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FSP 2008 Sponsored Project

North Carolina State Parks Tours

The Southwest Park Loop - 

Mountains, Forests, and Waterfalls


View NC Park Tour SW in a larger map
Mount Mitchell State Park - Lake James State Park – Chimney Rock State Park – Gorges State Park – Asheville and the Smokies
This tour will take us through the southwestern portion of the state to some of the highest and wildest parks east of the Mississippi as well as one of the most noted artistic cities. Its a path of outstanding natural beauty and enjoyment, leading us to secluded lakes, high mountains paths, waterfalls, forests, and the wildlife and natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The tour can be started at any point, but we'll begin at top, the highest point east of the Mississippi and North Carolina's first state park - Mt Mitchell . It's north of Asheville on Rt 128 right off the Blue Ridge Highway. Take a walk on a trail or drive to the top and view the unusual selection of northern trees, birds and other animals. When you visit the mile plus high summit enjoy the the Bears exhibit hall,, gift shop, restaurant, and from the observation platform – an unparalleled  view of the Smokies. 

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Mt Mitchell
Lake James Next take NC 128 S to the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn left. Follow the parkway south and turn right onto NC 80 S. Turn left on US 70 E and follow it until NC 126. Turn left until you reach the water park of the mountains Lake James State Park. Here you can access the lake for swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. Hike along the shore and overlooks enjoying the beautiful clear lake with the Blue Ridge Mountains as the backdrop. You'll find it a great place for recreation and relaxation.

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Chimney Rock State Park, a landmark of North Carolina is about a 1 hour trip. Head southwest on NC 126 to US 70 W. In downtown Marion take a quick left on Main Street and the 1st right onto W Henderson St. Follow this scenic route as the name changes to Sugar Hill Rd, Montford Cove Rd, and Cove Road 13.5 miles then make a right onto Bills Creek Road. Continue until you reach US 64, make a right turn and head west to the Chimney Rock attraction entrance. There are meadows for picnics, relaxing nature trails, and boardwalks that climb over boulders. Then take the elevator up inside the mountain to the top of the rock and enjoy the famous view overlooking Lake Lure. You can bring a picnic or eat in the restaurant, and don't forget to walk to the waterfall that starred in the movie Last of the Mohicans. This unique park is the host of everything from Peregrine Falcons to numerous weddings.

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Chimney Rock
Gorges Next, begin a scenic one-hour and 42-minute journey inland, following US 64 west to Hendersonville and then you can continue on US 64 west to or head south on Rte 1127, left on Dupont Rd, and visit Dupont State Forest and its wonderful waterfalls. Take US 276 W or back roads to return US 64. Continue west past Lake Toxaway and head south on NC 281 to Gorges State Park This is one of the state's newest and wildest parks with waterfalls, river gorges, rock walls, a temperate rainforest, and numerous rare species of plants and wildlife. Enjoy wild trout and bass fishing, back camping, wilderness, solitude, and hike the foothills trail around Lake Jocasse.

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Asheville and the Smoky Mountains

The return to Mount Mitchell State Park is a two-hour 20 minute drive. Head north on NC 281, east on US 64 until Pisgah Forest. Here you could head west on US 276 to visit the US Cradle of Forestry and Looking Glass Falls or continue on NC 280 east to US 25 and head north to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow the parkway north and take the exit to NC 128 and head north to reach the park.

You can also extend your visit by heading west US 40 from Asheville to US 19 west and follow it to Cherokee and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Bears, wild turkeys, and elk await your visit to America's most visited national park. 

Major towns near the tour offering food and lodging include: Marion, Lake Lure, Hendersonville, Brevard, and of course Asheville, which is frequently rated as one of the top outdoor and artistic cities in the country. You can use one of these as your home base and enjoy each of the parks during your stay. Be sure to also check out the area for historic sites, museums, golf courses, craft shops, and outdoor recreation.

Detailed text Directions

Park Links

Mt Mitchell

Lake James

Chimney Rock


Want to Camp!

Camp at a State Park –  call 1-877-7-CAMP-NC or

Other Places of Interest


Biltmore Estate

Dupont State Forest

Cradle of Forestry

National Forests

Franklin, NC

Commercial Sites for Lodging, Dining, Supplies, and Recreation

My Smoky Mt Vacation

Lake Lure

Hendersonville and Flat Rock

Land of Waterfalls

NC Waterfall Photos

For more information on North Carolina State Parks we recommend our North Carolina State Parks Map Guide

North Carolina State Parks Map Guide
A planning and traveling companion with detailed maps and information on each park

Blog - coming soon 

Copyright © 2010 by Friends of State Parks

Photos of Mt Mitchell © 2010 Matt Mutel , Gorges © 2010 Brandon Turnau,  others © 2010 Bob Sowa.

Your membership and the 501c Non Profit status of Friends of State Parks support this program.

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Friends of State Parks, Inc.

PO Box 37655

Raleigh, NC  27627

Friends of State Parks, Inc. is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization (tax identification number 58-1634155) under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

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