We are big fans of day trips. As people who pretty much always wish we were on vacation without the ability to actually always be on vacation, we love taking advantage of day trips and mini road trips to explore what’s around us.
Fortunately, in North Carolina, we’re near quite a lot. As lovely as Charlotte is, there are so many good day trips from Charlotte. One of our favorite day trips was to Chimney Rock State Park, followed by a visit to nearby Lake Lure.
Just a note that at the time of writing, in the midst of Covid-19, Chimney Rock State Park is closed.
We did this trip with 2 toddlers, as well as with friends who had a toddler. We packed quite a lot into a day, and though we were all tired- we deemed it worth it.
Know Before You Go– Chimney Rock State Park
What you need to know- Chimney Rock is about a 2 hour drive from Charlotte. It gets incredibly busy, so I definitely recommend getting there early in the morning/day. (This is also helpful if traveling here in summer because #heat.) Getting there early also helps with parking. While they have a parking lot, it fills up quickly, and then you’ll be searching alongside a road of switchbacks.
Chimney Rock itself offers two ways to get to the top- “hiking” and an elevator. Hiking is in quotes because it’s pretty much all stairs. Unless you plan on doing other trails in the park, you don’t need hiking gear for the main section.
There are guard rails at the top! This was a big concern of mine traveling with two curious toddlers. I was nervous with them up top just because I can be a little anxious, but overall we felt really safe with them!
They charge! At the time of writing, it is $17 for an adult ticket and $8 for a child.
There is a small deli in the gift shop if you’re wanting to buy food.
Explore Chimney Rock State Park
This park is stunningly beautiful. The whole drive through the small town is adorable, and as soon as you arrive in the parking lot at Chimney Rock, you’re treated with the most stunning of views. If you choose to hike, be prepared for a good leg workout. Dan and I first visited this park soon after moving to Charlotte, and we did the stairs then. More recently, we chose the other way. You can take the elevator up through the gift shop, cross the bridge, and go up that way. Either way- the view from the top is beautiful. There are lots of big rocks and boulders at the top. There is a fence/gate around the top- but true story, Oliver hid under the ledge of rock and freaked me out for a hot minute. So still keep a tight hold on those babies.
It can get a little crowded on popular days, but there’s still plenty of room to sit down and take in the beautiful view. We stayed up here for a little bit before heading back down to do some hiking!
Hiking at Chimney Rock State Park
Despite not having to hike to the main attraction, there are lots of hiking options nearby. From Chimney Rock, you can keep hiking up to the top of Hickory Nut Falls, or there’s plenty of hiking to do as you go back down, as well.
We choose to hike Hickory Nut Falls trail. This hike is about 1.4 miles roundtrip. We did this with our two toddlers, and they did great. We did carry our youngest for a portion of the way, but that’s just what happens sometimes. At the end of this beautiful hike, you’re treated to a 404 ft waterfall. The waterfall cascades over the rock, and you can get up and close from the lookout deck. Pretty sure this is what started our #blackmonschasingwaterfalls obsession (all on Instagram!).
We hiked back out with a small snack time in there somewhere. This took us some time because of toddlers, but otherwise this would not be that long of a hike, and it’s not at all strenuous.
There is so much more to explore here, but we packed up and headed to our next destination- Lake Lure!
Know Before You Go- Lake Lure
We went here on Memorial Day, so it was probably a little extra crowded, but this place was packed. Be ready for crowds!
You’ll pay for parking. If you get here early enough, you may be able to find street parking, but if you arrive in the afternoon, head straight to the paid parking. I don’t remember the exact cost, but I think it was around $15-$20.
The parking is a bit of a walk from the beach- nothing crazy, but if you are taking kids and chairs and #allthethings, I for sure recommend a wagon.
Adult tickets to the beach + waterpark area are $9, and kids under 4 are free. (Stay updated on all their info here.) You need to buy tickets there, and the line can get long and move slowly.
There is a giant splash pad which is perfect if you have little kids!
The beach is all open to direct sun, so bringing some form of shade is definitely recommended if you have kids!
Explore Lake Lure
We went to the beach and waterpark area, which has a big sandy stretch and open swimming in the lake. It does have a mark off point so you stay from boats and jet skis. This place is so beautiful. Even while being crowded, looking out at the mountains and cliffs near the water is simply stunning. The sand is soft and comfortable, and the kids had a blast playing in it. This for sure could have been an all day event! More than worth the cost. There’s much more to do around the lake, which you can check out here, but hanging at the beach was more than perfect with our two littles!
Where to Eat- Lake Lure
A non-negotiable for a beach day, I think, is ice cream. Right across the street from the beach is Scoop Ice Cream. Giant scoops, delicious ice cream. We left and brought this back, and I cannot recommend it enough. They have outdoor seating, but it is a walkup to order place. Seriously, I don’t even think I need to convince you to get ice cream, but just stop here.
As you’re leaving Lake Lure, Larkin’s on the Lake is a must stop. I’ll be honest- their food is good but not mind blowing. You’re coming for the view and atmosphere. Outside seating overlooking the lake and mountains. Boats can come in and dock and grab a bite to eat. It’s so relaxing and peaceful…unless you’re with toddlers. Standard burger-type fare. We’ve gone up here twice and stopped here both times. It’s a great farewell to a wonderful day.
Chimney Rock State Park + Lake Lure is such a fun and accessible day trip from Charlotte! Be prepared for a day full of sun and fun outside of the city, and don’t let the two hour drive stop you! It’s a beautiful and scenic drive, and more than worth it to experience the beauty of Chimney Rock State Park and the gorgeous Lake Lure!
If you’re looking for another close-to Charlotte destination, make sure you check up on Savannah, GA! An all time favorite place!