Looking for one more summer adventure with the family before the school year begins? There’s still time to visit the brand-new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery at Grandfather Mountain and enjoy a list of new programs and events perfect for all generations. The Linville, N.C., nature preserve, operated by the nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, is known for its Mile High Swinging Bridge, animal habitats, 360-degree views and immersive programming meant to inspire exploration and conservation of the natural world.
Now’s the time to plan one last summer getaway, perfect for past visitors looking to experience something new and for first-time guests to see what wonders await them at Grandfather Mountain.
Here are five new experiences for families:
Get Hands-on in the NEW Wilson Center for Nature Discovery
Open to the public since late June, the Wilson Center nearly doubles the size of the original museum’s public space with 10,000 square feet of new education space, including state-of-the-art museum exhibits, three classrooms, an ADA-accessible theater (coming soon!) and expanded capacity for hosting events and programs. New exhibits include a 3D interactive map of the mountain, flora and fauna walls with field guide touch screens, a fun (for all ages) hands-on demonstration of wind speeds and other exhibits focusing on the mountain’s natural history and geology. (Check out the largest amethyst ever found in North America via spin-able turntable, and see minerals that glow in the Mineral Cavern!) Outside the center, guests will enjoy new learning spaces, including an amphitheater with terraced seating and a pavilion, as well as a new botanical garden.
A Beary Warm Welcome for Fanny May
Grandfather Mountain has welcomed a new member to its family of beloved animals in the Mildred the Bear Animal Habitats: Fanny May, a 5-year-old black bear with a big personality. Fanny May arrived in the spring of 2021 after the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission approached the nonprofit nature preserve about a bear that needed placement. Fanny has spent the last year getting acclimated to her new home and diet and showing a fun fascination for the toys and enrichments the habitat curators share with her. Fanny is slowly being introduced to guests and will be placed in the on-display habitats sporadically throughout the year.
New for the Smallest Naturalists
Grandfather’s revamped Junior Naturalist program has kicked off this summer with an updated activity book that invites children to explore the mountain, new wooden collectible badges and a seasonal e-newsletter for participants. Park Naturalists also offer an 11:30 a.m. Junior Naturalist activity (weekends in spring and fall and daily in the summer) geared toward 5- to 10-year-olds. “Random Acts of Science,” a new daily program this summer, is also great for kids and families and focuses on native plants and animals; using weather instruments to record data; and investigating minerals, skulls or other organisms under a microscope.
Paint With a Bear
This unique experience includes a guided visit behind-the-scenes to the bear habitat. Participants pick their color choices from a selection of nontoxic paint and then watch as one of Grandfather Mountain’s black bears creates a work of art with its paws. The experience takes place on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 a.m., May through October. This is sure to be a popular new experience, so booking in advance is recommended. Behind-the-Scenes Tours and Meet-the-Bears Tours are additional special habitat experiences offered.
New Naturalist-led Programs, Campfire Stories + Animal Enrichment Day
With the opening of the Wilson Center, park naturalists and educators are adding to the schedule of daily programs included in park admission. In addition to “Random Acts of Science,” new for kids and families, “Ramble With a Naturalist” and “Naturalist Talk” are perfect for families and adults. “Ramble With a Naturalist” occurs daily at 2 p.m. and includes a short stroll with a naturalist for seasonal topics such as wildflowers, weather, pollinators, butterflies, fall color and more. The “Naturalist Talk” program (beginning this fall) will be daily at 3 p.m. and focuses on topics like rare plant and animal species, conservation efforts on the mountain and the history of the area.
Grandfather Mountain Campfire Stories is a new event that includes stories told around a campfire from interesting figures in the realms of science, conservation and environmental education, all while experiencing the wonders of Grandfather Mountain in the dark. The 2022 event takes place the evening of Aug. 19, with presenter Gordon Warburton, a retired wildlife biologist and black bear project leader for the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.
Not new, but always a family favorite, Animal Enrichment Day is Aug. 3 with a full schedule of special enrichment demonstrations in the animal habitats, keeper talks and family-oriented games and crafts. The day’s schedule of events is included in park admission.
In addition to the slew of new offerings perfect for a last-minute summer trip, Grandfather Mountain is literally one of the “coolest” places around. Sweltering in a heatwave in your hometown? The highest temperature ever recorded on the mountain is 83.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Grandfather is always an enjoyable 10-20 degrees cooler than the surrounding foothills. Plan a trip and book your visit online.