Grandfather's rocky ridge rises almost a vertical mile above valleys to the East making for impressive views of dramatic drops. Calloway Peak is the highest summit at 5,946 feet. Many spots on the Grandfather Trail and Daniel Boone Scout Trail have ladders that climb rocky spots and even cliff faces. Free permits can be found at the trailheads and must be filled out prior to hiking.
The mountain's highest peaks are accessible via strenuous up-and-down hikes from three starting points: Profile Trail Parking Area, Boone Fork Parking Area, and the Grandfather Mountain attraction's Mile High Swinging Bridge, the last of which charges an entrance fee.
The state park trails are only open during daylight hours, but backpack campers are permitted to park at the two state park valley trailheads and spend the night. If you park inside the attraction you must return to your car by closing. Thirteen primitive, backcountry campsites are located along the trails with no facilities. Camping is only permitted at these designated sites and registration is required, but can be made as late as the same day.
Caution: This is a serious mountain. The required permit is a safety registration system. You will end up on craggy, alpine, and challenging terrain. Stout outdoor shoes or hiking boots are recommended. Take a pack, with water, food, extra clothing (including rainwear), and "smart extras," like a first aid kit, flashlight, etc. In winter - a "hike" up Grandfather is actually mountaineering - keep an eye on the State Park's website for trail closures.
There are three main trailheads. The Profile Trail on the west side of the mountain is located on NC Highway 105 near Banner Elk (about 12 miles south of Boone). The Daniel Boone Scout Trail and Nuwati Trail on the east side of the mountain are most easily reached via the Tanawha Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway's Boone Fork Parking Area at Milepost 299.9, about 8 miles south of the US 321/221 Parkway access at Blowing Rock. (When snow closes the Parkway, a connector links the Tanawha Trail and US 221, 1.5 miles south of the US 221/Holloway Mountain Road junction south of Blowing Rock). The Grandfather Trail is best started with a drive up to the Grandfather Mountain attraction reached via US 221, 2 miles east of Linville, and 1 mile west from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 305.
Download a trail map from HERE or pick one up from the Grandfather Mountain attraction when you visit.
Register for your hiking permit at the trailhead. No roundtrip hike to Calloway Peak is easy (7.5 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain), but this first, nearly one mile of the Profile Trail along the headwaters of the Watauga River is easy and makes a great family hike when paired with the Profile Connector Trail, making a loop back to the parking area.
After the first mile and a half, Profile climbs steeply at times winding its switch-backing way through sharp stream drainages. You'll pass Foscoe View (1.7 miles), then more switchbacks to a major campsite. Zig-zag higher up, over steps past a huge boulder to Profile View (2.3 miles). There are a number of "profile faces" on the mountain but the one seen from the official Profile View is the "real thing" - the famous rocky face of an old man that gave the mountain its name.
The climb slackens some to the famous Shanty Spring at 2. 7 miles (fill up your water bottles!) Then it's steeper and rockier still to Calloway Gap, the site of a number of tent platforms for camping (no fires permitted). At Calloway Gap, 3 miles in on the evergreen-covered summit ridge, the blue-blazed Grandfather Trail goes left and right. Left, it's another climb of .4-mile through evergreens past another campsite to a final, uppermost junction. Go left here, and astounding Watauga View overlooks Banner Elk. Then, go right on the white-blazed Daniel Boone Scout Trail, and scramble over a ladder to Calloway Peak. Turn around here for an awesome hike.
Turning right back at Calloway Gap follows the Grandfather Trail over whaleback ridges with awesome views and alpine scenes. Turn around when you get tired. If a friend drives to the Swinging Bridge at the Grandfather Mountain attraction, you could continue past MacRae Peak to the parking area and get picked up. That's an all-day classic crossing of this ridge top.
Most people who explore the distant end of the Grandfather Trail make the smart choice and drive to "the top," the Grandfather Mountain attraction and start near the Mile-High Swinging Bridge. There's a loop around MacRae Peak, and if you only hike to the Swinging Bridge from the valley and get picked up - you miss one of those trails. That is unless you hike back to the valley in one day or backpack - both are not easy on this very rugged peak.
