Grandfather Mountain sees a slight increase in hikers; official offer of hiking tips for fall


As more people have taken to the trails all around western North Carolina in the past 18 months during the pandemic, Grandfather Mountain near Linville has seen record traffic in the past two years.

More visitors means more hikers on the trails. In 2019, Linville Nature Reserve in North Carolina recorded 11,889 hikers between January and August.

In 2021, 15,110 hikers walked the trails during the same period, an increase of 27%.

“Having more people on the trails means people are getting back to nature and, in particular, seeing the wonders of Grandfather Mountain in a unique way,” said H Patton III, Natural Resource Management Specialist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the non-profit organization that owns and operates the park. “Hiking our trails offers one of the most challenging and exciting experiences our guests can have. The rugged connection to the mountain is one they will never forget.

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With more visitors and hikers, the four people in charge of Grandpa’s natural resource management take on more responsibility. They have been to work repainting the flames and blocking social paths – paths made by people who stray from the beaten track. The team also worked to manage the tread of the trails and added new sets of rock steps to help hikers navigate difficult terrain.

“The trail feels the effects of every step, and it shows over time,” said Patton.

Hours of work on the trails are also on the rise. The team completed 391 hours of trail work from mid-March to early August 2019. In 2021, that number is 449 hours so far, already an increase of 15%.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to be on our trails more often,” said Patton. “We like to let hikers know that we are there and available if they need us for any reason.”

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Hike Grandfather Mountain during peak leaf season

Grandfather Mountain offers access to 11 trails with varying levels of difficulty, from a gentle walk in the woods to a rigorous hike through craggy peaks. Park trails include the Woods Walk, Black Rock Nature Trail, and Bridge Trail. The nature reserve also provides access to backcountry trails in the adjacent Grandfather Mountain State Park. Along the Grandfather Trail, a very arduous trail that runs from the mountain hiker parking lot for 2.4 miles to Calloway Peak, hikers use cables and ladders on site for very steep sections and sometimes cross the crest line of the mountain.

Fall is a popular time to hike Grandfather Mountain, as the mountain is home to a myriad of plants and hardwoods that range from pumpkin-colored beeches to blood-red laurel woods and rusty red oaks. Grandfather’s lofty heights are also a spectacular vantage point as the changing leaves and fall color move up the mountain sides and into the North Carolina foothills.

While the leaf change at Grandfather Mountain typically begins at higher elevations in late September, the views of fall color brightening up the low valleys below can last until October.

Tips for hiking Grandfather Mountain this fall

  1. Pick the right trail for you and your party’s fitness level: Every trail in Grandfather Mountain offers a great hiking experience, but the experience can be tarnished if the enjoyable hike turns into a survival situation. Grandfather Mountain offers access to a variety of trails to suit any group, from a simple walk in the woods to a full day hike over very rugged terrain.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the trail: Use resources such as maps and apps to help you navigate the trails. Plan your route before your hike. Grandfather Mountain trail information can be found at www.grandfather.com.
  3. Check the weather: Check the weather the week before, the week of, the days before, the same day and even just before you start your hike. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, and knowing what you might encounter will keep you safe and happy.
  4. Let someone know about your plan: You should always let people know about your plan, so if anything were to happen, someone would know they need to look for you or where to find you. At Grandfather Mountain, hikers are encouraged to complete hiking permits before hitting the backcountry trails. These permits also give the hiker the coordinates to use if necessary.
  5. Dress appropriately: Hiking shoes are best for hiking, but at least wear closed-toe shoes. Clothing that wicks away moisture is also important. It is also advisable to bring a rain jacket and extra layers.
  6. Bring plenty of water and snacks: some of the backcountry trails on Grandfather Mountain will take all day. This means that water and snacks to help you get through the day will be needed.

Information on the Grandfather Mountain trails can be found at www.grandfather.com. Advance tickets and online reservations to enter the park are strongly encouraged during the peak fall season. In October, the park’s opening hours will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the trails will close at 6 p.m. All hikers must be back in their vehicle by this time or a search team will be dispatched.