Get Away to Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and Towns in the Foothills

Located midway between Asheville and Charlotte, the Lake Lure area of the Blue Ridge Foothills has been a gem since its settlers searched for gold, becoming the birthplace of America’s first $1 gold coin. You can discover its history – which includes connections to movies – and lay claim to top-notch cuisine, accommodations and adventures during a three-day trip.

Day 1: See the Sights

Start your day at Medina’s Village Bistro, near the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park. It serves breakfast staples such as eggs and pancakes, but don’t pass up the "world famous" cinnamon rolls.

The park offers six hiking trails, all of which provide spectacular views and chances to see rare plants and animals. The Outcroppings Trail’s 494 steps take you to the top of the park’s centerpiece – 315-foot Chimney Rock – where panoramic views stretch 75 miles. Follow gentle rolling Hickory Nut Falls Trail to one of the tallest waterfalls in the East and setting for the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans. It’s a strenuous 0.6 miles up Exclamation Point Trail, but it offers the best chance to see a peregrine falcon, which has the ability to dive at a speed of 200 miles per hour to snatch prey midair. Continue from here along the Skyline Trail to the top of Hickory Nut Falls.

Aerial view of Chimney Rock with river and valley in background on cloudy day

Hunt a post-hike lunch at Riverwatch Bar & Grill on Chimney Rock Village’s main strip. Enjoy a burger, sandwich or hot dog on one of its riverside decks. If you need to cool down further, stop for one of Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery’s craft beers, which range from a citrusy pale ale to a coffee-flavored porter. You’ll also want to carve out time to check out some of the shops in Chimney Rock Village, including Bubba O’Leary’s General Store and Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine, for keepsakes to take home.

The Esmeralda Inn & Restaurant has starred in silent films and hosted Cary Grant. You’ll cross more of its movie history while checking in. The lobby’s floor boards were sourced from a set that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey danced across in Dirty Dancing, portions of which were filmed locally. Dine like a celebrity in the inn’s restaurant, sipping well-crafted cocktails or wine, and feasting on a slow-cooked lamb shank or Angus filet.

Day 2: Seek Outdoor Adventure

Start your day with Lake Lure Tours, where you’ll chart a course for adventure. Rent a pontoon boat, kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe, or reserve a seat on a guided cruise. Your skipper will share lake history and points of interest, including a Dirty Dancing filming location. Visit another site of the film with a round of golf at Bald Mountain Golf Course at Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure, where a scene was shot on hole No. 16. With two golf courses and several restaurants on site, Rumbling Bald is a one-stop destination for food and fun.

People on boat taking a Lake Lure Boat Tour during daytime
photo: Frantz Photography

The lake views continue at family-owned La Strada at Lake Lure. The lunch menu at this Italian grill is extensive and includes an appetizer description sure to catch your eye: sweet potato waffle fries with piña colada caramel dipping sauce.

Butterflies – at least in your stomach – won’t be an issue on Canopy Ridge Farm’s six zip lines, which stretch up to 1,000 feet. That’s because you’ll be too busy laughing at the jokes told by your guides. Whether you’re a first-time or experienced rider, they’ll help you maximize the sights and sensations of soaring through the forest’s canopy and ensure your safety.

If you’d rather have four feet on the ground, saddle up with Cedar Creek Riding Stable’s gentle horses. It offers three guided tours, which last one to two hours along trails that crisscross 350 acres. There also are ponies for young riders, gem mining and fishing, if you bring your gear.

Enjoy dinner lakeside at LakeHouse Restaurant. It’s known for its spinach and artichoke dip and she crab soup. Either is a perfect setup for one of the juicy steaks or seafood dishes. Travel there by boat and then head back to the center of the lake to admire the sunset.

Continue unwinding at The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa. With recently renovated public spaces, the rooms here feel like home, and the spa’s Irongate Signature Swedish service will ease any ache.

Day 3: Uncover History

Follow U.S. Highway 64 from Lake Lure to Rutherfordton, where you can enjoy your breakfast at The Garden Cafe while admiring local art before getting an introduction to the city’s famous son, Christopher Bechtler. He minted $1 gold coins in 1832, almost 20 years before the federal government.

You’ll find Bechtler’s home – headquarters for the North Carolina Gold Trail – by turning left onto West 6th Street on the way to Bechtler Mint Site and Historic Park. His story, coin press and other artifacts are displayed at the home, while the park features a replica of his contraption that caught gold dust from miners’ boots, interpretive signs and amazing South Mountains views from comfortable benches.

Woman walking her dog down on sidewalk in downtown Rutherford on sunny day
photo: Rutherford County TDA

Return to Rutherfordton’s Main Street, where the Overmountain Men marched on the way to turning the tide of the American Revolution at nearby Kings Mountain. You’ll find the last cluster of antebellum homes in the southern Foothills along with treasures to take with you, from antiques in small shops to local artisans’ creations at the Rutherford County Visual Arts Center.

Locals agree that the oven-toasted sandwiches at Barley’s Tap Room & Pizzeria make a great lunch, but they’ll suggest you order the sourdough crust pizza. The restaurant, inside a renovated 1920s pharmacy and decorated with old photographs, serves up a look at Spindale’s days gone by.

The Cherry Bounce Trail was used by moonshiners, but today it delivers you to some of the county’s prettiest views and Blue Ridge Distilling Co. Discover its revolutionary process, which adds the barrel to the whisky, on a tour with the owners, whose other job is salvage diving. Sample its Defiant whisky’s vanilla notes and peppery finish with a tasting.

You don’t have to be a car fanatic to appreciate the 50 or so gems at Bennett Classics Antique Auto Museum back in Forest City. The award-winning collection starts with a Model T and includes a 1963 Ford Mayberry Sheriff car signed by Don Knotts and a restored fire truck. Oldies music and memorabilia help bring to life each car’s story, which is described on an adjacent sign.

Old cars on display at Bennett Classics Antique Auto Museum
photo: Rutherford County TDA

Recharge your batteries with a treat from the soda fountain at Smith’s Drugs before exploring downtown. Main Street, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, features a landscaped median, tree-lined sidewalk and mix of new and longtime shops. Enjoy dinner at one of Copper Penny Grill’s coin-covered tables. Regulars point to its specialties, such as grilled salmon with lemon-dill sauce, and give thumbs up to the lobster bisque and vegetarian dishes.

Return to Rutherfordton for one last dose of small-town charm at The Firehouse Inn, which was built in 1925 as a town hall and fire department complex. Its comfortable rooms are filled with amenities, which unfortunately for some, don’t include the firefighter pole.

This trip idea was produced in partnership with Rutherford County Tourism.

Updated August 19, 2020
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

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