Depends on what you were wanting to do at Grandfather. We like to hike and that is free on the state park side. It is probably the top big hike in the area.
If you are wanting to see the bears and otters and other animals, I can't really think of anywhere else in the High Country around Boone. There's the WNC Nature Center down near Asheville. Not sure how much that costs.
If you just want to drive to the top of a mountain then Mount Mitchell is the obvious alternative.
There's a lot to recommend Grandfather. Has a good museum too, but you could cobble together something similar to most of the highlights except the bridge and the hike to the peaks. Check out the Museum of Minerals in Spruce Pine if you like that sort of thing.
Am seeking a terrific view, with little elevation involved (ie can drive to the top of a mountain for a vista).
Definitely going to check out the Museum of NC Minerals, and maybe also Rio Doce Gem Mine and NC Mining Museum. Lots to do!
I'd definitely go to Mt. Mitchell, the highest elevation east of the Mississippi. You can drive up, see the view and get a photo next to the elevation sign.
Have you considered Craggy Gardens? Other hikes are also listed. (Can't remember if I've given you this guide.)
Thank you for the suggestions and the links make it so easy for me.
Here's a guide which lets you filter options for your hikes:
I'm not 100% at ease with where you have to park (but day use should be fine) but Big Lost Cove Cliffs/Little Lost Cove Cliffs, and Dark Cove Cliffs all have trails that are doable and lead out to breathtaking views OF Grandfather across the valley where the headwaters of Wilson Creek form. Cost: -0-. : )
What would be the potential downsides of the parking area? Break-ins?
Well that was my initial thought but that may not be "fair". It's just really remote as opposed to some more popular trail heads. Also, these don't have formal parking lots-you just have to park along the road or shoulder. At least the last time I was by them