If you’re imagining hikes to frozen waterfalls or pictures with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, winter may be the perfect time for you to visit the Smokies!
What to Pack
Depending on the elevation, the average high for this season in the Smokies is 45°F and the low is 22°F, so you’ll want to pack plenty of warm clothes to wear. Layers are always a great idea because even though it’s cold. When you start your hike, the weather may be comfortable. But, as you get to higher elevations, it will get colder and you may experience snow on the ground. You may also experience mud at the higher elevations from the snow and ice melt. Be sure to wear appropriate foot wear. You should also bring some snacks and enough water to last for the entire hike. Just be sure that you don’t leave trash or leftover food anywhere, because it could attract wildlife. Feeding Wildlife is illegal and could lead to a nuisance animal which may have to be uthenized. Please refer to our Bear safety guide.
What to wear
Dress in layers, cover all of your skin, wear sunglasses or goggles and pack a flashlight.
Where to Hike
There are over 850 miles of hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains, however, some are better than others at certain times of the year. Waterfall hikes like the Laurel Falls Trail are gorgeous during the winter! You’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland as you look up at the half-frozen, 80-foot falls. The hike to the falls is arguably just as beautiful, with mountain views peeking through the bare trees. Please note they are starting to require a parking pass for Laurel Falls. So, be sure to purchase yours in advance. Another great place to hike during the winter months is Porters Creek. This trail is rich in history and is conveniently situated at a lower elevation, making it less likely to be closed off due to snow.
Grapeyard Ridge Trail in Greenbrier
With less foliage to camouflage old home sites and farmsteads, winter is a great time to take historical hikes. Prior to the creation of the national park in 1934 hundreds of families lived in the Smokies and many remnants of their legacies are still standing today. Old engine wrecks can be found from a time when railroads were one of the primary methods of transportation through the mountains. The Grapeyard Ridge trail in Greenbrier is an excellent place to see one of these wrecks as the old engine, which turned over in the creek, is still largely intact.
Another option that tops the list of best winter hiking trails is Alum Cave Trail. Alum Cave is a concaved bluff that towers nearly 80 feet above the trail. During the winter months, droplets coming off the ledges above the bluff form into large icicles.
Schoolhouse Gap Trail near Cades Cove
Schoolhouse Gap is another family friendly winter hiking trail that is located near Cades Cove. The trail is relatively short and is one of the trails where hikers are most likely to spot wildlife. Cades Cove is also home to many cabins and historic sites, many of which have been restored to how they looked over 150 years ago.
What Roads Are Open
Scenic drives are a great thing to do during any season as long as the roads are in good condition to be driven on. There are several primary roads that are open year round as long as the weather permits. These roads include US-441 (Newfound Gap Road), Little River Road, and the Cades Cove Loop Road. You can enjoy the stunning mountain views as you go along your way, and there are lots of spots where you can pull over to take pictures.
You can view the current road closures at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm
Does it Snow in the Smoky Mountains?
Lower elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park typically see several snowfalls each winter, while higher elevations tend to get more snow more frequently. Although many winter days see temperatures of 50 degrees or higher, the lows tend to range at or below freezing. It is important to check the conditions of the park and its roads any time you are planning a visit during the winter months. For the latest information on road conditions, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call (865) 436-1200.
If you have never seen snow in the Smokies, you are missing out on some beautiful scenery. Winter snowfalls, frozen waterfalls, and hanging icicles offer ample opportunities for capturing some amazing winter photos.
You also have an opportunity to spot wildlife during the winter in the Smoky Mountains. Watch for animal prints if there is snow as you venture down the trails. Just remember to maintain a safe distance from the animals. Check out some of our wildlife safety tips before you head out.
I personally love hiking in the winter. The trails are much less crowded and the temperature is much more enjoyable. Just be prepared and plan to spend the day stopping to smell the roses.
Book your Smoky Mountain Getaway at https://www.greatsmokymountains.online/