Can You Drive To The Top Of Chimney Rock In North Carolina?

Overview of Chimney Rock a large granite outcropping high above the forested valley floor in North Carolina

Chimney Rock State Park is a paradise for anyone that enjoys nature, hiking, and remarkable landscapes. Chimney Rock is the crown jewel of this park. It’s an outcropping at the top of a cliff where visitors can overlook the lush gorge below. Many visitors wonder: can you drive to the top of Chimney Rock?

You can’t drive to the top of Chimney Rock. The rock formation that is Chimney Rock is only accessible by a hiking trail or an elevator; however, there is a parking lot at the base of the cliff that serves as the trailhead to journey up to Chimney Rock. The hike is 1.5 miles long from the parking lot and gains 315 feet in elevation.

Though it’s impossible to drive to the top of Chimney Rock, driving up the road provides:

  • Access to many opportunities like rock climbing.
  • Attending educational events.
  • Even taking an elevator to the top of the mountain.

In the following paragraphs, we will dive into what makes this mountain unique and what you can do along the way.

The Road to the Base of Chimney Rock

First, Chimney Rock is in western North Carolina. It is 100 miles west of Charlotte, NC. The main road that leads to the turnoff for Chimney Rock is US-64 E/US-74. Between the small towns of Bat Cave and Lake Lure is the exit for Chimney Rock, which is the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park.

Once you enter the park, you will be on a paved three-mile road called Chimney Rock Park Road. The road switches back and forth up the mountain and eventually ends at a large parking lot at the bottom of the large cliff that is home to Chimney Rock. It only takes around 15 minutes to get to the upper parking lot from the park entrance.

Check the interactive traffic map to know if you need to expect any delays on the drive to the parking lot. RVs up to 40 feet in overall length are allowed on Chimney Rock Park Road.

Additionally, if parking is full, a service allows RVs to park closer to the bottom of the road, and a park associate shuttles them to the upper parking lot.

Zig zagging stairway leading to the top of a steep mountain

Though you can’t drive to the top of Chimney Rock, the fun is only just beginning when you arrive at the base of the cliff. From there, one of the most popular things to do is hike up to Chimney Rock. It takes about 25 minutes to get up all 499 steps along the 1.5-mile trail.

With such an interactive park, there is an admission price. Getting into the park costs $17 (ages 16 and older) and $8 for children (ages 5-15).

From where the trail starts in the parking lot, there is a series of steps to the top. It can be a leg burner, but the views at the top are unmatched. If hikers are worried about getting tired, never fear; there are plenty of places to rest and appreciate the view on the way up the 315-foot ascent. 

A few of the best places to stop on the hike up include: 

  • Vista Rock – A small break in the trees where a large rock offers a sweeping view of the treelined waterfront below.
  • Outcropping Trail – a path on the way up to Chimney Rock, has frequent lookout points right next to large rock formations.

Once visitors reach the top of Chimney Rock, they enjoy the scene from the huge, bare rock formation that juts out from the cliff. There are stairs with handrails and a fence on the last portion of the hike. There is also a fence around the top of Chimney Rock to ensure everyone at the top is safe.

Along with the hike to Chimney Rock, there are other hikes in the area:

  • Exclamation Point – This trail begins where the staircase leads to Chimney Rock. After climbing up, it gets flatter and follows a cliff. This trail takes hikers higher than Chimney Rock for an even more dramatic, bird’s-eye view.
  • Four Seasons Trail – This is a moderately difficult, 2-mile out and back hike that goes through the trees near Lake Lure. It winds through the trees, so there is more shade if that’s what you’re looking for on a summer day.
Water cascades over rocky Hickory Nut Falls in North Carolina

The hikes in Chimney Rock State Park are beautiful and offer distinctive features like huge rock formations and waterfalls. The scenery makes them very popular hikes, both in and out of the peak summer months. Often the trails won’t be too busy, but there will be many people at the destination of the trail.

However, there are so many beautiful things to see along the trail—it is easy to find a quiet piece of the path to appreciate the beauty of Chimney Rock State Park and the surrounding area.

Taking this road to the base of Chimney Rock offers more than hiking to the top; there are numerous events held throughout the year for families and individuals to join. There are art exhibitions, bird watching presentations, and guided rock climbing.

How Tall is the Waterfall at Chimney Rock?

Before the upper parking lot, there is another parking lot, closer to the entrance of the park but still on Chimney Rock Park Road. This lot is the first parking lot drivers pass on the way to the upper lot and is where the Four Seasons Trail begins. Following that trail to the end, it connects with Hickory Nut Falls Trail, leading to Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall.

Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: The Hickory Nut Falls, (photo above) was featured in the movie The Last of the Mohicans as a backdrop for a few of the scenes.

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What is Chimney Rock Made of?

Chimney Rock is a bare slab of rock known as Henderson Gneiss. This rock is formed when granite forms and then undergoes extreme heat and pressure before moving to the surface. As a result, this rock is solid and rarely breaks or crumbles. This feature makes the hikes around these huge rocks safer compared to other stones that are more susceptible to erosion.

It took thousands of years to form Chimney Rock and the surrounding cliffs. As a result, they are geological features to behold. In addition, all the large rock formations create spaces without trees, so many of the views from the cliffs are open and unobstructed.

American flag on top of tall granite monolith in North Carolina

Is There an Elevator to the Top of Chimney Rock?

There is an elevator that takes guests close to the top of Chimney Rock. Originally constructed in 1946, the Otis elevator has been carrying people and goods for decades. A tunnel and 258-foot elevator shaft were carved out of the middle of the rock.

Throughout the years, the elevator has been updated and renovated, so it can continue to carry guests to the top. The elevator is especially helpful for guests who are not able to make the hike up the mountain.

There is no additional charge for using the elevator, the cost is included with the price of admission.

Due to how often the elevator runs, it’s sometimes closed for maintenance. If you or someone you’re traveling with needs the elevator to access the top, be sure to contact the park before your trip to make sure the elevator will be running.

The park will also lend a wheelchair for those in need, free of charge. Thanks to the unique elevator, families can experience the beauty of the top together regardless of mobility restrictions.

How Many States Can You See From Chimney Rock?

You can see three states from the top of Chimney Rock—North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. It must be a clear day to see all three of the states within the 75-mile visibility from the rock.

Visitors can gaze over some of the most beautiful parts of these three states. The gorge with Lake Lure in the foreground and the seemingly endless tree-topped peaks in the background create an unforgettable scene of serenity.

Even if not all three states are visible on a specific day, there is more than enough beauty to take in just from the area near the rock.

Points of Interest Near Chimney Rock

Other points of interest near Chimney Rock:

  • Animal Discovery Den – Learn all about the various kinds of wildlife found in Chimney Rock State Park. Discover new animal facts and meet some of the injured animals the wildlife ambassadors care for. Additionally, there is a butterfly and moth garden complete with native flowers and other plants that the insects help pollinate.
  • Traditional Appalachian Music – Demonstrations of instruments like the hammered dulcimer, an instrument where the musician plays by hitting the strings with two different hammers.

A Road Worth Traveling

Even though you can’t drive completely to the top of Chimney Rock, the road to Chimney Rock leads to something enjoyable for everyone. So if someone wants a hiking workout, to see a massive waterfall, or to participate in any of the many events on Chimney Rock, they should take the short 3-mile drive and check out all that the stunning Chimney Rock State Park has to offer.

Photo of author


There are numerous natural and man-made wonders I'm ready to find and explore, from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.