It felt like I had been on the boat for an hour, maybe more, but it had been only thirty minutes. Paul expertly piloted the pontoon boat across the lake, narrating the guided tour with stories of unique lake houses and celebrity owners. Kayakers paddled close to shore, speed boats sliced across the water, a joyful scream from a skier pierced the air. Suddenly, Paul exclaimed, “Everybody be ready to look to your left. I’m about to show you what the locals call the Million Dollar view.”
Paul turned the boat. Everybody rushed to the left side. I wrapped my arm around a pole for support as the boat bobbed up and down.
Breath seized in my lungs.
Far across the glistening Lake Lure, beyond the lakeshore homes dotted among the trees, two towering mountain ridges straddled a gorge, trailing into the distance, culminating at a rounded mountain peak in the distance.
I could only appreciate the view for a few minutes before Paul pushed the boat forward again. His narration resumed with a story about a lake house built to resemble the Biltmore – or something like that. I paid only scant attention. My mind was still on the “Million Dollar View.”
Only an hour had passed by when we returned to the marina. It felt like five. I think this is what people call “Lake Life.” I had an entire weekend in Chimney Rock and Lake Lure to experience it.
Asheville’s “Clear Air” Created Lake Lure
Lucious Morse graduated from the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College in 1897 and began his career as a staff doctor at Cook County Hospital. Then, he contracted tuberculosis. Seeking a remedy for the disease, doctors told Morse to seek out the “clean air” of the Appalachian Mountains.
Like George Vanderbilt before him, Morse traveled to Asheville, North Carolina.
In 1900, he began exploring the region beyond the small city on horseback and wandered into the Hickory Nut Gorge. Morse paid Jerome Freeman 25 cents for a mule ride to the top of a mountain where he climbed onto a rocky outcropping – today, we call it Chimney Rock.
Along with his brothers Hiram and Asahel, Morse began purchasing thousands of acres throughout the gorge. The first parcel of land was 64 acres from the Freeman family, including the iconic rocky outcropping. From the vantage point of the outcropping, Morse envisioned his legacy: a dam at the end of the gorge creating a lake in the most scenic place he’d ever seen. His wife, Elizabeth, said the endeavor would likely “lure” people to the lake.
The dam was completed in 1927, creating the 720-acre Lake Lure. With 27 miles of shoreline, people began buying plots around the lake and building mountain cottages and epic lakeshore homes. The Town of Lake Lure was chartered the same year the dam was completed, and the first commercial buildings and hotels sprang up.
Explore Morse Park
Expectations can be tricky, but it’s okay to expect a spectacular view of Lake Lure at Morse Park. The 23-acre community park sits on the west end, where the Rocky Broad River pours into the lake. A trail loops around the small park beneath the shade of big trees, passing a gazebo and perfect place to enjoy the view.
2948 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC
Take a Guided Boat Tour of Lake Lure
From a comfortable seat on the covered pontoon boat, gently cruising across the lake, a lively narration fills the air with stories of lakeshore homes, celebrity owners, and regional history. The boat captains are a quirky lot with just the right balance of humor and interesting facts.
Boat tours are typically offered only three times per day, and the tours sell out quickly each morning. If possible, book your tour in advance.
Walk the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge
In 1925, the Rocky Broad River Bridge was opened to vehicle traffic along Memorial Highway. The 155-foot bridge spans the narrow entrance of the Broad River into Lake Lure. In 2011, the bridge was permanently closed to vehicles when a new adjacent bridge was completed. Locals campaigned for the old bridge to be kept, and they formed the non-profit Friends of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge.
In 2013, the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge was dedicated to the public. A pedestrian path winds through raised flower gardens and planters. Interpretive signs, a cellphone tour, and a sensory garden have been included in the bridge’s design.
Visitors can park at either end and enjoy an admission-free stroll across the beautiful bridge. The Town Center Walkway continues through Lake Lure, crossing the lake’s edge on a floating aluminum walkway and ending at Lake Lure Beach.
