The bright blue waters of Lake Lure are highly visible from the heights of Chimney Rock, appearing almost turquoise in the monochrome greys and browns of winter. Once you descend from the mountain it becomes obvious the Lake is far bigger than expected, stretching along the Hickory Nut Gap and Buffalo Creek drainages like a giant letter X.
Once home to the Cherokee and Catawba Indians, the Gorge provides a natural gap that was used by early settlers to travel west through the mountains. It is even possible that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have passed through the area in the 16th century. In more recent times the gap was a popular travel and trade route. Then in the 1920’s while Dr. Lucious Morse was building up Chimney Rock into a tourist attraction he also turned his attention to the Gorge, where he imagined a resort community around a mountain lake – before there was even a lake!
In 1925 the construction of the Rocky Broad River dam began, and in 1927 the town of Lake Lure was incorporated around the new lake; however Morse’s development dreams were soon dashed along with the economy, and the family was barely able to hold on to the acreage that is now Chimney Rock State Park.
We had opted to explore the area over two days, and after waking up in The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa to an overcast sky above the lake, we nevertheless bundled up to see what we could see. Our first stop was the old 1925 bridge over the Rocky Broad River. Residents rallied around the obsolete structure in 2010 when the replacement was being built just a hundred feet south, and successfully preserved it – for a garden. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is less than five years old, but already has attracted national attention. With fairy gardens, sculptures and carefully tended beds covering the three-arched concrete structure, there was plenty to discover and examine, even in the winter.
I can imagine that spring and summer bring a cacophony of colors and smells, as well as crowds. Different sections are home to herb gardens, roses, artistic plantings and more, and a return visit in the summer is in order to see the garden’s full potential.
The garden also serves as a gateway to Lake Lure, the highway passing to the south of the lake with scenic vistas opening up every once in a while. The adjacent land is almost entirely private, the west end possibly the only exception. From the Flowering Bridge we walked to the playground, which is part of Morse Park, a peninsula jutting out into the lake with trails and a gazebo. A very romantic spot to spend Valentine’s Day, despite the bitter cold! The boys skipped stones across the ice, taking sticks to the edges in attempt to shatter the edges. The scenery (and cold!) was breathtaking, Chimney Rock visible in the far distance because of the American flag, and the rock balds on the north face of the gorge rising up alongside the lake.
The Town Center Walkway follows the contours of the highway and south shore for a short distance, from the Lake Lure Beach and Water Park, past the Lake Lure Inn & Spa to the intersection of Jack London Rd. The view of Morse Park is quite picturesque, and the beach, Inn and distant mountains provide interesting scenery along the way. A little ways farther you’ll find a toy train museum that might prove to be a welcome indoor attraction in inclement weather; we were sad to find it closed.
The highway continues to wind around the various drainages to the lake, private homes dotting the shore interspersed with the occasional inn or restaurant. The restaurant parking areas provided opportunities to pull off for views from different perspectives around the lake, and after the golf course the road curves in towards the Lake for one final time before continuing west along the Broad River towards Rutherfordton. (We didn’t get a chance to explore it, but just south of the golf course is the Donald Ross Nature Trail Park, with a wooded walking trail system developed on an unused portion of the municipal golf course.)
Although there are small roads winding all around the rest of the lake, it isn’t possible to drive completely around as there is an unconnected portion east of the Rumbling Bald portion of Chimney Rock State Park. Bald Mountain Lake and another golf course are located at the north tip of Lake Lure, edged by Buffalo Creek Park further north, while to the east are mostly private homes, a few resorts, and Upper & Lower Hickory Nut Lake.
Frozen toes and rumbling stomachs pulled us away from our explorations, back through the town of Lake Lure and on towards that of Chimney Rock. As we passed over the Rocky Broad River on the new bridge, the turquoise waters receded in the mirror like a mirage, the cloudy sky swallowing it up as the walls of the valley rose up around us.