How to Explore North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park
As part of a summer series, T+L is highlighting amazing lesser-known attractions found in the United States. Next up: a place for folks who love being active — or just checking out the scenery — outdoors.
Although many people may only associate Chimney Rock State Park with an image of the “Chimney” itself — a 315-foot rock that juts out over the Hickory Nut Gorge affording a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Lure — there’s so much more for visitors to take in than this one spot.
The park is home to 550 species of native plants, six hiking trails, and steep cliffs perfect for rock climbing. Then, of course, there’s the 404-foot waterfall.
One of North Carolina’s 41 state parks, the picturesque and Chimney Rock State Park spreads out into four counties in Western North Carolina and covers 6,806 non-contiguous acres in Hickory Nut Gorge. It’s a 45-minute drive from Asheville along the Drovers Road scenic byway on Highway 74A.
At this time, only two areas are open to the public: Chimney Rock and Rumbling Bald, located off Boys Camp Road. Entrance through the Chimney Rock access requires a fee, while admission through Rumbling Bald is free and offers climbing opportunities (you’re on your own) and a trail. Climbers must, however, acquire a state activity permit for a nominal fee. For a cost (beginning at $60), Fox Mountain Guides offers instruction for novice to advanced climbers at the Chimney Rock section. Trails range from easy to strenuous, and from half a mile to 1.5 miles round-trip.
An elevator to the top of the Rock was installed in 1949, but due to power issues and undependable service, it was closed in August of last year. While it is due to eventually reopen, there’s no set-in-stone date. “You can hike the Outcroppings trail to the top, up 499 steps past some incredible scenic overlooks,” said Mary Jaeger-Gale, general manager of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park. That’s the equivalent of climbing 6 stories (or 258 feet). In the meantime, entrance fees have been reduced to $6 for a one-day pass for youth and $13 for adults. Annual passes cost $28 for adults and $12 for children.
The Park accommodates visitors of all ages (check its website for upcoming events), and there are many attractions for children, including the Great Woodland Adventure Trail (with 12 stations displaying sculptures of native animals) and Grady’s Animal Discovery Den.
If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, take the advice of Clint Calhoun, a biologist in the Gorge who worked for the Park from 1992 to 2003.
“As far as secret spots, the Four Seasons Trail is generally a nice quiet walk through some old growth forest and gets the least amount of traffic,” he says.
The landscapes—which, by the way, can be seen in films like The Last of the Mohicans, Firestarter, and A Breed Apart—weren’t officially part of North Carolina’s parks system until 2007, when the Morse family, who had owned the land since the turn of the century, decided to sell it.
The story goes that Dr. Lucius B. Morse, a physician from Missouri, was looking for a more favorable climate for his tuberculosis when he fell in love with the Rock’s views. With the financial backing of his brothers, he purchased 64 acres of Chimney Rock Mountain in 1902.
Through November 5, Chimney Rock Park hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and the Park remains open 90 minutes after the ticket plaza closes. For more information, including directions and the status of the elevator, visit chimneyrockpark.com, call (800) 277-9611, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For GPS, use the address 431 Main Street in Chimney Rock.