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North Hills Monthly

Boone, NC–Home to the Mile-High Swinging Bridge–Takes Travelers to New Heights

Sep 30, 2018 05:55PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Looking up at the Mile-High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain, which is 5,280 feet above sea level.

Teetering 5,280 feet above sea level on a swinging bridge as the wind whipped past me, I have to say that the views from the top of Grandfather Mountain in Boone, NC, were awe-inspiring. I also have to admit that while most people would be stilled by the beauty of the panoramic vistas, I was struck dumb by the fact that I had been talked into walking out onto the lurching, swaying steel bridge despite my fear of heights.

As far as tourist attractions go, the Mile-High Swinging Bridge is one of those must-dos, even if your more sane mind tells you that nobody needs to walk across a yawning chasm just for the perfect selfie. But thousands of visitors each year manage to survive the journey, making it one of the most popular places to visit when traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Grandfather Mountain is located in Boone, NC, which is part of the Southern Highlands region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home of Appalachian State University, which attracts thousands of students to the area, it is also a premier destination for those who love the outdoors. Visitors can hike, bike, fish, kayak, zip-line and more; or they can test their mettle by crossing that really, really high bridge.

The area around Grandfather Mountain has 50 hiking trails and 20 overlooks, and a unique topography that makes it well worth visiting. Though wind gusts can reach 95 mph at the top of the mountain, pinkshell azalea, which is native only to northwest North Carolina, still grows along the peaks. Once you’re off the bridge, you can take the time to admire this plant as well as others—the mountain has more plant diversity than is found in all of Europe.

Before heading outside, take time to stop into the official visitors’ center, where you can watch a movie that explains all about this unique area, and see exhibits on everything from the endangered species that call the mountain home to the weather patterns that helped to create it. There are also a number of outdoor habitats that house otter, bear and more, and stunning views from just about every angle. You might even want to stop on your way up the hill to get a shot of the Forrest Gump plaque; the windy road that takes you to the top of the mountain was featured in the main character’s run across America.

There is a $20 per person charge (less for seniors and kids) to visit Grandfather Mountain, but you can also find numerous panoramic vistas all over the area without paying for admittance. The Rough Ridge Trail, which is located on the way up the mountain, offers a fairly easy hiking trail that’s only about a half-mile long, though you do gain about 500 feet in elevation in the first half of the walk. When you reach the massive rock overhangs at the top, however, you’ll forget all about your heavy breathing because the sight will take your breath away—the good news is that there are benches along the boardwalk at the top so that you can give yourself some time to recover.

As a history buff, I have to say that there’s something special about realizing that you’re looking at the same sweeping vistas as Daniel Boone did back in the 1760s when he walked these mountains; and you certainly don’t need a coonskin cap to feel connected to nature. There are other historical attractions in the area as well, from the Tweetsie Railroad, which was the state’s first family theme park, to the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum. My personal favorite is the original Mast General Store, located in the Valle Crucis Rural Historic District—you would swear you were walking into a late 1800s-establishment, right down to the 200 original post office boxes, 500 kinds of old-fashioned candy, and checkerboard by the pot-bellied stove. Oh, and coffee is a nickel, paid on the honor system.

There are more modern places to shop as well, including Rivercross Market located beside the Mast General Store, and the Parkway Craft Center at Flat Top Manor on the Moses Cone Estate, located in Blowing Rock, NC. Both of these boutique-type shops offer numerous locally made items, including handmade jewelry, blown glass and decorative art. The estate has the added advantage of offering even more stunning views as you look out over Bass Lake, and it also offers a demonstrator program during the summer season where you can watch artisans at work.

I would be remiss in not mentioning one other huge attraction in the area—down-home southern cooking. A visit to Over Yonder (seriously, that’s the name) got my plate filled with iron-grilled pork and beef meatloaf, butter beans, collard greens with bacon and broccoli slaw. And the fact that I washed it all down with locally made moonshine just made it even better. It almost made me forget my death-defying walk over the bridge.

To learn more about Boone, visit www.ExploreBoone.com or call 800-852-9506.