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North Hills Monthly

Mountains No Match for GMC Acadia or Determined Climbers A car review/travelogue

Aug 29, 2019 10:09AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Fall is the perfect time for a road trip, especially if you’re a leaf-peeper, or looking for a last little getaway before school begins or the snow starts flying. One destination I highly recommend for any time of year—but especially when the leaves are changing—is the area around Boone, NC, which includes Grandfather Mountain.

The views are spectacular in this North Carolina state park near Linville, where the elevation reaches 5,946 feet. But you’re going to need a lot of stamina if you’re climbing, or a lot of horsepower if you’re driving, to get to this location in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

I borrowed a 2019 GMC Acadia AWD SLT-1 for the eight-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Boone, because I knew I’d be doing a lot of uphills, considering that the route includes quite a number of mountain passes through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, not to mention a six-mile climb of more than 1,500 feet. The car handled the climbs effortlessly, though it took me a little time to get used to how fast it would pick up speed going downhill! The GMC Infotainment System with Navigation was a really nice feature, too—being able to see changes in the route on an 8” screen meant I didn’t have to take my eyes off the twisting, turning highway.

This area of North Carolina is known for its hiking, so my sister, Holly, and I decided to take a walk in the Rough Ridge Overlook area, which tops out at about 4,773 feet. After hiking for about an hour while watching a storm roll in, we debated about whether to keep going and asked a young family coming down from the mountain about how much further it was to the top. Word to the wise: Do not ask someone 20 years younger than you about the difficulty level of a climb—what they considered “just a little further,” took us slightly less than an eternity to reach. Still, the vistas were amazing, and it was well worth the weeks’ worth of ice that it required to recover from that escapade.

Later that day, we decided to drive to Valle Cruces, NC, for our own form of physical therapy—shopping at the Mast General Store, which advertises itself as “quality goods, fair prices and old-fashioned friendly service.” This store, which opened in 1883, is a destination unto itself, and while they used to promote themselves as carrying “cradles to caskets,” I didn’t actually see the latter, though I’m not betting against them being stored in a back room.

It’s easy to spend hours in this shop, which even includes a corner post office for locals who stop here for their everyday items. Note to those who might want to “shop” when it’s closed—there is a pattern of birdshot over the front door left as a warning to those who might attempt this type of visit. 

Between the Mast General Store, and a few more hours spent in Blowing Rock, a town full of boutique-type stores that just begs drivers to stop, we stuffed the Acadia’s more than ample storage area and still had to slide the curbside seat up to make a little more room. The remote-activated back door was a boon, and I especially appreciated the back-up camera and side mirrors with blind-spot warning—those really come in handy when you’ve got a car full of vacation gear and shopping bags that obscure your vision.

Speaking of—big kudos to the designers of the Acadia who added not one, but two sunroofs so that the people in the back seats can also enjoy those Carolina blue skies. All three rows of the car also had USB charge ports within reach for those who would rather look at phones and iPads instead of the jaw-dropping overlooks. Other technology includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection capability (again, helping you keep your eyes on the road) and GMC 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot.

Those who do choose to go all the way up to Grandfather Mountain will be rewarded with amazing views, which include those from the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a 28-foot suspension bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm that is more than a mile deep. The 360-degree panoramic view is well worth the heart-stopping walk across the bridge, and in fact can be a good distraction from looking straight down, which I highly suggest you not do. There are other activities at the top of the mountain as well, including a very interesting museum, a short film about the area and a fantastic gift shop, so it’s well worth the drive and the admission price of $22 per adult and $9 per child. The mountain is open all year except Thanksgiving and Christmas day, weather permitting.

While driving through this area is always fun, having a car that can handle the mountainous terrain while still providing a really comfortable road trip experience makes it even better. And since it comes with all-wheel drive, it’s perfect for leaf-peeping or even year-round excursions.

Editor’s Note: GMC provided this car at no cost for review purposes. To learn more about the GMC Acadia, visit https://www.gmc.com.