Chimney Rock State Park, just outside of Lake Lure, and only 30 minutes southeast of Asheville, NC is an absolutely gorgeous and historic park that includes: incredible scenic vistas, one of tallest waterfalls in NC, hiking trails, events, activities and of course the incredible 315-foot tall Chimney Rock.
Chimney Rock State Park is the perfect mountain location, offering everything that attracts people to the NC mountains and all in one spot!
People have been enjoying the “chimney” and it’s surrounding cliffs for a very long, and well before Dr. Lucius B. Morse discovered it, and opened it to the public as a private park in 1902.
Today, Chimney Rock State Park encompasses over 6,800 acres that include the signature 315-foot tall granite rock chimney, the 404 foot tall Hickory Nut Falls, Devil’s Head a balanced rock, that looks the head of a devil, a number of unique scenic overlooks. In 2006, Chimney Rock State Park expanded by 1,568-acre when the “World’s Edge” property was added, containing numerous hiking trails, scenic views, streams, and waterfalls.
2018 Updates (updated June 27, 2018):
From the main entrance off Highway 74, located in downtown Chimney Rock Village, you’ll first cross over the metal entry bridge that spans Broad River. You’ll then begin a curvy accent up to the entry gate, where you can purchase your tickets, and get a nice trail map (which can be recycled).
After purchasing your tickets, you’ll hang a right and head up to The Meadows. The Meadows is a common area, popular for various conventions and group meets. While we were there, there was a large Girl Scout Event. The Meadows is also the location for:
From the Meadows, the road narrows and continues it’s curvy assent up the mountainside to the parking lot located at the bottom of Chimney Rock. Look for the small rock house as you drive up the road, this was the original gatekeepers home when the park first opened.
As you drive up, think back to the days when the park was privately owned, and car races were held on the very same road. The historic “Hillclimb Race” at one time, challenged drivers, to see who could climb the curvy road from the Meadows up to the main parking lot the fastest … just don’t speed while you’re imagining 😉
After a couple of miles, you’ll reach the main parking area below the Chimney (shown in the photo to the right). Just below and before the parking area, you will have passed the entrance to the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. We discuss that trail in more detail below.
Park staff will direct you to where to park. From the Parking lot walk up to the gift shop and visitor’s center.
You can enter the elevator tunnel from there.
If you want to head up the stairs and hike you’re way up (more to see), head on past the gift shop. Bathrooms are located just past the Visitor’s Center on the right.
Just past the bathrooms, and to the left you’ll see the stairs leading up to the Chimney. The stairs begin the Outcroppings Trail.
You’ll also see Gneiss Cave here at the start of the trail. Gneiss Cave (pronounced “nice”) is named after the local Henderson Gneiss granite and is the rock that forms the 535-million-year-old Chimney. The cave isn’t deep, but you can sure feel the temperature cool down as you go down the short stairway. Duck your head!
Gneiss Cave is a Talus Cave, created when a large rock slid off the side of the mountain at some point, and settled here, forming the cave. We’re glad it did, as it makes for a neat little cave to explore, and a cool retreat from the hot sun!
499 stairs to go …
From Gneiss Cave, as you begin your trip up the recently redone Outcroppings trail, you’ll have 499 stairs to climb. It’s a workout, but the view at the top is well worth it. On the way up, there are some interesting areas to explore! The new stairs, recently built over the course of 2 years, offer frequent resting points on the way up.
On the way up, you’ll have a couple of spots to visit, and to take a breather!
Vista Rock, provides beautiful scenic views from a large rock, as you would expect. Pulpit Rock, the Grotto, and Subway recently reopened, and were part of the original and now closed Cliff Trail, and have now been incorporated into the Outcroppings Trail.
Pulpit Rock is another large rock you can walk out on and provides some unique photo opportunities. The Grotto is a shaded seating area under a large rock ledge, and the Subway offers a low clearance cave-like experience that takes you through a rock formation along the trail.
