We really didn't know what we were in for when we set out to hike the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail from the Rock Creek Campground in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest. We had just gotten settled in on an unseasonably warm Thursday in October around lunchtime and only had the afternoon to hike the trail before rain and wind forecast for Friday moved in, so we didn't even take the time to research the trail before heading out.
That may have been a good thing. I suspect the over 2500' of climbing to the top might have scared me off. But it was so worth any suffering and sore muscles afterwards.
I'm pleased to report that we didn't see any rattlesnakes, thankfully, but we did see some amazing fall foliage, so please come along on a virtual hike in this magnificent forest and see for yourself.
The Rattlesnake Ridge Trail starts out along Rock Creek among dense Rhododendrons. The foliage was nice at this elevation (~2300') but would get much more impressive as we ascended.
From the trail looking out, I stood transfixed, as I saw...
It was truly glorious. I just love fall foliage!
In addition to the views of mountains nearby, the trail was resplendent in shades of orange, red, yellow, and green. Along the outer edges of the mountain, the foliage was in full fall color.
The "inner", sheltered parts of the trail, less open to the sun and sky, remained greener and mysterious. Check out this huge tree that had fallen across the trail, continuing to allow passage beneath its massive trunk.
Finally we reached the top of the mountain, where there is an overlook that you can drive to. We saw several cars and their people taking photos there; we were the only ones who had hiked up. We got some questions about the trail from those who had driven up. We didn't even see a trail marker at the top, so you have to know it's there if you want to hike down.
At this elevation (4845', according to our GPS), the color was past peak, showing what a difference elevation makes in fall foliage timing. The view was still beautiful. but the colors not as vivid, and the sky had clouded up by this time as well.
Now it was time to head down the 2500'+ we'd just trudged up. If you have cranky knees, the descent can be the toughest part of a summit hike, and I was glad for my hiking poles. It was definitely easier on the heart and lungs than the way up, though!
Along the way down, I stopped to take photos of a few individual branches I found especially pretty as well as what the trail floor looked like in places -- so many bright leaves at my feet!
One last look at this brilliant view.
And finally, a return to the "lowlands" by Rock Creek, still lovely in the late afternoon.
This was a pretty tough hike for me (less so for Barry), and I was sore for a couple of days afterwards. But as I said at the start, it was worth every bit of discomfort. We won't soon forget this one!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
Favorite Travel Blogs