Distance – 0.2 Miles (up and down)
Elevation Change – 315 feet
Highest Point – 2280 feet
Hike Rating – Moderate
GPS – 35.4328 -82.25025
Let me say this first. I really like Chimney Rock Park. The entrance road is great and I thoroughly enjoyed hiking the Four Seasons Trail on my way down to the lower parking area. Hickory Nut Falls is very cool, even if it is hard to photograph. That said, there are two ways to get to the top of Chimney Rock, the stairs and the elevator, which zips you up 260 feet, bypassing 460 of the 500 steps. Personally I feel the only way to truly appreciate Chimney Rock is to take the steps, which I have done. If you are going and you don’t fee up to the steps, check the website first to ensure the elevator is operating. It was closed on both of my visits and the official Chimney Rock website indicates it will be closed for much of 2016. Do yourself a favor and check it advance.
After reaching the upper parking area either by car, horrifying bus ride or hiking the Four Seasons Trail, you will see Chimney Rock looming over the visitors center. In order to get to the top there are roughly 500 steps. In some publications I’ve seen it listed as 499 steps and in others, 500. In either case, if you just hiked up from the lower parking area, your legs are going to be hurting. To get to the staircase, walk past Chimney Rock and the two tents set up in front of the gift shop. A boardwalk will lead you into a shaded area. Along this short walk you can stop and visit bat cave, a natural split in the rock.
From the base of the steps, take a deep breath and pace yourself. The steps are punctuated with frequent landings and places to stop and rest. My first time to the top was on a rainy October day back in 2013. Thankfully it wasn’t very warm but even so by the time we reached the top, we had worked up a sweat. There are some great views along the way. The weather that was a blessing on the way up was a detriment to the photo opportunities, since the dreary backdrop and heavy cloud cover masked much of the detail.