With over 200 waterfalls and endless hiking trails, Western North Carolina is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Chimney Rock State Park is one of the most beloved attractions in all of North Carolina. Located in the picturesque western portion of the state, the scenic vistas of the Blue Ridge mountains from atop Chimney Rock are unparalleled.
The magnificent 315 foot, 535 million year old granite outcropping known as Chimney Rock affords panoramic views of this gorgeous mountainous region of the state. On a clear day you can see 75 miles way. If you are vacationing in a nearby tourist hotspot (Asheville or Greenville), Chimney Rock is the perfect 1 hour day trip from either location.
The climb up Chimney Rock
At 2285 feet above sea level, the climb up Chimney Rock is no small feat. Known as “the ultimate stairclimber,” the trek involves a 499 step climb up a steep staircase. You can definitely skip your morning workout! At least you get to enjoy tremendous views and fresh forest air as opposed to staring at a screen via a gym machine. The trail is easy to follow and nicely maintained.
Get ready for a massive leg workout! But really, those views!
For those not up for the challenge, there is an alternate means of getting to the top via an elevator. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can ride an elevator up a mountain. As the entrance fee is steep ($17 per person), I recommend challenging yourself to the climb for the best bang-for-your-buck experience.
For the more adventurous, you will want to continue on 2oo feet up above Chimney to Exclamation Point, the highest point in the park. This hike will take up an extra 20 minutes (as well as 330 more steps!) or so of your time, , in exchange for more incredible views of Lake Lure, Hickory Nut Gorge, and Chimney Rock. It’s well worth the additional cardio workout if you are up for the challenge (and post workout soreness!). The nice thing about going up further is that the crowds really thin out.
First, you will be treated to incredible vistas of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure via the Opera Box lookout. Next, you will come across Devil’s Head. If you look closely at the rock on the boulder, you will be able to make out a sinister head jutting out. Lots of crazy theories and legends abound, however scientifically speaking, the rock most likely formed as a result of sliding rock and weather erosion.
Hickory Nut Falls
As amazing are the views from Chimney Point, the breathtaking Hickory Nut waterfall is just as mesmerizing. Although WNC is home to so many wondrous waterfalls, Hickory Nut has the height! Not to mention, hiking more than one trail makes the hefty entrance fee seem a bit more reasonable. A lush shady walk through hardwood forest leads you to the 404 foot tall Hickory Falls, the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi (Whitewater with a height of 411 feet is located 2 hours south in Transylvania County). You may remember seeing this beauty in Last of the Mohicans.
The trail is just over a mile long round-trip and relatively easy with just a slight elevation gain. After the rough climb up Chimney Rock, this hike will feel like an easy nature walk in comparison. Take this time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings and replenish with lots of fluids. The entire trek is pretty shady, and thus, this hike is still doable on hot days. Save this trail for after your Chimney Rock climb as it shadier and less congested. You will want to hike Chimney before the heat and crowds begin to roll in!
Chimney Rock Village
Right outside the park, you will find an eclectic dining and shopping area known as Chimney Rock Village. A bit cheesy and over-the-top, yes, but still a fun and interesting place to relax for a bit after your hard workout. Not to mention, the mountain views are gorgeous! This is a convenient place to grab breakfast or lunch before your visit – you will need to load up on the carbs before and embarking on such a strenuous hike!
Gift shops specialize in quirky Southern style decor, Bigfoot souvenirs, Mayberry knick knacks, & nostalgic gifts. You may wonder what is the deal with all the Bigfoot decor and knick knacks dominating every shop. Like all woodsy areas, legends of Bigfoot sightings abound. Numerous locals and visitors have reported Bigfoot sightings throughout Western North Carolina. With the lush green surroundings, it’s really not hard to imagine a Sasquatch roaming through the woods.
The only place you will ever see a Bigfoot/Dirty Dancing tribute
If you are not familiar with the history of the area, you will be wondering what is up with the Dirty Dancing memorabilia. The famous scene where Baby is practicing her dance movies on the steps was filmed at nearby Lake Lure. It’s hard to believe that Jennifer Grey & Patrick Swayze’s iconic lift scene accompanied to “I had the time of my life” took place over 30 years ago! 30 years later and the movie still has a cult following. If you are a fan and have the time, you will want to plan for a sightseeing cruise on this gorgeous lake located just miles away.
Where to eat
Sorry, you will not find a Starbucks anywhere near the rock. However, you can enjoy your morning caffeine boost at an independent shop right near the entrance. Coffee on the Rocks is an excellent local cafe where you can enjoy an espresso and carb heavy snack prior to your hike. They offer oatmeal, pastries, power bars, and other quick snacks. The coffee is decent enough for a small town and the pastries provide enough energy to get you through the stair climbing workout.
After climbing up all those stairs, you will be ready for a filling meal. Unfortunately, fried food and burgers comprise the majority of menus in town. If you are a health conscious eater, this can be a problem. Medina’s is really the only restaurant offering any vegetarian fare. This is the place to go for a healthier salad or sandwich.