Great Adventure at Chimney Rock State Park

The Enchanted Forest’s
Great Woodland Adventure
And the Young Elders of the Old-Growth Forest

Though the giant trees of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park do remain at present time under the solitude and protection of the North Carolina State Park service, there is a special forest set-aside just for you at Chimney Rock, along the upper end of The Meadows.  Below the eastern end of the towering mountain is a trailhead that leads into an enchanted forest much like the "Old-Growth Forest" at Chimney Rock, though considerably younger as history goes. One of the more special features of this enchanted forest is that it contains some of the many future “Elders” of Chimney Rock’s "Old-Growth Forest."

Young Elders of Great Woodland Adventure

These younger, future giant trees at Chimney Rock State Park reside within the easily accessible Great Woodland Adventure Trail available for personal viewing during park hours. This mysterious adventure trail is fun for all ages as it leads into a dense forest along a well-groomed path offering a special woodland experience that includes the wisdom of the forest at every turn.

This journey begins at the entrance of the Great Woodland Adventure trailhead, where you will be greeted by the wise and all knowing Grady Groundhog, the park’s mascot whose own personal journal contains many of the mysteries of his enchanted homeland. Along the trail, Grady has provided signage, containing excerpts from his forest journal to guide and inform visitors.

The trail within the Great Woodland Adventure is as inviting and well maintained as the worn path to grandmother’s house, no breadcrumbs needed here. Though the trail is rather easy on the feet several areas have steps fashioned from soil and rock, which restricts easy use of strollers or wheelchairs.

During each part of the day this wooded adventure trail takes on a unique atmosphere, a natural occurrence to its wilderness setting. In the early morning this enchanted forest may be cloaked in a fine mist only revealing its closet secrets along the path. In the afternoon sunlight showers brightens and illuminates the rich colors of the forest setting, accentuating its mysterious character. In the cool of the evening, sunlight pierces the forest canopy with brilliant spotlights of mist filled rays shining across the stage of the forest floor. These natural spotlights signal an urgent warning to the forest creatures that darkness is about to fall on their wooded homeland.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you enter this enchanted forest are the giant trees standing mighty and tall in their own right.

These towering trees along the Great Woodland Adventure Trail stand guard over the enchanted forest.  Their proud stance, wide trunks, long heavy laden limbs covered with leaves signify them as the up-coming great ones in the land of trees, diligent representatives and ambassadors of the forest kingdom though less experienced than their honored elders. Their mighty limbs provide shade and retreat for the creatures of the enchanted forest while assisting in maintaining a level of moisture under their cool canopy for ground plants and the delicate creatures that thrive along the forest floor. 

Along the trail within this ever upwardly expanding woodland region there exist the mysterious homeland of creatures that may suddenly appear, poking their heads out to catch a glimpse of passing strangers. Though these creatures are normally shy when human types are present, they do welcome new visitors to their forest habitat and often enjoy demonstrating their special skills for those with a keen sight.

Their desire to often hide themselves from visiting strangers has in turn brought to this enchanted forest, local renowned artist and great admirers to the woodlands, pooling together their creative gifts in order to construct idols to these mystifying creatures along the trail. These sculpted idols found scattered along the Great Woodland Adventure Trail, often appear alongside plaques containing the wisdom and habits of their creature kind.

The magical forest creatures represented along the Great Woodland Adventure Trail come in all shapes and sizes, many possessing special powers known only to their species. The tinniest of these mammals, the Chipmunks produce offspring that are mere jellybean size at birth. The mysterious Jumping Spiders can leap up to 20 times their length and are non-poisonous unlike their kinsmen the Brown Recluse and Black Widow.

The reclusive and difficult to spot Salamanders also live here.  This endangered forest species hides amongst the rocks and can range from a paper clip size in length to a monstrous 18-plus inches. That’s dragon size compared to the ones I’ve come across.

One of the more mysterious forest creatures that have existed here in the woodlands since the days of the dinosaurs are the slow-but-sure moving Turtle. Turtles can easily live to be 100-years of age or older provided they don’t get eaten first; their protective armored shells help maintain their longevity. When under threat they just retreat into the confines of their shell and wait out any danger they encounter. A large turtle shell built for kids is available for them to try on for size, so they can witness for themselves what being a turtle might feel like. A great photo opportunity for kids of all ages.

