Chimney Rock State Park is a 6,807-acre park located in western North Carolina. Although the park is home to numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, and other outdoor recreation opportunities, the park is most noted for its 315-foot-high granite monolith. If you’re willing to make the trip to the top of this rock formation, your reward is breathtaking views of the lake, mountains, and valleys.
A Brief History of the Park
Chimney Rock is one of the more recent additions to the state parks of North Carolina. In 2005, the state’s General Assembly authorized a new state park in the area around Hickory Nut Gorge. Later in the year, the state purchased the first parcel of land to begin forming the new state park.
In 2007, Chimney Rock Park — at that time a private nature park — was incorporated into the state park when the state purchased it from the Morse family. Although the new park was originally called Hickory Nut Gorge State Park, the name was changed to reflect the iconic part of the North Carolina landscape.
Plan an Afternoon Picnic
Along with hiking on the trails, there are plenty of other activities worth checking out at Chimney Rock State Park. If you’re looking for a nice spot for a picnic, you’ll find picnic tables and grills dotted along the access road.
If you need space for a large group of people to picnic, there are groups of tables at the top of the access road and in the Meadows area. This is also where you’ll find restrooms and drinking water. You don’t have to pay an extra fee to use any of the picnic tables, but they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Check Out the Fishing
The Rocky Broad River runs along the bottom of Hickory Nut Gorge. The river got its name after several floods left boulders and rocks in the middle and along the banks. It’s a warm river that is home to different types of fish. Head to the upper section of the river near Bat Cave to find trout. Check out the lower section of the river for small and largemouth bass. If you’re interested, you can even try your hand at fly fishing.
Fill Up With Good Food
If you work up an appetite climbing the almost 500 stairs to the top of Chimney Rock, there are several choices for food in the park. There’s Snack Shack right before you climb to Exclamation Point that offers snacks and drinks.
If you’re looking for a relaxed place to get a full meal, you can’t beat the Old Rock Café located next to the entrance of the park. Pull up a chair at one of the tables on the patio overlooking the Rocky Broad River and enjoy one of the restaurant’s famous burgers. Wash down your burger or sandwich with a regional craft beer, and make sure you save room for the apple Brown Betty served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.
Climb to New Heights
Whether you’ve never tried rock climbing before or have done it countless time, there are plenty of opportunities in the park. There are designated areas on the south face of Rumbling Bald Mountain. Although you need to register and get a permit to climb, there is no fee. If you’re a beginner, the park has partnered with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School to offer lessons and instructions on a variety of routes for all skill levels.
Another way to get a unique and beautiful view of the area is to take on the climbing tower. The tower has beginner and moderate routes and is good for climbers of all ages and levels. Here you can develop new skills and challenge yourself in a safe, controlled environment.
Check Out the Animal Discovery Den
Whether you’re interested in animals or you’re traveling with children, the Animal Discovery Den is a great place to stop. Head inside to see some amphibians and reptiles, like bullfrogs, toads, black rat snakes, corn snakes, snapping turtles, and eastern box turtles. You can learn about their habitats, how they live, and what they like to eat. There’s also an exhibit where you can see the different types of tracks you might spot in the park and the animals who make them. Finally, head outside and see Greta the Groundhog and Perry the Opossum in their exhibits.
Pick Up a Souvenir at the Gift Shop
When you need to pick up a souvenir to commemorate your trip to Chimney Rock State Park, you’ll find two options in the park. Cliff Dwellers, the lower gift shop, is just before you access the elevator or stairs for the top of Chimney Rock. Here you’ll find books, clothing, and decorative items. Additionally, at the top of Chimney Rock you’ll also find Sky Lounge, which offers traditional souvenirs.
Explore the Park With Children
If you’re heading to Chimney Rock State Park with children, there are plenty of activities they’ll enjoy. The park has teamed up with Kids in Parks to bring the TRACK (Trails, Ridges and Active Caring Kids) Trail program to the area. This program helps children explore the outdoors with self-guided brochures. They can use the brochures on any trail in the park, although most enjoy it on the 0.6-mile-long Great Woodland Adventure trail. Here they’ll find several interpretive exhibits along the way. After they complete their adventure, children can visit the TRACK Trail website and register to earn prizes.
When you’re looking for great outdoor fun and learning experiences the entire family will enjoy, you can find them at Chimney Rock State Park.
Unlike the nearby Smoky Mountains National Park, Chimney Rock State Park does charge admission at the main entrance. However, you can head to Rumbling Bald Climbing Access to get access to one of the six hiking trails and the rock climbing area free of charge.