Grandfather Mountain Trail

Grandfather Mountain Trail

The granddaddy of technical hikes

Called the most technical hike east of the Mississippi (without climbing equipment), the hike to McRae’s Peak, Attic Window and Grandfather Calloway Peak at Grandfather Mountain is also affectionately called the “chutes and ladders” trail because it involves a number of cable-assisted and ladder-access area. Scale these peaks for the adventure of it, but don’t take the challenge too lightly: this is for experienced hikers.

What To Expect

The Grandfather Trail takes you to Grandfather Mountain’s three peaks: MacRae Peak, Attic Window Peak and Calloway Peak. All three are within 1.5 miles of each other, but this is an in-and-out trail, so you choose to turn back at any point. Be aware that if you decide to do this hike in a single day, you’ll need to be back by the time the parking lot closes (it changes seasonally, so check at the Visitor Center). There are also several primitive camping sites along the way, so you can do the hike over the course of two or more days if you prefer, but you’ll need a permit (check in at the Visitor Center).

While the peaks are accessible year-round, they become a sheet of ice in winter, so don’t attempt them without proper ice gear at this time of year. If you’re hiking any other time of year, be aware that the weather up here is very changeable and windy. The conditions can make for slow going and add in additional, unexpected challenges.

You can choose to start out by taking the Mile High Swinging Bridge Trail from the parking lot (adds .3 mile) or just take the Grandfather Trail Extension from the parking lot and take a right onto the Grandfather Trail to go directly to MacRae Peak. The trail through sections of evergreen and rhododendron forest becomes rugged and includes some cable assists.

When the trail comes to MacRae Peak, you’ll be using cables and ladders to scale the sheer rock face. An alternative is to opt for the Underwood Trail (yellow blazes) that goes around the peak. Many choose to climb the ‘chutes and ladders’ trail to the peak and then take the Underwood Trail on the way back. After you’ve descended MacRae Peak, Attic Window is just .3 mile beyond. Some hikers chose to turn around after Attic Window, but you can also continue on 1.2 miles to Calloway Peak, the highest of the three at 5964 feet.

These instructions are for reaching the Grandfather Trail from the parking lot, but the peaks can also be accessed via the Profile Trail and Daniel Boone Scout Trail. Check at the Visitor Center for a map.

The Details

Difficulty: Strenuous/Difficult

Distance from Asheville: 70 miles, 90 minutes

Length: 2.4 miles each way to Calloway Peak

Region: Grandfather Mountain State Park

Duration of Hike: Up to 2.5 hours each way

Elevation Gain: 800 feet

Pet-Friendly? No

Multiple Use? No

Blazes? Blue

Facilities & Parking: Parking lot with facilities in the Visitor Center

Natural Features: Panoramic Views, rock walls, spring rhododendron

Directions

From downtown Asheville, take I-240 to I-40 East, exit 85. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp. Go forward 1 mile to a stoplight. At the stoplight turn left and follow US 221 North to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain, about 30 miles. Once at Grandfather Mountain State Park, go to the Swinging Bridge parking area.

GPS Coordinates

N36.10326, W81.82061