Chimney Rock Field Report
The Drive Up The Mountain
I arrived at the park just after they opened. I entered the gate at the faux-rustic Chimney Rock Village and drove across the bridge over a rocky section of the Broad River.
The road to the ticket plaza is about a mile long. It’s really narrow with just enough room for two cars to pass., so go slow and keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. The road is pretty rough and needs some work, but as I was leaving, I saw folks in hi-viz vests looking at the worst spot, so maybe some improvements are coming.
At the ticket plaza, I had 6 cars in front of me at 10:15, so I knew the park would be busy today. And it was, much busier than I would expect on a Tuesday. After paying, I followed the road toward to top.
The Lower Parking Lot
Soon I saw a gravel parking lot to my left. If you’re planning to hike to the base of Chimney Rock, that’s where you want to park. The Four Seasons Trail head is located just across the road from the top of this lot. That’s a 1.4 mile trail up the mountain, it will bring you out close the start of the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. From there, you can either walk to the main parking lot or continue on up the Outcropping’s Trail to the top of the of the rock.
The lower parking lot is also where you’ll find the kid’s section. The Great Woodland Adventure trail is a short nature hike designed with kids in mind. It’s only .4 miles and signage on the trail helps kids learn about the local wildlife. The Animal Discovery Den is at the start of the trail. It’s a small building where kids can get a close look at some of the wildlife they learned about along the trail. The Den was closed when I visited, though. I’m not sure if it’s because of Covid or if it’s a seasonal thing.
Shuttle buses to the upper parking lot are also available from this parking lot, but I didn’t see any running.
The Upper Lot and Waterfall
If you keep to the right, you’ll be on your way to the upper parking lot. The road is still narrow, but it seems to be in better repair than the road to the ticket plaza. There are a few spots along the road where you can pull over and have a picnic. Tables along with grills are available.
After another 1.5 miles, I arrived at the base of Chimney Rock. To the right, there’s a paved parking lot, but I chose to pull into the gravel lot to the left.
Wanting to get to the falls before it became too crowded, I garbed my things and heeded for the Hickory Nut Falls trailhead. I had passed it on the right as I drove to the parking lots. The trail is listed as “moderate” and it’s not too bad. On the way out, you’ll be walking mostly uphill, but the trip back is much easier. Hickory Nut Falls is a really impressive sight. A 400 foot waterfall with water running down the cliff face and the on further downhill. The trail right up to base of the falls was closed, so I had to make do with the view I had. Some small trees were in the way, but there’s a small stone platform to the left of the falls where you can get a better picture.
The Top of the World
After leaving the falls, I decided to make my way to the top of Chimney Rock. You can walk up the Outcroppings Trail, which is less of a trail and more of a 500 step staircase winding to the top, or you can take the elevator. I chose to take the elevator up and the stairs down. The park has had a lot of issues with the elevator in the past, and I needed to make sure it worked – for science.
Stepping out of the elevator at the top, I entered the Gift Shop/Deli at near the top of the mountain. I walked out on a platform where I could finally get a close up look at the rock. There are tables and a few overlooks where you can a get a good view of the Lake Lure area.
Trails Access from the Top
It was still really crowded on the platform and on the rock itself, so I decided to take a detour along the Exclamation Point Trail. It’s a .6 mile out and back trail listed as “strenuous” and leads to sights like the “Opera Box” – a rock overhang that proves a small sheltered area on the side of the mountain. Further along the trail, I passed the “Devils Head” – a menacing looking bolder precariously balancing on a rock ledge. Finlay I arrived at Exclamation Point – where some of the best views at Chimney Rock State Park can be found.
The Skyline Trail listed as “moderate” and begins at the end of the Exclamation Trail. It goes on for an additional 2.2 miles round trip ending at the top of Hickory Nut Falls. As time was short, I decided to head back down to the rock.
When I arrived, I found that the crowds had thinned out some. I walked up the 44 steps over the gorge below – if you’re at all squeamish, I suggest you don’t look down. From there I was treated to panoramic views of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. I could even see Rainbow Falls in the distance.
True to my word, after leaving the rock, I made my way down the 500 steps of the Outcrop Trail. At one point on the trail, it splits off with signs pointing to “The Subway” and the “Grotto” and another pointing to “Vista Rock”. The two paths reconnect a little further up, so you can double back and catch all the sights. “The Grotto” is a rock overhang like the “Opera Box”, and the “Subway” is a small cave. It’s really narrow and you’ll really need to watch your head or the sounds of cussing may echo through the entire park. Finlay you’ll come out on a wooden platform just off the parking area. More steps lead down to the Hickory Nut Falls Trail, if you haven’t visited the waterfall yet.
Dogs are welcome at the park, and I saw lots of people with theirs, but they aren’t allowed on the elevator. So, if you take fido, you’ll have to use the Outcroppings Trail to reach the top. Don’t forget sunscreen, and pack plenty of water especially if you’re doing the more strenuous hikes. The vending machines sell water for $2 a bottle! There are plenty of picnic tables throughout the park and flat rocks if you can’t find a table. Admission is $17 for adults, $8 for kids ages 5-15, and kids under 5 free.