is more hidden,” says education specialist Amy Renfranz, on the surprises found on the mountain. “Visitors that arrive early in the morning are most apt to see wild deer, turkeys, grouse, songbirds, and bears. Guests that come to a naturalist program might search for the mountain’s abundant salamanders or summertime caterpillars and butterflies. Many are surprised to learn about Grandfather’s biodiversity through these programs.”
The Blue Ridge Goldenrod and Frullania appalachiana have fewer than 5 occurrences worldwide. Animals like the Bog Turtle, Weller's Salamander, Eastern Small-Footed Bat, and the High Mountain Supercoil are incredibly rare animals preserved within the terrain here. Rare birds and mammals include Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Hermit Thrush, and many, many more. But how can you really secure a spot to experience these animals and find out how you can contribute to their survival? Read below.
3. Go Behind the Scenes
Behind-the-scenes tours and daily nature programs include animal encounters, interpretive talks, geology talks, wildlife talks, guided adventures throughout the mountain, and more. You can find out how you can help these animals survive—and have your own intimate moments that help you understand the beauty contained within these rarities
You can shadow the keepers of the animal habitats, take a close-up view of the animal overlooks, and in certain seasons, take a after-dark tour of the mountain and see its nocturnal residents.
4. Junior Ranger Program
That may all sound a bit complex for your youths. So what about the younger would-be conversationalists out there? The Junior Ranger program introduces your child to Yonni, a fictional Yonahlossee Salamander that serves as a mascot to the program. Kids can go on scavenger hunts, explore trails, meet animals, and learn how to conserve the environment at home. “Our goal is to provide meaningful ways for them to have fun while outside,” Refranz says. “In addition, every program has a ‘Do One Thing’ message that gets kids to think about one way that they can experience or protect the natural places where they live.
Many of those daily nature programs are also adapted for kids within the Junior Ranger program. Kids who turn in their completed Junior Ranger booklet to the entrance gate and take the official pledge get an official badge and certificate for their accomplishment.
5. 12 Miles of Hiking Trails
The 12 miles of premier alpine hiking trails have both in-park and backcountry options. The backcountry trails run through the neighboring Grandfather Mountain State Park. Contained on the site is a network of diverse trails of varying difficulties and viewing opportunities. The Bridge Trail is a half-mile hike to the bridge area, giving the chance to look at the famous bridge from below.
Also in the backcountry options, you’ll find forests that are typical for Canadian climates, ladders and cables to scale sheer cliff faces, and all of the ecosystems and animal species mentioned above.
And there are even more secrets to unlock for yourself on Grandfather Mountain. Plan your own journey at Grandfather.com.