People tend to walk slowly across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, though not out of fear. The view is enough to slow anyone's steps. Spanning an 80-foot chasm one mile above sea level, the bridge grants 360-degree views of the mountains, specifically a rugged peak that rises to 5,946 feet: Grandfather Mountain. Recognized by the United Nations as one of the world's most diverse nature preserves, Grandfather Mountain bristles with verdant pines and wild flowers in full bloom, including the pinkshell azalea. The flower only grows in northwest North Carolina, and Grandfather Mountain claims the largest population.
Even on the eleven backcountry trails, hikers aren't inclined to move very fast. Up-close views of the area's wild flora and fauna are enough to inspire quiet, peaceful strolls. And on one trail?Grandfather Trail?cables and ladders physically challenge hikers as they climb to the mountain's peak. Other trails, meanwhile, wind past the park's seven animal habitats, where the likes of bears, cougars, and bald eagles live in their natural environments with their expert Feng Shui.
Although primarily an outdoor attraction, Grandfather Mountain does encompass a few indoor destinations. The Nature Museum chronicles the mountain's history?which stretches back billions of years to a time when the Earth still wore diapers?with two-dozen exhibits, including Indigenous American artifacts and mineral displays. Luckily, the park's onsite naturalists can help make sense of it all. Before or after exploring the mountain and its past, visitors can fuel up at the onsite restaurant or, if they can't bear to spend time indoors, picnic outside.
The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, which was improved by Civil War general Herman Haupt, the late 19th-century Historic Murray's Mill, which boasts a 28-foot high waterwheel, and the Harper House, which showcases its intricate Queen Anne stylings, all have something in common: They're maintained and shown by the Catawba County Historical Association, an organization dedicated to preserving and exhibiting historical sites throughout North Carolina.
The Catawba County Museum of History, situated in the former Catawba County Courthouse, depicts the lives of the Catawba River Valley's original settlers and their decedents through artifacts such tools made from hand-dug iron ore, military uniforms, and hand-stitched quilts. Visitors can step back in time into the ornately decorated, Queen Anne–style Harper House, whose period-accurate color schemes, wallpaper, and architectural details paint a picture of southern life in the Victorian era. The Murray & Minges General Store's shelves are still stocked with old-fashioned toys and treats, which at one time must have kept the Murray family children occupied as their parents helmed the Murray Mill. Guests can tour the mill and imagine workers grinding corn and wheat with the tools on display, toiling away to make their sacrifices to the Corn Gods in hopes of one day receiving Fritos.
From the vibrant tubes and slides of the multilevel FunZone playground to the squeal-inducing Tubs-of-Fun and Red Baron Bi-planes, FunStation2000's rides and games engage youngsters of all ages. As the Himalaya Rollercoaster speeds around its track, the laser-tag arena accommodates bouts between phaser-wielding teams. In the indoor batting cages, balls hurtle toward future home-run hitters and team mascots who need to practice dodging the swings of angry players. FunStation2000 continues enticing guests with a massive arcade and snack station full of treats including cheese pizzas, spicy popcorn chicken, and corn dogs.
In addition to accommodating spontaneous days of revelry, the center's staff hosts private parties, complete with game tokens, playtime, and pizza and cake served in the animal-themed party room.
The vision of a local North Carolina man, Zootastic Park sends animal lovers on an educational, interactive journey with an ever-expanding selection of exhibits, attractions, and activities. Owner Scottie Brown?who, along with his family, has been working with exotic animals for more than 30 years?transformed his dream into reality in 2009, when the zoo finally opened its gates after several years of construction and growing inside a kangaroo pouch. Today, the zoo's themed areas, such as Western Town and the Barnyard Petting Zoo, let visitors explore reptiles, farm animals, and exotic beasts including antelope, birds, and tigers who go by the names Sasha and Jasmine. Zootastic Park also hosts or furnishes animals for special events and can provide an exotic feel for events including birthdays, weddings, and corporate gatherings. When winter rolls around, the zoo morphs into a wonderland of lights, complete with an appearance from a Santa Claus who is clearly just a zebra wearing the sheep's cast-off wool.
There are few sounds more distinct than that of a bowling ball smacking into a pack of pins. That sound surely triggers a set of childhood memories, tossing balls down the lane while willing them to steer clear of the gutter with your mind. Pla Mor Lanes invites guests to relive old memories and create new ones on their 24 bowling lanes. Kids can cheer on one another during parties, while the older crowd hits the alley on Friday and Saturday nights, when black lights illuminate the alley for cosmic bowling and definitively prove that their dandruff shampoo is working.
Behind the security gates at Pomolas Ranch & Equestrian Center, visitors find a small, quiet barn surrounded by 13 acres of lush pasture and leafy trees. It's here, amid these sylvan surroundings, that they can polish their horseback-riding technique or take up the activity for the very first time. Both English- and Western-style riding lessons occur out on the grassy fields on clear days or, if it's stormy or after dusk, inside the lighted arena—large enough at 120'x160' for a full barrel or jumping course. The center hosts guests for individual lessons and equestrian-club members for regular riding, as well as the young guests who arrive for day and overnight riding camps during the summer.