Chimney Rock may very well be one of the most photographed and advertised natural attractions in the mountains of North Carolina. The view of the American flag flying high above Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure from atop this rocky prominence is a staple of pretty much any magazine or brochure in the area. For over a hundred years the rock and the mountain it sits on had been in private ownership. About five years ago, however the site was put up for sale and the State of North Carolina took the opportunity to purchase it as a new State Park. This isn't your typical State Park, though. The state owns the land but a private company still own the facilities creating a curious partnership of public and private interests.
The downside to all this commercialization, and the reason it has taken me so long to visit the site is that the park tends to be fairly crowded and charges a fairly steep entrance fee ($15 per person in 2014). With so many trails in the area that offer free public access to peaks that offer far more impressive views, it seems almost comical to me that anyone would pay to climb a mountain in this region. Even so, I finally convinced myself that at least once I should go and see what all the fuss was about...especially now that it is a State Park. Discovering that the elevator (yes, they even installed an elevator to get people to the top!) was closed which would save me a few bucks, I decided the time was right to bite the bullet and go. My route would take me along every trail in the park. Starting from the meadows area just beyond the ticket booth I'd cover around 5 miles round trip and on my way visit 400' high Hickory Nut Falls, climb hundreds of steps past towering rock cliffs, top out at the aptly named Exclamation Point some 1,500 feet above the gorge, and of course visit Chimney Rock itself. This certainly wasn't a wilderness experience but the beauty of the site is undeniable. It was nice to visit once but, unless someone wants to pay for my ticket next time, it's likely to be a one-time experience. Come take a look around with me, free of charge...
Hike Length: ~5.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:45
Trailhead Temp: 65'F
Min. Elevation: 1,450' Max. Elevation: 2,480'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,030' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 412'