WHEN LUCIUS MORSE purchased aportion of Chimney Rock Mountain in western North Carolina in 1902, his plans included a town, a dam and a lake. As a businessman who saw the assets of this natural setting, he also fell in love with its healing powers. While floating leisurely on the lake with her husband, his wife Elizabeth said, “this lake is so beautiful, it will lure everyone here.” And, like that, Lake Lure, surrounded by the majesty of the Blue Ridge Foothills and the mighty Chimney Rock formation, became a calling card for travelers seeking a solitary break from the lively activity of larger cities.
Today, mentioning Lake Lure leaves most at a loss, for many have yet to undercover its beauty.
For those that have, they return time and again, hoping to keep the secret of this heavenly hamlet in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Mention “Dirty Dancing” and immediately eyes light up, and memories of Baby and Johnny make them want to know more.
Three of the seven communities that make up Rutherford County are Chimney Rock Village, Lake Lure and Rutherfordton, all within 20 miles of one another. Enjoy a getaway that will be sure to become a yearly excursion.
CHIMNEY ROCK VILLAGE
This walkable roadside village runs along the Rocky Broad River and rests in the shadow of Chimney Rock State Park. Merchant shops offer items crafted by local artisans. Let ice cream erase the heat
of the day or stop by one of the restaurants to refuel. Medina’s Village Bistro on Main Street offers a bird’s eye view of the chimney as well as mimosas an authentic Cuban Sandwich with homemade potato salad. Nothing more is required.
Burntshirt Vineyards, located in Hendersonville and named North Carolina’s Winery of the Year, opened a tasting room and bistro on Main Street in the village. Dine on the patio and enjoy live music. For beer lovers, they also have domestic and craft beers on tap. If hometown flavors are desired, Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery’s taproom can be found across the street featuring four patio decks that end at the water’s edge.
There are roadside motels and other accommodations, but it’s The Esmeralda Inn that rises above hospitality, guest offerings and culinary indulgences. From spacious rooms to small cabins, families and couples enjoy amenities like a complimentary gourmet breakfast to spa options. Serving fresh and local foods, menus change with the seasons, and reservations are always recommended. As a member of Select Registry, the Inn maintains excellence with every detail.
However, its icing on the cake is the rustic pine floor in the Inn’s lobby. Patrick Swayze charmed the world when he danced with Baby at the fictional Kellerman’s Resort in Dirty Dancing. During filming in Lake Lure, a gymnasium was transformed into the movie’s banquet room, and when the gym was demolished, its floor was brought to the Esmeralda Inn. Stand still and feel the heat and sway of Swayze and Jennifer Grey; you can’t help but smile.
The star of Chimney Rock Village is the state park. Open year-round, it features six hiking trails, the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, and a view that will leave you breathless. To reach the top of Chimney Rock from the park’s Main Street entrance, drive almost two miles upwards along the
snakelike two-lane road to the parking lot. Ride an elevator or climb 44 steps to the 535-million-year-old monolith and, at an elevation of 2,280, visitors see for 75 miles. Need more height? Take the Exclamation Point Trail from the chimney stairs that climbs 150 vertical feet.
A moderate hike (1.4 miles round trip) worth taking is to the bottom of Hickory Nutt Falls where the trail will allow hikers to see upwards toward the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The rocky path is bathed in rhododendrons and hydrangeas, and although it has some uphill terrain, the view is worth it. This wonder served as the backdrop for the final scenes with Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Last of the Mohicans.”
Its attraction is palpable as you drive along the water’s edge. Vacation homes skirt the waters of this town with a population of approximately 1,100, which swells by the thousands during the summer months. Although it has no typical main street, Lake Lure is signaled by its icons: the flowering bridge, the lake, and the Inn.
A must-see is Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, located outside of Chimney Rock Village. When the 1925 rock bridge crossing the Rocky Broad River closed to traffic in 2011, an organization was created to create a flowering pedestrian bridge to enhance the surrounding beauty. Cared for by volunteers, the 155-foot bridge features a menagerie of gardens, plus sculptures, whimsical planters and flirtatious butterflies. Free to everyone, people consider it a “Gateway to Somewhere Beautiful.”
Whether it’s a round of golf at the Lake Lure Golf Club or a dip in the lake, enjoy the outdoors. Get a relaxing view of the entire cross-shaped lake with Lake Lure Tours, which departs at the marina. Its guided tours share secrets of what lies beneath the manmade lake and the multitude of homes that edge the waters. Enjoy the afternoon at the beach (located next to the marina) or rent a pontoon for an afternoon at the helm. Boat rentals are the hottest ticket in town, so if this is the plan, reserve at least six months in advance.
Splashing around creates an appetite. Dine waterside at Larkin’s on the Lake, and if you’re boating, simply pull up to its dock. The pulled pork nachos will satisfy a party of two quite nicely. Across the street, try La Strada Italian Bar and Grill, whose broad menu has something for everyone; sit on the outdoor patio and enjoy the lake.
No visit to Lake Lure is complete without a stop at The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa. Famous faces like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Emily Post and F. Scott Fitzgerald have been lured to this “transformative valley” and hotel. During WWII until November 1945, the inn was a rest and redistribution camp for the Army Air Corp.
“It’s a generational place,” states Patrick Bryant, hotel ambassador. “I’m a fifth-generation vacationer-turned-resident. My great grandparents brought my grandma here when she was a young child.” Bryant anticipates the return of many as the Inn celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2027.
“They call this the “Gem of the Carolina’s,” he states, but offers, “it’s more of a hidden gem. It was one of the original wagon trails into the mountains of the Carolinas. Rutherford County is the oldest county seat in the state and home of the first minted gold coin from the U.S. Treasury Department.”
Its rich history reverberates in the hotel’s design elements, especially with its music box collection, all fully playable and considered the largest privately-owned music box collection on public display in North Carolina. Dating from 1890 to 1910, these large parlor-style boxes amaze with the intricacy of their design and functionality.
The Inn is also a popular wedding venue, so book rooms well in advance. Ask for the Jennifer Grey or Swayze Suite, or even Johnny’s Cabin or Baby’s Bungalow. Dine at the Sunday Brunch Buffett or enjoy a cocktail at the Moose & Goose Lounge.
Rutherfordton is rich in history and one of the oldest cities in North Carolina. Featuring historic churches, artistic murals (seen in each community) and trails for the hiker and cyclist, there are options to keep you busy during your stay.
When Jim Masek and Russell Knight “threw caution to the wind” and opened Carrier Houses Bed & Breakfast in 2017, each had been in the hospitality industry for more than 10 years. These two grand Victorian houses, along with the stunning Blue Ridge Foothills, charmed them both.
“We spent two years looking for the right property,” they explained. “We were not interested in starting a bed and breakfast but wanted an existing one. A friend said ‘we need to be in this area.’” Avoiding the expense of Asheville, they visited Rutherfordton and Carrier Houses, and realized they could “see ourselves living here.”
Very involved in the community, the duo welcomes first-time and repeat guests to their home that is steeped in history. From the photos on the wall to the silverware on the table, each piece tells a story of the home or their family.
And then, there’s Jim’s breakfast. This morning, it’s Croque Madame with eggs supplied by a local farmer, topped with Mornay Sauce and served with freshly brewed coffee. “Every morning is a treat,” states a repeat guest at the end of the table. “We are so spoiled.”
Be enchanted by this hamlet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each community welcomes visitors to explore their secrets in hopes that others be as drawn to their world as they are. For more information, visit visitncsmalltowns.com.