The call of nature 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 with Grandfather Mountain seeing 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 Preserve in North Carolina recorded 11,889 hikers between January and August. In 2021, 15,110 hikers used the trails over the same period, an increase of 27%.
Grandfather Mountain offers access to 11 trails that range in difficulty from a gentle stroll through the woods to a rigorous hike through rugged peaks. Park trails include the Woods Walk, Black Rock Nature Trail, and Bridge Trail. The nature preserve also offers access to backcountry trails in the adjacent Grandfather Mountain State Park. Along the Grandfather Trail, a very strenuous trail that runs 2.4 miles from the mountain hiker parking lot to Calloway Peak, hikers use cables and ladders on site for very steep sections and sometimes cross the line of mountain ridge.
With more visitors and hikers comes more responsibilities on natural resource management staff.
“The trail feels the effects of every step, and it shows over time,” Patton said.
Grandfather’s natural resources staff of four have worked hard this season to help people stay on track by repainting fires and blocking social paths or paths trodden by people who stray from the beaten path. . 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.
Trail hours are also on the rise. The team completed 391 hours of trail work from mid-March to early August in 2019. In 2021, that number is 449 hours, an increase of 15%. This extra time provides more than the benefit of well maintained trails.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to be on our trails more often,” Patton said. “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 best green destinations in the South. The mountain is home to a myriad of plants and hardwoods that range from pumpkin-colored beech trees to blood-red sourwoods and rusty red oaks. Plus, Grandfather’s lofty heights provide guests with a spectacular vantage point as the changing leaves and fall color creep up the sides of the mountain and into the North Carolina foothills.
While the leaf change at Grandfather Mountain typically begins at higher elevations in late September, views of fall color illuminating the low valleys below can last well into October.
Patton recommends these six tips for people planning to hike Grandfather Mountain this fall:
1. Choose the right trail for you and your group’s fitness level.
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 suitable for all groups, from a simple walk through the woods to a full day hike over very rough terrain.
2. Familiarize yourself with the trail.
Use resources such as 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.
3. Check the weather.
Check the weather the week before, the week of, the days before, the day of, 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.
4. Tell someone your plan.
You should always let people know your plan, so if something were to happen, someone would know where to find you or look for you. At Grandfather Mountain, hikers are required to complete a hiking permit before using the backcountry trails. These permits also give the hiker contact details to use if needed.
5. Be dressed properly.
Hiking shoes are best for hiking, but please wear at least closed-toe shoes. Moisture-wicking clothing is also important. It is also advisable to bring a rain jacket and extra layers.
6. Bring plenty of water and snacks.
Some of the backcountry trails on Grandfather Mountain will take all day. This means water and snacks to get you through the day will be needed.
Grandfather Mountain trail information can be found at www.grandfather.com. Advance tickets and online reservations to enter the park are strongly encouraged during the busy fall season. In October, park 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 party will be dispatched.
The non-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and appreciate the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325 or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.