Our last day in Asheville was absolutely gorgeous. We had planned to visit the North Carolina Arboretum but when I asked the hotel clerk what the best thing to do with our daughters, 10 and 14, on a beautiful day would be, she answered with no hesitation Chimney Rock State Park. The park is 25 miles and a 45 minute drive from downtown Asheville. The first half of the drive is along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and the rest of the drive passes by beautiful farmland. Note: You should bring gum because of the altitude.
The Chimney, a 315 foot monolith overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains is the centerpiece of the park. From its 2,280 foot elevation, you can see for 75 miles. It reminded me of the rock from The Lion King. The easiest way to get there is to walk through a tunnel to take an elevator 26-stories up. In the cool tunnel, you can read about the history of the park. The elevator only admits eight people at a time but when we were there on a Saturday during spring break there was no wait at all. The elevator operator can give you great advice if you have any questions. He recommended that we ride up and walk down and we were very grateful.
You exit the elevator through the Sky Lounge, a gift shop, restrooms, and deli, to the boardwalk. My husband saw a young girl in a wheelchair looking at the view and was thrilled that such a beautiful place had been made accessible. Note: If you plan to do any hiking, buy some water here or bring some from home. There are no water fountains in the park. From the Sky Lounge, it is a mere 44 steps to Chimney. If you want more exercise, you can walk the Outcroppings Trail, 491 steps, to the top of Chimney instead of riding the elevator.
Then we walked up the Exclamation Point Trail (.7 miles roundtrip, 45 minutes) to the highest pinnacle in the park – Exclamation, 2,480 ft. Along the way are two fun views – the Opera Box, which has an overhang and panoramic view, and Devil’s Head. We descended the Outcroppings Trail, which was not too bad. On the way down, we stopped by the Gneiss Cave.
My younger daughter begged us to go down the Hickory Nuts Falls Trail (1.5 miles round trip, and a 45 minute walk) and we were glad we did. This gently rolling trail rewards you with a view from the bottom of a 404-foot waterfall which was featured in the film Last of the Mohicans. We wished we had the time to explore the Four Seasons Trail (1.2 miles round trip 1 to 1 1/2 hour) which is geared for wildlife and wildflower enthusiasts but it was almost time for dinner.
On the way out, we looked in at Grady’s Animal Discovery Den, where we saw our first ever Albino chipmunk, snakes, a toad, and some pelts. Next door is a climbing wall and a trail for younger kids called Great Woodland Adventure (.6 miles, 15-45 minutes), a loop trail for families with young children. Note: Strollers are not recommended on any of the trails; kids backpacks can be rented in the Sky Lounge and Cliff Dwellers Gifts.
For lunch, we had contented ourselves with granola bars from the Sky Lounge Deli. However, a short drive away we found Hickory Nut Gap Farm. The farm would have been the perfect place to buy a picnic lunch of artisanal sausages and cheeses to bring to Chimney Rock Park. The kids enjoyed seeing tons of baby chicks and riding the two slides. There are also many restaurants and shops in Chimney Rock Village, at the base of the park.
This park has something to offer every age and ability. I am not much of a hiker and loved that you could make an informed choice about how vigorous each trail was. It was amazing how the rocks were made so accessible without compromising their beauty. More adventurous visitors can pay extra for rock climbing and rappelling. Although we loved the Biltmore Estate, our visit to Chimney Rock State Park was the highlight of our brief vacation to the Asheville area.
- Admission is $45 for adults; $5 for kids 5-15. 5 and under free.
- The ticket plaza is open daily from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 DST and 10 a.m.-4:30 pm EST. The Park closes at 7 p.m. DST and 6 p.m. EST.
- There are restrooms at Cliff Dwellers at the base and Sky Lounge. There are no restrooms on the trails.
- Looking for refreshments? Find them at the Old Rock Cafe in Chimney Rock Village next to Park entrance and Sky Lounge Deli.
Photos 1 courtesy of the Larry Meyer; photo 2 courtesy of Sarah Meyer.