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Grandfather Mountain Highland Games Return July 8-11 with Four Days of Entertainment and Competition

Athlete Aslynn Halvorson of Anderson, S.C., turns the caber at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

During summer, Grandfather Mountain is known for its lush greenery and the kaleidoscope colors of myriad blooms.

During July, however, guests can add an entirely different palette to that mix — plaid. And lots of it.

Come July 8-11, Grandfather Mountain is home to the 2021 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

During this time, MacRae Meadows, located at the base of Grandfather Mountain, will be brimming with bagpipes, Scottish athletics, Highland melodies, Celtic cuisine, crafts aplenty and tons of tartans.

“The Games hearken back to the rich cultural traditions of Scotland in a setting not so different from the mountains and glens some 3,600 miles away,” said Frank Ruggiero, director of marketing and communications for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville, N.C., nature park.

Operated and organized by Grandfather Mountain Highland Games Inc., the Highland Games begin Thursday afternoon, July 8, with border collie sheepherding demonstrations, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” uphill foot race and the opening ceremonies.

“The Bear” pits hundreds of runners against the steep switchbacks of Grandfather Mountain in a five-mile run that climbs 1,568 feet from the town of Linville to the mountain summit.

It’s followed Saturday by another test of extreme endurance as the Grandfather Mountain Marathon winds from Appalachian State University in Boone to the site of the Games in Linville.

But the Games truly get underway at the torchlight ceremony on Thursday evening, where representatives of more than 100 clans announce their families’ participation in the gathering. The “raising of the clans” proclaims that they have once again convened to celebrate their heritage.

Attendees of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games can enjoy volumes of Celtic music, ranging from rock to classic and all points in between. Photo courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Friday, Saturday and Sunday are filled with competitions in traditional heavyweight Scottish athletic events, highland dancing competitions, bagpipe band parades, piping, drumming and harp competitions, sheepherding demonstrations by Scottish border collies and live concerts.

The nation’s top Scottish athletes clash Saturday in traditional heavyweight events, such as “turning the caber” and “tossing the sheaf.”

In the caber toss, athletes flip a telephone pole-sized log end over end. The sheaf toss challenges athletes to loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a bar more than 20 feet high.

Other ancient tests of strength await the contestants, including highland wrestling, the hammer throw and various weight throws.

Events are repeated Sunday for amateurs and athletes 40 and older, in addition to kilted running events, clan caber toss and clan tug-of-war.

For the wee ones, the Games will again host youth highland wrestling clinics and competitions, foot races and tug-of-war battles.


For 2021, event organizers are tuning up the Games’ musical offerings, with live performances from Chambless and Muse, Ed Miller, Wolf Loescher, Jennifer Licko, Piper Jones Band, Reel Sisters, Tune Shepherds, Strathspan, Will MacMorran Project, Emerald Rae, Seven Nations, Jiggernaut, Brothers McLeod, Marybeth McQueen and Colin Shoemaker.

Ancestry in Action

Throughout the weekend, visitors can learn about their own Scottish ancestry and genealogy at clan tents or browse the open-air market for Gaelic and tartan gift items.

Guests can take a taste of tradition with a variety of concessions, including haggis, Scottish meat pies and more.


To learn more about admission to the 2021 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, including parking and shuttle bus information, visit www.gmhg.org.


With regard to COVID-19, Grandfather Mountain Highland Games Inc. is following direction from the state of North Carolina and other government agencies, as well as guidance from health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control.

In addition, guests riding shuttle buses will be required to wear masks while standing in line and while riding the shuttles. Games staff will have a limited number of masks available should they be needed. Drivers also will be instructed not to allow anyone without a mask onto a Games shuttle bus.

According to a statement from GMHG Inc., “Everyone at the July 2021 event will be required to follow all posted safety instructions while in attendance. By visiting the 2021 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, you will voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”


For more information about the Games, visit www.gmhg.org, or call 828-733-1333. For lodging and travel information, contact the High Country Host visitor center at 800-438-7500 or www.highcountryhost.com.

The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325, or visit www.grandfather.com to plan a trip.

A parade of pipers circles the field at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The Games return July 8-11. Photo courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Athlete Brent Miller of Lebanon, Tenn., tosses the 20-pound sheaf Games in the men’s Scottish heavy athletics competition at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
A tactful border collie corrals sheep during one of the many sheepherding demonstrations at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, returning to MacRae Meadows July 8-11. Photo by Greg Culpepper | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
The Thursday night torchlight ceremony kicks off each Highland Games, as representatives of more than 100 clans announce their families’ participation in the gathering. Photo by Jim Magruder | Magruder Photography
A Highland Games attendee stands by torchlight during the ‘raising of the clans,’ the traditional start of the annual gathering. Photo by Jim Magruder | Magruder Photography