The Blue Ridge Mountains possess many charms, but a plethora of open summits and ridgetops is not among them, which explains why the relatively few craggy peaks are so popular. Rough Ridge, on the shoulder of Tanawha (Grandfather Mountain), the highest mountain in the range, boasts several exposed outcrops that offer excellent views of Grandfather, the surrounding peaks, and Linville Gorge. Accessed by a short, moderately steep trail, it is an excellent destination for people with young children, for people with limited time, or for motorists who want to stop and enjoy a nice stretching of the legs.
No other short trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway has better views, though Devils Courthouse is a worthy challenger.
Pull into the signed parking area on the north side of the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of MP 303. This is also just north of the famous and highly overrated Linn Cove Viaduct, arguably an engineering marvel but short (less than half a mile) and bereft of pullouts for appreciating the impressive views.
Parts of the parkway are frequently closed in winter. Late fall through early spring, it is always a good idea to call ahead (828-298-0398) to check on conditions.
The trail begins at the right end of the parking area. It very soon intersects the longer Tanawha Trail that roughly parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway for several miles. At that intersection, turn left. A footbridge crosses Little Wilson Creek shortly after, and then the climbing begins. A hike of about 1/3 mi gets you to a boardwalk area in a section of rock outcrops. From there, the trail continues to climb about another half-mile to the summit of the ridge, almost 4800'. You pass some more outcrops along the way, and there are more outcrops at the summit. An easy scramble gets you atop the highest rock, from which there are sweeping views.
In all, the round-trip hike is about 1.5 mi with almost 500' of elevation gain, making it a short but moderately strenuous outing. Scrambling is limited except at the very top because boardwalks, rails, and cables restrict people to the maintained trail. In fact, off-trail travel here is prohibited, not to protect people from their own carelessness but to protect rare, fragile plant communities from being trampled.
From the summit of the ridge, it might seem tempting to bushwhack to some other rocks or to the upper ridges of Grandfather Mountain, but a few minutes of bushwhacking in the North Carolina mountain "jungle" will quickly disabuse you of any such notions.
So it's just a hike, but it's a nice one.