HIGHLIGHTS: The greater Chimney Rock State Park currently encompasses roughly 4,000 acres on both north and south sides of the gorge and expansion efforts continue to bring more of the gorge’s rich natural resources into conservation. Ultimately, a master plan for the entire park will be devised to fully protect the natural heritage and offer outdoor recreation options. Chimney Rock Park has spectacular 75-mile views and numerous hiking trails including the Skyline-Cliff Trail which winds through the park and passes near the top and bottom of Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall. The Skyline-Cliff Trail also passes the Opera Box, Devil’s Head, and Exclamation Point which has breathtaking views of the gorge.
In 2005, the N.C. General Assembly authorized a new state park in the scenic Hickory Nut Gorge area of western Rutherford and surrounding counties. The unit was designated as Chimney Rock State Park shortly after the state had acquired Chimney Rock Park, a private nature park surrounding the striking 315-foot spire on the gorge’s southern side. The Chimney Rock area of the state park is operated by a private contractor and is open throughout the year. Entry fees offset the cost of operating this popular tourist destination. Currently, Chimney Rock is the only public access within the greater Chimney Rock State Park. However, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation will eventually develop other areas of the state park with more traditional park facilities and recreation.
A staff for Chimney Rock State Park is being assembled under the guidance of Park Superintendent Adrienne Wallace. Chimney Rock has been a tourist destination in western North Carolina since a crude stairway was built to the rock’s summit in 1885. In 1902, Lucius B. Morse of Missouri bought the site. The Morse family developed park facilities including a tunnel and elevator to the rock summit, a visitor center, nature center and a network of hiking trails to geologic points of interest and the 404-foot-tall Hickory Nut Falls.