Start in the area of the Swinging Bridge (better yet, park just below the summit parking lot at the Black Rock Trail parking area). Head up the Grandfather Trail Extension to a junction with the blue-blazed Grandfather Trail and turn right at .4 mile. Here's where the scenery starts - immediate meadow views reach out over Banner Elk and up to the face of MacRae Peak (look closely, can you spot the ladders on the cliffs at about 11 o'clock?).
Go right at the next junction, following the blue blazes. Soon you're grappling with cable assists up rocky slabs. The first ladder is wedged in a rocky fissure. Keep climbing; a series of ladders takes you above the trees up rock faces. Use caution - parents should assist children. After an open, view-packed ridge, you reach a boulder perched on the skyline. A ladder lifts you to the top of the rock - MacRae Peak - for spectacular views at about 0.8 mile.
The trail drops steeply down cable-assisted ladders from MacRae Peak to MacRae Gap at 1 mile. Straight, the Grandfather Trail leads to Attic Window Peak - but go left and take the rugged Underwood Trail on the way back. It descends a big ladder and slides through a mossy green cleft to rejoin the Grandfather Trail. Take a right and retrace your steps back to your car for an action-packed 2-mile hike.
If you turn left to continue on the Grandfather Trail (you will need to hike back unless you were dropped off and will get picked up in the valley) you'll need to ascend the rocky defile up Attic Window Peak, a hand-over-hand climb that'll impress even experienced hikers. At the top, go left (a right leads to a premier tent platform campsite). Summit views await. Continue along the ridge with a dip to the next gap (a right leads to Indian House Cave, a Native-American site), then climbs across whaleback clifftops, through Alpine Meadow campsite to Calloway Gap. Here, the Profile Trail enters from the left. It's another .5 miles (2.4 miles total) to the summit, Calloway Peak. Back at your car near the Swinging Bridge, it's a 4.8-mile round-trip hike.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway's Boone Fork Parking Area, there is an out-and-back hike to Calloway Peak on the Boone Scout Trail and a second out-and-back hike along Nuwati Trail into an isolated high-elevation valley. There is a connector trail between the two, Cragway Trail, so loop options are possible.
Leave Boone Fork Parking Area. At the second signed junction go left on the Tanawha Trail across the Boone Fork Bridge. The connector to US 221 immediately goes left. Stop and sign in for a permit just beyond. Farther on, a junction sends the Nuwati Trail to the right (Tanawha heads left to the Boone Scout Trail). Going right, the Nuwati Trail passes the Cragway Trail (heading left to the Boone Trail) at 1.1 miles. Nuwati then passes Streamside campsite on the left, then The Hermitage campsite, crosses smaller streams, then the larger Boone Fork before reaching Storyteller's Rock at 1.6 miles. Scramble up to a great, 360-degree view. Left, below the rock, and right, beyond the rock, tent platform sites invite campers. A turn-around back to your car here is a moderate, relatively flat 3.2-mile hike.
Back on Tanawha Trail, go left where Nuwati goes right. You reach a right turn onto the Daniel Boone Scout Trail at 0.6 miles. After a steady climb, the Cragway junction arrives at 1.6 miles. Stop at Flat Rock View for a great vista and the perfect picnic spot. The Scout Trail continues to the left.
To continue on the Boone Scout Trail, keep left, and at the next signpost, head right at the sign, the trail continues up winding switchbacks and into the evergreen forest zone. There's the Briar Patch campsite, then more rugged evergreen-covered terrain to Viaduct View (take that left to peer down on the Parkway). Keeping on, major ladders lead steeply up the back of the peak to a sudden opening and 360-degree views. Return to your car the way you came for a 5.6-mile hike. Or continue another few tenths of a mile to the Grandfather Trail and Watauga View.
On the way down the Boone Trail, you can also shorten the hike and alter the descent by going left on the 1-mile orange-blazed Cragway to reach the Nuwati Trail. Exit down Nuwati to Tanawha for a less than 6-mile hike back to your car. Cragway is a steeper trail, so going down is best unless you want the workout! A simple loop of Cragway is a very exciting lower-elevation hike option. There are stunning views of the Boone Bowl Valley all along the way for a 3.6-mile circuit.