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Grandfather Mountain North Carolina, Tanawha, the Sleeper

Updated on June 24, 2012


 Grandfather Mountain is located in the Northwest corner of North Carolina and is one of the most beloved geologic formations by the local population. Grandfather Mountain is 17 miles south of Boone and Blowing Rock and 70 miles northeast of Asheville.

The highest peak is 5,946 feet above sea level at Calloway Peak. This number is 18 feet lower that the elevation of 5,964 feet that Grandfather Mountain has been using since 1952. In 2007 surveyors found their GPS equipment did not register 5,280 feet. Experts brought in all the proper tools necessary to verify the height of Grandfather Mountain. After many calculations and tests, Suttles Surveying arrived at the 2008 elevation figures that Grandfather Mountain is now using. As we humans age, we lose height. It appears the Grandfather is no exception!

  Grandfather looks to be taller than its neighbors because of the abrupt way the mountain rises above its surroundings. However, Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet, located 40 miles south in the Black Mountain range, is the highest point in Eastern America. Roan Mountain is 6,285 feet, located 20 miles to the west, is the highest peak in the Unaka Mountains

  The mountain got its unique name because pioneers recognized the face of an old man in one of the cliffs. Different faces can be seen at various locations so there is no one official profile of the mountain.  The most popular can be seen at Foscoe, seven miles north of Linville and 10 miles south of Boone on NC 105. The Cherokee name for the mountain was "Tanawha," meaning "a fabulous hawk or eagle."

  The Grandfather is a biologically diverse landscape and visitors can see nature that is found nowhere else on the planet. One of the most beautiful is the pink-shell azalea which is native only to North Carolina. Pink-shell azalea blossoms in mid-May. The largest natural population of the pink-shell azalea in the world can be found on Grandfather Mountain. From mid to late May, mountain peaks are covered in pink clouds of these blooms. There actually are 16 classifications of natural communities on the mountain itself. These include the Rich Cove and Acid Cove Forests, a Northern Hardwood Forest, the Heath Balds, Montane Acid Cliffs and High Elevation Rocky Summits, the High Elevation Seeps with their own dense beds of wetland herbs and the Red Spruce and Fraser Fir Forest. It is breathtaking to observe this diversity in just a few miles of hiking.

  Grandfather Mountain holds a great place in the history of America. The famous explorer Daniel Boone who hunted on the mountain in the 1760’s. The nearby town of Boone is named after him. Other visitors of note include French botanist Andre Michaux who visited Grandfather in 1794. He wrote in his journal: “Reached the summit of the highest mountain in all of North America, sang the Marseillaise and shouted ‘Long live America and the Republic of France, long live liberty!’” He was mistaken of course.         

 Harvard botanist Asa Gray climbed the Grandfather in 1841 in search of a species thought to be He did not locate the fabled plant, but did discover a rare lily that bears his name and blooms in June and July.

 Famous naturalist John Muir, visited Grandfather in 1898. Muir had been ill with bronchitis for many months, but after climbing Grandfather he was invigorated enough to tell his wife that he was healed and he began to jump about and sing and glory in it all.

Today, Grandfather has a lot to offer in the way of attractions, nature vistas and hiking trails. There are many reasons to visit the mountain and adults and children alike will be enchanted. Some are:

  • Lofty altitude gives guests the exhilarating sense of being above the surrounding mountains
  • Beautiful mountain scenery
  • Mile High Swinging Bridge
  • Environmental Habitats for native wildlife
  • Black Bears, River Otters, Cougars, Eagles and Deer
  • Nature Museum
  • excellent exhibits about the natural history of the region
  • theater that shows nature movies made on the Mountain
  • restaurant and gift shop
  • South's best alpine hiking trails
  • More than 12 miles of regularly maintained trails ranging in difficulty from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry challenges.
  • Picnicking
  • Over 100 picnic tables and grills are scattered throughout the park. The picnic area located on the right about 1/3 mile up the summit road is equipped with a water fountain and restrooms.
  • Guests are welcome to bring their own picnic. Those who have not planned ahead can purchase fried chicken or sandwiches to go from the Museum restaurant.
  • Naturalist Programs
  • special activities, programs and guided tours with the Mountain's naturalists

(list courtesy of

Other than the views, my favorite spot is the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Yes, it really is a mile above sea level and walking the bridge is always the most exhilarating moment of my visit to Grandfather. The views are 360 degrees and one feels on top of the world when looking out from this incredible spot. The bridge is an awesome 228 feet in length and is a suspension bridge that spans an 80 foot chasm. And all this at one mile up!

  A note of interest here. One of the gift shops now has an elevator and provides access to people with disabilities.  Isn’t that just like a Grandfather?!

  The Grandfather Mountain Wildlife Habitats provides the opportunity to see some of North Carolina’s native animals in their natural setting. Many of these protected animals are endangered and no longer live in the wild. Some of the furry faces you might see on your visit to Grandfather include:

·Black Bears

·River Otters



·White-tailed deer

·         (list courtesy of

When I was a child, our personal favorite was Mildred the bear and her cubs. There are always several bears in residence at Grandfather Mountain. Seeing a 500 pound black bear up close and personal makes one grateful for the fence keeping her apart.

  I could write forever of the majesty and beauty of this very special place. However, I hope this has been enough to pique your interest and inform you of the fun, excitement and joy to be found here. If you are ever in North Carolina, plan a visit to our beloved Grandfather.

By the way, my Dad and Mom rest at his feet. They both loved the mountain so much that they chose a burial plot where he could look down at them forever. Stop and say Hi. They would like that.  


 All photos are sourced from www.grandfathermountain .com






All photographs and text on this site are protected under United States and international copyright laws (© Brenda Barnes) with all rights reserved (due credit given to legally used photos from other sources).


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