Chimney Rock State Park, Sentinel in the Sky

Chimney Rock State Park, Sentinel in the Sky

Hickory Nut Falls at Chimney Rock State Park

Jutting up from the rocky rim of Hickory Nut Gorge near Asheville, a 315-foot, 535-million-year-old monolith known as Chimney Rock towers above the surrounding landscape like a sentinel.

Privately owned by the Morse family for more than 100 years, Chimney Rock was acquired by the state of North Carolina in 2007 to become part of the greater Chimney Rock State Park. Currently, the 1,000-acre Chimney Rock is one of only two areas of the state park open to the public.

From the rock’s summit – elevation 2,280 feet – a breathtaking panorama encompasses 75 miles of scenic beauty, including the gorge’s soaring cliffs and lush forests, the majestic Rumbling Bald Mountain and, on the canyon floor, the Rocky Broad River tumbling into the placid waters of Lake Lure.

More than 250,000 sightseers ascend the Chimney Rock each year to get this epic view. There are two ways to get to the top: an elevator, which climbs a 26-story shaft inside the rock, or on foot via 400-plus stairs, known as the “ultimate stairmaster.” For a view from the top, either route is good – just don’t forget the camera.

You’ll see additional stunning vistas when you take a hike on one of the park’s numerous trails. In fact, Chimney Rock's dramatic mountain scenery is featured in the final 17 minutes of the film The Last of the Mohicans, which is celebrated and shown annually at the Park's summer Movie on the Meadows event. The Skyline Trail will steer you to the dramatic Opera Box, an observation area overhung by a massive rock ledge, and Exclamation Point, situated more than 1,400 vertical feet above the park entrance. The Hickory Nut Falls Trail – temporarily closed for repairs in 2013 due to a major rockslide in November 2012 – leads to the spectacular 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the East.

Adventurous visitors in pursuit of a different vantage point can journey off the beaten path to scale the park’s granite cliffs with help from a professional climbing guide. The park has partnered with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School to offer all levels of rock climbing instruction with a variety of routes to try, and depending on your skill and ability, possibly a climb on the Rock itself. Instructions from impromptu 15-minute “taste tests” and two-hour climbs to full day top roping, rappelling and multi-pitch climbing trips are available.

Throughout the growing season, wildflowers and other plants carpet the meadows and mountainsides at Chimney Rock. The park is also a birders paradise, and guided bird walks are held spring through fall to help you catch a glimpse of elusive birds like the scarlet tanagers and cerulean and Swainson’s warblers.

Attractions close to Chimney Rock include boat tours of Lake Lure and shopping in Hickory Nut Gorge’s quaint villages.

Jason Frye

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