Rattlesnake Lodge is a great hike that is popular with locals because it is a short drive from Asheville and is not a long hike. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a shorter hike or if your time is limited. As a bonus, it's a historic site with remains of structures more than 100 years old that you can explore.
Dr. Chase Ambler built a home here in 1903 as a remote escape for his family. The cooler temperatures of the higher elevation and the outdoor lifestyle it offered made it an ideal location for the Amblers. Over the years, they added additional land, structures, and amenities to the property. It eventually totaled over 300 acres and became an interesting mix of rural functionality and city luxuries. While most of the buildings and property features have burned, crumbled, or been overtaken by nature, a careful observer can find evidence of the barn, a swimming pool, the lodge site, a tool shed, the spring house and cisterns, a caretaker’s cabin, the potato house, and a tennis court. A map of the site can be found at www.rattlesnakelodge.com.
Rattlesnake Lodge was aptly named as 41 rattlesnakes were said to have been killed in the first three years the Amblers were there. The snake skins were hung on the living room ceiling. Certainly an interesting decorating choice! Dr. Ambler was known to offer $5 to anyone who brought him a rattlesnake to add to his collection. Five dollars was big bucks in those days, so undoubtedly rattlesnakes from near and far were sacrificed for the reward. Please note that it is illegal to kill or harm snakes in the park now.
Notwithstanding his apparent lack of love for snakes, Dr. Ambler was a community leader and a conservationist. The horse trail through his property was extended all the way to Mount Mitchell and much of its route today is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). Dr. Ambler was the chairman of a committee that eventually became the Carolina Mountain Club, which today maintains much of the MST. He was a strong advocate for the Weeks Act of 1911 that protected the headwaters of rivers and watersheds and lead to the creation of national forests in the eastern U.S. like Pisgah National Forest. Dr. Ambler was also an early supporter of the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there is a peak named Mount Ambler in the park to honor him. The Ambler family left a legacy at Rattlesnake Lodge and we are fortunate that we can visit a place that was so special to them.
• From the Blue Ridge Parkway, park at the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel at Milepost 374.4. On the south side of the tunnel there are dirt pull-offs on both sides of the road for parking. The trail begins on the west side of the road next to a small cascading creek. Very quickly, the trail splits. Both trails are moderately steep, approximately 0.5 miles long, and connect to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) that runs through the Rattlesnake Lodge site. (Both trails are marked with blue blazes. The MST is marked with white blazes.) The left trail will bring you closer to the old lodge site. The right trail connects to the MST further north and closer to the potato house and the traveler’s “shack.” A good option is to take one of the trails up and the other down for a nice loop hike.
• Because the long Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through Rattlesnake Lodge, you can hike further on that trail for a longer hike. There is also a 0.2 mile spur trail up from the old spring house to what was the main water reservoir for the property.
• Whatever trail you take to get to Rattlesnake Lodge, you’ll be hiking through a mid-elevation deciduous forest. (The lodge site is at approximately 3,700 feet). Colorful wildflowers dot the trail in the spring and summer. Poison ivy is also common, so stay on the trail! This wooded hike keeps you in the shade almost all of the time, but doesn’t provide many views. Unless you hike in winter, when the leafless trees allow for more long-range views. (Sometimes Parkway winter closures limit access to trailheads. Check the road closure map before you head out).