One of most well-known trails in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains is the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park. The trailhead is located in the Sugar Mountain area on NC Highway 105 (next to Grandfather Shopping Center with Lowe’s Foods). It’s a strenuous hike of 7.2 miles roundtrip – ascending from 3,800 feet elevation to 5,675 feet at Calloway Gap. From the gap, you can hike another 4/10 of a mile to Calloway Peak – the highest point on Grandfather Mountain (5,964 ft).
The trailhead is located at a large parking area with restrooms (4198 NC Hwy 105 N, Banner Elk). The first part of the hike takes you down in elevation toward the Watauga River before the steady climb begins. Most of the trail is forested with limited long-range views. As you climb, the temperatures usually drop 5-10 degrees. It’s a strenuous hike, so not the best for small children, dogs or inexperienced hikers.
In summer 2021, a new “Connector Trail” was built that keeps you higher on the ridge. You will see the connector fork off to the right less than a half mile into the hike. If you keep to the left on the main trail, you will hike down to the river and the old parking area – with more traffic noise along the way. Both trails rejoin in about a half mile.
As you climb up the mountainside, the traffic noise will soften and the trail becomes a little steeper with big rock outcroppings and plenty of stairs. At about 2.2 miles, you arrive at Foscoe View (photo above), a limited view north to the peaks of Elk Knob and Snake Mountain. At 2.7 miles is the Profile View with a good look at the famous face rock formation that gives Grandfather Mountain its name. At 3.2 miles is Shanty Spring – complete with a pipe flowing with fresh mountain spring water.
Past Shanty Spring, find the steepest section of the trail with a long series of rock stairs constructed in 2021 (thank goodness!). You’ll transition out of the hardwoods and into the Canadian fir zone.
At 3.6 miles, you’ll arrive at Calloway Gap at Grandfather Trail – the end of the Profile Trail. If you want to hike more, turn left to continue to Calloway Peak. Turn right to hike toward the Swinging Bridge, a very strenuous 1.9-mile trek.
Since it is strenuous, allow 3-4 hours to hike the 7.2 miles if you are a seasoned hiker. Expect icy and snow covered sections during the winter months, especially in the higher section.
Admission to the Profile Trail is free since it is inside the Grandfather Mountain State Park. The parking area is open every day. The entrance to the Grandfather Mountain attraction with the Mile-High Swinging Bridge and nature center is 6.5 miles away (read more).
Parking Lot GPS Address: 4198 NC Highway 105 N, Banner Elk. Go to the State Park Website for updates.
See more Hiking Trails and Waterfalls near Sugar Mountain.