As you reach the top of the last staircase, you’ll see the Sky Lounge in front of you, the stairs going up the Chimney to your left, and the beginning of the Exclamation Point Trail to your right.
At this point, you should feel very proud of yourself! You made it!
From the main deck at Sky Lounge (also called the Chimney Level), the top of the Chimney is just a few more stairs up. The views from the Chimney are absolutely amazing.
Chimney Rock is 315 foot tall, from the parking lot level and is a granite monolith (fancy word meaning it’s all one piece). The Chimney is 535-million-year-old and has an elevation of 2,280 feet. From the top, you can see Lake Lure, the Piedmont, and many distant mountain ranges. The view is one of the best you can find in the Eastern US.
The Sky Lounge is a snack bar and gift shop, located at the Chimney Level. The lounge is also the destination for the Elevator coming up from the parking lot. You’ll find lots of neat merchandise, good food, cold drinks, and bathrooms here.
The views from the picnic tables outside are excellent! My wife and I grabbed a few cold drinks, and relaxed at the picnic tables for a bit, before heading up the Exclamation Point Trail. You’ll also find water for your dog here as well.
Exclamation Point Trail begins at the stone steps, just across from the Chimney at the Chimney Level near Sky Lounge. This trail is a 0.7-mile round trip that will take about 45 minutes. The trail is moderate to strenuous and is uphill with more stairs (I know … but it’s worth it!).
The trail will take you 200 more feet above the Chimney, and up to Exclamation point – The highest viewpoint in the park. On the way up you’ll see the Opera Box, one of my favorite places to sit and enjoy the view, and also Devil’s Head – A balanced rock on the cliffside that looks like a Devil. The Opera Box is a favorite photo spot for photographers due to the great view of Chimney Rock and Lake Lure in the distance.
Exclamation point is a large rock face that provides outstanding views, and a great place to sit and relax. There is often a nice breeze here, making for a cool resting point, even on hot days.
We stayed here for a good hour, before heading back down to the parking lot using the Outcroppings Trail. On the way down we visited the Subway and Grotto.
After visiting the Chimney and the various overlooks, we decided to head down to to the base of Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot tall waterfall. The trailhead is located below the parking area on the road just prior to reaching the parking area.
Hickory Nut Falls Trail is 1.5 miles roundtrip, and moderate, with just a few uphill areas and some stairs. This is a great trail for families with small children who like to walk.
Back “in the day”, this was an old Jeep trail. Guides would bring visitors to the falls using Jeeps. You’ll notice the trail is wider than a normal hiking trail.
The trail will bring you to a small clearing below the falls, with some seating areas and picnic tables. You’ll climb up a short flight of stone stairs to reach the base of the falls, where there is an observation deck and access to the water and the small swimming pool below it. This was a popular destination for people and had a large crowd the whole time we were there.
This trail also connects with the Four Season’s Trail, which will take you through a nice wooded forest hike down the meadows.
Hickory Nut Falls is a 404-foot tall waterfall, that is visible from Chimney Rock Village, and plummets off the top ridge of the mountain. The waterfall was featured in the movie Last of the Mohicans. It’s also the second highest falls, east of the Mississippi.
See and learn more about Hickory Nut Falls in our Hickory Nut Falls Guide.
There are five trails at Chimney Rock State Park:
0.6 Miles Roundtrip – Easy – 15-45 minutes
This trail is perfect for families with young children. The trail is educational, and interactive, teaching about the area, including its wildlife.
0.5 Miles Round Trip – Moderate to Strenuous – 20 minutes
UPDATE: The Elevator is currently closed, and anyone wishing to view the Chimney will have to use this trail.
If you prefer to walk up the Chimney and Chimney Level, rather than ride the elevator, this is the trail for you. This is also the trail you’ll need to use if you have your dog with you. The trail offers sturdy well-built stairs to make the climb, and a number of geological features to explore on the way up.
1.2 Miles Roundtrip – Moderate to Strenuous – 1.5 hours
This trail is perfect for the wildlife, and wildflower fans. The trail makes a pretty steep uphill climb from The Meadows to the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. Along the trail, you’ll find birdhouses and signage about the variety and types of birds in the area.
