Breath-taking views, a stunning waterfall, and more than a thousand stairs await you at Chimney Rock State Park in Lake Lure, NC, about an hour from Greenville, SC. You may have seen photos of the iconic rock with an American flag flying high and wondered about this place. Kristina took her kids to this park and tells you everything you need to know to enjoy the spot with your family.
Every time I saw a photo of Chimney Rock overlooking Lake Lure and the Blue Ridge Mountains, I mentally made a note to take a day to go there and hike around the park. I finally decided to pack a lunch, a lot of water and snacks, and head there on a gorgeous spring day.
Chimney Rock State Park
The park has a long and storied history, beginning with Dr. Lucius Morse, who sought refuge in the area to feel better from tuberculous. He bought 64 acres of Chimney Rock Mountain in 1902 for $5,000. Smaller purchases expanded the owned land to 1,000 acres. In the 1980s, Guilford Nanney began the extensive construction of the intricate stair system to climb the rockface. And in 1949, an elevator was added to help tourists reach the stunning views of Chimney Rock without climbing the stairs.
Throughout the years following, botonists and conservationsts were added to the team of people who worked at the park given its unique ecosystem. Educational programs were designed for visitors and school groups.
In 2007, NC State Parks purchased the 996-acre park for $24 million.
If you love movies, you’ll be pleased to note that scenes from The Last of the Mohicans, Firestarter and A Breed Apart were all filmed at the park. And while it was not filmed at the park, scenes from Dirty Dancing were filmed a mile down the road at Lake Lure, which you can see from the overlooks.
Hiking at Chimney Rock State Park
Hiking is easily the most popular activity at the park. There are seven trails, none of which are very long unless you combine them, which my kids and I did when we went. The longest trail is the Skyline Trail, which is 2.2 miles roundtrip and has some incline, especially on the way back. It takes you to the top of Hickory Nut Falls, which you can’t see but the trail is still peaceful and beautiful.
You’ll definitely want to see Hickory Nut Falls from the bottom because it’s incredibly beautiful. That trail is only 1.4 miles roundtrip and pretty easy.
Let’s talk about the stairs because hiking Chimney Rock is like walking on a never-ending Stairmaster, except you get awesome views thankfully.
Chimney Rock, the one with the American flag flying high, is 2,280 feet above sea level. The drive up to the parking lot from the ticket booth is around two miles so you’re closer than down at the town. My 10-year-old, in her famous last words before we began the climb, said: “oh, that doesn’t look too high!”
It was high. There are 499 steps from the parking lot to Chimney Rock, with stops on the way to Pulpit Rock and other really cool little caves. Definitely see those.
Then once you get there and want to exert yourself further, ascend the hundreds more steps up to Exclamation Point, which sits at 2,480 feet above sea level. It’s truly beautiful up there. The company that the park contracts out some of the management of the park to had an employee stationed there to make sure everyone was safe and to answer questions, which I really appreciated it.
This is the start of the Skyline Trail. It has some steps but it’s most a wooded trail through the forest along the bubbling creek and a nice break from the crowds. After maybe five or 10 minutes on this trail, you’ll come to another overlook, Peregrine’s Point, the highest point in the park at 2,640 feet. We stopped to eat here and enjoy the views of the gorge.
We hiked up to Chimney Rock and Exclamation Point and then hiked the Skyline Trail. Because I really wanted to see the waterfall, I bribed my kids by telling them I’d get them ice cream when we left and we hiked to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls. We clocked more than 1,000 stairsteps.
Before you ascend to the upper parking lot, you’ll see a rock climbing wall and next to it is the short Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which is perfect for kids. There are 12 discovery stations along the 0.6 mile trail where children will learn about animals and plants in the park.
Accessibility and Other Programs
If you’re wondering just how hard those stairs are and if you/your kids can do it, we saw people of varying abilities the whole way. I’m fairly athletic and in shape and it was hard for me. My kids fared a bit better somehow. It’s so important to take your time and have enough water. There is a sky lounge right before you climb the final steps to Chimney Rock where you can get water if you need.
For those who cannot climb the stairs for whatever reason, there is an elevator at the park you can take to get to Chimney Rock. The views up there are beautiful and if you think you can climb the last 44 steps to the rock itself, you can do it from where the elevator arrives.
Important info to note: no dogs are allowed in the elevator except for service animals; and, because of maintenance, call before you go to make sure the elevator is in operation.
Chimney Rock also hosts several programs throughout the year, such a Santa event during Christmas and musical programs. Check their website for the most up-to-date information. They also have the TRACK trail adventure program for kids who complete challenges around the park. They can win prizes for doing so.
If you’re the adventurous sort, you can rock climb with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School at the park. The minimum age is 7 and there is no maximum.
And you can even have a birthday party there! Just don’t make your friends climb the stairs to get their goody bag.
Visiting and Tickets
Chimney Rock State Park is one of the only NC State Parks that charges admission. Tickets are $17/adult, $8/kids 5-15, free/kids 4 and under. You can purchase online or at the gate. During holiday breaks and peak seasons, especially during the brilliant fall colors, the park will close due to capacity so get there early. A family one-day pass (two adults and up to three kids ages 5-15) is $45 online.
If you are thinking that’s a steep cost, you’re not alone. That’s pretty much the reason I put off going to the park for so long. Here are some things to make it more affordable:
- If you have an annual pass to the Biltmore, that gets you a $2 discount off an adult ticket and $1 off a youth ticket.
- An annual adult pass to Chimney Rock State Park is $32 and a youth annual pass is $14. This is a great option if you want to go multiple times a year.
- If you sign up your kids as Junior Keeper members at Waterfall Keepers of NC, you’ll get a free youth pass. You’ll also be able to start completing the Waterfall Passport to win prizes!
- AAA members get $2 off per adult and $1 off the youth ticket for up to six people.
- You can visit Chimney Rock in the winter and receive discounted admission.
- If you purchase your ticket after 4 pm during Daylight Savings Time, you can come back for free with it the next day. During winter months, the cutoff time is 3 pm.
Hours at the park for 2022 are January 1 – March 12 from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, March 13 – November 6 from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, and November 7-December 31 from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas; Christmas Eve closes at 3 pm).
Be sure to check their website and Chimney Rock Facebook page for park info and unexpected closings.
Have you climbed those stairs at Chimney Rock State Park?
Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main Street, Chimney Rock, NC