Rough Ridge: hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain
Hike the Tanawha Trail to Rough Ridge, a rocky, angular precipice that offers exceptional summit views in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain.
The Rough Ridge hike ascends a jagged, rocky terrain near Grandfather Mountain, soaring to simply breathtaking views. It’s a short hike, but an exceptionally rewarding one. Photo-worthy views, far-flung horizons, dramatically rocky and jagged terrain, and lush flora are abundant throughout the hike, making Rough Ridge one of our all-time Parkway favorites.
The hike follows a short spur to the Tanawha Trail, a 13.5 mile stretch of trail that explores the flanks of Grandfather Mountain. (“Tanawha”, translated from Cherokee, means ‘fabulous hawk’, a fitting name for a trail that scores sublime, soaring views and dips into shady coves and valleys along its length.) The hike follows the Tanawha Trail southwest, ascending through a dense, rocky forest to a series of wood boardwalks and stairs. Carving through switchbacks, the trail ascends to an immense, towering outcrop at the Rough Ridge summit, scoring incredible vistas.
Rough Ridge is a ultra-popular hike, so expect company from fellow hikers on all but the earliest midweek mornings. The exceptional views more than make up for the trail traffic, though. And be prepared to stay awhile… with views like these, you’ll want to soak up some sun and hang out for bit.
Know before you go: dogs are not allowed at Rough Ridge, to help protect the trail’s fragile ecosystem.
Rough Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the hike
The hike departs the Rough Ridge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located at MP 302.8 (view maps and driving directions). The hike follows a short spur trail, hiking northwest and climbing wood and rock stairs through a shady forest. Reaching the Tanawha Trail at .05 mile, the hike turns left, crossing a wooden span bridge over a Wilson Creek tributary. The trail climbs through a mossy, shady, rocky forest filled with fern and rhododendron.
The forest’s dense canopy suddenly opens, and the dramatic views begin to unfold. The hike ascends a series of wooden stairs and boardwalks beginning at .25 mile, climbing elevation to increasingly stunning views.
The Rough Ridge ecosystem is extremely fragile, filled with rare, ancient plants and lichens that thrive in this sun-drenched, windy, exposed terrain. The trail’s boardwalks, stairs and cables are designed to protect the fragile ecosystem – so please stay on the trail to help preserve the landscape’s beauty. One wrong step could damage what took thousands of years to grow.
The trail continues the climb, ducking through dense thickets of mountain laurel and climbing over rocky terrain. Views open again at .4 mile just before the trail carves through a series of switchbacks, making the final ascent to the Rough Ridge summit.
The hike reaches the summit area at just over .5 mile, where anchored cables guide the way to the summit’s enormous rock outcrop. Views are abundant, stretching northwest to Grandfather Mountain’s Calloway Peak, west to the Linn Cove Viaduct, and south toward Linville Gorge.
Departing the summit, the hike retraces its outbound steps on the Tanawha Trail, dropping elevation to return to the Rough Ridge Overlook parking area. The hike reaches the trailhead at 1.2 miles, completing the adventure.
More Grandfather Mountain hiking adventures
In the area with plenty of daylight (and energy) left to burn? Climb Grandfather Mountain on the Grandfather Profile Trail, climbing to exceptional views from Calloway Peak. It’s a difficult, 6.2 mile roundtrip that requires some light boulder scrambling – but the views from Grandfather’s ridge are simply unforgettable.
Rough Ridge - Tanawha Trail: Directions & Details
Free parking is available at the Rough Ridge Overlook, located at MP 302.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
36.098350, -81.797027 // N36 05.901 W81 47.821