Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge near Banner ElkFollowing a two-month closure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Grandfather Mountain, which is 15 minutes from Banner Elk, has reopened as of May 22, 2020. All ticket sales have moved online.

In accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phased “reopening” of North Carolina, the nature park will strictly limit visitor numbers to follow social gathering guidelines, while implementing enhanced health and safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and federal, state and local authorities.

Grandfather Mountain held a soft reopening May 15-17 to test the new protocols, then closed May 18-21, before opening again on May 22.

Guests will still be able to enjoy Grandfather Mountain’s many wonders, including the Mile High Swinging Bridge, wildlife habitats and hiking trails. However, the park will operate under a limited capacity to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.

Rather than purchasing tickets at the park’s entrance gate, visitors must purchase tickets online for a set date and time of entry. This measure limits the number of guests in the park at one time, in accordance with NC’s social gathering guidelines. As such, tickets will not be sold or available at the gate, thus visitors must book online in advance.

Another way to ensure entrance is through Banner Elk’s Grandfather Mountain lodging packages. Your lodging host secures a reservation for admittance at a specific date/time.

Grandfather Mountain hiking“The safety of our guests and staff comes first and foremost,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit that owns and operates the famed nature preserve. “We will continue to follow the situation closely, while implementing a phased reopening plan closely correlated with Gov. Cooper’s.”

Park officials have enacted operational measures to discourage crowds and encourage social distancing. Buildings, such as the Nature Museum and Fudge Shop, will remain temporarily closed, with public restrooms available at the Woods Walk Picnic Area.

The Top Shop will welcome a limited number of guests at a time, while the park’s on-site restaurant, Mildred’s Grill, will offer curbside pick-up, allowing guests to dine in their vehicles or at one of the park’s 100-plus picnic sites.

High-traffic pedestrian areas, such as the Mile High Swinging Bridge and wildlife habitats, will implement a one-way directional system to ensure that guests do not come within six feet of each other — the minimum safe distance recommended by the CDC and other health officials.

The number of guests allowed to visit such areas at one time will be limited, based on state social gathering recommendations, while a time limit will ensure that others can participate in turn. However, guests are welcome revisit such areas during the same trip.

Time limits will be not be enforced for the park’s less crowded, lower-traffic areas.

The park has enhanced its already stringent cleaning procedures and placed additional sanitization stations in key areas, while boosting staff presence to direct traffic flow and encourage safe social distancing.

“It’s going to be a different experience for our Grandfather Mountain friends and family — almost like a guided tour, in a sense,” Pope said. “But guests will still be able to share the mountain’s many wonders, and in a quieter, less crowded setting. When we get to Phase 2, there will be more facilities open and more people allowed to come to the park, and the same with Phase 3.”

Guests who hold season passes through Grandfather’s Bridge Club annual membership program will continue to receive free admission, although reservations must still be placed online. Current Bridge Club members whose passes were purchased prior to the closure will have their subscriptions extended by the length of the closure.

Please note that dates and guidelines are subject to change, based on current conditions and federal, state and local regulations. As such, those planning a trip are encouraged to visit www.grandfather.com for updates.

To learn more about Banner Elk’s Grandfather Mountain lodging packages, in which your host arranges park admission for you, click here.

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