What do you do when you have a free weekend in North Carolina? You brainstorm in a group chat with your cousins. One of your cousins will come up with the amazing idea to hike Grandfather Mountain. I saw one picture online and was immediately convinced!
So I landed at 9am in Charlotte. A car with 3 female cousins pulls up full of snacks, water, excitement and fear (more on that later). The drive from Charlotte airport to Grandfather Mountain takes over 2 hours when you stop for gas and pee breaks midway. Long enough to feel away but close enough to not need a hotel room if you live in Charlotte.
We were fine until we stepped out of the car. Not only was it a lot chillier than Charlotte, but the thunder was audible in the distance. I had asked the young lady at the entrance kiosk what time the rain was supposed to hit the mountain. She said 5pm and I thought that would be plenty of time to go up and back (assuming the rain didn’t come down earlier).
The lot attendants informed us that hikers park in the Black Rock parking lot. As you can see, the lot had plenty of cars when we arrived at 12:30pm.
LENGTH: 3 MILES RT
ELEVATION: 5,964 ft
FEE: $22 PP
It’s hard to miss the sign pointing the way up. None of us had been here before and we weren’t counting on the extra .4 mile hike to the start of Grandfather Trail. But thems the rules!
It’s an unmarked trail, but very easy to follow. Many of the stones having been placed like “stairs,” which makes the walk easier. You’ll soon come across the bridge. And very soon after that the parking lot.
If you need facilities or want to buy a magnet to prove you came to see grandpa, this is the time to do it. Trust me, you won’t want to do anything after hiking the mountain. You’ll cross the parking lot and see this sign:
You’ll need the color/make/model/plate number of your car to fill out the permit. And take special notice of the “return to your vehicle by 6:00pm.” This is important so a search party isn’t sent out for you. We were on our way up, and the view from over my shoulder includes the mile high swinging bridge, the upper parking lot, and Linville Peak on the right.
Follow the blue trail markers the whole way up.
When you get to “The Patio” there are wooden benches and a nice view to take in. Yup, that’s where we were hiking to, MacRae Peak. This is a good place to drink some water and catch your breath!
We came across the Grandfather Trail sign and continued hiking the blue blazed trail until we reached Grandfather Gap. This is another awesome spot to stop for snacks and water.
After our break we came across what looked like a rope on the trail. I had read about the 9 or so ladders and was just finding out about the cable. It’s meant to assist your ascent, especially if you’re wearing sneakers.
When you’re done with the cable, you’ll meet the first of nine ladders on the blue trail. The nine ladders include the final one you’ll need to climb to summit MacRae Peak. You can see that one of the ladders (second ladder) is tucked between two large rock formations. You’ll walk slanted to reach that one, and find a cable at the top to assist you. I won’t undersell the ladders, they are difficult. They are spaced wider than your average ladder and can be found next to very exposed sides of the mountain. If you’re afraid of heights like my cousin, I would avoid looking down! I saw the look of fear pass through our little group a couple of times. HOWEVER, I wouldn’t deter you from attempting the climb. One of my cousins had never been hiking before and was able to complete the climb (so proud!) without
Here’s an awesome pano I took while waiting for the hiker traffic to pass atop one of the ladders.
And as we continued to hike the blue trail I spotted a ladder in the distance. It’s at the bottom-center of the picture below. I didn’t know at the time but I was looking at the only ladder on the Underwood Trail. That ladder would round us out to 10 ladders total for the day.
Finally! MACRAE PEAK!
Just kidding lol, there’s another ladder first (ladder #9).
Ok, now I can say it…
We took so many pictures up there. But one of my favorites is this one. I had made it to the clouds. The 360 degree view was nice and the snacks were totally welcomed.
Views? Check! Time to hike down? Yup! We continued past MacRae Peak into the saddle and found a cable heading down on the blue trail.
We made a left at the Underwood Trail to make a loop out of our hike. It’s a great way to avoid lines at the ladders as well.
And here’s the 10th ladder I had seen in the distance a while back.
The Underwood Trail dumps you back onto Grandfather Trail for a little bit. We made a right in the direction of the swinging bridge. At the next junction we hopped onto the Grandfather Trail Extension, which by-passes the swinging bridge. We were cutting it close and needed to be back to the car by 6:00pm.
We got to the car at 5:58pm and we were exhausted. Luckily we didn’t get rained on and we were back unscathed.
Truth be told, we were drawn to the park because of the swinging bridge. But after conquering MacRae Peak, none of us cared to walk up to it. Maybe next time we’ll get there earlier and cross the bridge, buy some magnets and make it all the way to Calloway 🙂
“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” — Lucille Ball