A visual oddity in stone, Chimney Rock is one of North Carolina’s most recognizable natural landmarks.
What’s the draw?
The 315-foot tower of stone has graced postcards, book covers, the silver screen and who knows how many vacation slideshows over the years. And its popularity only grows. Perhaps it’s the views of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge from the top of the Chimney. Perhaps the sight of Hickory Nut Falls spilling 404 feet over the cliff’s edge. Perhaps visitors are simply drawn to the beauty of the place. Whatever it is, Chimney Rock’s got it.
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The Chimney, of course. You have a great look at it as you drive through the town of Chimney Rock, a better look as you pass through the gates to the park and an even better view as you approach the parking area. But to best appreciate it, you need to go to the top. There’s an elevator if you need it (as of this writing, the elevator is out of order but expected to return to service soon), and it certainly makes that 26-story ascent fast and easy. Or you can take the Outcroppings Trail, known as “The Ultimate Stairmaster,” and walk your way to the top. Either way, a short set of stairs will then take you to the top of the Chimney, where the view down the valley is intense and heart-achingly beautiful.
There are other hikes too, notably Hickory Nut Falls Trail, which takes you to the base of the falls (it’s a 0.75-mile wooded stroll – an easy one), and the strenuous two-hour hike along Skyline Trail, which takes you past locations familiar from feature films like “The Last of The Mohicans” and ends at Exclamation Point, an aptly named vista overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge.
Nearby Rumbling Bald Mountain is part of Chimney Rock State Park, and there you’ll find woodland hikes and an abundance of rock climbers. What attracts the climbers isn’t a 300-foot tower of stone, but something lower: fields of boulders the size of cars, big rigs, small houses and barns. It’s on these rock faces that climbers have mapped out more than 1,500 bouldering “problems” (low-altitude, rope-free climbs to traverse or top out on these rocks). Hiking trails weave among these boulders, so you’re likely to see some climbers clinging to a rock face, hands chalky, faces contorted in concentration as they study their next move.
Should you feel the urge to climb, Fox Mountain Guides (www.foxmountainguides.com) will show you the ropes – literally – with a half- or full-day climbing clinic on a top-rope course, which means no bouldering (for that you need a little experience and a lot of grip strength).
Chimney Rock State Park is open year-round, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days or when weather forces a closure. Admission to Chimney Rock: $15; $7 for ages 5-15; 4 and younger, free. Tickets are reduced during the elevator outage: $13; $6 for ages 5-12.
The ticket booth is open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily, spring through fall; the park closes at 7 p.m. The schedule is adjusted for fall-winter. If you arrive after 4 p.m., your ticket is good for admission the following day.
Nearby: Lake Lure
Lake Lure, a lovely sight from Chimney Rock, is the location where the famous “lift” dance scene from “Dirty Dancing” was filmed. Since 2010, fans of the movie have flocked to Lake Lure for a weekend of music, dancing, screenings of the film and, of course, plenty of attempts to recreate “the lift.” The Dirty Dancing Festival will be Aug. 19-20.
When you visit Lake Lure – for the festival or otherwise – stay at the Lake Lure Inn and Spa (www.lakelure.com) and ask for the Jennifer Grey suite, the actress’ home away from home while filming. Dine on Italian at La Strada at Lake Lure (www.lastradaatlakelure.com), and take breakfast at the local spot: Medina’s Village Bistro (www.medinasvillagebistro.com), where the cinnamon rolls are homemade and highly recommended.
Area info: www.rutherfordtourism.com.