100 Years of NC State Parks: Chimney Rock State Park

During the summer months, we’re profiling the four state parks near Asheville, NC, as part of Inn on Mill Creek’s nod to the 100th birthday of the North Carolina State Park System in 2016. Our July feature is Chimney Rock State Park and its iconic 315-foot granite namesake. Currently, the way to get to the top of Chimney Rock is a set of 499 steps. So…up, up, up, we go. Let’s do this.

Set of well-constructed wooden steps leading through trees to the top of a granite rock tower

The Outcroppings Trail…wear comfortable shoes, bring water, and then prepare for a rewarding workout!

But first…let’s get to know this beautiful state park a little better: In 1902, Dr. Lucius B. Morse purchased 64 acres, including Chimney Rock, with financial assistance from his two older brothers. In the early 1900s, the entire mountains region was known for its healthful climate, attracting many who were suffering various ailments. Visitors often ended up being so enchanted by the area that they stayed. Dr. Morse, who was suffering from tuberculosis, was one of those people.

Dr. Morse got the idea of creating a public park while admiring the view atop Chimney Rock. Back then, the way to the top was by riding on a donkey.

View of expansive tree-filled landscape and lake from the top of a large rock

The view from the top of Chimney Rock (donkey not required, just some good old-fashioned leg power)

After purchasing Chimney Rock and the land around it from a gentleman named Jerome Freeman, Dr. Morse and his brothers had a three-mile road constructed to the base of the chimney, and trips to the top by donkey were replaced by stairs. Dr. Morse passed away in 1946, but improvements continued under the leadership of his brothers, and in 1949, an elevator was installed inside the rock. Over the years, members of the Morse family continued their work as stewards of the now 996-acre Chimney Rock Park, installing trails and scenic overlooks, renovating buildings, adding guided hikes and educational programs led by botanists and ornithologists and building a Nature Center. The park even became a bit of a celebrity in the early 1990s when parts of the movie Last of the Mohicans was filmed there.

By the early 2000s, a handful of conservancy groups were busy acquiring land in the Hickory Nut Gorge around Chimney Rock Park, in anticipation of creating a new North Carolina state park. The Morse family began negotiations with the State of North Carolina to make Chimney Rock Park part of the state park system in 2004. After some bumps in the road, everything worked out and the Morse family sold Chimney Rock Park to the state in 2007. Chimney Rock State Park is now more than 6,800 acres and growing as efforts continue to protect additional land and wildlife around the park. But no matter how big it gets, the park will always have at its heart the landmark known as Chimney Rock.

Sturdy wooden stairs leading along a granite boulder to the top of a granite rock with a flag flying on it

Our destination: Chimney Rock

As we start our climb to the top of Chimney Rock, it’s important to note that while there is an elevator, it’s closed to the public for repairs at this time (July 2016). So the stairs, otherwise known as the Outcroppings Trail, is the way to go. And honestly, the Outcroppings Trail is the way to go anyway, because there are some truly amazing views of Hickory Nut Gorge along the way.

View from wooden stairway across a mountainous tree-filled landscape

The “Gorge-ous” view of Hickory Nut Gorge from the Outcroppings Trail at Chimney Rock

While ascending (and descending) 315 feet, you really get a sense of the majesty of the area. It feels like every time you take a break — there are places to rest every 12 feet should you need it — the landscape changes and there is a new view to behold. And to add variety, the Outcroppings Trail also offers the options of checking out the Birdhouse to learn about the different birds in the area, viewing an educational display on bats, and going into the very cool (figuratively and literally) Gneiss Cave, which is named for the Henderson Gneiss, the type of granite in the area. You can also bypass some of the stairs on the way up or down and walking/crawling through the “Subway”, a tunnel through large boulders and you can also hang out in the Grotto, created when a joint developed in the gneiss and broke off part of the rock.

Wooden boardwalk with signage leading to Grotto, Subway, and Vista Rock a boulder wall in the background

Signs lead to scenic options on the Outcroppings Trail

Chimney Rock Vista Rock View July 2016

The pretty view from Vista Rock along the Outcroppings Trail at Chimney Rock

Man with t-shirt and blue hiking vest standing on stairs leading past a cut in a large boulder

The “Grotto” on the Outcroppings Trail at Chimney Rock (left), created by the rock splitting at a natural joint

Before you know it, you’ll be right there under Chimney Rock and it’s just a few more stairs to the top! We especially love the following photo because the little tree on the rock seems to be cheering everyone on to the top.

Small tree growing on the side of a large boulder, where a flag flies on top

We hope that little tree is there for many, many years to come

View from the top of a rock looking out on a tree-filled landscape with a narrow lake in the center

Made it to the top! This view is very much worth the climb.

Stay a few minutes at the top of Chimney Rock admiring the expansive views of Hickory Nut Gorge and you’ll be ready to begin the journey back down.

View looking down on a gigantic boulder with people walking down stairs next to it

The view of the stairs from Chimney Rock. Well-constructed, the Outcroppings Trail is a great improvement to the park!

Of course, the Outcroppings Trail is not the only trail option at Chimney Rock. Here are some others to consider:

  • You can go beyond the rock via the Exclamation Point Trail (another 330 steps or so) to the highest point in the park at 2,480 feet
  • The Hickory Nut Falls Trail is below the chimney and takes you to the base of the 400-foot waterfall at the park
  • The Four Seasons Trail is a moderate-to-strenuous trail through forested land that starts in the Meadows area and connects with the Hickory Nut Falls Trail
  • The Great Woodland Adventure Trail near the Meadows area is kid-friendly, with 12 Discovery Stations that provide an educational component to the trail

For more info on Chimney Rock, located about 30 miles south of Inn on Mill Creek, visit www.chimneyrockpark.com.

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