3070 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC | lakelurefloweringbridge.org
Spend a Day at Lake Lure Beach
Spending a day at Lake Lure Beach is a rare opportunity to stick your toes into a sandy beach in the mountains. When summer daytime temperatures reach the upper 80s, the beach is the perfect place to cool off. A swimming area is cordoned off from the rest of the lake, and water slides offer a chance for kids to make a splash.
The privately operated beach requires a small admission fee. The entrance is located in a snack shop, along with restrooms and changing rooms. Limited parking is available in front of the beach and across the street, but those spaces are frequently occupied during the summer months and holidays.
Visit The Right Track Toy Train Museum
At The Right Track Toy Train Museum, visitors can explore a complex interactive miniature train collection. Hundreds of models, toy trains, and memorabilia are placed throughout the small museum that takes about half an hour to enjoy. The museum is open seven days a week during the summer tourism season and throughout autumn, but you’ll need to check their website for off-season hours.
2414 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC | 828-289-4429 | www.facebook.com/The-Right-Track-Toy-Train-Museum-141291999274246/
Kayak, Canoe, or Boat Across Lake Lure
When the dam was completed in 1927 and the Hickory Nut Gorge filled with water, it created a 720-acre lake with 27 miles of shoreline. It’s a narrow lake, stretching east to west and north to south with over a dozen cozy coves to explore. The best way to see those coves is kayak, canoe, or motorboat.
Lake Tour Tours offers guided boat tours. Each forty-five-minute tour is a trove of tales about the lake town’s impressive lakeshore homes, celebrity owners, and history. You can also rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and pontoon boats from them at the marina.
Lake Lure Adventure Company takes the adventure up a notch. They offer kayak, paddleboard, and pontoon boat rentals. But they also provide waterskiing, kneeboarding, tubing, wakeboarding, and wake surfing.
Discover the Rocky Broad Riverwalk
The Rocky Broad Riverwalk is built along the shore of the quiet river tucked behind the long row of commercial buildings through Chimney Rock Village. The Broad River begins several miles northwest of town and winds through the mountains to fill Lake Lure. The short section between the village and lake is called the Rocky Broad River because of the car-sized boulders spread throughout the water.
The paved path stretches from Coffee on the Rocks to the Chimney Rock Harley-Davidson store. There are a few benches, and you’re certainly allowed to bring your chair or plop onto one of the smooth-face boulders. It’s an excellent place to spend a few hours.
Go Shopping in Chimney Rock Village
When Chimney Rock Village sprang into existence in the 1930s – just after the completion of Lake Lure – the retail shops and businesses were crammed into a narrow space along the Rocky Broad River. As vehicles became larger and the highways widened, it left the town feeling very much like an old western town with the sidewalks passing beneath the covered entrances of the businesses.
Some of the retail shops in the village sell kitschy bulk-order items made in far off foreign destinations – but many of the shops only sell local artwork. Natives Rest Candles features a bevy of candles made by locals along with gifts and souvenirs. Willow Creek, Chimney Sweeps, and Mountain Traders are a few of the gift shops in town that offer a mixture of items – take a walk through to see if anything appeals to you.
Bubba O’Leary’s General Store very much resembles the general stores of decades past – shop for outdoor clothing and gear, home décor, souvenirs, and local produce. Gale’s Chimney Rock Shop has been around since Steve Gale’s parents opened the shop in 1947. Inside, you’ll find quirky souvenirs, local arts and crafts, and historical photos of the town.
Use the town’s parking lot above Medina’s Village Bistro while exploring Chimney Rock Village. It will be much easier to get in and out of that parking lot than using the parking along Memorial Highway.
Outside of the “core” area of Chimney Rock Village are two other shops you don’t want to miss. Doug Bowman Galleries features stunning lamps crafted from local hardwoods and copper that look gorgeous on any table. At The Hickory Nut Antique Shop, you can spend an hour wandering the endless connected rooms browsing the antiques and local artwork.
