April 2, 2016

A Breathtaking Climb On Top of Chimney Rock NC

Chimney Rock with US flag on half mast in solidarity with Brussels and in honor of the bombing victims.

Here's an awesome deal. If you want to test your endurance while taking in exhilarating views, dramatic scenery and panoramic sights as far as the eyes can see, then the Chimney Rock stairs challenge is for you! This 500 million year old towering monolith is accessible through a labyrinth of stairs totaling to 491 steps all the way to the top. And some more, if you include in your itinerary, the extra meandering steps leading to 5 different must-see overlooks or sub-rocks on your way up. A feat which easily makes the challenge, well,  more challenging!
We've never been to Chimney Rock. We have no clue what we were getting ourselves into. But like a true explorer with a sense of adventure, we came prepared for any possibility. We have our sneakers on, we were appropriately dressed for the occasion, we have umbrellas and hats and we have water and snacks. Oh yeah. It was game on! So, we thought...

Bird's eye view of Chimney Rock

Lucky us, elevator was out of service during our visit! So, we had to conquer them blasted stairs. Long, winding, endless stairs. "More stairs? More stairs!" became our climbing chant. It felt like it went forever. We swore that day, if we ever saw any more stairs after that, we were going to crawl and cry in a corner somewhere!

"Aaaaah! The struggle is real." my daughter would half-squeal at every flight of steps conquered. I usually respond with an "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh!" in between big gasp looking like I would have a heart attack! Don't laugh now but it was the common look on everyone's faces going up that day. Uh-huh.  

Oh she's delighted, trust me. Wait until you see her face when we went farther up to Exclamation Point.

Keyword: Travel Light
Fighting gravity on the way up and carrying extra weight was a challenge all on its own. Our lungs sure had the extreme workout of its life. Our legs trembled and shook. And my poor knees, it was screaming "bloody hell!" But, for all it's worth, it was very rewarding. And the sight in front of us was totally breathtaking, we soon forgot the struggle we had to endure to reach the top.

Lake Lure seen on top of Chimney Rock. Elevation 2280 feet

5 Must-See Overlooks

1. Vista Rock. Located immediately below Chimney rock and both visible from the approach to the site. It can be your first stop if you head left from the top of the stairs. On the right is, Grotto and Pulpit Rock.

Vista Rock 

Chimney Rock and Vista Rock as seen from the parking lot.

2. Grotto. A narrow, small crack on the face of the rock that serve as a resting area just opposite Vista rock. Flight of stairs to its right leads to a shortcut entrance to Pulpit Rock through the Subway, a low ceiling tunnel cut through solid granite.

Subway Fun Stuff (for clueless first-timers) - The beauty of visiting a place for the first time is the gift of discovery and keeping it to yourself so you can pull a trick on someone. This works best if you are the "leader" of the pack. Subway was my greatest discovery. Let me see if I can tell you the story without dying in laughter at the memory of it first - or dead after my husband sees me sharing this story. 
Well, my husband is almost 6'4. Yes, tall. And also a little clumsy. Subway on the other hand have a very short ceiling clearance even for me at 5'3 and narrow and jagged. Getting the picture now? 
So, I said, "let's take the shortcut through the Subway!" while trying to keep a straight face. To which he readily agreed to and told me, "Lead the way". Which I did. At this point I'm going to let your imaginations run wild. I'll say though that there were a lot of bleep bleeps going on as soon as he got inside the tunnel. They're rated R so, I can't write them on here. Now at that point, on the other side of the tunnel, my daughter and I were literally rolling on the ground and dying with laughter. True story. Best trick of the day, don't you agree?

3. Pulpit Rock. It gives you a 360 degrees unobstructed view of Chimney Rock town below including Lake Lure. Located on the far-right side of Chimney Rock.

Chimney Rock Downtown seen from the Pulpit Rock

4. Opera Box. It is similar to Grotto in size. It sits across the Chimney Rock which makes it the best location to take dramatic photos of the rock.

Chimney Rock as seen from Opera box

5. Devil's Head Overlook. Located immediately above Opera Box. It is situated to the right of the trail that leads to Exclamation Point Trail - highest point in the park. The overlook features a huge piece of a rock sitting on the ledge and resembling a head with a menacing face of the devil.

The Devil's Head

The flight of stairs leading to Opera Box, Devil's Head and Exclamation Point Trail

Our Rules of the Climb to Live by:
  • Use the restroom before you venture up -There are no restroom on the way up until you get close to the top where Sky Lounge is located. It's a gift shop with ice cream and food concessionaire. 
  • Bring snacks and refillable water bottle - It's a tough climb up to the top. Water will be your best friend. And if you need more, you can refill your bottle at Sky Lounge. Snacks comes in handy too if the long climb up makes you peckish, or if you have little wee ones with you. 
  • Wear sneakers - Be nice to your feet and wear proper footwear. You wouldn't believe how many people I saw wearing the wrong kind of shoes. I don't think high heels or cowboy boots would work, do you?
  • Wear light sweater - It can get very windy up high and can also get chilly. A light sweater would be helpful to keep you warm.
  • Come early - If you want to climb Chimney Rock and hike a few of the trails, an early start is ideal. If you're a newbie like us, you will want to give yourself ample time. Some trails can take up to an hour to hike. 
  • Take the bus - Parking lot at the base of the rock gets full quick and is also tight. The roads going up are pretty narrow and winding as well. It's best to leave your car at the general parking below and take the luxury of riding the bus on the way up and down.

Chimney Rock's Claim To Fame
Scenes in the film The last Mohicans (1992), including the final 17 minutes, were filmed at Chimney Rock showcasing Hickory Nut Falls and the magnificent cliff faces of Chimney Rock. Firestarter and A Breed Apart were also filmed here.

So there. We're proud of ourselves. We conquered and survived Chimney Rock and experienced a celebrated piece of history. If we can do it. So can you! Though we have yet to try and hike Hickory Nut Falls Trail and see the famous Falls - our reason to return.

Oh, and that pouty, frowny child of mine? Well, here's a proof that she knows how to smile as well.

If you have any question about our experience to help you out on your upcoming visit to Chimney Rock, give me a holler - you know where to reach me!

Chimney Rock is located in the North Carolina mountains, 25 miles from Asheville and approximately 120 miles from Charlotte. For more information visit the Chimney Rock Park website.


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