The overcast skies loomed above as we traveled north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for Grandfather Mountain. The daily forecast predicted afternoon showers but mountain-top climates can temperamental. A few droplets plunked on the windshield before the heavens opened up for a blinding nightmare of a downpour. Wipers were no match for this thunderstorm, especially on the winding parkway turns. We slowly plugged along flashing hazards until the nearest opportunity to pull over at an overlook.
After waiting out the storm, we finally made it to Grandfather Mountain with just a few hours left before they closed. The gate attendant notified us that the park’s main attraction, the Mile-High bridge, had already been closed once today due to weather conditions. We weighed our options of skipping it altogether but decided that we had come too far to turn back. There was a light drizzle in the air as we drove another spiral course up the mountain.
Our stomachs churned with anticipation as we approached the famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge. Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks on the Blue Ridge at 5,946 feet, only coming in second to Mt. Mitchell. The misty fog and slick surface was a little too much for Derek, so he stuck around for a ranger talk while I proceeded with caution crossing the swinging bridge, a mile high in the sky. It seemed to sing a squeaky song with the movement of two-way pedestrian traffic. What waited for me on the other end was a ledge looking upon the mountain range. I adored the view but was concerned to see some people taking selfies a little too close to the edge. There were no barriers on this side of the rock so I paid close attention to where I was stepping. There were a couple kids hopping from rock to rock that made my heart skip a beat.
After visiting the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, we flicked our eyes up to the clouds gauging our chances for hiking a trail that day. There are several summit trails that begin from the parking area. Hikers are encouraged to fill out a contact form listing name, phone number, and emergency contact with the time you entered the trails. This paper is set out on the front dashboard so that park rangers know who is still out on the trails when closing. I appreciated this process because we have been lost on a trail before and would have liked knowing that a ranger would be out looking for us if we were not back in time. Since hikers need to return an hour before closing, we had a small window of time to explore the summit trails.
We set out on Grandfather trail from the parking lot through a wooded area to gradually steeper surfaces. The rocky terrain was an exciting discovery process as we made our way over and under interesting features. We were clearly directed by wooden signs and an occasional podium map to follow the crest along Grandfather trail. From the depths of rock walls to the open views of mountains, we were having the time of our lives despite the misty sprinkle upon us.
There came a point on our journey that the rock could only be climbed by using mounted cables and wooden ladders. These extra steep sections required hand-over-hand maneuvering close to the rock to climb the sheer cliff face. It was fun to climb the ladders onto the next challenge ahead.
MacRae Peak offers ladder climbing to its pinnacle for a 360-degree view of the mountain range. We were unable to make it to this turnaround in the trail because the rock was increasingly steep with a slick surface. We were also concerned about making it back to the parking lot on time. The round trip hike to MacRae Peak is estimated at two hours and we only had one full hour to go out and back on the trail.
When we return to Grandfather Mountain, hopefully on a dry day, we would like to hike the five miles round trip to Calloway Peak at the end of the trail. For the amount of time that we had to hike on a rainy day, the Grandfather trail was still an unforgettable adventure for us. We had just enough time to pick out a few souvenirs at the museum gift shop before calling it a day at Grandfather Mountain. Rainy days don’t get in our way when we’re exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains!