Grandfather Mountain is both the highest mountain on the main Blue Ridge crest, and the most spectacular. All higher peaks in the southern Appalachians are on subsidiary ranges to the main Blue Ridge, such as the Black Mountains, Smokies, and Great Balsams.
A substantial part of Grandfather's summit ridge is wide-open rocky pinnacles with an incredibly steep and rough trail winding its way over the rocks, often with ladders. Rising 4500 feet above the valleys of the Piedmont to the east, the views from the crest are spectacular. It's not surprising that early explorer Andre Michaux thought he had scaled the highest mountain in North America after Grandfather's first ascent in 1794.
Grandfather Mountain is privately owned, and has considerable tourist development at its southwest end. A short toll road leads to a visitor center, museum, and a pedestrian suspension bridge spanning a rocky gap
between two low rocky pinnacles. A network of trails leads from this tourist area and from other trailheads (which avoid the toll road), but a hiking permit, available for a small fee, is necessary for any hiking or camping.
The Ridge Trail is by far the most scenic and important. It leaves the visitor center/museum area and climbs northeast over the awesomely rugged Attic Window Peak (5949') and McRae Peak (5939'). (The USGS map calls this area of the mountain by the name of "Raven Rocks".) The trail over these two peaks is one of the most rugged in the country, and is not reccomended for those afraid of heights or rickety ladders scaling sheer cliffs. After this section Grandfather Mountain reverts to standard Southern Appalachian mode, namely a rounded, forested crest. Calloway Peak (5984', the highest summit of the mountain) has some views cleared through the trees nearby, but is still in the trees. There are some nice spots on the ridge further northwest, too, but the Attic Window/McRae area is still the highlight of any trip to Grandfather.
The Blue Ridge Parkway skirts the southeast slopes of Grandfather Mountain up high on the Linville Cove Viaduct, the last section of the entire Parkway to be finished, in 1987. A visitor center almost underneath this long, curving bridge caters to those who want a close-up look at this engineering marvel.