The 3.6-mile Profile Trail begins at the Grandfather Mountain State Park parking area on N.C. Highway 105 near Sugar Mountain (4198 NC Hwy 105 N, Banner Elk). This strenuous west side hike steadily climbs 1,775 feet in elevation, taking you through seven different natural communities. It intersects with the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap on the crest of Grandfather. There is no charge for accessing the State Park from the trailheads on N.C. 105 and Blue Ridge Parkway.
The trailhead begins at 4,034 ft. elevation and finishes at 5675 ft. at Calloway Gap. Beginning as a scenic, rolling pathway through seasonal wildflowers, this trail crosses the Watauga River and travels through rhododendron thickets and under a hardwood canopy for much of its length. The lower sections of the trail weave in and out of Rich Cove and Acid Cove Forests. Rich Coves are open and airy, the ground covered with lush herbs (ferns and other non-woody vegetation), while acid coves harbor a dense shrub layer, dominated by rhododendron, with few herbs.
The trail continually gains altitude as it winds like a ribbon up the hillside. Transitions are subtle as the coves give way to a Northern Hardwood Forest, with the growing presence of red spruce in the canopy. Expect to see an understory of mountain maples and rhododendron; an herb layer also thrives in this moist forest reminiscent of more northerly climates.
Upper sections, beginning around Foscoe View at 2.2 miles, get steeper, and there are frequent rest stops with stone and log benches. Along one notable stretch before the trail reaches a view of the famous Grandfather Profile (mile 2.8), hundreds of large boulders were artfully rearranged into a rock walkway called “Peregrine’s Flight.”
As the “Profile View” draws near, so does the transition into Boulderfield Forest. Three different natural habitats are interwoven here. The forest is cool and wet due to water seeping from just below the surface. At first the dominant tree is yellow birch, known for its ability to grow atop rocks and logs. The many boulders around you are alive with mosses, ferns and other vegetation. As you continue climbing, you enter the High Elevation Seeps with their own dense beds of wetland herbs. Melded into this section of the trail is the beginning of the Red Spruce and Fraser Fir Forest.
Shanty Spring, at 3.1 miles, marks the beginning of a strenuous segment that makes the transition out of the hardwoods and into the Canadian fir zone, climbing many rock steps. The Profile Trail ends at Calloway Gap (elevation 5,675 ft.) at the intersection of Grandfather Trail. If you want to extend your hike, turn left to reach Calloway Peak with a challenging 4/10 of a mile up another 300 feet in elevation (making a total of 8 miles roundtrip). Turn right for 1.9 miles to the Mile High Swinging Bridge. See our Grandfather Trail Guide.
- The Profile Trail Parking Area is located on the west side of Grandfather Mountain inside the State Park — a 6.4-mile drive from the Grandfather Mountain ticket booth/ticket gate. Find it on Google Maps. The parking area is location on N.C. Highway 105 in the Banner Elk / Sugar Mountain area — near Lowe’s Food across from the Pedalin’ Pig restaurant.
- There are restrooms and water at the parking area. It is open seven days a week and fills up on busy days. So arrive early!
- Allow at least 4 hours for the 7.2-mile hike, even for seasoned hikers. Add another 1-2 hours if you extend the hike to Calloway Peak.
- Admission to this state park access is free.
- See our full list of Grandfather Hiking Tips for lots of helpful advice.
- See our Grandfather Hiking Guide for all trails.
- With the extreme difference in elevation, expect varying weather conditions along the way. It’s open year-round, but closes for snow and ice.
- To check on Profile Trail conditions, call the State Park office at 828-963-9522.
- Read about “East Side” trails, including Daniel Boone Scout Trail.
- Download the Grandfather Mountain State Park Trail Map.