Rattlesnake Lodge Hike

Synopsis

This pleasant hike takes you to the ruins of a historic private lodge along a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail. It's close to the City of Asheville, making it a nice option if you're in the area and don't have a lot of drive time. A well-designed trail goes through a multitude of switchbacks, following an old wagon road which was built to reach the lodge. Explore the old toolshed, the tennis courts, or the water supply pond, now long since grown over with thick, lush, Appalachian forests.

Hike Statistics

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Total Length: 2.6 mi
  • Trail Tread Condition: Some Obstacles
  • Climb: Climbs Moderately
  • Lowest Elevation: 3180 ft
  • Highest Elevation: 3720 ft
  • Total Elevation Gain: 550 ft
  • Trails Used: Rattlesnake Lodge, Mountains to Sea Section 3
  • Hike Configuration: Out-and-back
  • Starting point: Parking area on Ox Cove Road 0.9 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Directions

From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north, from any of its access points, to the intersection with Ox Creek Road. It's about 6.2 miles north of the Folk Art Center. Turn left. The parking area is on the right after 0.9 miles. It's just big enough for about 3 or 4 cars. If this area is full, you may park where the Mountains to Sea trail first crosses Ox Creek Road near the Parkway - adding about a mile and some climbing to the hike.

If you're coming from Weaverville, the parking area will be on your left about 1 mile past the "zero curve" switchback.

Directions on Google Maps

Details

Hike Description

Don't be concerned by the name of this hike - you won't be visiting a snake's den! In fact, your chances of seeing a snake on this hike are no higher than any other, which is to say fairly slim. Instead, you'll hike on a moderate, well-graded path to the remains of an early 20th century retreat, built by one of WNC's historically affluent and conservation-minded citizens, Dr. Chase P. Ambler, which burned in 1926.

Climbing the Switchbacks
The old carriage road to Rattlesnake Lodge starts its climb from Bull Gap via these switchbacks. The trail is now the Mountains to Sea Trail, and the way to Rattlesnake Lodge.

Begin the hike behind the large boulders at the back of the parking area. At the triangular intersection, turn left onto the Mountains to Sea trail. There are no other intersections all the way to the old lodge, and you'll be following white circular blazes. You will begin by ascending the rounded end of Bull Mountain on a trail that goes through about a dozen switchbacks, climbing so gradually that you'll go through half of them before you even begin to break a sweat. In the winter, you can look downhill from the top segment and see the path as it swings back and forth across the slope below you. Don't cut up the slope across the switchbacks!

Flowering dogwoods arch over the trail in places, and bloom in late April to early May.
Flowering dogwoods arch over the trail in places, and bloom in late April to early May.

The forest at the beginning here consists of tall, straight tuliptrees and other hardwoods, with wildflowers, jewel weed, and stinging nettle covering the forest floor. Poison ivy also grows just off the trail in abundance at this fairly low-elevation site, so be careful when hiking in summer months. The trail surface is generally smooth with just a few roots and rocky sections to keep your attention. After the top switchback, the trail will round the ridge. Notice as the forest quickly transitions into predominantly oak trees - some having twisted into grotesque forms - with an understory of mountain laurel. This ridgeline oak forest will gradually transition back into cove hardwoods as you approach the lodge site. Some sizeable trees grow here, making for a very pleasant forest to hike through.

Bull Mountain, Bull Creek and Bull Valley were all named for the last individual of the eastern variety of elk - a bull - which was shot in this valley many years ago. The elk have since been reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and may once again roam these Great Craggy Mountains if they are successful enough.

This trail was built to last, and on many sections impressive dry-stack stone retaining walls still remain. Other sections go by large rock outcroppings. Look for large, leathery looking lichens growing on the rock. They resemble wilting lettuce leaves and are black on the back side. A symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungus, these are rock tripe lichens, and they are edible in an emergency when boiled. They are rubbery when wet and crackly when dry. Feel them, but don't break them or pull them off, as they take a very long time to grow back - and here on Blue Ridge Parkway property, they're federally protected anyway.

