Grandfather Mountain is the entire ridge line, though there are three separate peaks; MacRae Peak (5939), Attic Window (5949), and Calloway Peak (considered the true summit at 5964). When the ridge line is seen from afar it has the appearance on a mans facial profile. This is one of my favorite mountains in the US. I have climbed the mountain in all seasons and weather; heat, humidity, and lightening in summer to snow, ice, with fierce wind in the winter. I first climbed this mountain as a member of an Outward Bound crew in 1981. We bushwhacked up from the valley from about 3200 feet on Stack Rock Creek. This was before the Linn Cove viaduct had been completed.
From the west side of the mountain one can take the easily graded Profile trail (2.7 m) to Shanty Springs (last water), then the rougher, much rockier Shanty Spring trail (0.3 m) to the ridgeline. (The Shanty Spring trail is basically an ice gully in the winter.) This is a total of 3 miles and gains 1740 feet. On the east side, the Danial Boone Scout trail climbs 1832 feet in 2.6 miles to Calloway Peak.There is water at Bear Wallow Springs.)
The Grandfather trail runs the ridge, from Calloway Peak to the parking area at the swinging bridge (2.4 miles) and at the Black Rock Clff Cave parking area (same distance). The Shanty Spring and Daniel Boone Scout trails both climb to this trail in the ridgeline. I consider this ridge trail to be the hardest in the southeast. While not as long as the Black Mountain Crest trail at Mt Mitchell; the ridge trail has severe vertigo inducing up and downs , ladders, cables, exposure, ice everywhere in winter,and no water.The Underwood trail is a bypass around McRae Cliffs in bad weather (wind, ice , lightening) but is steep and very rocky.
The road to the summit is closed if winds are in excess of 50 mph. There can be tremendous winds here. The mountain recorded wind close to 200 mph on Jan 24, 2006, though there is some controversy as to the accuracy of this measurment. This mountain sits on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge and has a vertical drop of over 4500 feet to the Wilson Creek valley below (close to the vertical gain of Mt LeConte in the Smokies)
There is camping on the summit ridge (no fires) and the east and west side trails. The views can be spectacular all along the ridge, especially after a cold front passes in the winter. (In December,I have seen the Charlotte skyline from McRae Peak, a distance of over 85 miles)
This mountain is privately owned by the Morton family. Hugh Morton, who passed June 2006, and his family have given significant tracts of land in a conservation easement to the Nature Conservancy .The trails are well maintained and signed, better than the Smokies. There is a fee, nominal when one hikes and enjoys the trails and views
Respect this mountain, there are many natural dangers listed above. The wind can absolutely howl on the ridge, BUT this is a great place to hike. (I climbed Calloway Peak January 22, 2008. I camped at the Profile camp site ~5000' that night. In camp at 8 am it was -5 with windchill -25. Up top the summit at 1 pm it was 10, sunny, with winds gusting to 50mph, and wind chill -20. Really beautiful day though.)