Asheville is a major hiking destination and a gateway to The Blue Ridge Parkway. Still, I think something people don’t realize is that a majority of the best Western North Carolina hikes are typically at least an hour or so outside of the city limits.
An hour’s drive is nothing to me. I’ll happily wake up early and do two if it’s a nice day. I have nothing else going on, which I chalk up to growing up in a very rural locale—we had a half-hour drive to get to Target or Walmart, and I had good friends who lived in the same school district whose homes entailed a good half-hour on country roads. I get that not everyone has the same car tolerance, though, and the older I get, the more I find myself struggling to pump myself up for a drive over forty minutes, so it’s always great to find a solid hike close to town.
I completed the Rattlesnake Lodge hike two Thursday nights ago, the first day since last year it’s gotten above 70𝆩. From my apartment to the Bull Gap parking area it’s a 25-minute drive.
Word of caution, the parking situation at the Bull Gap is that there is no parking situation. You have to get off the parkway for about a half-mile and park on the side of a backroad. There’s space for two or three cars, and then the rest is just country road parking, which is obviously at your own risk.
Rattlesnake Lodge is a relatively easy hike. It follows the Mountains to Sea Trail up an initial, semi-steep incline (but an easy, fence-lined, switchbacked semi-steep incline), and the rest of the way just meanders through the forest. If you’re looking for big views, Rattlesnake Lodge isn’t your pick (head a couple of miles up the road to Craggy Gardens), but there is one sweeping vista about halfway to your destination.
The appeal of Rattlesnake Lodge is the ruins of the titular lodge, not named because snakes overrun the area, but because the lodge used to have a room with a rattlesnake-skin ceiling (clearly, these people were UNWELL). The lodge used to be a summer retreat for a wealthy Ashevillian doctor and his family, complete with a mountain-spring-fed swimming pool, tennis court, and guest quarters. There’s very little left now, but an informational placard helps you visualize what it once was. I find it pretty cool, especially when you consider that my easy 20-minute drive was probably a whole day via horseback for these folks to enjoy the mountains.
Another big appeal of the Rattlesnake Lodge Hike is that it’s accessible year-round, even when the Parkway’s closed since you can access it via Town Mountain Road. An even bigger appeal for me is that you can make this a loop hike when the Parkway is closed, taking the blue-blazed trail just past the ruined lodge down to the Parkway and using that to walk back to your car. I get a big kick out of walking on the closed Parkway, which does come with sweeping views and the ability to walk through tunnels (I don’t know why I get such a kick out of this, but I do).
Additional Hikes Within a Thirty Minute Drive of Asheville
Rattlesnake Lodge is the newest hike I found that’s close to the city limit, and while most of my favorites are further out, here are some good ones that don’t require much driving.
- Catawba Falls: Catawba Falls is probably the most popular hike for those who come to Asheville but don’t want to drive far. It’s two miles roundtrip, so it won’t have you dropping any calories, and it will be crowded. Still, the waterfalls are impressive, it’s close to Black Mountain, one of my favorite outside-Asheville towns to explore, and Old Fort, the town it’s in, just opened up a satellite branch of Hillman Beer.
- Trombatore Trail: The Trombatore Trail is a solid, five-mile out and back hike just past Fairview, NC, that culminates in a gorgeous mountain meadow. This is one of my favorite post-work weekday hikes.
- Bearwallow Mountain: Do you want a gorgeous mountain meadow with almost zero effort and cows? The Bearwallow Mountain is the hike for you. It’s literally across the street from Trombatore Trail if you want to tackle seven miles and two mountain meadows in one day.
- Wildcat Rock: It’s a bit of a stretch to include Wildcat Rock in a “within a thirty-minute drive of Asheville” list, but just a bit of a stretch. Wildcat Rock is just up the road from Trombatore Trail/Bearwallow Mountain and includes everything you want from a hike: stream crossings! A waterfall! Sweeping views! A Pride-Rockesque rock pulpit! Wildcat Rock will hurt your legs.
- Big Butt Trail: This is my favorite of the close-to-Asheville hikes and the one that tricks you most into thinking you’re in the middle of the wilderness (which for both for all intents and purposes and all intensive purposes, you are).