Dry-stacked retaining wall along the trail.
Dry-stacked retaining wall along the trail.

Further along, the trail traverses a mountainside made of solid rock, and some sporadic views of the Bull Valley open up to your right. Past the rock, you'll curve into a slight cove and climb some more. Then you'll soon see the first sign that you are at the old lodge site: a building foundation (for a barn) appears on the right side of the trail.

Shortly thereafter you will reach the lodge site itself. On the right is the old swimming pool, which was fed by cold mountain water through an underground delivery system. You'll reach a display board showing a map and pictures of the old lodge at the corner of the old yard. It shows the lodge, along with outbuildings and descriptions of them. Read this sign to find out what the old foundations scattered around used to be, along with some more good history of the site.

Continue past the main lodge site and you will reach an intersection. The trail leading right meets up with the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Tanbark Ridge tunnel about 1/2 mile down the mountain. You could come to the lodge site that way, and lots of people do, but I think the hike from Ox Creek Road is much more pleasant, as it's longer and a lot less steep.

Just beyond the trail intersection is where you find perhaps the most interesting remains of the old estate: the spring house on the left and the foundation of the old tool shed on the right.

A huge, twisted, fallen oak tree partially blocks the path to the old spring house. The crooks of its branches make for great climbing and sitting spots, so if you're in need of some relaxation - bring a book and spend some time here! You can duck under the arch of the main trunk of this tree to see the remains of the spring house and the spring itself, which is a crystal-clear, circular pool rimmed with rocks. The water comes up through sand on the bottom and is always cold, and it once ran through the floor of the building to make food storage areas. Stick your water bottle down in the pool, and by the time you leave you will see why the spring water was once used to refrigerate items such as eggs and milk!

The tool shed foundation
A hydroelectric generator sat in the area underneath the shed. The tool shed's old stone foundation. A hydroelectric generator sat in the area underneath the shed.

The twin pillars of rock to the right of the main trail mark the downhill corners of the shed. A small spring branch runs over the retaining wall here when the water is high, whose trickling sound will keep you company during your stay. A hydroelectric generator in the tool shed once gave power to the lodge - the water coming not from this spring branch, but from the main reservoir, which can still be found up the blue-blazed trail to the right of the spring house. It's a steep climb to the old reservoir, but the additional height was needed to make enough water pressure for the lodge and generator.

Ahead on the main trail were the caretaker's cabin, the corn crib, a potato house, and stables. Some of these buildings show no visible remains anymore.

Dr. Chase P. Ambler, who built the lodge as a summer home in 1903-1904, was a prominent Asheville physician and conservationist. He is credited with being one of the founders of the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and groups backing passage of the Weeks Act in 1911 which eventually led to the creation of Pisgah National Forest. He was chairman of a committee that eventually lead to the creation of the Carolina Mountain Club, which is still active today and has a big role in building and maintaining the Mountains to Sea Trail.

For more information about Dr. Ambler and his family, the lodge, and its history, visit http://www.rattlesnakelodge.com/, a site maintained by a coalition of Ambler's descendents.

This area marks the end of this hike. Head back down the trail the way you came to get back to your vehicle. The Mountains to Sea trail does continue on beyond the lodge and very soon crosses a branch of Bull Creek. Beyond that creek crossing, however, the trail begins to climb steeply to ascend to the summit Bull Mountain and the peaks of Wolfden Knob and Lane Pinnacle (5230 ft.). This is the first of many 5000+ ft. mountains this trail crosses north of Asheville on its way to Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft.) and eventually its termination on the Outer Banks at Jockey's Ridge.

