Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail: hiking to Calloway Peak

Hike the Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail to Profile View, the famous face-like profile on Grandfather's mid-elevations, before climbing a rocky, boulder-filled ascent to stunning views from Watauga View and Calloway Peak.

 

trail info

TRAIL LOCATION: Grandfather Mountain, north of Asheville near the Blue Ridge Parkway

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite day hike gear and Canon 6D DSLR

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 779 Trails Illustrated Map, Grandfather Mountain Trail Guide

Grandfather Mountain’s imposing ridgeline rises high from North Carolina’s mountainous landscape, carving high into the sky along a spine of four towering mountain peaks. It’s one of the most prominent, easily recognizable views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and dominates the horizon on the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain.

While some adventures at this well-loved North Carolina State Park carry the price of park admission, like the famous ‘Mile High Swinging Bridge‘, one of our favorite hikes at Grandfather Mountain summits the mountain via a fee-free access trail, the Profile Trail. It’s a challenging hike, without a doubt, but an incredibly rewarding one, scoring incredible views of the mountain’s face-like profile at Profile View, ascending through a rocky, wildflower and hardwood-filled forest, and scrambling over a boulder-filled fir forest to exceptional views at Calloway Peak, the highest mountain on the Grandfather ridge.

Hike the Profile Trail to these stunning views down Grandfather Mountain's ridge from Calloway Peak near Asheville, NCAbove: hike the Profile Trail to these stunning views from Calloway Peak down Grandfather Mountain’s ridge

The views are exceptional. The forest is scenic. And the trail is exceptionally well-designed and built, making for a fun, though challenging, hike. It’s easily one of our favorite hikes near Boone and Blowing Rock – and one of our all-time favorites in western North Carolina. Up for the adventure? Pack wisely, hike carefully, and watch the weather: Grandfather Mountain is known to host quickly-changing, severe weather, so be prepared to leave the backcountry quickly and safely if harsh weather rolls in.

Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail to Calloway Peak: the hike

The hike begins at the Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail parking area and trailhead, located off Highway 105 south of Boone (view maps and driving directions). While the parking and trail access is free from the Profile trailhead, permits are required, and available (for free) at the trailhead’s shelter. The hike dives into a shady, hardwood forest alongside the Watauga River, following orange diamond trail blazes. The trail crosses the clear, shallow river by stepping stones, following the river downstream and crossing a small tributary.

Hike the Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail, crossing the shallow, clear Watauga River before making a difficult ascent to the view-packed Grandfather summit

Gnarly-branched rhododendron line the river’s banks, a colorful display of blooms in late spring. The trail carves through switchbacks at .25 mile, arcing eastbound away from the river and climbing above the river valley.

The Profile Trail rolls elevation, meandering through a deciduous forest of hardwoods, vibrant green fern and wildflowers, passing towering rock outcrops at .85 mile. The hike’s ascent resumes, following the trail through wide switchbacks to reach Foscoe View at just under 1.7 miles. The views from Foscoe View span over the forested valley to the neighboring North Carolina peaks of Snake Mountain, Elk Knob and The Peak, and onward to Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers. It’s a beautiful view, but the best views are, by far, further up Grandfather Mountain’s summit.

Hike Grandfather Mountain's Profile Trail to gorgeous views from the Foscoe View overlook

Passing Foscoe View, the Profile Trail continues its nearly unrelenting climb of Grandfather’s middle elevations, carving through tight switchbacks. The trail passes the Profile Campsite at just under 2 miles, exiting the switchbacks and climbing beside sharp, angular rock outcrops. Stone stairs and wide, level stepping stones navigate through the rocky, moss-covered terrain – one of the best examples of technical trail building we’ve encountered in the Southeast. The trail passes a towering, fractured rock outcrop and a deep cave, switching back to reach Profile View at just over 2 miles.

Grandfather Mountain’s famed profile is visible from the Profile View overlook, a sinister-looking, jagged, face-like outcrop that’s visible through the trees.

Hike the Profile Trail to catch views of the jagged, face-like profile of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Continuing its meandering, southbound journey, the trail passes its official 2.5 mile marker before arcing to the southeast, climbing through a fragrant stand of fir and leaving the hardwood forest behind. Fern carpet the forest floor, the trail reaching its last water source before the summit at Shanty Spring. (The historic spring’s water is cool and clear – but if you’re in need of a refill, be sure to filter or treat the water, as always with backcountry water sources. Our favorite filter is the Sawyer Mini, a lightweight, no-nonsense, compact filter – read our Sawyer Mini Filter review for more details.)

From the spring, the trail begins a rocky, rooty, uphill adventure, making a climb over a boulder-filled trail through stands of fragrant fir. The climb is relatively short (just under .3 mile), intense (over large boulders and loose rocks) and challenging (it’s easy to lose your footing on the rocky terrain). Our group, including our trail-savvy labrador retriever, made the ascent slowly and carefully, but without any issues. The Profile Trail meets the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap, and the hike turns left at the gap, hiking the Grandfather Trail .4 mile northeast to Calloway Peak.

Catch stunning views from Watauga View on North Carolina's Grandfather Mountain, hiking the Profile Trail through a rocky forest to the mountain's summit

The Grandfather Trail climbs through rocky, wind-swept, high-elevation terrain, dominated by Canadian fir. The hike passes the Grandfather Trail’s 2-mile marker before passing the Cliffside Campsite on trail right. A left turn leads to a rocky, sun-drenched overlook at Watauga View (above photo). The views are exceptional, stretching far onto the horizon, and the blocky rock outcrops make for a great mid-hike resting place to refuel with a snack.

The final stretch to the Calloway Peak summit climbs several short, wooden ladders, climbing eastbound to navigate over the summit’s enormous, gray rock outcrops. (The ladders require some caution to climb – and our 65# labrador retriever pup wasn’t able to conquer them, so we took turns scrambling up the ladders to the summit while one waited behind with our four-footed hiking buddy.)

Hike the Profile Trail to Grandfather Mountain, climbing rustic wooden ladders to exceptional summit views near Boone, NC

Calloway Peak is the highest of the four summits along the Grandfather Mountain ridge, offering incredible views over the rolling fir forests, down the spine of Grandfather’s ridge, down to the Blue Ridge Parkway and out onto the horizon.

Hike to stunning summit views from Grandfather Mountain's summit at Calloway Peak, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, NC

Departing Calloway Peak, this out-and-back hike retraces its outbound steps, following the Grandfather Trail to Calloway Gap, and turning right at the gap to descend the orange-blazed Profile Trail to the trailhead. The hike catches another stunning view from Profile View and Foscoe View before dipping back into the stream-filled hardwood forest, reaching the Profile trailhead at just over 6.2 miles and completing the hike.

Nearby adventures at Grandfather Mountain

In the area with energy and daylight left to burn? Hike a short one miler at Rough Ridge, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, to stunning views on a rocky, rugged summit. The hike follows the Tanawha Trail through incredibly beautiful, fragile terrain and catches incredible views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct.

 
 
 

Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail: Directions & Details

Parking

Free parking is available at the trailhead. Permit required (free; fill out the provided form at the trailhead).

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

36.122078, -81.829375     //     N36 07.321 W81 49.776

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail to Calloway Peak: Elevation Profile

Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.