Have you ever watched The Last of the Mohicans? If so, you’ll remember one of the most iconic scenes at the end of the movie. Yet, did you know you can hike there?

Chimney Rock State Park is a special hiking spot for my family just outside of Lake Lure, NC. Our first visit was when I was 9 years old. We chose to hike there because we learned about Chimney Rock through a favorite family movie – The Last of the Mohicans. It was a great family vacation. Little did we know it would be our last before one of my brothers was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve since returned to Chimney Rock as an adult with friends. It was a very emotional visit for me.

For starters, you have to be a lump of coal to not appreciate the amazing views from many of the trails and lookouts across the park:

All of us were visiting from Texas, meaning we hadn’t seen a proper tree, 50 shades of green, or a decent hill, let alone a mountain, in months. This was a heavenly site to behold!

A little bit about the park:

  • The Morse family owned and operated the park privately for more than 100 years!
  • Only is 2006 did it formally become part of the North Carolina State Park system.
  • Long before becoming a state park, the Morse family created a great trail system and worked with botanists and geologists to study the local plant life, fauna, and rock formations. In turn, they created a Nature Center at the park to educate the public.
  • Today, there are 5 trails that give you very different experiences of the diverse landscape:
    • One to the top of the famous Chimney Rock (up 499 steps!)
    • One to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls
    • One to explore the local woodlands
    • One to Exclamation Point (the highest point in the park, and giving the best views in my humble opinion)
    • One that climbs 400 feet in elevation through a deciduous forest area
  • There is an elevator buried in the mountain taking those of us who have physical limitations to the top of the mountain, if willing to brave a mountain tunnel and claustrophobic elevator.

My favorite trail is no longer open to the public. When the park was privately owned, there was quite a long and strenuous trail that led from the top of the mountain along literal cliff-faces to the top of Hickory Nut Falls. It is this old trail where one of the most iconic scenes from Last of the Mohicans was filmed.

Rumor has it that the trail is too dangerous for the state to get insurance. One park employee told me the park is trying to re-open this trail after extensive improvements that will meet insurance requirements. I’m not sure how true this is, but I hope so! It is a dangerous trail, but so worth the exhaustion and risk for the amazing views and the top of the falls.

ChimneyRock Trail Map
The old trail led from Exclamation Point (top center) to the top of the falls along the cliffs (top right).
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Happy at the top.

A few parting comments must be said. While I had the great joy to share this special place with very close friends who had never even been to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I also had a very personal moment of joy. Coming back so many years after my brother’s extremely difficult cancer journey was an experience of emotional healing. Much like the old trail having been closed due to its danger, much of my family’s life has felt like that old trail the past 16 years – clinging to a cliff side in fear of toppling over the edge. My brother ended up not having 1 cancer, but 3 across a 10 year period. I can’t begin to explain those horrors.

As a family, we held onto a few precious thing for peace, comfort, and a reminder of normal life. Our time at Chimney Rock when I was 9 was one such precious memory for us all. Coming back to Chimney Rock after such a long family struggle was a lot like coming back home after war. There is peace, healing, some ptsd, and not a few tears shed, but above all, peace.

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The famous Chimney Rock!

-N

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