LINVILLE, N.C. (WJHL) – For people across the region, Grandfather Mountain has been a premier hiking destination for more than a hundred years, but now, thanks to the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, it’s home to so much more.

People of all ages can visit the mountain to burn off some extra energy, which is one of the reasons why the hiking trails are one of the most popular aspects of the park. However, before you hit the trails, hikers need to be aware that many of Grandfather Mountain’s 11 hiking trails are for experienced hikers.

“Before coming to Grandfather Mountain to hike, definitely do your research and know what you’re getting into. It’s a beautiful place to be but it’s also prime mother nature, and you never know what she’s got in store for us,” said H Patton, the Natural Resource Management Specialist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.

By that, Patton means one of the big things people forget about is the temperature change! On average, Grandfather Mountain can be 10-15 degrees colder than what you’re feeling in Johnson City and much windier too. So make sure to pack multiple layers, some that you can add on in the cold and others to take off once you work up a sweat on the trails.

Before you head out though, check with the rangers and ask questions about the trail you’re heading out on. While some hikes may seem doable mileage-wise, the time it will take to do the hikes may not be something you’re expecting.

“The distance does not represent the time that it takes to do it. One of the most popular destinations on the hiking trail, Grandfather Trail, specifically is McCray Peek, and on our trailhead sign, it’s listed as .9 miles, which is accurate. But what it takes to hike that and back is about 2.5 hours,” said Patton.

Once you’re done on the trails, you can stop by the visitor’s center for some lunch. Natalie Brunner, the Marketing and Communications Associate for Grandfather Mountain, explains there are plenty of food options in the visitors center.

“We do have the restaurant, which is Mildrid’s Grill, and we do serve everything from soups, salads and sandwiches, and then we also have our gift shop. Then we usually have the exhibits, but they’re under construction right now due to the renovations that we are doing,” Brunner said. “And those renovations should be done by fall 2021, and we’re hoping for a grand opening in 2022.” Even though you can’t see the exhibits themselves, you can see what they will look like on the outside.

“We’re expanding basically the backside of the building. We’re going to have event space in there, more classrooms, an auditorium and an outdoor stadium as well,” said Brunner.

After a quick bite to eat, go check out the animals who live right outside of Mildrid’s Grill. The foundation is home to bears, otters, eagles, cougars and elk, but Brunner says the most popular has to be the otters.

“They love people, they love the attention and they always put on a good show,” Brunner said. There’s no need to worry about where they came from because all of the animals here have been rehabilitated. “All the animals that we have at Grandfather Mountain are not able to survive in the wild on their own.”

Next on the list for you to visit is the famous swinging bridge, which hangs exactly one mile in the air, as it has been for the past 69 years.

“It was originally constructed in 1952 with wooden slats and was reconstructed in 1999 with galvanized steel,” said Brunner. “So it used to really swing back and forth, but now it’s sturdy and on a windy day you can even hear it sing a little bit in the wind, and it will swing a little bit, but not nearly as much as it used to.”

Then while you’re up there, take a peek at the museum, which shows us how the park got to where it is now. “This museum basically gives you the early history of Grandfather Mountain and how it came to be the Grandfather Mountain it is today,” said Brunner.

Before you go though, you can’t end a fun day without a sweet treat, which begs for a trip to The Fudge Shop, a spot many people don’t know about. Brunner says you can find it, “Hidden behind the animal habitats and behind the nature museum, but you know its a great thing to visit, and you know, the peanut butter fudge is fantastic.”

There are a lot of things to do up on Grandfather Mountain, and it’s all covered in one flat fee. To get full access to the park, visitors will pay $22 for adults, $20 for seniors 60 and up and $9 for children ages 4-12.