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.. Along the hike, you cross the headwaters of the Watauga River.
After a half mile into the hike, you will see the “Lower Profile Loop” turn to the left. This creates a lower loop for those not wanting to climb higher on the mountain. Since the “Lower” and “Upper” Loop Trails rejoin in about a half mile, you can go one way up and another way back. The Lower Loop has more traffic noise and adds an extra uphill section.
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. 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.
If you want to hike more, turn left on the Grandfather Trail to continue to Calloway Peak. Turn right to hike toward the Swinging Bridge, a very strenuous 1.9-mile trek. Be ready to navigate steep cliffs with ladders and cables! Above is the approach to MacRae Peak from the Bridge area.
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). There are no park shuttles to allow for one-way hikes of the Profile Trail to the Bridge, but you can get friends and family to help coordinate!
A less crowded (and we think more scenic) alternative to Calloway Peak is the Daniel Boone Scout Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 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.