Dreaming of the weekend already? Check out Grandfather Mountain & Banner Elk camping!
You can easily spend all day at Grandfather Mountain State Park. The park does a great job of providing interpretative elements for your trip. I still have a CD player in my car (thanks, Subraru!) and they give you a free audio guide when you enter the park. The audio guide walks you through landmarks and you can stop at specific points on the drive up to learn more.
An attendant has you park at the bottom lot if you plan on hiking. There is a short walk up to the “mile-high” bridge. It’s short and pretty crowded with great views. If you’re with a less active group or not feeling up the Grandfather Trail, this is a great option. There is a gift shop and restaurant, there is also a small zoo/animal exhibit (bears, eagles, etc.) worth checking out.
But if you are up for the hike, I would HIGHLY recommend Grandfather Trail! So. much. fun! The hike can vary in length, there are multiple small sections you can link and all are well marked. Check out the map before you go but don’t underestimate the ladders & cables, they are steep! Here is a link to help you plan: https://files.nc.gov/ncparks/maps-and-brochures/grandfather-mountain-state-park-map-2021.pdf
The hike I chose (and what seems to be pretty standard) is the Grandfather Trail to MacRae Peak & back via the Underwood Trail to Grandfather Extension Trail. Be sure to fill out the permit information before you begin the trail. This helps the park know who is out for the day and who needs search/rescue when they aren’t back in time. Overall, the hike was fairly crowded with folks from all skill levels. Some of the ladders are pretty epic and the views are stunning. I would not bring small children and definitely no pets.
There are hike-in primitive camping spots in Grandfather Mountain State Park. My husband & I opted for car camping–he’s a chef and wanted to cook steak in his cast iron 🙂 We found Grandfather Campground which was just fine. Some sites are by a creek but otherwise they are pretty standard (not super private but there is a bathhouse). It was not bad at all and close to Banner Elk for groceries and restaurants.
Overall, Grandfather Mountain and Banner Elk surprised me! A day out on a pretty epic trail, beautiful drives in/around Banner Elk–plan a weekend here soon!