Rattlesnake Lodge Hike
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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