Type of Trail: In and Out
Trail Surface: Earth, rock, some boardwalk
Distance: 1.5 mile, round trip
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: Almost 500 ft
Kid-Friendly: Yes, but be careful at the summit.
Special Tips: You’re going to want a camera. Great spot at the summit for a picnic.
So yesterday was a gorgeous day. The sun was shining (finally!) The sky was bright blue. I could see Grandfather Mountain very clearly in the distance which meant the views from up there would be stunning.
I had to go.
With the recent craziness at my house (that included a husband in the hospital for abdominal surgery and then his subsequent recovery), I had been sorely lacking on my outdoor time. I returned home from my errand planning to rescue the kids from their schoolwork and take them on a hike. Well, turns out that 3 didn’t want to go, and the one who did still had a sore heel from last night’s soccer game, so I decided to leave the complainers and the gimpy leg behind to finish their schoolwork and clean the kitchen since my husband would be in the home office all day. Feeling the giddiness that newly found freedom on a sunny, fall day can bring, I hightailed it out of there.
I first drove up the mountain and into downtown Blowing Rock to stop at Bald Guy Brewing for an Americano to go. Best coffee in Blowing Rock, by the way, and hidden inside the Footsloggers store on Main Street. Knowing that my time was limited I chose to drive up the Parkway and hike up Rough Ridge, an easy hike with a big reward. The fall color has turned at the highest elevations and this is a great place to view the display.
Rough Ridge is a great hike for young and old and everyone in between. This out and back trail does have some steepness to it with rough trail so it could be a challenge to some. The trail along Rough Ridge is actually a small section of the Tanawha Trail that runs 13.5 miles from Price Park to Beacon Heights on the other side of the Viaduct.
The quickest route to the views of Rough Ridge is to park at the Rough Ridge Parking Area at Milepost 302.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the parking lot you will see the log steps that lead to the trail, take a left towards Rough Ridge and shortly after cross a scenic bridge. Continue up the path, through a little mud, and around rock outcroppings until 1/3 mile in you reach the boardwalk. There are beautiful views to enjoy here or you can keep climbing a further 1/2 mile to the summit.
The trail narrows after the boardwalk and continues to be rocky and a little steep, but it’s not much further to walk to get considerably higher up. At the summit, there is a large rock with cable wire to help you climb to the top if you so desire. On the other side of this boulder is a beautiful view of the treetops below as well as a sharp drop off. Approach carefully and take care!
Sitting on the rock and looking out from the direction you came up the trail, you will have amazing views of Pisgah Forest and on down into the Piedmont. I’m pretty sure the town you can see is Lenoir, NC. Further to the right you can see two mountain peaks that together make a V shape. These are the famous Table Rock Mountain and Hawksbill. More to the right, is a lovely view of the Lynn Cove Viaduct and above that and to the right you should be able to just see the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain in the distance.
Continuing right of that you will have an up close view of the famous Grandfather Mountain face profile in the mountain. Keep looking, you’ll see the face. Just remember the grandfather is laying down and the face is rising up out of the mountain. On the facial profile, you will see McRae’s Peak (chin) and Attic Window Peak (nose) and then further to the right (away form the face) is Calloway Peak, which, at 5,964 ft is the highest peak in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains (although from this view you can’t tell that its higher.)
Because this is such a short hike with amazing views, Rough Ridge is often crowded, especially during leaf season. Arrive early and avoid weekends to have a short chance of getting it to yourself. As always, respect the forest and especially the delicate plants that grow in this area by staying on the trail, especially in the boardwalk area, as it was built to preserve the sand myrtle and other rare fauna that grow here and are easily trampled. Also, there are drop offs and rock outcroppings that you really don’t want to fall from. This is a great hike for kids, just keep them on the trail and away from the edge at the summit. I’m pretty sure that pets are not allowed on this trail, although there were several dogs that I passed along the way, including a dog that was riding on a guys back in a pack. For real.
I made this hike a little longer by parking at the Boulder Field Overlook at milepost 302.4, just before the Rough Ridge parking area. This added about a mile more of the Tanawha Trail, with pretty forest views, large boulders and another wooden bridge crossing. This part of the trail is much less frequented so the trail is less distinct and there were several downed trees to step over or under. I didn’t pass a single person either way on this section, but heard plenty of squirrel chattering and bird chirping. At the parking lot, follow the trail head up to the intersection and turn left towards Rough Ridge. There are several other entry points onto the Tanawha trail that you could take to add on to lengthen the Rough Ridge Hike. See the Tanawha Trail map here.
I had a serene 45 minutes just sitting at the summit, taking photos, and doing a little journal writing. But too soon, I had to head back down. I jogged most of the way back to my car, as the shadows in the woods were growing longer and I had that extra mile to go on the trail less traveled. In spite of returning home to the tasks I could have gotten done had I stayed and been more productive with my day, I’m happy I took the opportunity to drink in some autumn mountain beauty. It might last me for a few days.