This is a short drive up the mountain and a great experience as it affords the most commanding view of all of downtown Boone. As you are riding in on either hwy 421 or hwy 321 you will not be able to miss the huge mountain sticking up out of the surrounding landscape. Howard's Knob park is up at the very top and it's easy to get to, you just have to know which road to turn onto off of King St.
See my pic on the Boone Intro page for a preview of what you'll see up there.
This almost qualifies as an off the beaten path tip, because it's outside of Boone. You will see some of the most serene views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and some of the best hikes for staying fit. It's very peaceful. There is a 15 mile or so stretch of the parkway that I'm very familiar with from outside of Boone all the way to Linville. I think I'll write up a travelogue on all of my favorite hikes pretty soon. Stay tuned.
Our 2nd stop in the Grandfather Mountain was at Wildlife Habitats and the Nature Museum. These are two great places to begin exploration from. There are guided tours at set intervals built around the time when the animals get a healthy nourishment. The Wildlife Habitats keeps few birds and animals that are native to the Mountain. We heard the same debate about Pumas (Cougars or mountain lions) going on in Appalachian region that we heard back home in Ontario - whether there are any wild mountain lions in the eastern USA. The consensus is that they could be reclaiming their lost habitat, but at this time the evidence is too unconvincing.
This is the 2nd attraction covered within Mystery Hill Entrance Tickets.
We went to the neighbouring Appalachian Heritage Museum after visiting the Mystery Hill. The Dougherty House, which was built in 1903 by brothers D.D. and B.B. Dougherty, the founders of Appalachian State University, houses the Museum on the 1st floor. It was the first home in Watauga County to have electricity and running water. It contains turn-of-the-century antiques and information about the Dougherty family and reflects how middle-class mountain families lived in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
We had our minor share of struggles during 5 hours of canoeing and kayaking, for example, when a low bridge came over us. By this time, dad had switched his canoe position with Rayyan’s kayak. He waited for the two of us to cross the bridge through land, while he holds the canoe and sails on his kayak under the bridge. However, in a small chaotic moment, I lost my pedal and dad did his too. So dad decided to let us handle the canoe, while he rushed for the pedals that were fast flowing out of our view. Rayyan and I re-strategized and decided to lift the canoe to the other side. Dad pedaled back with all the lost items recovered. He later told us that he had to use his hands to pedal the kayak to get to the freely floating gear. He must have then put an extraordinary effort to meet back with us upstream.
Everything was going well afterwards and we were thinking that we had successfully overcome the only real challenge we had during this adventure when lo and behold there came another low bridge. This was even lower than the 1st one we had encountered. The river had gotten some speed here and we remained in a fix as to what to do. The options we had during the 1st bridge were no longer available here. A man watched our ordeal from his home by the riverside and came over to help. We crossed this bridge with his help.
Overall, it was a fun and adventure packed canoeing and kayaking trip.
After visiting the Wildlife Habitats and the Nature Museum, we drove towards the famous mile-high swinging bridge. However, after driving a little distance on the road we found signs saying parking area for hiking to the mountain peak. We parked our car at that lot and decided to hike towards the peak.
It was a steep climb, but was not difficult as the path was well maintained (photo 3 and 4). Every now and then, we would see a group of deer giving us a good look and then disappearing in the woods. Just like trees in Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathom Five National Marine Park back in Ontario that we hiked in July, we found trees with their roots on the surface trying to get a hold of anything they could find (photo # 2). All of us had lots of admiration for trees trying to make their stand in this way. Wildflowers were blooming prolifically, some hanging to the most fragile of soils (photo # 5). The hike took us right under the mile-high bridge, where we took a little breather (photo 1). The path finally ended at the corner of the souvenir shop by the steps leading to the bridge.
The hikers should note that there are a number of trails that either go over the ridges (most difficult) or deep into the woods (moderately difficult).
Grandfather Mountain is proven most popular tourist attraction of North Carolina and when we explored it we could see why that would be. It is recognized by the UN as an International Biosphere Reserve. Some other destinations that we have visited and are listed on the same list are Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada and Lal Suhanra National Park in Punjab, Pakistan.
Grandfather Mountain is a habitat for 12 rare and endangered animals, reptiles and insects and 30 rare and endangered plants. The Virginia Big-eared Bat, the Carlolina Northern Flying Squirrel, the Spruce Fir Moss Spider, Heller's Blazing Star, Blue Ridge Goldenrod, and Bent Avens are considered "critically imperiled globally because of extreme rarity".
Once we entered the Mountain, our first stop was at a spot of two gigantic rocks, one of them named Split Rock for the obvious reason shown in one of the pictures.
We visited the Daniel Boone Native Gardens one fine evening. The start was not all that encouraging. The entrance to Horn in the West Drive, where the gardens are located, from Highway 105 was quite hidden and we kept missing it. However, once found, the Garden did not disappoint us.
The gardens feature a collection of North Carolina native plant material in an informal landscape design. We saw the Wrought Iron Gates made by Daniel Boone VI, a direct descendant of the great pioneer Daniel Boone. We also observed a bog garden, fern garden, rhododendron grove, rock garden, rock wishing well, vine-covered arbor, pond alongside the historic Squire Boone Cabin, etc.