Frogs and Toads of the enchanted forest may seem like harmless pacifist yet their skin can oozes a poison capable of ceasing the life of a small mammal.  These slippery oozy critters are found in fairytales as tools for casting magical spells and such. For the most part I have found them to be very timid creatures.

It’s likely that along the adventure trail you’ll witness fuzzy tailed Gray Squirrels scurrying about in the daytime looking for nuts and such, storing away their personal bounty in a hollowed tree. Enormous acorns and nut shell fashioned by an artist rest upon the forest floor encouraging the squirrels to keep up the good work. Yet at nighttime when these scurrying critters leave the forest floor for slumber high in their tree nest, their distance kinfolks begin to stir.

Acorns and Nut Shell by local Artist

Though rarely seen, Flying Squirrels spring to life taking over the forest at night. They leap and soar from tree to tree, gathering food along the way, all the while dodging their terrifying adversary and proficient night hunter, the Owl.

The Night Owl has been often considered an otherworldly and mysterious creature whose special feathers allow for silent flight. These wise and noble head spinners and often considered dark omens of the night forest not only rule the air at night, their mysterious powers of flight are also very effective for their daylight hunts as well.

And lets not forget the Bats of the woodlands taking off at twilight’s journey into the darken night, devouring insects that might otherwise overtake some wooded areas making it unbearable for passage or animal habitat.  As creepy as bats seem to be, they are a very important part of the natural order of the forest.

“They only come out at night,” or so it seems are those rascally wranglers, those masked bandits of the forest and creators of mayhem, those pesky Raccoons.  These pillagers of the night can often be seen plotting against other creatures’ feeding grounds including human creatures’ trash and garden areas. They are often observed cowering in the shadows; wringing their paws together in anticipation of some dastardly deed they’re about to perform whether they’re on dry land or squatting in water. These cute and adorable rodents are nothing more than career criminals at best hiding behind a black mask of fur. A hollow tree created by an artist along the Great Woodland Adventure trail is another wonderful photo opportunity for the whole family and friends.

Racoon Hideout

During daylight hours, Chimney Rock’s more than 100 species of birds including Birds of Prey are often spotted here in the enchanted forest flying high above the visitors who have entered their woodlands. The large cliff dwelling birds of the parklands are attracted to Chimney Rock’s high rocky ledges. One of the most powerful and swiftest of these birds is the Peregrine Falcon. Their keen eyesight and diving speeds of up to 200-miles an hour can both overwhelm the skies and their unsuspecting prey, only giving way and due respect to their greater sized peers, the Golden and Bald Eagles of the high mountain country.

Falcons along the Woodland Trail at Chimney Rock State Park

What does seem to have a commanding sizeable presence to rule over the enchanted forest’s many creatures are the mighty kings of the woodlands, the great Black Bears of the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains.  Black Bears are reclusive creatures by nature seldom seen by most visitors and hikers alike, they have a keen sense of smell warning them of strangers close by, causing them to often make hast and put distance between both parties. Unless you’re camping with food cooking over and open fire, you might suddenly find you have bears wanting to join the feast, socializing as though it were meant to be a party thrown in their honor. Remember please don’t feed the bears, they’re like unwelcome guest that don’t know when its time to go home.

Black Bears can attack if provoked or threatened though it’s not their common practice. When in their wilderness habitat its best to make your presence known when hiking through the forest or across a meadowland, giving the bears a chance to flee rather than defend.

Their adorable offspring cubs can at times be seem searching for food on their own, assured by a comfort zone that mamma bear is close by, and yes mamma bear is always oh so near so don’t be tempted to join in their play.

Never approach mature bears for any reason, their average full grown weight of 250 to 300 pounds, long claws, sharp teeth and charging speeds of 30-miles per hour are more than any human can handle.  Never mistake these beautiful furry creatures for being docile that’s just a woodland act in the movies. If you do spot a cub or cubs and they seem abandoned or hurt, don’t try to capture them, immediately notify the forest or park service who will send experienced wildlife rescue experts to capture the animal and take it to a rescue and recovery site such as Appalachian Bear Rescue near Townsend, Tennessee.

