OverviewGrandfather Mountain is comprised of three peaks; MacRae Peak, Attic Window Peak and the high point, Calloway Peak. Hiking to any one of these three peaks would make for a rewarding day on the trail. But with only 1.5 trail miles separating them, a traverse of the spine of Grandfather Mountain on the Grandfather Trail makes for a wonderful day on this mountain. The Grandfather Trail is somewhat of a rarity in the southern Appalachians, as there are plenty of open vistas and there is some very good scrambling. From east to west, it is 1.2 miles from Calloway Peak to Attic Window Peak, and then another 0.3 miles to MacRae Peak.
The area does have quite a bit of development so don’t expect a wilderness experience. (Yes, I thought the hotel to be a big eyesore!) There are also at least a dozen ladders in place along with some cables in a few areas, to help ease passage along the route. If having this type of infrastructure in place on a trail bothers you, then heading for any of the peaks on Grandfather Mountain is probably not for you. But you will miss out on one of the true gems of the southern Appalachians. This hike ranks as one of my all time favorites in the North Carolina/Tennessee area.
Three different approaches are available for completing the traverse across Grandfather Mountain. These include starting at the Profile Trailhead, using the Scout Trail which is accessible from the Boone Fork Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or you can start at the Grandfather Mountain Attraction.
The Profile Trailhead is located on Hwy 105, 0.7 miles northeast of the Hwy 105/184 junction. There is a sign right on the highway, so it is very easy to find.
The Boone Fork Parking Area is a MM 299.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Grandfather Mountain Attraction is located on US 221, two miles north of Linville, NC. See the Grandfather Attraction webpage for more information.
ApproachesAll distances assume an out and back trip.
Completing the traverse is a 9.2 mile roundtrip if you start the hike at the Profile Trail. It is a 3.1 mile hike up the Profile Trail, where it connects with the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap. From the gap, you can either turn left and head to Calloway Peak, 0.4 miles away, or you can turn right and head towards Attic Window Peak 0.8 miles away. There is 2,084 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to Calloway Peak.
The lower portions of the Profile Trail are well graded. However, once you reach Shanty Springs the trail becomes much more rugged; from here to the junction at Calloway Gap, it essentially a trail made of boulders.
Taking this route up does allow you to see the famous Profile View of Grandfather Mountain. The only drawback I found to taking this trail is the traffic noise. With the close proximity to Hwy 105 we could still occasionally hear the cars almost all the way up to Shanty Springs.
Starting at the Boone Fork Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway allows you two options for reaching the Grandfather Trail, by either taking the Daniel Boone Scout Trail, or by using the Cragway to connect to the Scout Trail. From this trailhead, you will reach Calloway Peak first.
Completing the traverse is an 8.8 mile roundtrip if you head up the Scout Trail. There is 2,044 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to Calloway Peak.
The Scout Trail is well groomed. It is strictly a walk in the forest until it intersects with the Cragway. After the intersection the terrain changes and the hike to the summit is a rocky, rugged trail that offers some fun scrambling. There is some easy rock climbing and a few ladders along the way to the summit.
The Cragway is a much more rugged trail, but the scenery is much better than the Scout Trail. There are several crags with open views to the ridgelines. I would recommend taking the Cragway for at least one part of the hike. Besides the good views, you get to make a mini-loop out of the hike.
Grandfather Mountain Attaction
The traverse of Grandfather Mountain can also be completed by starting at the Grandfather Mountain Attraction. This option significantly reduces the amount of elevation gain and loss, with a starting trailhead elevation of 5,260 feet. Completing the traverse by starting here makes for about a 5 mile roundtrip.
There is an entrance fee to get into the Grandfather Mountain Attraction. Refer to their webpage for current rates.
Starting at this trailhead, you will reach MacRae Peak first. Reference Sarah’s page for Attic Window Peak for information and pictures for this approach.
Route DescriptionThe Grandfather Trail
With three trailheads to choose from, there are obviously a number of options for how to summit all three peaks in a single hike. I have chosen to just describe the trail starting at Calloway Peak.
From the summit of Calloway Peak it is 0.4 miles to Calloway Gap. There are a few ladders in place near the summit, where the trail is more rugged. The majority of this section of trail is a well graded walk through the forest.
From Calloway Gap it is 0.8 miles to Attic Window Peak. This stretch of the Grandfather Trail becomes much more rugged as much of the trail hugs cliff edges.
From Attic Window Peak it is a 0.3 mile scramble to the summit of MacRae Peak. From Attic Window Peak the trail descends the Chute and meanders through the Subway on its way to MacRae Gap and then up to MacRae Peak. There are a number of ladders and cables in place through this section to ease passage.
Essential GearAs always in the southern Appalachians, rain gear is a must.
If you plan to carry water purification equipment, water is available at Shanty Springs on the Profile Trail.