The path to Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina is a twisty, stomach-knotty drive on shady two-lane roads. The words “bucolic” and “hellish” come to mind to describe the route.
And that’s not the best – or the worst – part. That comes when you drive up the entrance road, park at the base of the mountain and look up. You tell yourself, “Yes, I know I can get there by elevator, but after that drive, I am so gonna hike this thing!”
And then you do. It’s not a mountain climb, per se. It’s a stair climb to the main outlook at 2,280 feet, plus a second, shorter climb to Exclamation Point at 2,480 feet above sea level. How many stairs? The trail guide doesn’t say, but it was enough to make this flatlander hurt. But what views, and the people you meet are from all over the world, drawn here by the same rural beauty of this part of North Carolina; close to the Biltmore Estate and Asheville, yet nowhere is a city skyline in sight.
After a picnic lunch of turkey subs, Greek pasta salad and fresh fruit, The Husband suggested another trail hike. Surprised me that he still had the energy, but away we went to the Hickory Falls Trail, which was supposed to take an hour round trip. We made it to the cool, gentle falls in under 20 minutes, wondering why the park guide was so pessimistic in suggesting the round trip was an hour.
Then we started back on the trail and found out why.
The outbound trip had been a gentle up-slope walk; rocky and studded with tree roots, but manageable. Going back, it was all downhill. Don’t ever let anyone tell you the phrase “it’s all downhill from here” is a good thing. When you have shin splints, and your toes feel like they’ve been hammered all day, walking downhill on a rough trail is ugly and unpleasant.
And a dinner treat: a hearty meal at the Village Wayside Inn. The restaurant is housed in the estate’s former train station, and many of the old amenities are still there, including the tin ceiling, wood floor, brick walls, lamps and brass ticket cages. Freight trains still rumble by as diners sample everything from duck and pork wings, Bloody Marys made from house-smoked tomatoes, smoked skirt steak with poblano peppers and chimichurri cream, house-made potato chips and a Cheerwine-based barbecue sauce. I hate Cheerwine as a beverage, but as a sauce base, it works. The restaurant’s motto is “Slightly Dysfunctional People Pleasers.” The menu is quirky but hardly dysfunctional. And pleasing? You bet!
And at the end of the day, NSAIDs and bed.
The Village Wayside Inn, 30 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC. Phone (828) 277-4121. Website: http://www.biltmorevillage.com/Village%20Wayside%20Bar%20and%20Grille.htm