Near & Far: Linville Falls
Linville Falls, a two-hour drive from Charlotte, is a beautiful mountain area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (U.S. 221), near many attractions suitable for kids. The Linville Gorge, part of the Grandfather Ranger District in Pisgah National Forest, boasts sweeping mountain views (ablaze with color in the autumn months), rugged terrain and unique rock formations over the 12 miles of the Linville River's swift waters. The Falls - upper and lower - are spectacular to see and worth the hike.
Going to the Top
A stop at the Linville Falls Visitor Center, operated by the National Park Service, will help your family decide which trail is appropriate. The trails range from moderate to strenuous and we chose the 1.6-mile round trip of Erwin's View Trail, which ends at a spectacular overlook. Along the way, the forest offers dappled shade of white pine, oaks, hickory, virgin hemlock and birch trees to shield you from the afternoon sun and there are many opportunities - including four scenic overlooks - for taking in the majestic waters of the Falls. We made it to the lookout at Erwin's View with only a few stops for our 8-year-old to rest.
Deep into the Mountain
After an hour or so hiking and enjoying the view from the top, perhaps the whole family will enjoy something a little deeper. Linville Caverns is a spelunker adventure with a story to tell and a welcome respite from a hot day, as the temperatures inside the caves remain consistently near the 50-degree mark. A group guide will take you on 30-minute tour of this natural masterpiece carved in stone from centuries of slow-moving water. Exploring the stalagmites and stalactites of the cavern, you'll see unique formations like the "lion," "fern leaf" and a variety of others.
Kids love the history surrounding this unique cavern, which was discovered in the 1800s by some men who saw fish swimming in and out of the mountain. Later, Civil War deserters created an encampment hidden inside the mountain, but were discovered when smoke from their campfires wafted up and out of fissures in the top of the mountain face.
Fish still live in the cave waters today, but are totally blind from the dark environs of the cave. Don't worry! They have lights, handrails and clearly carved pathways for the tours but at night, when the lights go out - it's dark! At the end of the tour, you'll get a taste of the complete blackness experienced when the cavern lights are extinguished.
A Hidden Gem
Gem mining was the big attraction for our son. Any of the gem mining locations in nearby Spruce Pine will surely be a big hit. If you've never been gem mining with children in the North Carolina Mountains before, here is the primer. There is no admission charge, only a fee for the pre-filled buckets of rocks and hidden gems. Charges vary, but typically a bucket ranges in price from $15 to $50 with extravagant buckets of $100 and up.
A flume (a narrow trough with running water) flanked by benches is where you begin "panning" to reveal the minerals and gemstones as the dust and rock washes away. (Note: Every bucket has "gems," so no child will be disappointed.) Even when the water in the flume is ice-cold, our son was riveted by this activity and the prospect of finding an emerald, ruby or diamond. Plan for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bucket. You'll walk away with a small bag of colorful gems, minerals and rocks and learn a lot about them in the process.
A visit to the Linville Falls area offers a fun-filled day (or weekend) of activity for the whole family, and you might even learn something!
Places to Stay
Cross Creek Cabins
1-, 2- and 3-bedroom log cabins.
Nightly $125 and up.
Humpack Hollow Cabins
1 and 2 bedrooms. Nightly $125-$155.
Linville Falls Lodge & Cottages
9 rooms, 5 cottages. Nightly $80-$400
The falls are located at Mile Post 316.3 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, north of where U.S. 221 crosses the Parkway and south of where N. C. 181 crosses the Parkway. Access the Falls from the Kistler Memorial Highway, N.C. 105. At the Linville Falls community, take N.C. 183 for 1/2 mile. Turn right on N.C. 105. Go 1/10 of a mile to the parking lot on the left. The Linville Falls trail is 1/2 mile long and connects to the Park Service trail system.
www.linvillecaverns.com (site not working at time of publication)
Spring: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m./Summer: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Call to verify.)
Adults $6, ages 5-12 $4, under 5 free.
Highway 226, Spruce Pine
Spruce Pine Gemstone Mine
Highway 226S. Blue Ridge Parkway exit 331.
Eve White is editor of Charlotte Parent.