Hike to the Beacon Heights summit off the Blue Ridge Parkway, catching stunning views of Grandfather Mountain from a pair of rocky overlooks and exploring a beautiful, rocky, mossy forest.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 779 Trails Illustrated Map
It’s not a long hike: round-trip, this trail spans just under a mile. But it’s one of the most popular trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain, and for an excellent reason: the views from Beacon Heights are far-flung, panoramic and beautiful. Two weathered, wide, gray rock outcrops at the mountain’s summit offer exceptional vistas to the south, east, and north, including the neighboring Calloway Peak at Grandfather Mountain. The towering summits of Mount Mitchell and Table Rock Mountain at Linville Gorge can be seen on the far horizon to the south.
Climbing from a trailhead directly off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this hike shares a route with the Tanawha Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail for the initial stretch, climbing through a lush, green forest filled with boulders, moss, fern and gnarly-branched rhododendron. Nearing the summit, the trail splits, traveling north and south to two enormous, curved rock overlooks and catching incredible panoramic views.
Moderately challenging and spanning a relatively short distance, it’s a great hike for families with kids – and one of the best, most scenic picnic spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Beacon Heights Trail: the hike
The hike departs from a trailhead and parking area located near the Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 305 (view maps and driving directions), crossing a gravel road before diving eastbound into the forest. The feather-blazed, 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail veers to the left, hiking northbound to the Linn Cove Viaduct and the view-packed overlooks at Rough Ridge on Grandfather Mountain’s lower elevations. This hike veers right, traveling southwest and climbing through a rocky, rooty forest.
The journey continues southbound, following the white circular trail blazes of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Galax, a leafy evergreen ground cover, carpets the forest floor, and its pungent, onion-like scent fills the air. At just under .2 miles, the Mountains to Sea Trail splits right; this hike veers to the left (eastbound), climbing over large, weathered rock outcrops. The hike reaches a split at .25 miles, veering right to explore to the mountain’s southern overlook.
Views from the wide, southern overlook are outstanding, stretching to the nearby, antenna-topped summit of Grandmother Mountain, and southward to Linville Gorge, Table Rock Mountain, and Mount Mitchell State Park.
The hike departs the south overlook and retraces back to the trail junction near the summit. At the intersection, the hike turns northbound to explore the northern Beacon Heights overlook.
The trail exits the dense, low tree cover near the mountain’s summit, and vast panoramas unfold from the north overlook. The mountain’s wide, gently arced summit is studded with large boulders and cratered with shallow depressions that collect rainwater. Grandfather Mountain’s sharp, angular ridge dominates the northwest horizon, rising high above the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The gently-sloped summit is a perfect place for a water break or a picnic with spectacular views. The departs the northern overlook and retraces its outbound steps to the trailhead, hiking the outbound route in reverse. The hike reaches the trailhead parking area at just under .8 mile, completing the view-packed adventure.
More Grandfather Mountain hiking adventures
Looking for another nearby adventure? Ascend to outstanding views from the Grandfather Mountain summit, climbing the Grandfather Profile Trail to Calloway Peak. Or for a shorter adventure, travel north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Rough Ridge, a 1.2 mile (round-trip) Tanawha Trail hike to stunning vistas from angular rock outcrops, and some of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s best views. And check out our favorite hikes at Grandfather Mountain for even more adventures.
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.
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Free parking is available at the Beacon Heights trailhead, located at MP 305.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
36.084050, -81.829950 // N36 05.043 W81 49.797