This is part of our Hiking Guide series rolling out this spring and summer.
If you’re tired of hiking just on trails and want to mix in some ladders, Calloway Peak off the Blue Ridge Parkway is the spot for you.
The trails lacing this beautiful peak adjoining the famous Grandfather Mountain comprise some of the most rugged and rewarding hikes you’ll find in a North Carolina state park. Steep ascents and rocky routes lead to breathtaking vistas looking over the Blue Ridge Parkway, and if that’s not enough, there’s the wreckage of a single-engine Cessna plane that crashed here decades ago to find and explore.
To get to the top, you’ll have to scale several wooden ladders bolted to large rocks, the tallest of which is about 20 feet high. They cover especially steep sections of the trail, but you’re not hanging off the side of a cliff.
This isn’t the most kid-friendly route, but I’ve seen people with grade-school-age children hiking here, obviously taking care to guide and watch their kids. (I’ve also seen people with dogs and have no idea how they got there.) Some of the ladders near the top of 5,946-foot Calloway Peak are near drop-offs that could lead to nasty falls, so be careful.
Access to these trail starts at the Boone Fork parking area, mile 299 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just over two hours from Charlotte. It’s free, but likely to get very crowded on beautiful weekends, especially in the fall. Go during the workweek if you can grab a day off, or get there early. (If you drive up to the top of nearby Grandfather Mountain and the privately owned attraction, you’ll be paying fees).
There’s an excellent map of the area’s trails on the state park website, with mileage for each segment marked. Print it out and take it with you. From the Boone Fork parking area, hike south for about half a mile, parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway, until you reach the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. It’s a little less than 1.5 miles to your first views at Flat Rock, which is also a great spot to take your pack off and have a snack.
From there, the trail continues west, and up. It’s easy to follow and well marked, but roots and rocks predominate in parts, and the 2,000-foot climb can start to feel relentless. About three miles into your hike, as you’re climbing near a marked campsite, the plane wreckage is visible on your right. A short hop off the trail and you can poke around the ghostly remnants.
At about three miles in, you’ll start encountering ladders. Don’t panic – these aren’t massive, hundred-foot sections, and most are angled rather than straight up and down. Be careful, especially if the wood is wet, and enjoy the change of pace from a normal hike.
Calloway Peak is around 3.5 miles from your starting point, and the views from the rocky summit are worth the effort. You can see across to Grandfather’s craggy face, and down along one of the more scenic spans of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
From the top, if you’re up for it, the Grandfather Trail leads another three miles or so to other summits and viewpoints, including Attic Window, MacRae Peak, and the famous mile-high swinging bridge. Be prepared for more ladders and careful hiking along cliffs and narrow ridges, and keep your eye out for storms rolling in if you go this route.
Heading back from Calloway Peak, turn left (north) on the Cragway Trail, back at the Flat Rock overlook you saw earlier. Take Cragway for about a mile, past a sweeping view of the deep valley “bowl” carved into the mountains and into the rugged defile. It’s a little over a mile across the valley, where you’ll cross a stream and come to Storyteller’s Rock. You can scramble up this for a satisfying overview of the mountains you’ve just conquered, and if you haven’t eaten yet, it makes an excellent lunch spot.
From Storyteller’s Rock, head back to the parking area via the Nuwati Trail, a well-graded and easy-to-follow path out of the woods. You actually passed it on your way in to the Daniel Boone Trail. Finish up the hike by hiking parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway until you’re back at your car. The total trip to Calloway Peak and back via this route is about seven miles, with more added on if you hike further towards Grandfather Mountain.
Do it as a camping trip: First of all, full disclosure — I haven’t camped here. But I really, really wanted to, and looking at some of the sites available, I kicked myself for not bringing a tent.
Because most of this land is a state park, you don’t have the freedom to plop your tent on whatever trailside spot looks most appealing. Camping is only allowed at the designated sites marked on the map, which are well-signed and easy to identify on the tails. Fires aren’t permitted at the high-altitude campsites, and you need a free permit, available at a self-registration station at the trailhead. Sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For my money, the most appealing campsites were on the way to and near Storyteller’s Rock — tucked in the woods, by streams, with fires permitted. I’ll let you know how they are after I head back to this gorgeous area.