Ever since we started going up to the Seven Devils/Banner Elk area a couple of years ago, we have passed by the trail head for the Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail, and I have been waiting for my chance to go. The reviews online were a little confusing — one stating the trail was a little under 6 miles round trip, another stating it was over 11!
Well, we were up there again recently, and I got my chance. I had Kelly and the kids drop me off at the base of the trail. I knew I needed a permit, but I thought I might be able to get one at the base, and before I realized I could not, Kelly had driven off! The permits were just .7 miles up the road at an Exxon, so I began to run to it. About 1/2 way there, a lady I had seen and talked to at the based yelled from her car if I wanted a ride. It was kind of a dangerous place to stop, so I told her go up ahead of me to a pull out. By the time I got to her, it was only another couple tenths of a mile to the Exxon, but it was nice not to have to run all of the hill. I bought my permit for $5, got a map, and ran back to the start (all down-hill).
When most hikes are free, it may seem odd to pay $5 for the privilege. The cost goes into trail maintenance, and the trail is all on private property so there are no government funds like at state owned land. I can say that if all trails were this well maintained, I’d be happy to pay! There was almost no trash (I picked up the one piece I found), and the amount of work put into some of the stone work for stairs, erosion control, etc., was really amazing. Some of the stones that have been moved were just huge!
With map in hand, I realized why there was confusion in the trail distances… The “profile” trail is almost 3 miles up to the rest of the trail system on Grandfather Mountain, thus just under 6 miles round trip. Depending on what trails you take at the top, you can easily get to 12 miles or more. Looking at the map and all the trails, I had to make some decisions due to limited time. I decided to really push it and go for the swinging bridge, which was about 5 miles away. I had already gone about 1.5 miles to get my permit, and only had 4-5 hours total! I ended up running any of the flat sections or safe sections that I could. This was all good training for a 14,000-er attempt I hope to do in about 10 days in Colorado. (Though I am worried about how different the air at 14,000 will be than the 5500 most of this trail is at, it is the best training I could get here in NC.)
The beginning of the hike runs along highway 105 for a bit, and along a beautiful mountain stream.
Once you turn up, you really go up — about 1700 feet in 2 miles, and parts of the trail are all rock:
That photo doesn’t do justice to the steepness — I guess they never do. And those rocks were really slippery, especially on the way down. I had forgotten my trekking polls, which made it that much worse.
The hike became spectacular once getting off the profile trail, and hiking southwest towards the swinging bridge… About a half a mile or so on Grandfather Trail, and all of a sudden you are on top of all the rock formations that make Grandfather Mountain look like it does from the bottom. And the trail is literally on the ridge line, sometimes just feet from hundred foot (plus!) drops. There are cable runs, wooden ladders, and tunnels, as you can see in the photos below. This part of the trail had the most amazing views and rock formations I have seen since I hiked in Yosemite!
Yes, this is the trail… A ladder straight down, and then rocks (almost) straight down:
And then up a ridge:
And more down:
On the way up, there is one point where you can climb a ladder to McCrae Peak at 5939 feet, which has spectacular 360 degree views, where I took this video. The youtube quality is not great so some of the things I try to point out, you can’t really see. Oh, and later on, I found out the road on the backside is the blue ridge parkway.