History of the Rattlesnake Lodge
The building of the Rattlesnake Lodge began in 1903 and would become the summer home for Dr. Ambler, his wife Harriet, and their five children. Every summer Harriet would bring the children to summer on the mountain while their father, a doctor in Asheville, would work during the week and retreat to the family compound on the weekends. This was a prevalent practice for many wealthy families during that time as the mountains that surround Asheville can be up to 10 degrees cooler and provide a summer retreat.
The lodge’s history, along with some great pictures, was gathered by Arthur Chase Ambler junior, who was the grandson of Dr. Ambler. With the help of his Aunt Barbara, they published in 1994 a History and Guide Book of the Rattlesnake Lodge. Here you will find the detailed history and pictures of the family and the buildings that made up the Rattlesnake Lodge. In addition, some of the information gathered from this website is included here.
The original entrance to the family home was through Bull Gap. The trailhead was built to be four feet wide, which was not suitable for the horse-drawn carriages that typically were used during that time. This design was purposefully included to maintain as much privacy as possible for the family during their summer retreats. Since there was a good public road over Bull Gap, a carriage house was built at the gap to store the family’s carriages. From this carriage house, the family and visitors walked to the lodge or traveled by horseback. Historic pictures show daughter Barbara standing beside a sled commonly used to haul supplies back and forth to the lodge.
One might ask, “how did such a sweet family compound be called Rattlesnake Lodge?” During the first three years, it was written that 41 rattlesnakes were killed on the property. Word quickly spread that Dr. Ambler would pay $5 for any rattler brought to him. The ceiling in the living room was used to display all the skins that were collected over the year for the bounty Dr. Ambler paid to locals.
The Amblers entertained many guests on the mountain, with the original guest register from 1908- 1920, still in existence. It shows most visitors coming during the summer months, but it is also documented Dr. & Mrs. Ambler coming to the lodge many times during the other months.
It’s interesting to mention the details on the bottom of the original folded postcard shown above that noted the elevation of the lodge at 4,400 ft. The lodge was actually built at 3,700 feet. Some of the articles written about the lodge tended to exaggerate about the steep mountain and dangerous snakes. One article even stated that “The hillsides were so steep that once a cow fell out of the pasture and broke its neck.”)
Dr. Ambler sold the property in 1920, two years after the passing of his wife, Harriet. The home later burned down, possibly due to a lightning strike on the home.
Tips on Hiking the Rattlehead Lodge Hiking Trail
The first trailhead starts at the entrance of the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel and is less than a mile from the Sourwood Inn entrance. Several parking places are found on the shoulder of the Blue Ridge Parkway just before the tunnel. The trailhead runs alongside a brook and is steep in places. Be sure to wear hiking shoes for a firm grip on the slippery stones. We started our walk here, connected with the Mountain to Sea Trail, and continued west toward Bull Gap. The trail is clearly marked with white blazes. Along the way, we found a perfect spot for our picnic.
The other trailhead is a 1.42-mile walk from Bull Gap. It is not as steep as the former trail. To get to the start at Bull Gap, leave the Parkway at the Ox Creek Road, and continue to the right for about .6 miles. There is a small parking area at BullGap. Go about 50 yards to the gap and turn left on the Mountain to Sea trail. The trail is marked with white blazes. It is an easy walk to the lodge area. Along the way, you will pass the rock foundation of the Rattlesnake Lodge Carriage House and the alternate parking area. It’s fun to imagine the family parking their carriage here and loading up the sled with supplies for their stay.
The Mountains to Sea Trail ascends from Bull Gap, following the original access road to Rattlesnake Lodge. The road to the lodge is exceptionally narrow and flanked by stone walls scattered throughout its length.
Continuing east on the Mountains to Sea Trail, you’ll see the stone remains of the lodge’s shallow spring-fed pool. From there, you will reach the remains of the flat, terraced yard and the foundation of Rattlesnake Lodge to the left of the trail. Then, following the contours of a stacked-stone wall, you’ll reach the remains of the tool shed on the trail’s right and the spring house on the trail’s left.
Reaching the foundations of the caretaker’s cabins and potato house, this route turns around to retrace its steps to the trailhead, following the outbound hike in reverse. It’s a nearly continuous descent from the lodge to the trailhead along the Mountains to Sea Trail, making for an easy return hike back to your transportation.
NEARBY HIKES ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
After your hike around Rattlesnake Lodge, and if you have energy and daylight to spare, consider checking out the breathtaking Craggy Garden Trails or an exceptional sunset on the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. A previous blog highlights both.
Feeling the vibes of Appalachian History
As we settled on a log to enjoy our picnic, our thoughts traveled back in time. Imagining what it was like to live in the early 1900s in Asheville. Dr. Ambler believed in forestry conservation and the protection of wildlife. He created a haven for his family to retreat in the summertime. While life was different without many of the modern conveniences we take for granted today, many blessings came when life moved slower, and the simpler things in life were cherished. One could imagine the children jumping into their shallow pool, screaming with delight and shock at the cold temperatures. And the family gathering on the back porch to share stories or listen to some Appalachian music.
Come Stay with us
At the Sourwood Inn, we pride ourselves on being the very best lodging in Asheville for all those outdoor enthusiasts. We are centrally located off of the BlueRidge Parkway and just a short drive to Asheville. Our inn sits on 100 areas of beautifully forested land with breathtaking mountain views. Come and enjoy the solitude and be pampered with our farm direct dining and curated wine. You can check out all of our deluxe rooms with views here. Our 2021 fall season is almost totally booked and we are planning a fun Thanksgiving meal along with some special packages for December.
Come stay with us for an unforgettable Asheville getaway that could include a wonderful hike of the Rattlesnake Lodge Hiking Trail.