This is a must go attraction for families. Mystery Hill turned out to be a great edutainment center. However, the most amusing piece was the ”Crooked House”. There was something very mysterious about this house. We experienced such a magnetic pull that my husband and I really felt dizzy. I could not even enter the house. My son played with the ball rolling uphill and then got pulled from his upright position to standing at 45 degrees so much so that he became a bit dizzy too. I had to take him out in the fresh air. There were many other hands on experiments for families to explore the relationship of science, optical illusion and natural phenomena.
Mystery Hill is open from 9 am to 8 pm all year round. The tickets are economical at US$8 for adult and US$ 6 for children under 13. These tickets also cover the cost of neighbouring Appalachian Heritage Museum and a Native American Artifacts Museum.
For a canoeing trip on New River, we, that is, dad, Rayyan and I (mom opted out of the adventure with plans to do some serious shopping in Boone) availed the services of Wahoo’s Adventures. We rented out a canoe and a sit-on kayak from them and then drove 15 kms on a narrow winding Highway 194 north through the hills into the area of Todd to their New River location. A young guide by the name of Lee Mason met us here. We parked our car and then were driven by Lee upstream to a location to enable us pedal for 5 hours back to where our car was originally parked.
It was, of course, Rayyan, who jumped on the kayak. Dad and I took the canoe. The River was slow and shallow, the maximum depth being my vest. It was lots of fun. Every now and then the river would run the effects of a rapid that would bring additional excitement. We took many pictures of the scenery, of ourselves, and some waterfowl. In our effort to observe waterfowl and take pictures, we crashed into the bushes on the riverbank only to find spiders crawling all over the canoe.
This is a must visit to get information not only about Grandfather Mountain, but also about the High Country in general.
The Nature Museum showcases gems, rocks, and wildlife found around the area, as well as an exhibit on life of Daniel Boone, the famous pioneer and adventurer. Outside in the lounge, there was an exhibition of the wildlife photographs with hilarious captions, such as a caption for a photograph of an otter read 'Otterly hilarious'.
Although many VTers have described the majesty and thrill of the mile-high swinging bridge, and I am attempting to do the same, no description can truly capture and do any justice with the real experience of being there. The crossing of the bridge is an adventure in itself and many tourists simply did not cross it. On the other hand, many visitors were adventurous enough to continue walking to the rocky outcrops (the safer ones) (photo # 1). And there were some daredevils like Ifrah who perched themselves on rocky outcrops looking down into the valleys (photo # 4).
From here, one can have beautiful views of the forested hills and of the city of Linville down below on one hand and of the two other peaks of Grandfather Mountain high above on the other.
The best place to observe native birds turned out to be the restaurant at the Museum and the Nature Center.
The Restaurant has a patio on its backside with lots of bird feeders and Humming bird feeders hanging in quite a charming arrangement. The birds seemed to be quite friendly and would let us come close to them. One of the birds (photo 1) even let a guide touch it. A Blue Jay made a daring attempt to reach a feeder (photo # 4), while humming brids were flying in and out (photo # 3). We also saw a doe feeding its fawn (photo # 2). Common (aka Northern) Ravens were flying high over the peaks and came closer to us on rocks behind the mile-high swinging bridge, probably trying to do some humanlife studies, as well as in a display of show off and acting like hawks and falcons, diving into the valleys below.
This is the 3rd attraction covered within Mystery Hill Entrance Tickets.
This is the most colourful museum we have ever visited.
A primer in history from the website: “During their honeymoon, R.E. "Moon" Mullins and his lovely new bride, Irene, began the collection with three arrowheads found in Cartersville, Georgia. By 1987, when "Moon" passed away, their collection had blossomed in thousands of pieces. Almost every time period of American Indian history is represented in this fascinating exhibit that took over 70 years to collect. From arrowheads and effigy pipes to bowls, Celts and awls, this is one of the largest collections of its kind in North Carolina”.
The artifacts are displayed along with the tags showing the place from where they were dug out. Some displays included artifacts from Canada too. It holds more than 50,000 Native American relics. Although displayed in small fonts, the description of some known Indian heroes and historical event is worth reading.
This Rock has snow that falls upside down! Here is the legend of Blowing Rock:
"It is said that a Chickasaw chieftan, fearful of a white man’s admiration for his lovely daughter, journeyed far from the plains to bring her to The Blowing Rock and the care of a squaw mother. One day the maiden, daydreaming on the craggy cliff, spied a Cherokee brave wandering in the wilderness far below and playfully shot an arrow in his direction. The flirtation worked because soon he appeared before her wigwam, courted her with songs of his land and they became lovers, wandering the pathless woodlands and along the crystal streams.
One day a strange reddening of the sky brought the brave and the maiden to The Blowing Rock. To him it was a sign of trouble commanding his return to his tribe in the plains. With the maiden’s entreaties not to leave her, the brave, torn by conflict of duty and heart, leaped from The Rock into the wilderness far below. The grief-stricken maiden prayed daily to the Great Spirit until one evening with a reddening sky, a gust of wind blew her lover back onto The Rock and into her arms. From that day a perpetual wind has blown up onto The Rock from the valley below. For people of other days, at least, this was explanation enough for The Blowing Rock’s mysterious winds causing even the snow to fall upside down."
(Taken from www.theblowingrock.com)