The call of the wild has been loud and clear during the pandemic, with many people looking for a way to escape, get outside and connect more with loved ones and nature.
This trend is evident as Grandfather Mountain has enjoyed record attendance over the past two years. With more visitors, the park has also seen a substantial increase in the number of hikers. In 2019, Linville Nature Reserve, North Carolina, recorded 11,889 hikers between January and August. In 2021, 15,110 hikers used the trails during the same period, an increase of 27%.
âHaving more people on the trails means people get back to nature and specifically see the wonders of Grandfather Mountain in a unique way,â said H Patton III, natural resource management specialist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. , the non-profit organization that owns and operates the park. âHiking our trails is one of the most challenging and exciting experiences our clients can have. The rugged connection to the mountain is one they will never forget.
Grandfather Mountain offers access to 11 trails varying in 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.
Photo courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
With more visitors and hikers, the staff responsible for natural resource management are more responsible.
âThe trail feels the effects of every step, and it shows over time,â said Patton.
Grandpa’s four-person Natural Resources staff have worked hard this season to help people stay the course by repainting the flames and blocking social trails or paths made by people going off the trails. The team also added new sets of rock steps to help hikers navigate difficult terrain and worked to manage the tread or surface of the trails.
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, an increase of 15%. This extra time offers more than the benefit of well-maintained trails.
âWe’ve made a conscious effort to be on our trails more often,â said Patton. “We like to let hikers know that we are there and available if they need us for any reason.”
Fall is a very popular time to hike Grandfather Mountain, one of the South’s top leafy destinations. 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. Plus, Grandpa’s lofty heights provide guests with a spectacular vantage point as the changing leaves and color of fall advance up the mountainsides and into the foothills of North Carolina.
While the leaf change at Grandfather Mountain typically begins at higher elevations in late September, the sights of fall color illuminating the low valleys below can last until October.
Photo by Chip Henderson | Chip Henderson Photography
Patton recommends these six tips for people planning to hike Grandfather Mountain this fall:
- Pick the right trail for you and the fitness level of your group.
Every trail on Grandfather Mountain provides 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.
- Familiarize yourself with the trail.
Use resources like 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.
- 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.
- Tell someone your plan.
You should always let people know about your plan, so if anything should happen, someone would know 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.
- Be dressed properly.
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.
- 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 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. 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.
The non-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation works to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325, or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.