Climb up to higher ground at Chimney Rock in western North Carolina.

Healthy Outdoors: A Brand-new View
Credit: Meg McKinney

I probably care as much about carabiners as I do frank-n-beaners. Rock climbing? Am I crazy? Yes, but that's another story. This story traverses an exhilarating program at iconic Chimney Rock Park, where they're harnessing families by the droves to scale Vista Rock.

The Climb
No experience necessary. Seriously. After watching kids scamper up the rock like darting lizards, I sign on for a 15-minute climb called the Taster. The instructors tie me into a harness connected to a top-hanging rope, I strap on a helmet and lace up my climbing shoes (all provided). With a little coaching from the pros below―foothold to handhold, crack to crevice, burning calves to blazing calves―I somehow find my way to where the rope is anchored. The top is 90 feet above where I started.

"People often find the climbing part to be easier than the coming down part," says Todd Mahle, director of climbing operations at Chimney Rock Park for Fox Mountain Guides. Uh, yeah. While scaling up all those feet, I didn't consider that I'd be looking back down every single one of them. But the sense of accomplishment and incredible view, unlike any other in the park, alleviates the smidge of fear creeping into my gut. I trust the system I'm harnessed to, lean back, and the guide lowers me safely to the ground. I hope the kid behind me doesn't mind that I want to go again.

An Alternative to Climbing
If I haven't convinced you to take on Vista Rock, you can still get active in Chimney Rock Park.

Lead the family on an exploration of the grounds. Several blazed nature trails weave through the 1,000 acres. Skip the elevator and climb all 400 steps up to--ta da--Chimney Rock for a look at Lake Lure. I barely realize I have had such a good workout on this 509-million-year-old rock after inhaling the fresh mountain air at 2,280 feet. Okay, maybe my legs talk to me just a wee bit, but it's great to listen to them every now and then, right?

Chimney Rock Park: Visit or call 1-800-277-9611. Rock Climbing Taster (walk-up, 15-minute climb), $15. Editor's tip: For those interested in learning more about rock climbing, Fox Mountain Guides also offers two-hour lessons.

Healthy Benefits
• Lower body exercises (e.g., hiking or doing squats) increases leg strength for rock climbing.
• Studies show a 150-pound man or woman can burn an average of 186 calories by rock climbing for 15 minutes.

"Healthy Outdoors: A Brand-new View" is from the September 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.