Visit Chimney Rock State Park
On July 4, 1916, Dr. Lucius Morse opened the Chimney Rock Nature Park. The grand opening was marked by the unfurling of a 375-square-foot American flag attached to a 60-foot pole on the Chimney Rock. The pole has changed, and the flag is replaced as needed, but the concept is still the same today – and it creates one of the most iconic vistas in North Carolina.
In 2007, the privately-owned park – still owned by descendants of Dr. Lucius Morse – transferred the land to North Carolina. Chimney Rock State Park became one of eight new state parks under an initiative to establish new recreation areas in the 21st century.
Visitors to Chimney Rock State Park can enjoy hiking miles of trails, viewing the 404-foot-tall Hickory Nut Falls, and visiting the famous Chimney Rock.
Go Horseback Riding at Cedar Creek Stables
About a twenty-minute drive from Lake Lure, the family-owned Cedar Creek Stables offers a chance to go on a guided horseback tour in the mountains. The tours last about 60-90 minutes and include lively narration – perfectly pausing for the scenic moments – along with easy to follow horseback riding trails.
Attend the Dirty Dancing Festival
For 43 days in late 1986, Dirty Dancing was filmed at a now-defunct Boy Scout camp in Lake Lure. The film, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was an instant success and has cultivated a cult following over the decades.
The Dirty Dancing Festival is an annual celebration typically held the last weekend in September. The festival begins with a lakeside screening of the film in Morse Park – a perfect location with Lake Lure in the backdrop of the screen. The festival continues with dance contests, competitions to recreate the famous water lift scene, live music, and local arts and crafts throughout the weekend.
Order your tickets well in advance and book lodging immediately. Because of the popularity of the festival and the small size of the lake town, ticket sales are limited. Overnight accommodations can become difficult to find during the festival – unless you book early!
Attend the Lake Lure Arts and Crafts Festival
Two things are certain to happen about mid-October each year: the autumn colors will begin turning, and the Lake Lure Arts and Crafts Festival will draw thousands of visitors to the lake town. The annual event features live music, dozens of local artisans, and several food vendors.
Where to Eat in Lake Lure
In 1974, La Strada began cooking New York-style brick oven pizza and authentic Italian cuisine at a restaurant located in Charlotte. Thirty years later, the family left the Queen City behind and moved to Lake Lure to open a location near the center of town. The restaurant has one of the most diverse menus of any restaurant around the lake, making it the perfect place for a finicky family to find a great meal.
Lake House Restaurant is the only lakeshore eatery in town, and that alone makes it worth the wait for a table. Robin and Lewis Bentley opened the restaurants in 2019 when they purchased the twenty-six-year-old building. The menu features locally sourced ingredients, fresh seafood, and everything cooked to order.
Executive Chef John and his wife Megan opened The Highlands Kitchen + Bar with the goal to become Lake Lure’s only casual fine dining experience. Dim lit tables and an excellent wine list are paired with simple burgers and no dress code. It’s perfect after a long day of hiking or boating if you want great food.
The Veranda Restaurant at The Lake Lure Inn & Spa is open to the public – it just helps to have a room there so you can walk home after that savory dinner. The Main Dining Room has large tables perfect for large families, or on the weekends, you can order from the full menu at the Moose & Goose Lounge.
Legends on the Lake is “casual dining at its best.” Meals are served on glass plates and drinks in glassware, but you’ll also find arcade games for the kids and a casual atmosphere. The moderately priced menu includes hand-tossed pizza, burgers, salads, and a few entrees.
A good way to stave off the summer heat – or just have some fun – is to grab a scoop of ice cream to go at Scoop Ice Cream. The little shack is within walking distance to Lake Lure Beach and easy to get to, but you might have to wait in a long line on hot days!
