We did so much hiking while at the Blue Ridge Mountains that I couldn’t fit them all in one post! Maybe not surprising, when you consider the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long with limitless hiking opportunities. However, during our 10-day stay we drove and hiked on only about 69 miles of its southern end. We’ll just have to come back to see more!
On the way to our hike at Chimney Rock, we swung by the area’s very popular Western North Carolina farmer’s market. This place is huge! It even has its own exit off of I-40. We stopped by there just to grab a few items and were amazed by its size. This is not your ordinary small-town farmer’s market, for it sits on a 36-acre site with a beautiful panoramic view of the mountains. We soon decided to stop back by again on our way home, knowing that it’s open every day until 5pm.
Our destination for the day was Chimney Rock State Park, where an ancient 535 million-year-old geological monolith was the main feature. Before the state of North Carolina bought the park for $24M in 2007, it was privately owned and operated by the Morse brothers for over 100 years. Their legacy began in 1902 when they envisioned preserving the rugged beauty and towering Chimney Rock, and at the same time sharing the magnificent views at the top with the world. The eventual sale to the state accomplished that, and we were some of the lucky folks who got to enjoy it on this beautiful day.
The rock is a huge 315′ tall pillar of granite which stands apart from the side of the mountain.
We were warned that this state park is always crowded. In planning our hiking strategy we decided to park our car at the top parking lot and begin our exploration from there. With Chimney Rock itself being the most popular attraction, we would see it first thing in the morning before the crowds hit. An elevator built through solid rock in 1949 takes visitors up 26 stories to the flat top, or folks can opt for the considerable task of climbing hundreds of stairs. I know what you’re thinking – the man-made contraption could kill the natural way of accessing the rock – but the Morse brothers were really thinking of those who just couldn’t make it up there any other way. We had planned to take the stairs anyway, but as luck would have it the elevator was broken and we think a lot of people probably didn’t even try that climb.
The stairs and walkways took us up through a huge jumble of rock outcroppings and boulders near the base of the Chimney. At the top, the view was quite extraordinary. We enjoyed some time alone there until the quiet was shattered by screaming teenagers on their way up. Oh my, school must be out and summer vacations are underway!
Anyhow, we moved on after enjoying the beautiful vista and ascended another 200′ up to Exclamation Point. On the way up we were presented with some named outcroppings:
Exclamation Point is a rocky outcrop on the edge of the gorge, and the highest point within the Park at 2,480′. To get there we went up yet more stairs and around some switchbacks on the cliff’s edge.
From the the overlook we could see the Gorge and valley floor more than 1,300′ below. This place is about the views!
With the main attraction out of the way, we went back down all those stairs to another popular spot in the park, Hickory Nut Falls. To get there we followed a moderate 1.5 mile round-trip trail. We learned that the 404′ waterfall was featured in the movie The Last of the Mohicans, which I have yet to see.
Next we combined the Hickory Nut Falls Trail with the Four Seasons Trail to give us a longer hike down the mountain. We went down 70 stairs to the downhill path which wound out through a meadow area and into hardwood trees with a rock formation under one giant overhang.
It was a strenuous hike with a 400′ gain in elevation, making it really invigorating and quieter than other areas of the park. We spent about 4 hours hiking all of the park’s trails, making the most of our $12 per-person admission fees. For the past 100 years and long before the park was purchased by the State, an entry fee has been charged here. I’m pretty sure it will continue forever.
On our way home after 7 miles of tough hiking, Mount Pisgah beckoned us. See that mountain with the tower on top? That was to be our next challenge!
Located at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s mile marker 408, Mount Pisgah was only 6 miles from our campground and we saved it for last. The mountain is visible from Asheville and is one of the most-recognized peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mount Pisgah’s 5721′ summit supports the transmission tower for an area TV station.
The trail began at the back of the parking lot, behind a large sign board. At that point we were just shy of 5000′ in elevation, and in the midst of a high-elevation northern hardwood forest. This trail is rated moderate, an out and back trek with a total length of 3 miles.
The entire hike was very rocky, and there were some rooty and wet sections as well. We gained about 200′ in elevation during the first half of the hike, then another 550′ in the second half, making for a “huffing and puffing” arrival at the top.
Arriving at the summit, we were at the base of the transmission tower for WLOS-TV channel 13, and an observation deck. Although the tower sort of ruined the feeling of being in the wilderness, the views were spectacular.
Since this is our last hike at the Blue Ridge Mountains and we were the only ones here this morning, we had the views all to ourselves this time.
Each day, after our long hikes or outings, we would sit by the creek relaxing. Our favorite entertainment during this happy hour was watching the American Finches feeding at our neighbor’s bird feeder, while totally ignoring my fully-stocked feeder. But this industrious American Robin put a smile on our faces, as we watched it working hard for its meal.
Well, that about wraps up our ten days of hanging out at the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was a great stop for killing some time and getting hiking muscles back before moving on to Gaffney, South Carolina for Betsy’s annual check up.