Hike the Tanawha Trail at Rough Ridge, a rocky, angular precipice that offers exceptional summit views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone, NC.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 779 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
It’s simply one of the best, short-distance hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The Tanawha Trail ascends through a jagged, rocky terrain at Rough Ridge, soaring to simply breathtaking views. And while it’s a short hike, it’s an exceptionally rewarding one. Photo-worthy views, far-flung horizons, dramatically rocky and jagged terrain, and lush flora are abundant throughout the hike, making this one of our all-time 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 summit, scoring incredible vistas.
This is one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most popular hikes, so expect 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 snap more than a few photos.
Rough Ridge: the hike
The hike departs from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway 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. The hike reaches the Tanawha Trail and turns left, crossing a wooden span bridge over a Wilson Creek tributary. The trail climbs through a mossy, shady, rocky terrain filled with fern and rhododendron.
The forest’s dense canopy suddenly opens, and the dramatic views begin to unfold. The hike begins to ascend a series of wooden stairs and boardwalks 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 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 and Beacon Heights.
Departing the craggy mountaintop, the hike retraces its outbound steps on the Tanawha Trail, dropping elevation to return to the trailhead and 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.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Rough Ridge - Tanawha Trail Map, Directions & Details
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This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
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36.098350, -81.797027 // N36 05.901 W81 47.821