The Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain

Kolin Toney
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The Appalachian Mountains, the oldest mountain range in the world, is a crown jewel of the American wilderness. Grandfather Mountain, which lies just outside of Boone, North Carolina and boasts four separate summits of rippled rock and stunted spruce, provides one of the most dazzling views on the East Coast. An ocean of ridged and rolling mountains spread out in all directions, their emerald hues deepening to blue in the summer, bursting with scarlet and crimson in autumn, and frozen silver-white in winter.

One of the most popular routes to the top is the Profile Trail, so named because it offers its visitors a view of Grandfather Mountain’s iconic vertical profile, which resembles the face of a massive old man in deep repose. The trail climbs nearly 2,000 feet before linking up with the Grandfather Trail, on which hikers can access Calloway Peak, the tallest of the four summits.

Maeve Gould

The Profile Trail begins as a well-maintained and deceptively gentle pathway, rolling through wildflowers and crisscrossing the Watauga River. On a scorching summer day, hikers will enjoy filling their lungs with fresh, chilled air beneath the dense deciduous canopy and rhododendron thickets that leave the majority of the trail shaded and cool. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable though; the route soon turns sharply upwards as it begins its ascent up the backside of Grandfather Mountain. Thankfully, the climb is punctuated by breathtaking vistas, such as the Foscoe View at mile 1.7, which will whisk your thoughts away from your burning quads.

Before reaching the trail’s namesake lookout, you will come across a formidable walkway, created by hundreds of boulders artfully arranged on either side. The “Peregrine’s Flight,” created by two men using only hand held tools, is truly a triumph of trail engineering. Another notable feature is Shanty Spring, where crystal clear water bubbles out of rocks into shallow pools, creating an inviting spot to rest and fill your water bottle before tackling the final climb. The spring marks the beginning of the most strenuous portion of the trail, and also one of ecological significance as the hardwood forest transitions into Canadian fir zone.

Greg Walters

Three miles from the parking lot trailhead, Profile Trail joins up with Grandfather Trail. At this point, take a left on Grandfather to continue your way to where the route opens up onto an exposed ridgeline that will lead you on a magnificent finale to your summit reward. Calloway Peak, engulfed in sky at 5,946 feet, earns its title as “The Grandaddy of High Country Hikes.”

The trailhead is located 12 miles from Boone on Highway 105, ¾ of a mile North of the intersection of Highways 105 and 184. Trail access is free since Grandfather Mountain came into state ownership, but you must fill out a permit at the kiosk and bring the bottom section of the ticket with you on your hike. The Profile-Grandfather Trail to Calloway Peak is 7 miles round-trip and includes sections that are strenuous, rocky, and require very deliberate footwork, but the views at the top...priceless.

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