Monday, February 22, 2016

The Rocky Broad Riverwalk

The town of Chimney Rock is a miniature Gatlinburg (gateway to Great Smoky Mountain National Park), complete with putt putt golf, a gem mine, backcountry outfitters, inns, lodges & tiki bars. That’s not to say it is without charm; the tiny town has its own unique appeal, from the picturesque main street with its backdrop of forested mountains rising up on both sides, to the pictorial view over the Rocky Broad River.

On a wintry Valentine’s Day we weren’t the only ones checking out the mountain town. The previous day had been sunny, and although the wind had a bite to it the exposed heights of Chimney Rock State Park were bearable. This particular day the sun was obscured by clouds, and a repeat visit up the side of the mountain was the last thing on our minds, temperatures having dropped by at least 15 degrees. After our explorations of the nearby town of Lake Lure, fingers and toes were chilled. Although it’s just a short walk from the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge to the main drag of Chimney Rock, we elected to drive and were soon parking in front of a store called Gold Rush, so very fitting to the atmosphere of this mountain town.

Our first order of business was lunch. Roberts had been craving a burger for most of the trip and so we opted for Riverwatch Deli & Grill. A homey, diner-like front room opens up into a larger back room with a bar and more tables, although on our visit the rear area was definitely more chilly. The boys absolutely demolished their kids meals (we just don’t feed them at home…), and my Smokehouse burger (bourbon smoked bacon, cheddar, bbq sauce and grilled onions) soon disappeared as well. A little greasy, but just what the doctor ordered on a day spent outdoors. As far as sides go I should have stuck with fries, but instead ordered the baked potato salad, tempted with the mention of bacon – of which I had plenty of on my burger. I’ll live. The beer menu was impressive for it being off-season, a who’s who of area microbreweries including Highland, Green Man (I recommend the porter), Hi-Wire, French Broad, Catawba, Pisgah, Oskar Blues, Deep River and Foothills.

Along with warmer temperatures will come access to the rear deck from which there’s a memorable view of the Rocky Broad River. Once we had finished our meals we bundled up and headed out that way, descending several flights of stairs down to the Rocky Broad Riverwalk. The 1/8-mile trail leads along a natural walkway, with stone bridges taking you over to a bar in the center of the river and back. The trail starts next to the Chimney Rock Park Ticket Office and goes under the park access road along the river, with access to the riverfront shops & restaurants until it curves back up to the street beyond the Harley Davidson Store.

Glaciers formed the Hickory Nut Gorge billions of years ago, carving out the deep gouge in the landscape and leaving behind the Rocky Broad River bed… aptly named. Between the stone bridges, large boulders, pebbles in rushing water and endless rock-throwing opportunities, we could have explored all day – if not for the below-freezing temperatures. Were it summer we would all have been wading in the swift current, but on a winter day even a wet glove would have signaled the end of our trip. The fact of the matter is; any season, this spot is magical, maybe just a Frozen kind of magical in the winter! Eventually both parents were tired and cold, but it took quite a bit of coaxing and bribery to get the kids back to the car despite almost numb noses and toes – it’s that perfect mix of running water and rocks, with a hint of danger in paradise. Final verdict: only an hour from Greenville, we’ll be back soon – two gloved thumbs up!

A colorful mural near one of the entrances to the Riverwalk, Chimney Rock visible in the background

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