Hiking Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Grandfather Mountain is one of my personal favorite hikes in the Appalachian Mountains. Located near Linville, North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain has an elevation of almost 6000 feet (5946 feet), with a prominence (that is, the visible heigh seen from the surrounding area) of almost 2500 feet (2,444 to be exact). If you’re searching for your next adventure and you happen to be in North Carolina, hiking Grandfather Mountain is a great option! In this Grandfather Mountain hiking guide, I will highlight my experience and the trails / routes I took on this epic adventure.

Overview of Grandfather Mountain

Are you ready for an epic adventure in North Carolina? Look no further than hiking Grandfather Mountain. In this guide, we cover the best hiking route (there are many ways to do Grandfather Mountain) and highlight key information you’ll need to plan your adventure.

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I recommend doing. We stopped just after MacRae Peak (labeled “Raven Rocks” above) due to time constraints (In October, they require hikers to be off the trail by 7 pm). We also stopped for lunch and took tons of pictures, so you have a great chance of completing this entire trail on a day hike if you move a little faster than we did.

Where to Park

If you’re looking for a great and challenging hike, I highly recommend parking at Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail Parking lot. This is located on the bottom of the mountain a few miles away. We parked here on a Friday morning around 10:15 AM and there were plenty of spots left (however, I have heard that on the weekend / holidays) it fills up quickly). A few reasons you should park here:

  • This is the reason we like this parking location the most… It’s free!
  • It’s low in elevation compared to other parking areas, such as near the Swinging Bridge. This could affect hiking in the winter months with icy conditions
  • This location allows you to warm up for a few miles of hiking through the woods at relatively low effort so that by the time you start climbing your body will be ready

Here is the exact location via Google:

Distance Traveled

If you start at Profile Parking lot and go all the way to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, this route will be over 10 miles in length (10.3 according to Alltrails). We traveled to Attic Window and back, and we went roughly 9 miles.

How Long Does it Take to Hike

Alltrails.com says that this hike takes on average 6 hours and 18 minutes to complete. We started at 10:15 AM and got back to the parking lot at 6:30 PM, and didn’t complete the entire trail (~9 / 10.33 miles). So in our experience, it took us over 8 hours, but we did stop for lunch and for lots of pictures. Hiking up this mountain will beat you down if you’re not an experienced hiker in great shape, and a good portion of the terrain once you travel between the various peaks is pretty rough. So prepare for more than 6 hours if you’re looking to enjoy yourself on this hike. I’d recommend preparing for 8 to 10 hours depending on your level of fitness and “dilly-dallying.”

Elevation Change

This mountain will take you up 5946 feet above sea level, with a prominence about the surrounding terrain of 2,448 feet. For the Appalachian Mountains, this is a pretty tall mountain that will provide amazing views for several hours along the trail once you get up there.

Grandfather Mountain elevation profile (out and back – via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

Difficulty is a relative term, but this one is definitely challenging for new hikers and individuals in decent to good shape. One of the hikers in our group was new to hiking and struggled along the way, especially the climb up to the peaks.

I’d give this hike a 7 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

You won’t need any permits to do this hike. When you arrive at Profile Trail Parking lot, you’ll be asked to fill out a half page sheet with information about you, your car, and an emergency contact.

Cost

Parking at Profile Trail parking lot is 100% free. However, if you choose to park near the Swinging Bridges on the other side of this trail, there is an admission cost, depending on the season, the day, and your age. You can expect to pay $20.00 on quieter days (winter), $24 on mid-level days (March – October), and $28 on peak days, such as holidays / fall season per adult.

You can get more information about costs here.

When to Go

One of the great things about Grandfather Mountain is that you can go nearly any time of the year if the weather conditions hold up. We went in mid-October when weather conditions were perfect and the foliage was starting to change (we missed peak foliage season by about 1-2 weeks). We had also been in mid-August and experienced weather in the mid 50’s (F) atop the various peaks. So it really is a great place to go hiking all year round if you start at Profile Trail Parking lot (bottom of the mountain).

