We get out about once a week to hike usually in central to western North Carolina. We hike slowly and stop often to enjoy the views and the little treasures that nature offers. We enjoy waterfall, river, and mountain hikes frequently visiting The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Moutains National Park, and Pisgah National Forest.
Since the weather report called for a beautiful day we decided to drive out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and approach Craggy Gardens from the south. Making a short stop at the visitor center on the north side of Asheville we were disappointed to learn that most of the parkway was still closed due to ice and snow. It was suggested that we go up to Bull Gap where the road was closed and hike the Mountain To Sea Trail up to Rattlesnake Lodge. We drove about 8 miles north along the parkway passing an icicle waterfall on the way to Ox Creek Rd at Bull gap. Turning left we found the trail crossing and room to park past the first sharp corner but just before the second one. You really have to look to spot the trail crossing.
The first part of the hike is fairly level since you are already on the side of the hill. The trail is narrow and on the side of a steep hill but is not really challenging. There was only a little snow left in the shady spots. It almost looked like a shadow below some of the fallen trees. The nuisance in this area was the shallow mud on the trail in spots from the recent snow melt. We could hear the wind blowing in the trees above us but didn't really feel it until we came near the end of the hill and started down into the saddle before the second hill.
At the lowest point between the hills we saw several cars parked a couple hundred feet to our left. We could have shortened the hike about a half mile by parking further down Ox Creek Rd. From this point the trail climbs up the end of a taller hill by a series of switchbacks making it a gentle climb. We passed a number of people on this trail today but they all seemed to be enjoying the quiet as much as we were. We heard birds in the trees but didn't spot any wildlife today. There are good views of the mountains in the distance and into the valleys at this time of year with the leaves off of the trees. The trail levels out and after a total of 1.4 miles you reach the ruins of Rattlesnake Lodge.
The lodge was built in 1903-1904 as a summer home for the Ambler family. It burned in 1926 but there are remains of several of the buildings on site and a information sign showing where the various buildings were located. We looked around for a while and had a picnic lunch here. It was pleasant until the wind began to pick up again. The information sign said that we had hiked 1.4 miles from Bull Gap and that another trail from here would lead to the parkway in .44 miles. We decided to turn this into a loop hike and took the alternate trail.
This trail is downhill for the whole distance and follows a tiny stream formed by a spring. It made a pleasant babbling sound and grew in size as more spring contributed to it. We listened to the slow drumming of a woodpecker in the trees above us but just could not spot him. We didn't see anyone else on this trail. At the bottom of the hill we intersected the parkway at the south end of the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel. There is parking here just before entering the tunnel if you want the shortest route to the lodge site. From here we had about a mile walk on the parkway to return to where we parked.