By Olivia Slagle
We’ve often said Chimney Rock offers the best of the mountains in one place. While that’s true, the Park also offers something that isn’t typically found at mountain parks like ours – easy accessibility.
Accessibility has long been at the heart of Chimney Rock. Dr. Lucius Morse came to the area in the late 1800s, saw the Rock and envisioned it as a tourist attraction. In 1902, with the help and financial support of his brothers, Hiram and Asahel, he purchased the land containing Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Falls. Once the new state road, Hickory Nut Gap Highway from Asheville to Chimney Rock was opened in 1915 and other roads leading to the area were underway, the Morses went to work to construct a bridge of their own road from the base of the mountain to just below Chimney Rock so visitors who traveled by automobile could reach the Chimney.
A cliffside inn and dining pavilion were soon added so that visitors would not only enjoy easier access but also provide amenities they needed to be comfortable. The construction of a trail system to give visitors access to the top of the mountain and the incredible views they could afford was the next major development. Keeping trails maintained and adding new and improved ones continue to be a priority today.
Even with these improvements, it was still impossible for everyone to walk the then 315 stairs to the top of the Chimney. The brothers had often talked about the different applications that could be used at Chimney Rock to make it possible for the elderly and children to get there. At a 1946 board meeting, they decided to begin planning for an elevator to be built inside the mountain. Their dream became reality when the elevator was completed in 1948 and opened to the public in May 1949, giving access to Chimney Rock to everyone who comes to visit. Fortunately, NC State Parks, like the Morse family, is dedicated to continuing to provide this unique access. A 30-second elevator ride inside the mountain and a short stroll across the bridge are all that stands between guests and the panoramic 75-mile views from on top of the Rock.
There’s something for everyone in our summer events calendar, too. Join Namaste in Nature for an entry-level yoga class with a view or explore the Park on a summer birding walk or Nature at Night hike. Or choose a more low-key event like our seasonal Paint and Sip class at the Old Rock Cafe. Starting June 1, meet our animal ambassadors every day at 2pm on the Outcroppings Deck, just a short walk from the top parking lot.
As you plan your summer adventures and welcome travelers to the area, remember that while Chimney Rock can be your destination for high adventure like backcountry hiking and rock climbing, it can also be a place for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors together.
This is a broad overview of some of the Park’s history. If you’re interested in the fascinating story of the development of Chimney Rock and its access, you can pick up a copy of Todd Morse’s (former Park owner) book, For the Love of Chimney Rock, at the Old Rock Cafe.