The highest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandfather Mountain, looms north of the parkway 20 miles southwest of Blowing Rock. As a visitor destination, it’s famous for the Mile High Swinging Bridge, the centerpiece of a private attraction that also includes hiking trails plus a small museum and wildlife reserve. Don’t let a fear of heights scare you away; though the bridge is a mile above sea level, it spans a less fearsome chasm that’s just 80ft deep.
Much of Grandfather Mountain – including its loftiest summit, Calloway Peak (5946ft), a strenuous 2.4-mile hike from the swinging bridge – belongs to Grandfather Mountain State Park (www.ncparks.gov). Its 12 miles of wilderness hiking trails can also be accessed for free at Mile 300 on the parkway.