Recommended Gear

Grandfather Mountain certainly isn’t boring, you’ll face a wide-variety of obstacles. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: I’d recommend wearing 2-3 layers depending on the time of the year. Even in the summer when I went, I was quite windy and cold sitting on the top (in the 50s!)
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important. My phone got down to 40% less than half way through the hike so this was a lifesaver.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder that lasts an entire 10 hour day hike. It’s also super convenient to be able to sip on water whenever you need it without taking your bag off, especially going up Grandfather Mountain’s endless number of steps.
  • Hiking shoes: The first time I ever went hiking I wore tennis shoes… bad mistake! Grandfather Mountain has mud, rough surfaces, and a few streams on the lower areas. Your feet will be thanking you for keeping them dry and less impacted by using hiking shoes.
  • Snacks: I’d recommend bringing some snacks to Grandfather Mountain. You’ll be burning a ton of calories on this hike, so it’s important to replenish your energy. My personal go-to’s are honey roasted peanuts, gummy worms, protein bars, granola, beef jerky, protein shakes, and blueberries.
  • Sunscreen: You don’t have to worry about the sun too much for the first 3ish miles going up the mountain, as there is tons of tree coverage. But once you get to the top of the various peaks, you’ll be in the sun about half the time it seemed. Even in October, I got some sun.
  • Bug spray: We didn’t experience many bugs on Grandfather Mountain, but it’s always a good idea to bring some bug spray just in case.
  • First Aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I did slip on a rock at the top and cut my hand pretty good! These things happen on adventures!

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Grandfather Mountain hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: Grandfather Mountain will hurt your feet after 9 miles. In fact, the bottom of my feet were screaming by the end of this hike. Since then I’ve purchased some nice insoles that alleviate a bunch of the impact when bouncing from rock to rock.
  • Small cooler: I occasionally bring a small cooler that fits in my backpack. This is great for carrying a sub for lunch, ice, and other cold foods (my personal favorite hiking snack are blueberries!)
  • Hiking poles: I personally didn’t use hiking poles but I did see some others with them. They will definitely help you out, but once you get to the top, you’ll be doing bouldering, ladder climbing, and rope pulls so I feel like they’d get in the way a bit on this hike.

The Play By Play: Our Route on Grandfather Mountain

To get this journey started, I parked at Profile Trail parking lot (more information above). It’s great because it’s free! The trail starts right behind the building next to the parking lot.

Profile Trail

Starting out on Profile Trail, the first couple miles are peaceful and mostly flat, except for a few rolling hills and steps.

I liked his part because it’s entirely shaded in the woods, with interesting rocks, creeks, and rivers along the way.

After about 2 miles, the climbing starts. It may seem pretty easy at first but it will continue to get steeper.

Hiking Up Grandfather Mountain on Profile Trail

There are some really cool rock formations through this part of the trail. And lots of steps… and more steps.

Unless you’re an absolute beast, this uphill part is going to take you some time to climb. It felt like days had gone by but it probably took 1 – 1.5 hours to climb up the elevated parts of Grandfather Mountain. The steps just keep going!

Grandfather Trail

Once you finally reach the top, the trail will spilt into 2 ways, left and right. I’d recommend going right (MacRae Peak) and skipping  the left trail (Calloway Peak). I went left the first time I hiked Grandfather Mountain, and while there are a couple nice views, they are no where near as beautiful views as what the opposite trail will bring you. Once you take a right towards MacRae Peak and the Swinging Bridge, you’ll start seeing views pretty quickly. They’re lovely, but just wait, they get better!

There are some great bouldering opportunities here. The first time I did this trail I couldn’t believe where this trail was leading:

Before you get to Attic Window Peak, you can choose to take a side route to Indian House Cave. I wouldn’t really recommend it if you’re short on time, but it is interesting to imagine Native American’s living here:

Attic Window Peak on Grandfather Trail

This is the spot I usually eat lunch on. We started at 10:15 AM and started eating lunch at 1:45 PM, so it took about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get to this spot. This is a great spot because it’s quite rocky with lots of places to sit and enjoy the 360 degree views.

