A Rugged Mountain and Gentle Valley GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN TO VALLE CRUCIS
A hiker absorbing the 360-degree views atop MacRae Peak on Grandfather Mountain would have no trouble forgiving Andre Michaux for recklessly proclaiming in 1794 that he had climbed to the summit of the highest mountain of all North America. Michaux visited Grandfather while on a French botanical expedition, and although he drastically miscalculated the mountain’s elevation”at 5,964 feet it’s not even the highest peak in the state”you really do feel on top of the world up here. The mountain’s rugged slopes fall precipitously off the northern and southern sides, and the 4,000-foot elevation difference between the summit and lowlands to the east makes for the greatest relief along the Blue Ridge Front.
Start out in the community of Linville. Head north on U.S. 221 for 12 miles and turn left onto Holloway Mountain Road. Drive 3 miles, then turn right onto Church Road. Drive three-quarters of a mile, then turn right onto NC 105. Go a quarter mile, then turn left onto Clarks Creek Road. Drive 2 miles to a T intersection and turn right. Drive 2 miles and turn right onto NC 194. Follow it a mile and turn left onto Watauga River Road. The road follows the river for 7 miles (changing names along the way) to U.S. 321. (30 miles)
One can also forgive the marketing hyperbole from the folks at Grandfather Mountain who proclaim the mountain as Carolina’s Top Scenic Attraction. The statement does have merit. When the late Hugh Morton inherited the mountain in 1952, he immediately began working to attract tourists. He expanded and extended the road and built the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge. Later expansions included an animal habitat, a modern auditorium facility, and a museum with an impressive collection of artifacts representing North Carolina and Appalachia. The collection of North Carolina minerals is among the finest in existence.
Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge has been enticing (and terrifying) visitors since 1952.
But through all his promotional efforts, Morton made sure not to destroy the very reason for Grandfather’s popularity: the spectacular scenery, the significant numbers of rare plants and animals, and the diverse natural communities. Biologically, Grandfather Mountain reigns as king of the southern Appalachian jungle. And anyone who hikes the trail along the mountain’s crest knows it’s the most rugged. The entrance to Grandfather Mountain lies off U.S. Highway 221, a couple of miles from the start of our route. Plan to spend at least half a day here, more if you do any hiking.
The Parade of Tartans at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games creates a colorful show.
From Grandfather, follow U.S. 221 north on the old Yonahlossee Road. Those who think of U.S. highways as being the quick way to get from point A to point B are in for a surprise. Completed in 1892 with manual labor, Yonahlossee Road was among the first roads in the East built solely for tourism. It connected the resort towns of Linville and Blowing Rock. The stretch operated as a toll road until around 1916. Although a U.S. highway today, the narrow road still follows the same serpentine course it did in 1892.
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