Chimney Rock Park and Lake Lure

Marilyn Westphal

County: Rutherford

Habitats: Hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood forest, rocky cliffs, rushing streams and waterfalls, rhododendron thickets, large reservoir in a deep valley.

Key birds: Summer: Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven, Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Blue-headed Vireos, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cerulean, Black-and-white, Worm-eating, Swainson's, and Hooded Warblers, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, Scarlet Tanager. Winter: Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrow. Year-round: Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco.

Best times to bird: From mid-April through mid-May Chimney Rock Park attracts many neotropical migrants. The park opens at 8:30 and it is best to arrive early as the birds are most active early in the day and most visitors arrive after 10 am. Birding in September and early October during fall warbler migration can also be good.

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Description: Chimney Rock Park is a 1,000-acre private park. It is situated along the Blue Ridge escarpment and the rocky cliffs rise from 1,000 feet on the valley floor to 2,200 feet on the mountain peaks. The cliffs look down to Lake Lure and into the Hickory Nut Gorge and on a clear day the view from the top of the cliff is breathtaking. The unusual microclimates occurring in the park attract a wide variety of species including some more common at high elevations. Spring arrives a little earlier here than deeper in the mountains, and neotropical migrants begin to arrive up to a week earlier than at most other mountain locations. Hiking trails are well maintained, but are rocky and strenuous in some sections. Visitors must remain on marked trails. Several rare plants grow in the park, and picking flowers or removing plants is prohibited.

Directions: From Asheville take US 74 southeast from I-40/I-240 to the town of Chimney Rock. From I-40 coming from the east at Exit 64 take NC 9 south to Chimney Rock. If coming from Hendersonville or I-26, take US-64 east to Chimney Rock. The park entrance is in the center of the town of Chimney Rock.

Birding Highlights: The park is one of the best spots in the southern Appalachians to get excellent views of some of the more-difficult-to-see warblers including Swainson's, Cerulean, and Worm-eating Warblers. Swainson's Warbler can often be heard along the entrance road, especially at some of the sharp bends before arriving at the pay booth. Arriving early provides the advantage of less traffic, thus making stopping along the road easier. Swainson's Warbler can also often be found along the Woodland Walk Trail. Enter the trail by driving into the picnic area shortly after passing through the fee area and park at the far end near the area where the buses park. The trail forms a loop and is less than a mile long, but does involve some moderate uphill sections and steep steps. Other species occurring on this trail include Hooded, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, and Worm-eating Warblers, Wood Thrush, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers. Many other warbler species can be observed during fall and spring.

From the picnic ground continue on up the road by car to the parking lot at the top. Walk out on the boardwalk at the top behind the restrooms. Some of the best eye-level views of Cerulean Warbler can be obtained by looking out onto the tops of the trees from the different levels of steps going down to the Forest Stroll trail. The Forest Stroll Trail is the best birding trail in the park. It can be reached either from the steps behind the restroom or from the lower parking area.

Worm-eating Warbler nest along the trail and are usually quite easy to see. Other resident warblers include Black-throated Green (probably the most common warbler in the park), Black-throated Blue, Cerulean, Black-and-white, Hooded, and American Redstart. Also present are Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Blue-headed Vireos, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Listen for Louisiana Waterthrush and Swainson's Warbler below the trail in the gorge. In spring migration almost any other eastern warbler can be found including Blackpoll, Bay-breasted, Canada, Yellow-rumped, Prairie, Cape May, and Chestnut-sided. Fall migration brings large numbers of Tennessee and Magnolia Warblers. The trail ends at the bottom of the 400-foot Hickory Nut Falls and is about 1-1/2 miles round-trip. It is wide, but rocky and involves some moderate uphill sections.

After returning to the parking lot, take the elevator to the top of the cliff (or, if ambitious, take the 26 flights of steps) and walk out on the “chimney.” Look along the cliffs and in the gorge for Common Raven, Peregrine Falcon, and other raptors. Two other trails lead off from the chimney, the Skyline Trail and the Cliff Trail. The two together form a loop from the chimney and back. This is one of the lowest elevation breeding areas for Dark-eyed Junco and some warblers can be found, especially along the Skyline Trail. The complete loop is over two miles and involves some strenuous climbs. While the birding may not be as productive, the views are spectacular.

If you arrive well before Chimney Rock Park opens, or after your visit there, stop at the park at Lake Lure, which is about a mile east of the park entrance, and walk the trail along the edge of the lake. In this area you should find Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and Barn, Northern Rough-winged, and Tree Swallows. In winter a wide variety of migrating waterfowl may splash down for a day or more, and some may stay most of the winter. Bald Eagles have been seen in spring and fall over the lake. Large numbers of Black and Turkey Vultures roost along the lake edge in the park. The most accessible spot for viewing waterfowl is from the Town Hall Park and trail.

General Information: Park hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., depending on season. There are restroom facilities, a gift shop, a nature center, a luncheon restaurant, and some picnic tables. Guided bird tours are carried out monthly during part of the year. Call the park for dates and hours. In 2005, entrance fees were $14 for adults and $6 for children, and annual passes were $25. Group rates are also available. Trail maps are provided at the gate.

Lake Lure is a 1,000-acre reservoir in the Broad River valley below Chimney Rock, which is owned and managed by the Town of Lake Lure. Restaurants, motels, rental boat trips and a public beach are available. Roads around much of the lake offer limited access points, because most of the land around the lake is privately owned.

Additional Help

DeLorme map grid: page 54, B2

North Carolina Travel Map grid: D3

For more information: Chimney Rock Park (828) 625-9611;

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