July 9-12, 2020
The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and Gathering of Scottish Clans bring the color of hundreds of tartan plaids, athletic competitions, food, music and the clamor of bagpipe bands to the North Carolina mountains. Be a Scot for a day or the weekend. Stay in nearby Banner Elk with plenty of other things to do.
The Grandfather Games are considered America’s grandest Games because of the spectacular mountain setting that is so reminiscent of Scotland. The deep blue peaks of 6,000-ft. Grandfather Mountain tower above a grassy green meadow ringed by 170 colorful tents. Thousands of Scots are dressed in tartan plaids, and the energy is amplified by the sounds of bagpipes and kettledrums echoing.
The Highland Games begin Thursday afternoon with a border collie sheep herding demonstration, Celtic entertainment and the running of “The Bear”. Bring a picnic dinner or buy concessions at the Meadows to enjoy during the evening events during the least crowded day. The opening ceremonies begin at dusk with a torchlight ceremony where representatives of each of the 100 clans and 16 societies announce their family’s participation in the gathering. Prior to the torchlight ceremony, 800 people run a 5-mile footrace called “The Bear” that climbs 1,568 ft. in elevation from the town of Linville to the summit of Grandfather Mountain.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are filled with competition in heavy-weight Scottish athletic events, highland dancing, bagpipe band parades, piping, drumming and harp competitions; sheep herding demonstrations by Scottish border collies and concerts featuring a wide variety of Celtic music. Find multiple music venues in natural amphitheater settings in the cool forest surrounding the ring. Bring your portable concert chairs and umbrellas if you need a shield from the sun by the track.
At the center of the activity, the nation’s top Scottish athletes clash in traditional heavyweight events such as “Turning the Caber” and “Tossing the Sheaf.” The first requires an athlete to flip a telephone-pole-sized tree trunk end-over-end and the second challenges athletes to loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a crossbar more than 20 ft. above the ground.
Other ancient tests of strength awaiting the brawny professionals are highland wrestling, putting the stone, the hammer throw and various weight throws. A test of extreme endurance is the running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon on Saturday.
Among the many sights and sounds of Scotland to be found on MacRae Meadows is the popular open-air market set up adjacent to the parade grounds. Merchants sell Gaelic and tartan gift items while concessionaires sell Scottish meat pies for a taste of the highlands. Trace your Scottish roots and learn more about your heritage.
Adult tickets are $15 Thursday, $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday. The tickets cover all activities in the meadows, which on Friday and Saturday last from early morning to midnight. Tickets are $5 each day for children ages 5-12, with children under five free. Tickets are available at the field on the day of the event. Four-day tickets are also available online at gmhg.org. Adult 4-day passes are $75 and children’s passes are $20. Bring cash since some vendors cannot process credit cards.
Directions from Asheville
70 miles from Asheville, NC: Take I-40 East to Marion, NC. Take Exit #85. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go one mile to a stoplight. At the stoplight turn left and follow US 221 North to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain (about 30 miles). Located near the cool small town of Banner Elk.
Expect heavy traffic, so arrive early. The best bet for parking is a remote lot and shuttle service from their Linville Lot located behind post office (4235 Mitchell Avenue, Linville) with entrance from NC Highway 105, at $6 per person round-trip. For more information call 828-733-1333 or go to their website.