Ever since Max and I hiked the Profile Trail to Calloway Peak a few months ago, I’ve been wanting to get my wife and youngest son up to Calloway Peak to experience the magic that Grandfather Mountain has to offer. However there’s really no short and easy way to get there. Each of the the three trails that lead to Calloway Peak are three miles in length, and pretty strenuous with multiple ladders and wicked elevation ascents.
My biggest concern was our four year old Parker; could he even make it? Well there was only one sure fire way to find out, and that was to just try it and see. Besides, with amazing views, and an old plane wreck, this specific trail was a family hike that I’ve just been itching to get out on.
Note: this is a serious mountain, and weather changes quickly without warning. Be prepared with a day-pack, plenty of water, food, and emergency supplies. If hiking in the Winter, the trails will be icy so bring traction gear.
Grandfather Mountain in Linville, North Carolina is probably the top tourist attraction in the area. The Mile High Swinging Bridge gets a lot of attention in the Spring, Summer, and Fall months. In addition, it’s endless miles of mountain trails lure even the most experienced hikers from surrounding areas.
With something for everyone, it’s a place that’s definitely worth visiting. Grandfather Mountain is a privately owned mountain that’s been family owned for generations. Here’s a good read of the history of Grandfather Mountain for those who are interested.
There are 11 trails on Grandfather Mountain, and we’ve hiked all of them. This trail that we’ll be outlining today, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail, is in our opinion the best of them all.
Head to the Trailhead
Park at the Boone Fork parking area at mile marker 299.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here the trail starts on the West end of the parking lot (left side if you’re facing the parking lot from the Blue Ridge Parkway). The trail starts on the Tanawha Trail, and you’ll walk for about a half a mile until you reach the Nuwati/Tanawha junction. Heading right will take you on the Nuwati Trail towards the Cragway Trail. Heading left will take you further down the Tanawha Trail to the start of the Daniel Boone Scout Trail.
After taking this left, continue on for another half a mile or so until you reach the trailhead for Daniel Boone Scout trail, which is clearly marked.
You’ll want to stop at the registration board before this area and fill out a permit. It’s free, but it’s helpful for the Park Rangers in case something happens to you and you don’t make it back.
Start the Trek
After turning off of the Tanawha trail, you’ll be starting on the Daniel Boone Scout trail. The trail itself is very well marked, and very well maintained as are all the other trails on Grandfather Mountain. It’s pretty tough though, as you’ll be ascending 2000 feet in about three miles (tough in the context of having a four year old in tow).
However the views are probably some of, if not the best in the area.
After 1.3 miles or so you’ll come to the Daniel Boone Scout/Cragway trail junction. The Cragway Trail is a stepper alternative to heading up the way we just came. Here you have views of the Boone Fork Bowl via Flat Top Rock. It’s a good place to take a break and enjoy the long-range views before we continue on the rest of our hike.
Roughly 1.3 miles down from the junction (2.7 miles from the start), you’ll reach Hi-Balsam Shelter, a very basic shelter which offers campers a reprieve from the sometimes treacherous conditions here on the mountain.
Here is another good spot to take a break, and the kids got quite a kick out of it. The shelter was built by Clyde Smith during WWII, and is probably the oldest structure on the mountain.
From here the trail starts to get a little tough, with a rock climb, and three ladders to get up and across as we make our summit push to Calloway Peak. This area is also really icy in the Winter, so it’s really important to have proper traction gear along with you.
Summiting Calloway Peak
At mile 2.9 you’ll finally reach the first 15 foot ladder that you’ll need to climb up. It’s here that I started to get just a little nervous, only for the fact that our four year old had to negotiate these ladders. One ladder down, two to go.
The second ladder is a bit harder than the first, because the rungs are further apart. Then at the top of this ladder, is a cable that you have to hold onto to get to the next ladder. There was plenty of snow and ice and the whole time I was just as nervous as could be for Parker.
The last ladder is only 4 steps, and is the easiest of them all. Then from there it’s a very short walk to the top of the world, Calloway Peak.
The views from Calloway Peak are simply amazing. You’re going to be nearly 6000 feet in the air, and you’ll have beautiful views of Linn Cove Viaduct, McRay Peak, and the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the perfect spot to have lunch before we make the descent back down the mountain.
After soaking in the views at Calloway Peak, it’s time to head back! So we’re heading back down the same way we came, and then back down all three ladders. After you get off the third ladder, probably 50 yards or so, on the left about 30 feet off the trail, is an old plane wreck. If you’re facing in the direction of the ladder it’ll be off on your right. I knew that it was right off the trail but we missed it the first time going up to Calloway Peak.
But if you look hard enough, you’ll find it. The plane is an old Cessna, and it crashed here back in May of 1978. It was foggy, near white-out conditions, and the pilot got disoriented. He crashed into the top of the mountain, ripped the wings off, and unfortunately perished.
The wings of the wreckage are in one spot, with the fuselage sitting about 15 yards away from it. It was an amazing sight to see, but also really sad to know that someone died in this wreck. Here’s the NTSB report for the morbidly curious.
The motor, and all avionics have since been removed, and only the metal remains. My best guess as to why it’s still here, is that it’d just be expensive to remove.
Parker must have told every hiker on the way back down the trail that there was a plane wreck up here. We passed plenty of hikers who had been on this trail several times, but never knew that there was a wreck here.
Follow the arrow towards a large rock formation, and climb up on top. You’ll get a pretty amazing view of the Linn Cove Viaduct here. If you look closely you can even see cars traveling on the viaduct. Seeing this makes you feel really small in size!
After visiting the Viaduct View, it’s a long 2.5 mile hike back to the start of the trailhead.
This was one of the most in-depth and most technical hikes I’ve ever done with a four year old. Parker made it the entire way, but had quite the meltdown at mile 7. I don’t blame him one bit though, this trail is honestly not for small children.
We really wanted to see how far he could hike, and boy did we find out pretty quick that his limit at four years old is about 6.5 miles in one day. He ended up getting a piggy-back ride for 100 yards, then he walked the rest of the way himself. He was so proud of himself, too. He kept saying, “I made it! I did it by myself!”
We were never really worried about Max, our eight year old. He’s hiked 10 miles with me before on the Profile Trail, so I knew he was more than capable.
In the end though I believe it was completely worth it. We spent a total of 6 hours hiking 7.5 miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s a hike that we’ll definitely be doing again when Parker gets a little older!