Monday, August 13, 2012

Chimney Rock State Park

Hike: Chimney Rock
Nearby Town: Chimney Rock, NC
Elevation (Max): 2,480'
Elevation Gained: ~700'
Mileage: 2.15
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: There is really only one place you can start a hike at Chimney Rock State Park since you have to be shuttled up from the parking lot to where all the trails begin.  The park is adjacent to Lake Lure, which is about 40 minutes southeast of Asheville on US-74 Alt E.
Web Site:

E and I have made it a tradition to spend an October weekend in the mountains of western North Carolina, and when we went a couple years ago, we visited Chimney Rock State Park.  The drive from Asheville to Chimney Rock is really enjoyable with hairpin turns, apple orchards, and tiny towns perched along a river's edge (including a village called Bat Cave).  Chimney Rock is a pretty developed park that attracts a lot of people.  The geological features are very interesting, it is perched above the tourist area of Lake Lure, and The Last of the Mohicans was filmed there.

 Looking up to Chimney Rock

Lake Lure

Emily and I visited on a perfect October day with just a little chill in the air but plenty of warmth to be had in the bright sunshine.  We parked our car in the lot and boarded the bus that takes visitors to Chimney Rock (a big, cylindrical monolith).  From the lot, we descended a long set of stairs to join the Hickory Nut Falls trail, which is an easy, flat trail that goes out to a small waterfall that drops over a very tall cliff (the falls are 404' tall but the flow rate isn't all that impressive).  Though the falls aren't roaring, I would definitely recommend doing this trail because the falls are still very impressive due to their height alone, and it's a good warm up for the more vertical portion of the hike that is to come.

After enjoying the falls, turn around and return to the stairs you started on, but now continue up the stairs above where you began.  It won't take long before you realize this hike seems to mostly be stairs.  These stairs lead into the Outcroppings Trail which visits interesting features in the rocks such as Moonshiner's Cave which goes about 30 feet into Chimney Rock and Vista Rock which is sort of a mini Chimney Rock located just below Chimney Rock proper.  There are other features as well like the Grotto and Subway, but the trails to these areas were closed when we visited.  After getting some good exploration under your belt, continue up the trail to Chimney Rock.

Hickory Nut Falls

 Looking across Hickory Nut Gorge from the base of the falls

This is a common sight

Once on Chimney Rock, the view opens up in 3 directions, looking up the gorge, across the gorge, and down to where the river below empties into Lake Lure.  It's a very enjoyable view, but you will be sharing it with a number of friends, as this is an easily accessible spot (it's even accessible for handicapped folks).  The downside of having this be such a crowded spot, besides the lack of solitude, is the fact that it seems to have prompted the people in charge to erect a metal fence along the edge of the rock that can get in the way of photography.  After getting your fill of the view, head up a set of stairs to join the Skyline Trail, which will stop by a couple interesting features such as the Opera Box and Devil's Head before reaching its terminus at Exclamation Point, which provides a fantastic view of Hickory Nut Gorge below.  This would be a good place to enjoy a snack before returning the way you came on Skyline Trail.

 E in the Opera Box

Devil's Head

Hickory Nut Gorge

Once you return to Chimney Rock, you have a choice: descend the way you climbed or take the elevator.  Yes, I said elevator--I did mention earlier this place is handicapped accessible.  We opted for the elevator to take it easy on our knees and just because we were curious.  Turns out the elevators aren't exactly high-capacity so we waited in line for a little while (maybe 10 minutes) in the gift shop they have set up around the elevators.  The elevator ride itself wasn't really remarkable, but the exit off the elevator was pretty cool.  The doors open to a long, dark tunnel carved into the rock that leads to where we began and where the shuttle buses will pick you up to take you back to your car.  Sadly, the tunnel was filled with folks (not handicapped) who were waiting for a ride to the top.  If you're going to Chimney Rock and are able-bodied, I would strongly encourage hiking to the top so you can enjoy the fresh air, skip the line, check out the neat rock features, and work on your fitness.  And when you get the top, it will be that much more enjoyable since it was your feet that got you there.  Below is a GPS-generated map of the hike.

Leave me a comment below if you know some good places to visit in the Chimney Rock/Lake Lure area!

 Chimney Rock and Lake Lure

Monday, August 6, 2012

Camden Hills State Park

Hike: Camden Hills
Nearby Town: Camden, ME
Elevation (Max): 1,300'
Elevation Gained: ~987'
Mileage: 2.59
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Camden Hills is in Camden, Maine, which is about 1h 45m north of Portland and 1h 45m south of Acadia National Park. From Route 1 just northeast of Camden, turn left onto Mt Battie Road, take the second left to continue on Mt Battie Rd, and then park in the lot on the right.
Web Site:

Working through the hiking backlog...

A couple years ago, while we were in Maine for E's sister's wedding, I decided it was a shame that I had been going to Maine all those years without getting in a hike.  So, I started doing some planning.  Katahdin was a bit too far and so was Acadia.  Lucky for me, there is a park called Camden Hill State Park that is perfectly located right on the coast of Maine (its slogan is "where the mountains meet the sea").  E and I made the drive up, crawled through the traffic on the main road through Camden, which looks like a Maine vacation town ought to look, and parked the car in the first lot off Mt. Battie Rd.  Its was a gray, cool day, which was somewhat disappointing because we knew the views from the peak would be amazing on a clear day, but I was very happy to hike a new place regardless.

The trailhead for the Megunticook Trail is at the back of the parking lot and you begin by going north until you reach the point where the trail turns to the left and begins the climb.  We found the trail to be fairly busy, which is to be expected for being so easily accessible from a popular summer town.  Eventually you will arrive at a point where a smaller trail breaks off on the left.  You can take this trail (Adam's Lookout Trail), but we decided to continue on the Megunticook Trail and use the Adam's Lookout Trail for the return trip.  The trail will curve west until eventually you reach Ocean Lookout, 1,300 feet above the sea right beneath you.  Ocean Lookout is a rocky area with fantastic views of Camden, the harbor, nearby hills to the west and northwest, and islands dotting Penobscot Bay.  Sadly, the overcast skies detracted from the views just a bit as the sky, ocean, and islands all blended together in different shades of gray.  Despite this, we were pretty sure that far out to the east we could see the peaks of Acadia National Park.  After hanging around up there for a while, we decided to head back down since we still had wedding duties to attend to.  However, the actual summit is a bit further up the Ridge Trail, which we would certainly have done if not for the time constraints.  If you're tired after the hike thus far, though, I can't imagine the summit of Mount Megunticook providing significantly better views than Ocean Lookout since it's only 85 feet higher, so this would make a good turnaround point.

To head back down, we took the Adam's Lookout Trail, which brought us to another great vantage point before reconnecting with the Megunticook Trail.  Turn right going downhill on the Megunticook Trail and soon enough you'll be back at the parking lot.  This is an ideally located state park that appears well-maintained and is unique along the Maine coast (until you get up to Bar Harbor, of course).  There are many more trails in the park that provide different types of hikes, or you can combine some to make a pretty decent circuit.

Sadly, I deleted the pictures from this hike off my camera before I loaded them onto my computer so the Flickr photo below will have to do.  I do have the GPS-generated map, though!

Penobscot Bay from Adam's Lookout with town of Camden on the right (via Flickr)