Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: November 2021
North Carolina was one of the original thirteen colonies and was the first state to declare independence from England. It is often referred to as the Tar Heel State because workers here used to produce tar, pitch and turpentine from the state’s pine trees. North Carolina is also known for its beautiful sandy beaches, rolling hills and rugged mountains.
We had another long day ahead of us as we planned to drive through North Carolina towards South Carolina. While it was dark and dreary outside, the forecast was calling for favourable weather this afternoon. We left our hotel shortly after 8a.m and drove for a couple of hours to get to Linville Gorge.
Linville Gorge is commonly known as the Grand Canyon of the East. It is located in the Pisgah National Forest and there are a variety of trails and viewpoints to see the gorge up close. We planned to hike to Linville Falls, which marks the beginning of the Linville Gorge.
Linville Falls is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are two hiking trails that lead to the falls. We parked at the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area Parking near Highway 221, but the other option is to park at the Linville Falls Visitor Centre along the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area parking lot, we found the trailhead and map of the Erwins View Trail (1.6 miles / 2.6km round trip) which features five viewpoints.
The first overlook is at the Upper Falls where the Linville River cascades down into the narrow canyon. Despite the fact that it was a Monday morning, the trail was pretty busy, largely because there was a big group of kids who were here as part of a field trip.
We then followed the path (mostly uphill) to the Chimney View Overlook which provides a view of both the upper and lower falls. The overlook is named for a rock formation that resembles a chimney by the waterfall.
We continued our slow slog uphill to Erwins View and Gorge View, both of which provide more nice views into the gorge and river below. Dodging around the group of kids added an extra element of challenge on the trail.
Afterwards we drove to the other parking area at the Linville Falls Visitors Center and hiked to the Plunge Basin Overlook (0.5 miles / 0.8km one-way) for another nice view of the lower falls and chimney rock formation. This trail was thankfully less busy.
After eating a quick lunch, we drove to the nearby Linville Caverns. But it turns out that the field trip also included a visit to the caverns and the place was packed with kids. The next available tour was four hours from now, so we left. We haven’t had much luck with any cavern tours so far.
But not to worry as we had other plans for the day. We hopped back in the car and drove to the Chimney Rocks State Park to spend the remainder of the afternoon. We were a bit hesitant at paying the $34 entrance fee as that seemed quite steep, but after visiting, all I can say was that it was totally worth it. I imagine this place requires a lot of maintenance with all those boardwalks and staircases. But more to come on that shortly.
It’s a long drive up the mountain with lots of twists and turns to reach the main entrance for Chimney Rocks. From the parking lot there’s a small elevator to get to the top of Chimney Rock. Alternatively there’s a set of stairs for those that want an extra challenge or don’t want to wait in line if it’s busy since the elevator is kind of slow and doesn’t hold that many people (even less so these days because of the pandemic). We opted for the elevator though since it wasn’t very busy.
To access the elevator, we walked through a tunnel in the rocks. Along the way there’s a few storyboards that provide more information of how the tunnel and elevator were constructed. The elevator took us up 26 stories near the top of Chimney Rock.
From the elevator, there’s a few nice viewpoints of Lure Lake and the surrounding valley. A few of the trees still had some leaves and it felt very much like fall. It’s a short stretch up a set of stairs to reach the Chimney Rock formation.
From there we then hiked along the Exclamation Point Trail (0.6 miles / 1km round trip, rated moderate to strenuous). The trail leads up a series of staircases and climbs about 200 feet above Chimney Rock and provides nice views of the surrounding area.
There are three overlooks along the trail: the Opera Box (which consists of a viewing platform between the rocks), the Devil’s Head (a large rock balancing on the side of a cliff) and the Exclamation Point (which provides a nice view of the entire gorge and surrounding mountains). The trail is predominantly uphill and consists of lots of stairs and switchbacks. We’re glad we left our jackets in the car. While most of the trail was sheltered, the end of the trail at the Exclamation Point was extremely windy.
We debated about hiking along the Skyline Trail which starts at the end of the Exclamation Point Trail and meanders through the forest along a ridge. But we weren’t sure we’d have enough daylight as we also wanted to hike along the Hickory Nut Falls and visit all the viewpoints on the way down Chimney Rock. So we turned around and walked back the way we came and were thankful to be out of the wind.
When we reached Chimney Rock, instead of taking the elevator back, we walked down along the Outcroppings Trail (0.4 miles / 0.6km round trip, rated moderate to strenuous). The trail consists of a network of about 500 steps and a series of boardwalks and features a number of viewpoints and overlooks. Some highlights include the Pulpit Rock, Subway, the Grotta, Vista Rock, Crevice Path and Gneiss Cave.
At the end of the Outcroppings Trail, we found an access point for the Hickory Nut Falls (1.4 miles / 2.3km round trip, rated moderate). The trail weaves through the forest to the base of the falls, which is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. At the end of the trail there’s a small viewing platform that provides a new view of the falls. We then turned around and walked back the way we came.
After finishing up our hike, we then drove to our accommodations in South Carolina.