Part II: The Chimneys, Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC
*Along with Table Rock, we have added the nearby Chimney’s to our list of Best Hikes in The Southern Appalachians and Carolinas…and with an exclamation point! Both can be regarded as a single hike…Making for two solid miles of WOW! We just can’t say enough about the hiking around the Linville Gorge!
After summiting impressive Table Rock Mountain, we decided to add in the Chimney’s a well, almost as an afterthought. This turned out to be an afterthought perhaps even greater than the forethought.
My original intent had been to combine Table Rock Mountain with another popular hike off the unpaved Table Rock Mountain Road – Hawksbill Mountain (not to be confused with the mountain of the same name in VA, nor the famed viewpoint in Arkansas, Hawksbill Crag.) Like Table Rock this hike is short and leads to rock ledges with impressive views of the Linville Gorge. But it is accessed via a different trail head.
On the other hand, the Chimney’s could be accessed from the same trail head (just over a half mile in the other direction) and were reputed to be quite impressive. We decided to alter our itinerary to make our single day strike a bit simpler.
As described in the previous post, the Linville Gorge is North Carolina’s wildest and most scenic mountain gorge – so physically imposing that it stubbornly resisted human encroachment long after almost every other wild place in the southeast had succumbed. Long enough, in fact, to win the fight…the Gorge is now a federally protected wilderness, and no development of any kind can occur here.
The trails on its east rim are in our opinion the best we have seen in North Carolina (we have not yet explored the west rim.) To find out why, read on. Or, read about Table Rock Mountain.
The Chimney’s are a series of odd rock formations that resemble…well, brick chimneys of the kid you see on old houses and factories. They are reached via the Mountains to Sea Trail. From the Table Rock Mountain Picnic area you simply leave via the well-marked trail on the opposite side from Table Rock…directly behind the bathrooms. After passing a number of fairly spacious (and free) campsites, many of which were occupied, the trail heads into the scrub and partial views begin to appear…first of the Catawba Valley, and then of the Gorge itself.
Well before the half mile mark, you have entered a canyon hikers paradise. The views here AT LEAST equal Table Rock, and because they constantly shift as you hike along, they are even more stunning.
Every few seconds I kept saying to myself, “Well…that tops everything I’ve seen yet!” I must have said that twelve times at least on this hike. We could have filled about a hundred gigs of storage with pictures and GoPro video.
There are impressive views of the gorge, impressive views of Table Rock Mountain, impressive views of the river and falls…impressive views, period.
The rock formations just keep coming at you. These are the best I have seen anywhere in the East barring maybe Old Rag Mountain…certainly the best I have seen in NC, blowing away such earlier contenders as Hanging Rock and Crowders Mountain.
Perhaps the most impressive was a gigantic, precariously balanced cliff which the trail actually traversed, from which a series of rock promininces extended, looking like the flying buttresses of some immense Gothic Cathedral.
I was impressed. Sylvia was equally so.
It also brought to mind another impressive place named Table Rock that I recalled from my youth. Those in the Northeast are probably thinking to themselves, Dixville Notch…they’d be right.
The Chimney’s are a rock climbers mecca. In fact, two parties of climbers (One from Brevard College, I am not sure about the second) were at work doing things that looked really cool, but which I really couldn’t advise, not would I dare try myself. I’ve no experience rock climbing myself, but I do have great experiences rock-falling, so I’ll stick to the trail thank you very much. But I sure do envy their skills.
After wandering up and down the rocks a bit we found an area to just sit and ponder the canyon. This is the kind of place you could simply sit for an hour and watch, especially on a partly cloudy day, and the scene would just keep changing…new facets revealing themselves over and over.
At length a young man wandered by who told us he had been exploring another, even more remote rock formation about a mile down the trail called The Sinks. These had to be bushwhacked to, apparently, and he showed as the cuts and bruises on his arm to prove it. He mentioned that he was from California and we got to talking about how the place reminded us of another, even more impressive canyon in the Sierra Nevada…remarkable Kings Canyon.
There are also numerous backcountry campsites right on the rim of the Gorge itself, some of which are sheltered enough to make them viable even in strong winds. But I would NOT want to be caught in a thunderstorm here.
Beyond the Chimney’s the MST keeps on going…eventually going back into the trees and then reaching the Shortoff Mountain trail further down, before it descends into the Gorge itself. There is definitely a view on Shortoff. We don’t know what views lie between the Chimney’s and Shortoff…it would certainly be worthy of exploration.
The Chimney’s capped off one of the best single days of hiking we’ve ever had. Anyone who comes out to see Table Rock Mountain should see these two…they are an amazing place for the effort. The trail is short of a scramble but is still rough in places…in fact this section of the MST are almost tailor to wreak havoc on men with ‘trick knees’ like myself. The step downs are quite high in places and some of the surfaces uneven, and while no cautious hiker is at serious risk of falling here, an incautious one certainly could be. The elevation gain is minimal; there are no steep sections longer than a few yards…so any careful hiker could do this.
We would recommend this trail to any fit walker in search of great views, and who is willing to reach the place by car along the remote forest service road. The payoff for the effort is very high. You won’t want to miss this place. And by combining it with Table Rock Mountain, just over a mile from the parking area, you can turn this day into a solid Two Miles of Wow. Well, four miles including the return but…who in his or her right mind would turn down extra Wow?
We will definitely be back in the future for Hawksbill Mountain as well.
If you haven’t been to Linville Gorge and consider yourself a hiker…what are you waiting for? It’s not going to come to you. Get outdoors and go get your Two Miles of Wow.