The friendliest creatures of the enchanted forest are the Butterflies, fluttering about the air on delicate wings. These extraordinary creatures mystify the senses with their beauty and their general lack of concern for intruders. During the annual Monarch Butterfly migration the enchanted forest and cliffs of Chimney Rock are a temporary gathering place for their great yearly migration to Mexico.

Butterfly Art at Great Woodland Adventure at Chimney Rock State Park Butterfly Art at Great Woodland Adventure at Chimney Rock State Park

Though butterflies may seem playful around human kind, they are too fragile to physically handle.  Their colorful wings have tiny scales that can easily rub off when touched leaving them with the inability to fly. Many butterflies are so friendly they often feel comfortable landing on people, it’s best to let them fly off on their own, they’re just taking a well needed rest and a chance to say hello.

Though the enchanted forest along the Great Woodland Adventure Trail is the home to numerous mysterious creatures, the mountain woodlands have also seen the imprint of early mankind’s strange talking rocks. Ancestors of these mountains have left numerous signs written in stone, many of these carvings dating older than 10,000-years. This form of cryptic language exposed upon rock faces through carved images, often express personal thoughts or concerns of these stone-carving artists. Their language in stone may be telling a tale of their personal quest, or a land claim of an ancient clan, or possibly the casting of a magical spell assuring good fortune in their hunt. These ancient carving were meant to speak to other humanoids creatures of the past or present that might pass their way, or maybe these cravings were just meant to appease or appeal to the Gods of the Forest.

Near the completion of the Great Woodland Adventure Trial there is such a talking rock for visitors of the park to witness. Upon Climbing Tower at Chimney Rock State Parkthis rock there are the signs of man’s union with the forest and its creatures, an early literary work of man’s connection with the wild and nature of their habitat. The numerous petroglyphs displayed near the end of the woodland trail resemble that of bison, cougars, wolves and deer, etched across the large boulder face, possibly an ancient message with mysterious meanings. Most likely latter day caretakers of the Hickory Nut Gorge - Chimney Rock region created these etchings, a fine example of an ancient art.

Exiting the mysterious world of the Great Woodland Adventure Trail travelers will re-enter the large open field of The Meadows where they will encounter a tall climbing towering offering vertical challengers a chance to scale the wall to the top of this castle tower structure whenever park personnel or instructors are present.

For the parks general hiking enthusiasts who have issue with vertigo, they can just walk past the tower and across the field to Grady’s Groundhog Animal Discovery Den. Here in the den one will find on display more knowledge of the forest collected and preserved by the soothsayer of the woodlands, the wise one of the enchanted forest, the one and only keeper of the educational flame of wilderness wisdom, Grady the Groundhog.

Within his den are modest displays of animal hides, plus animal bones and shells.  Housed within a glass case along the wall are some of shyer creatures of the forest as well as the scariest creatures of them all, Snakes. This exhibit case gets up close and personal with its slithering reptiles reclining or coiled along the edge of the protective glass; I sense a Pee Wee Herman “Big Adventure” moment coming on.

Actually there are two kinds of snakes that inhabit the mountain lands, one kind is poisonous and the other is not. Either way snakes can’t hear, they can only smell prey or strangers; therefore it’s not difficult to come upon one that might be startled and defensive. When hiking in the woods it’s best to take along a strong walking stick, it not only helps hikers maneuver a trail it can also put some sturdy distant between a hiker and an agitated wildlife critter.

Grady Groundhog recommends further group education through the parklands hands-on educational programs for both kids and adults alike. Environmental outdoor education literally comes to life in this natural setting. Hands-on experiences about these and many other subjects add to the enjoyment and learning potential during a field trip to Chimney Rock..

The wonders of Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park in eastern Rutherford County, North Carolina are an experience worthy of the calling to get outdoors and enjoy a world seldom seen by most up close and personal. A journey that will both enlightens and inform visitors who dare to witness the unique world that Mother Nature has to offer.

The Highlander

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