After lunch you’ll have some more energy, you’ll need it for the next stretch of Grandfather Trail. Right after Attic Window Peak, prepare for a steep decline bouldering experience! It looks about 75-100 down, and is quite intimidating at first sight:

After you get through this, you’ll then start to ascend again towards MacRae Peak. This part includes a ladder and a metal cable with knots in it to climb a relatively steep rockface (be careful, it is pretty slippery). What fun!

MacRae Peak on Grandfather Trail

Once you get up past the metal cable area, you’ve almost made it to MacRae Peak. But before you climb MacRae peak, look just before that and you will see an overhang. This is a great opportunity for an EPIC picture:

Grandfather Mountain Near MacRae Peak

Once you start climbing the ladder up to MacRae Peak, you’ll notice there’s also a cable once you get past the ladder. It can seem a little scary, but you’ve got this! Keep going a little further and you’re there to MacRae Peak. Here is a view on top of MacRae Peak:

We went a little further through Raven Rocks, but ended up stopping because it was about 3:30 PM and a park ranger told us we should head back to make it to the parking lot by 7:00 PM. Here’s a shot of the last place we stopped at:

Hiking Grandfather Mountain Peak

At this point, it’s time to head back the way we came. Remember that 75-100 foot steep decline bouldering? Now you get to climb up it!

The great news is that everything on Profile Trail is downhill now, so you get to work a new side of your leg muscles. At this point, your legs will feel like jelly. You’ll get back to your car, thinking about how epic your day just was.

Finally, the hike was conquered and a late night victory dinner was in order. Look no further than Crack Barrel, a southern staple and a great hike hunger killer:

Cracker Barrel After Hiking Grandfather Mountain

I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of my food! Next time!

About Our Experience Hiking Grandfather Mountain

Overall, Grandfather Mountain was an awesome experience. It’s one of my personal favorites in North Carolina.

Hiking Grandfather Mountain Climbing Cables (1)

Favorite Parts

This hike has diverse terrain and obstacles in your way. I loved getting something new thrown at me at every turn. Some of my favorite parts about Grandfather Mountain include:

The Ladders: There are an abundant amount of ladders on this hike, but the route we took had 4. The very first ladder I saw was definitely exciting too see! When you get to MacRae Peak, there’s a pretty big ladder going up to the top.

The Cables: Grandfather Mountain has several metal cables with knots on them to climb up relatively steep rockface. This was an added bonus because I had no idea these were on this hike. Be careful, these areas are quite slippery too.

The Views: The great thing about Grandfather Mountain is that there is not just 1 peak, there are several that you get to trek along once you hit Calloway Gap. The views were amazing along the entire top. My favorite view was definitely MacRae Peak. But don’t forget, right before you hit the main peak there, look for an open gap. You can climb up this area next to the peak, and that makes for an incredible photo and viewpoint (see above photo).

Least Favorite Parts

I didn’t experience too many “least favorite parts” on this hike at Grandfather Mountain. It’s a tad muddy in some areas at the top, but overall, there were more way more favorite parts than least favorite parts on this hiking adventure.

Overall Score

These scores are relative depending on which area of the world you’re hiking in. What that said, for an Appalachian mountain, I give Grandfather Mountain a 9 / 10. This is my favorite hike to date in North Carolina.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

If you want an adventure, hiking Grandfather Mountain will certainly give you that. I couldn’t stop smiling on this entire hike (except for the uphill parts, those were pretty tough). This was my second time hiking Grandfather Mountain. The very first time I did a solo hike was on this very mountain, and it ignited my love for hiking. You cannot go wrong on Grandfather! What are you waiting for?

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! I'm Anthony and I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventures. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for happy wanders, you're my type of person!

Was this resource helpful?

Scroll to Top