Explore the best trails near Banner Elk with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

Banner Elk, North Carolina Map

Lengthy trek over varied terrain and through interesting, colorful flora topped off with some awesome views.

We hit the trail at 7:30am on a Tuesday morning (Summer Solstice) to try to make the peak before the overcast skies that were forecast for the afternoon. We were the second car in the parking area and we literally had the trail to ourselves all the way to the peak. Embarking up the west side of the mountain early we were low light (not quite dark) for the first half mile or so amidst the plentiful tree canopy along the Watauga.

The trail makes it way through various 'neighborhoods' of flora - thick lush rain-forests along the river and its feeding creeks, giving way to towering hardwoods, which in turn changeover to fir trees (around the spring). Along the ridge on the G'father trail the Rhododendrons were blooming so we bore happy witness to nature's show. At several points the narrow track - quite narrow at some places - was covered in deep pink petals and we had blooms from head to toe. The transitions through the varieties of plants marked our progress and brought interest to the ascent. The whole environment would be fairytale-like if not for the aural intrusions from the truck traffic from Hwy 105 cascading up to the trail.

The broad sweeping path across the western slope inclines modestly for the first 2.5 (near the spring or so) and then becomes a bit steep, climbing stairs of tumble down boulders and rocks for a third of a mile to Calloway Gap. We stopped at the vacant Cliffside camping site for a snack. From there the trek Watauga View and on to C'way Peak is relatively modest - the three ladders are all short and really not-at-all harrowing. From trail-head to top took us two 50-somethings abou 2:20.

From W-view you can see all way to Elk Knob and to several Virginia peaks to the north (and you gain an unfortunate prospect to the visual scar made by the abhorrent condo at Sugar Mountain). Keep your gaze to the north and the distant horizon west and enjoy the grand reward! Over at the C'way Peak rock outcropping the view to the east and south, even on this day of high clouds is fantastic. Table Rock, Hawksbill, and the Black Mountains are all brought into clear relief. The view of MacCrae Peak and the viaduct below was interesting - as I've been on the other end of that latter visage a number of times. Bother view areas are rather small and would only accommodate a handful of visitors simultaneously- but we had no company until we were ready to move on. We were joined by a solo hiker fro FL along with his sweet dog - still not sure how he navigated the ladders.

We decided to head south on the G'father trail past the profile trail intersection for about 0.6 mile. That section had us scrambling up a rock face and ledge - providing more views to the west and straight down for several hundred feet at few overlook spots. Careful attentive steps made it all relatively easily navigable. We stopped short of making the climb to the 'attic window' and turned back for our descent. The absence of signage on this section didn't help us know how far we'd come or how far we had to go.

As always the walk down feels longer than the hike up. On the way down there were lots of folks, of all-stripes, including several trail-runners (wow!) making their way up. The parking lot was nearly full when we returned to our car. It feels good to see so many getting out and enjoying nature in such a beautiful place.

Following our ~8.2 mile trek we made a short drive over to Banner Elk for some refreshments at Flat Top Brewing, a nice way to toast a great hike. On our drive back it appeared that the peaks were shrouded, at least partially, in clouds - which made us thankful for our early start.

I look forward to hitting this trail again, perhaps heading over to MacCrae.

very technical!

Beautiful views and a hard fun hike

Incredible hike, however closer to 7.1 miles to the summit, not 5.6. The last mile is intense with more rocks to navigate around and the climb gets steeper. Bring plenty of water and wear good shoes. Grandfather Trail to MacRae Peak and Attic Window offers more views, cables, and ladders if that's of interest.

13 days ago

It was amazing. I have never pushed so hard or been so tired.

Fantastic hike! It was tough but the change in elevation brought many variations of vegetation and views.

this is a great trail. very well marked and taken care of. I made it up in two hours and down in one and a half. there are three ladders to climb to reach the peak. I did this hike on Memorial Day and had to park alongside the road in a pull off area. and even though the lot was full for a great deal of the hike I was alone. However, at the peak space is limited. I had to wait for one group to leave before I was able to sit down and eat my sandwich.

I loved this trail for a variety of reasons. First, it combines a lot of skill levels and terrains. You move from a dirt path, to creek bed and tree rooted paths to technical paths of large rocks where the "trail" is tough to distinguish. It is beautiful along the way and especially the views at the peak. Great workout. Tip, there's no restroom at the trail head if that's a need.