Where to Eat in Chimney Rock Village
After breakfast – which will most likely be cooked at your own leisure – head over to Coffee on the Rocks for a fresh coffee to get your day kickstarted. Espresso, cappuccino, latte, and smoothies – they serve it all along with an assortment of pastries.
The Esmeralda Restaurant – part of the luxury inn and spa – features casual fine dining in a gorgeous dining room fit for a log home in the mountains. Local ingredients are used when possible for the savory meals. Browse their menu of filet mignon, salmon, and lamb to find the perfect meal for your evening.
Opened in 1999, Old Rock Café’s signature dish is a 6-ounce hand-patted burger served with homemade fries. Using local ingredients, the menu also includes salads, sandwiches, and soups perfect for sitting for awhile and taking it to go.
“Bayou Billy” has been in the food business since he sold Cokes at softball games when he was 10 years old. In Chimney Rock Village, Bayou Billy’s has outdoor seating where you can enjoy the fresh air along with the fresh food. The Cajun-style food is served with homemade soda – be sure to ask about their collectible tin mugs!
RiverWatch Waterfront Bar & Grill is the only restaurant in the village with waterfront seating. From a deck high above the river, savory meals are served throughout the day. They have over thirty specialty burgers on the menu, but you’re welcome to create your own.
After finishing a day of hiking, driving, boating, exploring, and eating, the only thing left to do is get a drink at Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery. The family-owned brewery started in 2015 with a small hole-in-the-wall location, but they’re expanding in 2022.
Do you prefer wine over beer? Across the street, the Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room offers flights, glasses, and bottles of wine to enjoy. The family-owned vineyard is located on Burntshirt Mountain near Hendersonville.
Where to Stay
Between Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, there are dozens of rental homes and mountain cabins that would make an excellent place to stay during a getaway. Check the Booking.com website to see what might be available for your travel dates – or check out one of these recommended properties.
The Carter Lodge is literally a roadside motel – only a narrow gravel parking lot separates it from the highway. The renovated rooms with updated bathrooms feature balconies or patios with stunning views of Chimney Rock. Choose from rooms with two full beds, a single queen bed, or a king bed.
When booking a room at The Carter Lodge, be sure to book a room with a “landmark view.” These rooms offer the best view of the Chimney Rock.
The Chimney Rock Inn & Cottages are a budget-friendly option in the lake town. The small rooms feature outdated furniture, but the outdoor swimming pool and stunning views make up for it. Choose from rooms two full beds, a single queen bed, or a variety of suites that include a sleeper sofa.
The Hickory Nut Falls Family Campground is locally owned and operated by Robin and Bennett Phillips, the third generation of the family who began the campground in 1970. Located along the Broad River at the edge of Chimney Rock Village, the campground features a commanding view of the 404-foot-tall waterfall. The cozy campground includes back-in RV sites, tent sites, and log cabins.
The Broad River Inn is another bed and breakfast located at the very edge of the shopping district in Chimney Rock Village. New owners have worked hard to revamp the menu – opening the restaurant for lunch and dinner – and providing quality service to guests. Choose between rooms with a queen or king bed, and be sure to book a balcony room for a stunning view!
The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa was the original hotel built by the Morse family shortly after construction on the dam was complete. The towering hotel – the largest in town – is located across the street from the beach and offers breathtaking views of the lake. The hotel features 69 guest rooms and suites and 3 cabins for rent.
The Esmeralda Inn & Restaurant is a gorgeous bed and breakfast in Chimney Rock Village and one of my top recommendations for places to stay. Take advantage of the outdoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant, and peaceful garden during your visit. Rooms include private bathrooms, stunning views, and rustic mountain décor.
Planning to spend more than a few days in a cabin or rental home with a full kitchen? You’ll need supplies. Fortunately, the one modern amenity available in Lake Lure is an Ingles Market. It’s located on NC Highway 9 near the dam on the east end of the lake. The market has all the groceries you could need along with fresh meats, a deli that serves hot lunches, and wine and beer.