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Grandfather Mountain State Park, North Carolina, United States

Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain summit

One of the Parkway's most rewarding hikes climbs 2,000 feet (one way) in 3.5 miles from the Boone Fork lot at Mile 299.5

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 7.3 miles / 11.7 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly
 
Overview: Grandfather Mountain, the most iconic peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville, N.C., and the Virginia state line, practically dares hikers check out to its highest crags.

Because the peak is so prominent on the Parkway, it's only natural to answer Grandfather's challenge from one of the road's turnouts.

My favorite way to hike this route is to start out from the Boone Fork parking area on the Tanawha trail, take the right turn at the Nuwati Trail, follow it to the left turn at Cragway Trail, and pause at the Flat Rock junction with the Daniel Boone Scout Trail.

From there, I take the Scout Trail to the high point at Calloway Peak, and return on it all the way to the trailhead.

Best time to go: The autumn colors of late early October will be spectacular, but the weekend crowds may dim the glow (weekdays should be far less crowded). The rhododendron bloom of early June is another great time to go. Early winter, before the first blizzards, and early spring, after the snow's melted, offer the best views of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.

Winter is the least-advisable time to attempt this hike: the Parkway is typically closed and deep snow can totally obscure the trail.


Tips: This is very challenging hike with steep, craggy trails and occasionally treacherous footing. The trek to the summit and back can take 5 to 7 hours, no matter how fast you typically hike.

Weather is the wild card at Grandfather Mountain: Storms can blow in very quickly, bringing hail, lightning and pounding rain. Blizzards are common from late fall through early spring. Signs along the trails advise what to do if a storm hits. Take a moment to read them.

Hikers are required to fill out a registration slip at the sign board just beyond the Boone Fork parking area. You'll need your license tag number, cellphone number, and an emergency contact number.

What to bring:

Sturdy hiking boots with good traction
Clothing layers for rapidly changing weather: it can be hot at the trailhead, cool and breezy at the summit, and very wet if a storm hits.
Enough water for a long hike
Snacks to keep your energy level up
Hiking poles if you use them.
Park map as a backup.

Points of Interest

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Boone Fork Parking Area

This is at mile 299.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From the south end of the parking lot, take the Tanawha Trail across a bridge over a stream, and continue about a half-mile to the Nuwati Trail junction.
map

Nuwati Trail and sign-in registry

Turn right at the Nuwati Trail, then stop and register at the sign-in board. Don't forget to keep a copy with you in case a ranger asks for one later.

Stay on Nuwati Trail for about a mile -- excellent views will open up on the way up.

Note: Some hikers prefer to continue on Tanawha Trail to Daniel Boone Scout Trail, turn right there, and take the Scout Trail all the way to the summit. However, the first section of Scout Trail is not especially scenic -- it's much better to take this section on the way down when you're tired and eager to finish the hike.
map

Cragway Trail

Turn left at the Cragway Trail sign.

This is a very rocky, steep trail with awesome vistas if the weather's clear. It's only a mile but it's a very vigorous mile.

It's far better to go this way first -- climbing on fresh legs at the start of your hike, rather than descending on tired legs coming down.
map

Flat Rock trail junction

Cragway Trail ends at Flat Rock, a large layered stone that offers scrambling opportunities and views of the nearby mountains.

From here, turn right and take the Daniel Boone Scout Trail toward Calloway Peak. It's about 1.7 miles up the hill.

The trail here follows an intriguing ecological transition from deciduous forest to high-country pine. Many small wildflowers pop up along the trail in springtime.

On your way back, note the sign pointing downhill toward the first section of the D. Boone Scout Trail. This is your return route.
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Arrow on the rock

The trail becomes much more rugged near the summit. You'll come to a treacherous scramble with a white arrow painted on the rock.

Choose your steps carefully on the way up. (Coming back down is even more of a challenge. I've had some success with a low crab-walk.)
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Hi-Balsam Shelter

Eventually you'll see a sign pointing to Hi-Balsam shelter, which is about 50 yards from the main trail. There's an excellent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains on clear days, but don't be surprised to find it's fogged in.

This is a nice place to get in out of the rain if a storm comes -- keep in mind that backpackers regularly use it as a shelter.
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Ladder to Calloway Peak

You have to climb three ladders to reach the summit at Calloway Peak.

Use extra caution on the way down.
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Calloway Peak summit

Pause on a rocky shelf at 5,964 feet, highest point on Grandfather Mountain.

There are awesome views on clear days, but it's often fogged in.

Don't dawdle at the peak -- it can be fairly busy on weekends and other people want to enjoy the view.
map

Down we go

Second of the three ladders, going down this time.

Just take your time on the way down.

Once you're back on the D. Boone Scout Trail, it's all downhill back to the Flat Rock Junction, where there's one more turn on the Scout Trail and you return to the Tanawha Trail junction.
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End of Daniel Boone Scout Trail

Turn left here on Tanawha Trail and enjoy a flat, relaxing walk back to the parking lot.
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan
Reviews
kkirk1980_The_Captain
One of my most favorite NC Hikes!

by kkirk1980_The_Captain on Apr 15, 2012
pittjosh81
Awesome hike! Took me 5 hours roundtrip.
Visited on Nov 05, 2011

by pittjosh81 on Nov 06, 2011

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About the Author

tommangan
tommangan
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