All Photos from This Hike

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Comments

Jordan M. said: @stephanie nixon - I'd say it's likely ok right where it comes out, but after sitting stagnant in the pool exposed...mmmm, not so much. That's why there used to be a spring house over it! Not a great idea to try and find out as the consequences (sickness) could be quite severe. Many people in the mountains do use spring water (piped and sheltered) for a drinking water source, but it's always wise to have it tested!
Friday, November 18 2016 1:56am
stephanie nixon said: Dip your water bottle into the spring? This is one of my favorite hikes and I have always wondered if the water is ok to drink. Last month, I found a frog swimming in it and a dead chipmunk next to it. Has anyone had this tested? Id love to.
Friday, November 4 2016 5:33pm
Jordan M. said: @Cola, you're right, the MST ends at Jockey's Ridge. I even knew that and wrote it wrong anyway. We've updated the description. Thanks!
Monday, June 20 2016 8:00pm
Jeff Weston said: PS the peak I am talking about is the one on map at 4800 feet, north of the lodge along the trail. You can see on map how trail goes just right of the peak. At the right time of year the moss on the north side of the mountain makes it seem like the Hobbit village.
Sunday, December 28 2014 1:47am
Jeff Weston said: I use to live close to here, it is my favorite hike. If you go 2hours to the top of the mountain then go left off trail to the peak. I had actually trimmed trees and racked the peak a few years back, be careful though as there is a rock ledge. IF YOU FIND THE PEAK YOU WILL FIND A TREE STUMP ABOUT WAIST HIGH WITH A CAST IRON BEAR SITTING ON IT...PLEASE DONT REMOVE...THANKS AND Enjoy....
Sunday, December 28 2014 1:40am
Cola said: Just a small correction to "and eventually its termination on the Outer Banks on Hatteras Island". The MST actually ends at Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head; a towering summit of @ 90 feet above sea level, the tallest and biggest sand dune east of the Mississippi and quite a distance north of Hatteras Island. Now I'm off for a quick afternoon hike to Rattlesnake Lodge!
Saturday, October 18 2014 8:36pm
Joyce said: We hiked this trail a few weeks ago while we were visiting Asheville. We took Tunnel Rd. out of Asheville, got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and travelled north. After about 6 miles we didn't see a road sign on the Blue Ridge Parkway for Ox Creek Road but turned left at the sign pointing to Weaverville. It immediately ran into Ox Creek Road where we turned right and found the small parking lot easily in less than a mile. Beautiful scenery and very pleasant hike...trail is well maintained. I highly recommend this hike.
Sunday, October 5 2014 6:21pm
Jordan M. said: Ryan - whoops, you're right, I'm not sure where that came from. It's about 6.3 miles. Thanks - we've fixed the directions!
Wednesday, September 24 2014 8:03pm
Ryan Spruill said: Not 8.9 miles north of folk art center unless my odometer is broken. Maybe 8.9 kilometers. It was somewhere on the order of 5-6 miles.
Sunday, September 21 2014 7:56pm
Suzi said: This was our first hike since moving to Asheville. It seems to be a popular trail. The hike itself was long enough to feel like you had actually done something but not too tough to wipe you out for the rest of the day. The trail seems to be popular but is exceptionally clean.
Sunday, May 11 2014 11:48pm
Jerome Johnson said: Can you PLEASE tell me how to get these images, i.e. myTopo, Map, to show up on a Google Map? I am just a wayward beginner. Thanks.
Sunday, November 11 2012 11:50am
Gary said: A popular trail due to it's close proximity to both Ashville and Weaverville. Easily accessed from BR Pkwy, but road closures along Pkwy in winter and early spring can require you to access from Weaverville. The trail is currently block by down trees in a few places, but nothing major. Great day hike, expect lots of others if the weather is nice.
Tuesday, March 9 2010 10:07am
Matt said: It's a pleasant, easy-to-moderate hike that stays away from the roads. The destination is cool, particularly if you know the history (www.rattlesnakelodge.com). But neither the hike nor the destination are anything too special. What makes this hike worth it are it's beautiful woods, and conveniently close location. A good day hike that doesn't take all day, or take it all out of you.
Friday, December 14 2007 1:32am
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