After building the Mile High Swinging Bridge, Hugh Morton didn’t stop. Eventually a zoo, nature museum, hiking trails, and restaurant were also added to the mountain top attraction on Grandfather Mountain. Today it’s one of the most exciting off-Parkway destinations in North Carolina. The paved road to the top is long and winding. Pay careful attention about halfway up for a real treat: one of the filming locations for the feature film Forest Gump (you’ll recognize it instantly when you visit). At the very top is a visitor center and exhibit space. When I visited one year they had an exhibit of photography Hugh Morton had captured over his career. The Mile High Swinging Bridge is actually not much of a swinging bridge anymore. That thing is secured tightly with over a dozen high-tension cables tethered to the mountain side. But it’s still absolutely thrilling to walk across the rigid galvanized steel bridge to the rocky outcropping on the other side.
Did you know? In 2007 Suttles Survey was brought in to verify the height of the Mile High Swinging Bridge and three peaks of Grandfather Mountain. While the peaks of the mountain were found to be shorter than originally thought, the middle of the swinging bridge was confirmed at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level.
The Nature Museum has several exhibit spaces with information about local wildlife and geology in North Carolina. Mildred’s Grill is part of the same building with a menu consisting of burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Next door along a paved path is The Fudge Shop (I dare you to smell the fudge in the air and at least not pop inside for a moment). The Wildlife Habitat was one of the first attractions built after the bridge. This was originally an area for housing Mildred the Bear, although now there are deer, otter, cougars, and several other animals native to this region of North Carolina. The habitat is accessible via a paved path and is handicap accessible, although there are some inclines on the path. There are 11 hiking trails accessible from the Grandfather Mountain attraction. The most interesting is the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail that summits all three peaks of Grandfather Mountain between the Mile High Swinging Bridge and Calloway Peak. This strenuous trail is so steep at times it involves climbing ladders at two different spots. An easier and more popular trail is the 1-mile Black Rock Trail. This leads to a scenic overlook with a view of nearby Grandmother Mountain.