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Grandfather Mountain/Profile Trail - Linville, North Carolina

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
11.3 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

8 hours and 40 minutes with 2 hours and 50 minutes of breaks
4,035 ft
Grandfather Mountain State Park
Printable Topo Hike Map (grandfather.com PDF)
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The Profile Trail, Banner Elk, NC 28604. 36.1198, -81.8350

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins (Contact Zach)

Grandfather Mountain is one of the most beautiful, rugged landscapes in North Carolina but hiking it for free is an all-day affair filled with grand views, steep climbs, and some physical hardships. If you’d rather take the easier route, you can drive up to the tourist attraction for $20/person and hike the Grandfather Trail out-and-back for a hearty mountain experience of only 5 miles (Grandfather.com). Otherwise the bold hikers can hike the mountain via the Profile Trail below or the previously described Daniel Boone Scout Trail.

Although shorter, the Profile Trail is arguably the toughest ascent due to the steep inclines and long stretches of boulder-strewn paths. You can cut 1.2 miles by avoiding the out-and-back to Calloway Peak which has the least impressive views, but you’ll be missing out on the high point of this famed mountain. Unlike the Daniel Boone Scout Trail the biodiversity isn’t as impressive on this side of the mountain as you continuously climb due to the western exposure. However, the trail adds a few different flavors like an initial stroll along the peaceful Watauga River, massive boulders trailside, and a bird’s eye view of the Grandfather Profile. Just make sure to hike as far as Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak, which offer some of the best views and exciting rock scrambles in the region.

July 2017 Parking Update - A new parking area was opened for the Profile Trail that could accommodate 100+ cars. The original parking lot has been closed. The new parking area adds an additional 0.6-mile hiking each way, making this a 12.5-mile hike. The additional length is almost flat, so it does not add significant elevation gain. We will update the hike mileage in the future when we get a new GPS track. The new parking area is located at The Profile Trail, Banner Elk, NC 28604 (36.1198, -81.8350).

  • Mile 0.0 – Profile Trail (orange diamond blaze) begins at the end of the parking lot. The trail dips and immediately crosses the Watauga River and follows the river on the right side.
  • Mile 0.3 – Trail leaves the Watauga River.
  • Mile 0.4 – At a U-turn an unmarked side trail continues straight.
  • Mile 0.9 – Rock crossing over Shanty Spring Branch. On the other side the trail passes through large boulders.
  • Mile 1.6 – Arrive at the Foscoe View, a window through the trees with a view north of Snake Mountain and Elk Knob. The trail begins a steep climb from here towards the Profile Campsite.
  • Mile 1.9 – Profile Campsite offers a few spaces for tents below the towering Grandfather Profile. From here it is difficult to discern the unique features of the Profile through the trees.
  • Mile 2.1 – Reach the Profile View, a bird’s eye perspective of the Grandfather Profile for which the mountain got its name. From this planar view the massive cliff looks like a craggy, old face. After the Profile View the tread becomes rockier as the trail begins climbing through spruce forest.
  • Mile 2.5Historic Shanty Spring is one of the only reliable water sources near the crest of Grandfather Mountain. Fill up here if you did not pack in much water. The next 0.3-mi is a rough ascent over a jumble of large boulders.
Mid March
Grandfather Mountain/Profile Trail Hike Comments
Archived Comments

By: Marc Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 16, 2017
Had to split the hike in half due to rainy/windy conditions closing the Grandfather Trail. Profile trail is a fabulous hike that starts off with a great walk along a stream before the switchbacks begin a mile or so in and continue to the junction with Grandfather Trail. Profile trail had some intense elevation changes and I found the Profile Trail manageable and deeply enjoyable during the fall colors. It was somewhat wet and muggy, with the last mile of the Profile Trail spent in cloud cover due to a morning rain. My partner and I were constrained by time on Tuesday to complete the Grandfather section so we paid the $20/person fee to start it from the opposite direction at the Swinging Bridge. The hike is fantastic and I enjoyed going the opposite direction because we were able to go up the McCrae ladders instead of going down. It was quite intimidating at certain sections due to my lack of experience with a hike of this magnitude. It was a serious challenge mentally and sometimes physically. The ladder section definitely included some shaky knees at times. It's also a good idea to be careful on the bare cliff sections, as it was sometimes hard to find the trial markings and we found ourselves second-guessing ourselves at times. I would recommend taking the Underwood Trail on the way to the Swinging Bridge and doing the McCrae summit on the way back. I would not have felt entirely comfortable going down the McCrae ladders. Overall, this was the best hike I have been on in NC and plan to do several more of similar rock scrambling and rugged terrain. We will be back next year to do the whole Profile/Grandfather Trail in one day and this hike has definitely lit a flame for us in regards to more difficult hiking. As a rule, bring plenty of water as I did find myself rather thirsty as the trail forced us to slow down in the McCrae section. Took almost 2 hours to make it a mile and a half. This hike is definitely for experienced hikers and was an incredible challenge to someone who had gone on long trails (Black Mountain ridge/Mt. Mitchell so far) but was not fully prepared for the level of climbing/mental tests this trail required of us. It is a must-do hike if you are comfortable and I know we will be doing many more after this inspiring hike.

By: Phil Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
This hike is a must do for any avid outdoor enthusiast! Awesome views around every corner and the trail traverses a variety of ecosystems as the altitude changes. This hike has it all and includes small waterfalls, great flora/fauna, huge boulders and some of the best views in the North Carolina High Country.

We completed a one day, 12 mile out and back from the 105 Profile Trail Parking Lot. This trail is for serious hikers and is very challenging. Take note of the slow pace this trail limits you to, as the Grandfather Trail requires rock scrambles, ladders and cables to complete. I'm on hiking trails regularly and this is the slowest pace I've ever had, averaging 50-60 minutes/mile on the 3 miles along the Grandfather Trail. Plan accordingly and leave early in the morning if attempting the out and back from the parking lot off 105!

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