7.3 miles, Full day
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.
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.