This trail is beautiful, and also provides a good workout!
1.5 Miles Roundtrip – Moderate – 1 hour
This is a great family trail, that takes you out to the 404 foot tall Hickory Nut Falls. Along the way are some interesting natural features, and educational signage about them.
0.7 Miles Roundtrip – Moderate to Strenuous – 45 minutes
While this isn’t an easy trail, due to the climb up, it’s worth it to reach the highest point in the park, Exclamation point. You’ll ascend about 200 feet above the Chimney. Along the way, you’ll see the Opera Box and Devil’s Head.
While Chimney Rock is magical and beautiful year round, the Fall season is exceptional. Fall colors at Chimney Rock generally peak in late October in early November, later than most of the Blue Ridge due to the lower elevations.
We highly recommend visiting Chimney Rock NC when Fall colors are at their peak. You can read more about Fall Colors at the various elevations using our Fall Colors Guide, which is updated each year in the Fall – We specifically note peak color times for Chimney Rock.
Rock Climbing is a popular activity at Chimney Rock State Park, and Chimney Rock State Park has partnered with a certified climbing education company. Rock climbing instruction is available at all different levels, with many different areas and routes available. Including the new Rumbling Bald area of the park.
The minimum age and weight for climbs and rappels is 7 years old and 50 pounds. There is no maximum age. Climbs must be booked in advance. You can learn more about Rock Climbing at Chimney Rock State Park on their website.
Did you know Santa practices making it up and down kid’s Chimneys each year at Chimney Rock?? It’s true! What better place to practice, than at the world’s largest Chimney right?? If you visit Chimney Rock on in early December, you can see Santa practicing his climbing skills on the Chimney! For more information on this unique and fun Christmas event, head over to the Chimney Rock events page.
Due to the unique geological formations, and incredibly beautiful scenery, Chimney Rock, Chimney Rock Village, and Lake Lure have served as filming locations for a number of very popular movies:
Last of the Mohicans – The final 17 minutes of the movie where filmed at Chimney Rock State Park, including the famous fight scene at the top of a waterfall. The waterfall is Hickory Nut Falls, and the scenes leading up to the final scene were filmed along the old Cliff Trail.
A Breed Apart – Wooded areas and trails from the park, were used for outdoor scenes in the movie. Exclamation Point was the site of the eagle’s eyrie.Dirty Dancing – Camp scenes, cabin scenes, and many outdoor locations were filmed at Lake Lure, including the famous water lift scene, where the water, due to being behind on their filming schedule, was ice cold. The famous scene where Baby is dancing down the stone stairs, was filmed at a location that is now a private development, located off Boys Camp Rd. Firestarter – Stephen King’s famous 80s horror movie, Firestarter had filming locations in Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. This includes a few cabin scenes, and Chimney Rock Park’s entrance and bridge were used.
We’ve been visiting Chimney Rock State Park since the 1990s when it was privately owned. Here are some tips we’ve learned over the years to help make your visit more enjoyable:
Chimney Rock Village sits just below the high cliffs of Chimney Rock State Park and surrounds the entrance to the park. Chimney Rock Village primarily caters to visitors of the state park and nearby Lake Lure.
The village is full of unique locally owned shops, restaurants, hotels, motels, and Inns.
All around the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park are a number of locally owned shops and restaurants. Many carry Chimney Rock memorabilia, along with local arts and crafts. There are small ice cream shops, coffee shops, candy stores and more.
While visiting, we’ve eaten a Medinas and Riverwatch Bar & Grill. We enjoyed both. We also got a great cup of coffee at Coffee on the Rocks, before we left for home.
There are a number of options for overnight stays in the area, the majority of them are locally owned and often very historic businesses. Over the years, we’ve stayed overnight at two places: The Lake Lure Inn and the Fibber Magees.
We enjoyed both very much. We’ve also heard great things about The Esmeralda Inn & Restaurant, but have not personally stayed there.