Grandfather Mountain

The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon

By Randy Johnson

296 pp., 8.5 x 11, 117 color plates., 84 halftones, 5 maps, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7431-5
    Published: February 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2699-4
    Published: June 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2700-7
    Published: March 2016

Buy this Book

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Awards & distinctions

First Place and Best in Show 2017 Writing and Photography Contest, Eastern Chapter, Society of American Travel Writers

2016 Foreword INDIES Bronze Travel Book of the Year

Finalist, Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, Western North Carolina Historical Association

With its prominent profile recognizable for miles around and featuring vistas among the most beloved in the Appalachians, North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain is many things to many people: an easily recognized landmark along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a popular tourist destination, a site of annual Highland Games, and an internationally recognized nature preserve. In this definitive book on Grandfather, Randy Johnson guides readers on a journey through the mountain’s history, from its geological beginnings millennia ago and the early days of exploration to its role in regional development and eventual establishment as a North Carolina state park. Along the way, he shows how Grandfather has changed, and has been changed by, the people of western North Carolina and beyond.

To tell the full natural and human story, Johnson draws not only on historical sources but on his rich personal experience working closely on the mountain alongside Hugh Morton and others. The result is a unique and personal telling of Grandfather’s lasting significance. The book includes more than 200 historical and contemporary photographs, maps, and a practical guide to hiking the extensive trails, appreciating key plant and animal species and photographing the natural wonder that is Grandfather.

About the Author

Randy Johnson is an award-winning travel editor and writer. He founded Grandfather Mountain’s modern trail management program in 1978 and was backcountry manager until 1990. He has served on Grandfather Mountain State Park's Advisory Committee and is task force leader for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Grandfather Mountain. For decades he was editor-in-chief of United Airlines Hemispheres.
For more information about Randy Johnson, visit the Author Page.


"Reveals the mountain's grandeur. . . . This deeply researched book often reads like a novel as Johnson's passion for his subject shines."--Mary Cornatzer, News and Observer

"An illustrated coffee-table love story. . . . Johnson's book illustrates the proposition that you should write about what interests you. His passion and enthusiasm for the place oozes from every paragraph."--Ben Steelman, Wilmington Star-News

Grandfather Mountain stands tall as the definitive guide to an essential Western North Carolina locale.”--WNC Magazine

“Grandfather Mountain’s dramatic past revealed. . . . An ode to the newest state park in [Western North Carolina]. . . . The grand-scale coffee table book, with glossy historic and present day photos, detailed topographic maps and hundreds of stories, is a love letter to the mountain.”--Asheville Citizen-Times

“Local folks will appreciate the thorough capturing of their ancestors described throughout the book, and newcomers to the region will be captivated by the astounding narrative.”--Carolina Mountain Life

“Beautifully illustrated and packed with fascinating scientific and historical facts, it’s perfect for outdoors enthusiasts who find themselves housebound during a long winter storm.”--Richmond Times-Dispatch

Multimedia & Links

Johnson is a Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel writer with decades of national publications. His best-selling trail guides include Hiking North Carolina and Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway. A founding editor of the Mountain Times in Boone, he was for nearly twenty years editor of United Airlines' Hemispheres, named “world’s best inflight magazine” in 2006.

Visit the author's website,

Listen: Author interview on American Variety Radio with Court Lewis, airing on NPR stations in Tennessee and Florida (2018).

Listen: Johnson talks to NPR affiliate WFDD about Grandfather Mountain and the origins of national parks (12/20/2016).

Watch: Johnson shares the best ways to explore Grandfather Mountain on Charlotte Today (6/27/2016)

Watch: Johnson talks to D. G. Martin on NC Bookwatch (6/24/2016):

Watch: Book Trailer