The award-winning, quarter-mile Linn Cove Viaduct hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. The rugged slopes of Grandfather Mountain proved a challenging task to engineers as they completed the last section of the Parkway here in 1987, 52 years after construction began. It is a masterpiece of engineering that preserves the beauty and protects the fragile and ecologically sensitive slopes of Grandfather Mountain by curving naturally with the mountain’s contours.
Visitors here will gain an appreciation for the care that was taken in construction of the entire Parkway. From the first colorful displays of wildflowers in spring, to the refreshing coolness of summer, and the brilliant fall color on the side of Grandfather Mountain, each season provides a different Parkway experience. Whether you stop by the Linn Cove visitor center for information, restrooms, and a trailhead, or are just driving along the Viaduct, you will marvel at the structure and amazing views it provides.
Construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct
The exact route location of this segment, commonly referred to as the “missing link,” created a lengthy and heated controversy between private individuals and the National Park Service. Finally, North Carolina Governor Dan K. Moore negotiated a compromise location. A key factor in this controversy was environmental concern. Engineers were faced with a serious question: How to build a road at an elevation of 4,100 feet without damaging one of the world’s oldest mountains?
National Park Service landscape architects and Federal Highway Administration engineers agreed the road should be elevated, or bridged, where possible to eliminate massive cuts and fills. Figg and Muller Engineers, Inc. developed the bridge design and construction method. The result: the Linn Cove Viaduct at milepost 304.6, the most complicated concrete bridge ever built, snaking around boulder-strewn Linn Cove in a sweeping “S” curve.
Construction was delayed until 1979, when Congress finally approved funding. Completed in 1983 at a cost of almost $10 million, the Linn Cove Viaduct is 1,243 feet long and contains 153 segments weighing 50 ton each. Only one segment, the southernmost, is straight.
In order to prevent environmental damage and to allow construction to continue during severe winter weather, builders pre-cast sections indoors a few miles from the site using a process known as “match casting.” Each new segment was cast against the segment preceding it. Computer control kept measurements accurate to 0.0001 feet. Tinted with iron oxide, the concrete blends in with the existing rock outcroppings.
The Viaduct was constructed from the top down to minimize disturbance to the natural environment. This method eliminated the need for a “pioneer road” and heavy equipment on the ground. The only construction that occurred at ground level was the drilling of foundations for the seven permanent piers on which the Viaduct rests. Exposed rock was covered to prevent staining from concrete, epoxy, or grout. The only trees cut were those directly beneath the superstructure.
The Viaduct itself was the only access road for construction. Each pre-cast section was lowered by a stiff-leg crane and epoxied into position against the preceding segment. Steel cables threaded through the segments secured the entire bridge deck.
The portions of the “missing link,” most of them north of the Viaduct, were completed bit by bit between 1968 and 1987. In addition to 12 bridges, the 7.5 mile section includes a dozen parking overlooks and the 13.5 mile Tanawha Trail, stretching from Beacon Heights to Julian Price Park. A visitor center is located at the south end of the Viaduct. Here an accessible trail leads to a beautiful view of the Viaduct from underneath and gives hikers access to the Tanawha Trail.
A ribbon-cutting dedication ceremony on September 11, 1987 heralded the completion of the Parkway and the end, too, of a narrow and crooked 14-mile detour around Grandfather Mountain via the Tonahlossee Trail (U.S. 221). The final section is not only a triumph of engineering and sensitivity to the environment, it is a joy to drive, safe but thrilling. Hugging the contours and Grandfather Mountain, the road gently curves and rolls, presenting motorists with magnificent views as it sweeps toward the sky.
The Tanawha Trail
The Tanawha Trail has an access point below the Linn Cove Viaduct, where it then ascends steeply up stone steps past an enormous boulder wall. This section of the trail that ascends above the Viaduct and along Rough Ridge is strenuous, but overall the trail is an easy to moderate walk.
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