Grandmother Mountain: The Blue Ridge’s Bouldering Paradise

Beacon Heights is a view platform of bare quartzite rock with a long-range panoramic view that includes Mt. Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawksbill, Grandmother and Grandfather Mountains in North Carolina | Cvandyke

The weekend was coming and I was looking for a good place to do some bouldering. After asking around, Grandmother Mountain was the name that came up the most in conversations. As I searched for directions, my climbing shoes winked at me from across the room. It was bound to be a great adventure.

Like so many bouldering spots around, everyone agreed that getting there was “a little sketchy.” However, since this trip did not require sneaking through backyards and trespassing in search of a sick send, it was sounding more and more like the perfect place for some peaceful weekend climbing.

Driving up into western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, past Blowing Rock and toward Grandfather Mountain, I missed the turn. The second time was the charm, and after another turn I found myself climbing an unpaved, pothole-riddled path reminiscent of some of my more memorable adventures with rental cars in Central America. Passing through the woods, with the occasional home tucked in amongst the prehistoric-looking rhododendrons, I came to an area partway up the mountain with a footpath leading deeper into the woods. Someone else had parked alongside the bushes at the edge of the road (if you can call it a road). I pulled over as far as I could, loaded up my gear, and went down the footpath. It wasn’t long until I noticed, like Charlie in Willy’s Chocolate Factory, a wonderland full of granite delights seemingly everywhere I looked. Boulders the size of elephants, separated from the main path by less-trodden paths and the occasional rough bridge across a gully.

Twilight skies and fall colors from atop Beacon Heights along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

There was a good number of boulders strewn across the mountainside. Routes ranged from easy to impossible-but-worth-a-try. The cool granite was welcoming and challenging, making for a happy day of climbing. There was space to string up the hammock and camp out for a day of relaxation and recreation, resting between attempts and taking in the lush vegetation on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

I instantly fell in love with Grandmother Mountain. As opposed to the crowded tourist destination of Grandfather Mountain, Grandmother Mountain is not a place with a lot of signs directing you where to go, and there is no entrance fee. The people who frequent this spot clearly care about it, as I saw absolutely zero evidence of human activity, aside from the paths and a bit of chalk on some of the holds. While there, there were some other climbers maybe a couple hundred yards away, but they were respectful and I heard vocalizations secondary to their own trials on the granite more than I saw them.

Grandmother Mountain is a choice spot for hiking and bouldering in Western North Carolina. At 4,603 feet (1,402 m) altitude, its prominence is just 240 feet. This puts it in the perfect spot for some of the best views of Grandfather Mountain around. Lot parking is available between miles 307 and 308 of the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Grandfather Mountain Overlook lot. The bouldering is excellent. To keep it that way, remember to be mindful of other visitors, to do your best to park off the road, and to pack out what you take in. While it’s climbable year-round, Grandmother Mountain is best enjoyed between April and November.

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