We Scenic City residents are reminded of the natural beauty that lies just beyond every time we open our doors, but did you realize there are legitimate wonders of the world in our midst? This year, we'll introduce you to a few of them. The rest will be up to you.
Claim to fame: One of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River; 535-million-year-old monolith; largest known granite fissure cave in North America
Location: Chimney Rock, N.C.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 4 hours, 15 minutes
A tall order: At 404 feet tall, Hickory Nut Falls is the second-tallest waterfall of its kind east of the mighty Mississippi. (For comparison, Niagara Falls is only about 170 feet tall.) The Skyline Trail which takes hikers to the top was set to reopen this spring after being closed for 10 years.
Standing the test of time: Standing 315 feet tall, Chimney Rock offers sprawling views of the 14-mile-long Hickory Nut Gorge and what National Geographic calls one of the 10 most beautiful man-made lakes in the world, Lake Lure. It's said that on a clear day you can see for 75 miles. Normally, an elevator takes visitors up 26 stories — through the mountain — to reach the top, but it's closed for maintenance. That means you'll have to climb the 499 steps of the Outcropping Trail.
To the Bat Cave: Aptly named, this cave is home to endangered Indiana bats, as well as the endangered green salamander and three previously undescribed invertebrates: a spider, a millipede and an amphipod. Due to the potential to spread white-nose syndrome or disrupt the bats' hibernation, no one is allowed in the cave, but that doesn't mean you can't still see some of the area's endangered residents. The park is home to 36 rare plant species and 14 rare animal species.
Climb to the top: Trails aren't the only way to experience some of the park's chart-topping draws. Rumbling Bald is a top destination for bouldering. The boulder fields offer an estimated 1,500 problems, but an entrance fee ain't one. Accessible via a 1.5-mile loop trail, the entrance to the Bald is several miles from the park's main entrance. While hiking to Rumbling Bald, you're likely to notice the effects of the Party Rock wildfire, which burned over 7,000 acres last November. Really claiming only the underbrush, the fire cleared the way for new growth, so be on the lookout.
Lake Lure has also attracted movie producers. Among the more well-known flicks with scenes shot there is Dirty Dancing, a fact that is celebrated each August with the Dirty Dancing Festival. This year's marks the 30th anniversary of the film and the 65th birthday of the late star Patrick Swayze.
The Peregrine falcon, which can be found in the park, is one of the world's fastest birds. Thanks to breeding programs, slowly but surely it is making a comeback from its "endangered" status, and has been sighted in the park almost every year.