By Hope S. Philbrick
In addition to how it seems to defy the laws of gravity, one of the most amazing things about Chimney Rock is the fact that it’s accessible for everyone. Whether you adore or abhor exercise—heck, even if you can’t walk—you can admire the spectacular views from great heights.
Chimney Rock is a spire that towers 315-feet above the adjacent parking lot. That’s right: While at some national and state parks it’s a physical challenge to reach the main attraction, here you can pull right up under it and snap a photo without even getting out of your car. But head to the summit, 2,280-feet above sea level, for the rewarding 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure and the Carolina Piedmont. It’s worth the trip.
The climb is only as physically demanding as you make it: From the parking lot, you can reach the Chimney level by hiking a trail or riding an elevator. After renovations, the elevator is once again fully operational.
The elevator, which is inside the mountain, shaves 26 stories off the climb (alternately, you’ll climb 500 steps!). So whether it’s by necessity, to eliminate some huffing and puffing, or as a time-savings measure, reaching the iconic Chimney is just an ear-popping 35-second vertical ride.
A 44-step staircase leads to the dramatic fenced summit. Once you’re perched high atop the igneous rock remnant that’s estimated to be 535 million years old, a natural peace sets in. Gaze at the breathtaking vistas. Whatever stresses you may have felt when pulling into the parking lot seem small from up here.
Another perfectly understandable reaction to the impressive view is to jump up and down squealing, “WOW!”
Explore more of the rock by climbing additional stairs and steep trails to other vantage points like the Opera Box and Exclamation Point. The perspective on the view changes slightly with each level reached, but the sense of calm is interrupted only by an invigorating feeling of accomplishment.
If you want to challenge yourself and avoid the elevator, you can hike to the main attraction on the half-mile Outcroppings Trail. Comprised of a network of stairs and boardwalks, it passes a talus cave and other natural phenomenon en route to the lookout point.
Chimney Rock is the key attraction, but it’s not the only reason to visit the park. Other hiking trails lead to other spectacular treasures on this land and vary in length (from .4 to 2.2 miles round trip) and levels of difficulty. The longest, Skyline Trail is a moderate 2.2-mile hike that starts at Exclamation Point and weaves through woods past sheer cliffs. You’ll cross Falls Creek, Hickory Nut Falls’ headwaters. The 1.4-mile Hickory Nut Falls Trail leads to a 404-foot waterfall that is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi and may look familiar; it was featured in the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans. The trail includes several moderate uphill sections and a small set of stairs at the base of the falls and is thus not recommended for use with strollers or wheelchairs.
Chimney Rock offers a view for all that’s spectacular in any season.
Chimney Rock is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks. In May 2007, the Morse family sold the 1,000-acre park they’d owned for a century to the state. Chimney Rock State Park is still developing, including the purchase of an additional 5,000 acres for future recreation in Hickory Nut Gorge.
Chimney Rock State Park is located 25 miles southeast of Asheville (via US 64/74A) in Chimney Rock, North Carolina.
Buy an annual pass for less than the price of two tickets and get unlimited visits to Chimney Rock State Park for 12 months. Adult annual passholders also enjoy discounts on workshops, food and gifts in the park and at the Old Rock Café, plus discounts to other regional attractions including Biltmore Estate.
AAA members receive $2 off adult admissions.
All restrooms comply with ADA requirements.
Odds of Encountering Children: High, but it’s a big park so walking away from disturbances is a viable option. Park trail rules require that all children under age 16 are accompanied by an adult at all times. Huzzah!
More To Do…
Adult-oriented workshops are routinely offered on a variety of subjects such as survival skills, nature photography, bird walks and general guided hikes. Check the event calendar for details.
Chimney Rock is home to the only AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) accredited outfitter and climbing school in the Southeast. With Fox Mountain Guides, you can walk up and start rock climbing in minutes with little or no experience. Exclusive to Chimney Rock, ‘tasters’ sessions do not require advance booking—just walk up, pay $20 and try rock climbing. (‘Tasters’ are available any day an instructor is present in the park, which is most days in the summer and most weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall.) The guides also offer introductory two-hour lessons and half- or full-day guided rock climbing clinics at a range of skill levels from beginner to advanced for folks age six to 106. Groups not ready to tackle actual cliffs can make arrangements to climb a 32-foot climbing tower.
Special programs offer seasonal fun. As one example, on select dates each December “Santa” climbs Chimney Rock to bone up on his chimney-shimmying skills. Of course there will be lots of children in the viewing audience, but the event is a great photo op.
After visiting Chimney Rock State Park, head down the road for a pontoon boat ride with Lake Lure Tours.
Where To Stay…
1 Buckstone Place
Asheville NC 28805
A shining example of the national brand, this hotel is crisp and clean with modern decor and amenities. My two queen room with pull-out sofa was attractive and spacious. As a travel writer, I rarely write up national brand hotels because they’re too often the same, so what can I say? This place warrants attention: Every interaction that I had with staff members exceeded expectations. When my travel plans changed and I had to tack on an extra night at the last minute, the gal at the reservation desk was especially helpful and helped me secure the lowest possible price. Upon arrival, I was impressed anew by the quality, design, and cleanliness of the hotel. This hotel’s location is a little off the beaten path, it’s not even visible from the main road, but it’s within easy reach of downtown Asheville and points beyond including the featured state park.
Where To Eat…
Coffee on the Rocks & Old Time Photo
435 Main Street
Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Featuring coffee beans that are ground fresh daily, the menu offers fresh brewed coffees, espressos, teas and smoothies plus assorted pastries. For a fun keepsake, pose for a portrait wearing Western costumes and props.
Medina’s Village Bistro
430 Main Street
Chimney Rock, NC 28720
A locals’ favorite, this cozy little bistro specializes in fast-casual gourmet cuisine prepared by Chef John Medina and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t miss the homemade cinnamon rolls (as dessert if not the main course)! It’s a tasty reward in exchange for all the calories burned during all that hiking.
Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main St.
Chimney Rock, NC 28720
— Photo Credits: View from Opera Box (top image), © Steven McBride; remainder © HSP Media LLC.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Chimney Rock State Park and Explore Asheville for hosting my visit to Chimney Rock State Park. Hotel accommodations and meals paid for by HSP Media LLC.