During our recent vacation to Grandfather Mountain we spent a day hiking the Profile Trail on the west side of Grandfather Mountain to Calloway Peak. It was one of my favorite hikes I’ve done in the North Carolina mountains. I get asked for hiking suggestions pretty frequently so I made sure to take tons of pictures to document this Profile Trail hike since it was such a good one!
What I loved about the Profile Trail hike was that it offered uncrowded trails, beautiful scenery, a challenging hike and three different gorgeous views up top with a few along the way. It was 6.5 miles round trip and took a little under five hours with a stop up top to take in views and enjoy a picnic lunch so it’s a great day hike.
Let’s get started!
Finding the Profile Trail Head
The trailhead for the Profile Trail is located on Route 105 in Banner Elk, NC. If you’re coming from Banner Elk, the trailhead is located 0.6 miles from the intersection of 184 and 105 and on your right. So drive past the Lowe’s Foods (on your right) and go 0.6 miles to find the trail head. If you’re coming down 105 from the Boone area it will be on your left before you get to Banner Elk.
Be sure to complete a permit at the trailhead and place it in the box. It’s free and I like to know that someone knows I’m up there! 🙂
The first mile or so of the hike is pretty tame where you walk along a well-maintained dirt trail.
You’ve got full canopy tree cover and there are miracles of nature to look at everywhere you turn. We spotted this tree that we guessed had been stuck by lightening and part of it split off…while the rest of the tree was still thriving.
There is also quite a bit of water along the trail with babbling streams.
And small waterfalls.
View #1: The Foscoe View
Your first scenic view is the Foscoe View (about a mile and a half up), where you can see mountains as far away as Virginia!
Here is a peek of what you see at the Foscoe View. Can you imagine looking out at this during fall colors?
A little past the Foscoe View is a really nice camping spot. They are first-come, first served but there were spots for a few tents and a system for you to hang your food away from the campsite so it’s away from bears and other hungry creatures.
There was also a pretty epic fire pit. This is like s’mores and hot dogs on a stick heaven here!
Past the campsite, things start to get a little more challenging. Tanner and I talked a lot about how impressed we were with the design and upkeep of the trail. Example…who hauled all of these giant stones and rocks to make stairs in the middle of the forest?
Of course I just had to Google that and learned that it’s known as Peregrine’s Flight.
“The trail was built by Kinny Baughman and Jim Morton using nothing more than hand tools – iron rods, shovels, pulleys, and winches. According to rangers I’ve spoken with on the mountain and an article in the Mountain Times, it was built between 1985 and 1989 in order to replace the soon-to-be-obliterated Shanty Trail and preserve hiking access to the west side of Grandfather Mountain. Baughman is quoted as referring to the Profile Trail as his “lasting legacy.”
View #2: The Profile View
Your next stop is the Profile View.
You can peek through the trees to get a glimpse of the profile of Grandfather Mountain. It’s a pretty impressive rock face that is said to resemble the profile of an old man in a state of peace and rest. What do you think? Can you see it?
Things start to get fun once you pass the Profile View and make your way towards Shanty Spring. You’re 2.7 miles in here.
It’s the last water source on the trail and you’ll veer to the right here to finish up the Profile Trail and join the Grandfather Trail to get you to the top.
We didn’t fill our bottles with water here but I read online that many do. I’m not sure I would without filtering or treating.
You’ll quickly find that the rocky hiking you did to get to Shanty Spring was just a warm up for what comes next. At this point in the hike you’re about a mile from the top and it’s definitely an athletic endeavor. The trail is mostly rocks and steep.
About a half-mile up from Shanty Spring you’ll join with the Grandfather Trail. At this point you’ve got under a half-mile up to your destination, Calloway Peak.
The thoughts that run through your head are, “We have to almost be there. Are my legs going to fall off? I’m drenched with sweat. It’s hard to breath. My heart rate is really up there. I’m hungry. Are we there yet? How long can it possibly take to walk a half a mile? It smells like Christmas.”
I think I said, “It smells like Christmas! I love it!” at least 10 times.
The Canadian Fir Zone
Fun factoid…about 1/3 of a mile before you get to Calloway Peak the hardwoods transition into the Canadian Fir Zone. Apparently, ice storms and wind are so bad up here during the winter that these trees are the only things that can stand it.
View #3: Rock Face Just Before Calloway Summit
And then you’ve finally made it! There are three places to stop up top. This was the first overlook we took in and we thought we’d made it to Calloway Peak. Luckily some other hikers informed us that there was still a little way up to go. (We weren’t complaining about this view!)
The final push to the top includes some steep rocks and ladders but it’s totally doable if you’re careful and take your time.
There are three ladders to climb.
View #4: Calloway Peak Summit
And then you’ve made it to the top of Calloway Peak. At 5,964 feet, it’s the highest summit on Grandfather Mountain and it’s incredible. The views are truly breathtaking.
There were clouds moving in when we made it to the summit and we literally felt like we were in them. You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway behind me.
Lunch at the Lower Overlook
We came back down to the first overlook we had stopped at to eat our lunch.
I packed us sandwiches, chips and apples.
Does it get any better than sandwiches on top of mountains in 70 degree weather in the middle of August in NC?
View #5: The Watauga
We made one last stop to take in the Watauga View before starting our descent. It was gorgeous and definitely worth seeing.
We were excited someone offered to take our photo.
I snapped a few more photos and soaked up the view before turning back to hike down.
The Hike Down
The hike down was no joke. I prayed that I wouldn’t lose all 10 of my toenails the next day! According to our iPhones, we walked over 18,000 steps on our hike. We joked that 9,000 of those were one long walking lunge to the top and holy knees on the way down.
I don’t mind out and back hikes though because I always feel like I see things so differently on the way down.
We arrived back at our car feeling so happy that we decided to tackle the Profile Trail. We agreed it’s definitely one we’d do over and over again and it’s totally doable as a day hike from Charlotte if you get up and on the road early. It’s just a little over 2 hours drive to Banner Elk and there’s nothing like some time in the WNC mountains to clear your head.
You might notice that we didn’t bring the dogs and I’m glad we didn’t for our first trip. I think that Zoey would have been okay until we got up to the top with the steep rocks and ladders (there is no way we could have gotten her up the ladders safely) and it just would have been too much for Sullie. If you’re planning on taking dogs, either skip the summit or take turns going up. You can get to the Watauga View and the rock face where we had lunch without ladders, FYI.
And regarding the trail traffic, it’s important to note that we hiked the Profile Trail on a Tuesday when most kids had just gone back to school. We experienced very little traffic on the trail and it was so nice to kind of feel like we had it all to ourselves but I’ve heard it can be busier on weekends and during summer vacation time.
Let me know if you have any questions and I hope this is helpful for those of you planning a hike in the beautiful Western North Carolina mountains. I can’t wait to hike the Profile Trail again! I really want to see it during the fall color change so maybe soon! 🙂
Do you enjoy hiking?
What are your favorite hikes?