Nothing is stirring in the serene white forest except the faint dripping water slowly melting in the glistening sun. The air is thin and cold, but it cools your lungs in a refreshing way like nothing else can. Winter hikes are an exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping trek you will truly want to experience while you are visiting the Smoky Mountains.
With the proper gear, attire, and plan, you and your hiking partners will love snapping tons of pictures of the breathtaking, quiet beauty that is the Smoky Mountain region during the colder months. After planning and taking the proper precautions, there are a few hikes to consider for their popularity and the skill level in which they require to make the voyage. Here are a few my favorite trails alongside a list of essentials to best enjoy your snowy adventure.
Alum Cave Trail
Honestly, this is one of the best moderately-difficult day hikes in the Smoky Mountain region year-round. In the first mile of the trek to Arch Rock, hikers get a peaceful rise in elevation alongside Alum Cave Creek, surrounded by forestry and large rock formations. As you keep walking past Arch Rock, still your beating heart as you come upon views of Anakeesta Ridge.
Many hikers who are looking for a shorter, easier day will choose to stop at Alum Cave Bluffs, 2.3 miles from the trailhead, rather than hiking the 5 miles to the summit of Mount Le Conte as the trail steepens in certain points as you rise in elevation. There are plenty of breathtaking, expansive views along the trail, and during the cooler months, you will be treated with a truly beautiful winter spectacle as parts of the creek freeze over and the mountain peaks are laden with snow.
Another crowd favorite year-round, Laurel Falls is pretty easy hike because the trail is paved. In the winter, you will still need to be wary of damp conditions in snow and rain, but the sight of the half-frozen 80-foot waterfall is a truly magical sight. It’s an easier hike for those who don’t want to invest the majority of a day or get a lot of hiking gear. As one of the most photogenic spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s also a spot you don’t want to have a dead phone. Be sure to charge your phone or digital cameras to capture some pretty incredible pictures of the wintry falls.
Down Historic Nature Trail from downtown Gatlinburg, you can find the trailhead of another magical frozen waterfall, Rainbow Falls. This hike is moderately-difficult in comparison to Laurel Falls, however, and rises approximately 1,500 feet in elevation for a 5.4-mile roundtrip voyage.
It is so important that you wear the right clothing and bring the essentials on your snowy hikes so nothing dampens your exciting day, other than the melting snow. Here are a few strategies and items you will definitely want to take with you!
- It’s All About the Layers
While it is the winter, you are still in the South! We are known for our sometimes aggravating temperature and climate changes. A few weeks ago, we experienced 80-degree weather. In November. By layering your clothing, you can adjust to those spontaneous rises in afternoon temperatures by simply removing a jacket or shirt. A tight-fitting undershirt is great for insulation, then a more loose-fitting t-shirt or active shirt, along with a light or heavy jacket (check the weather forecast before heading out) is the perfect outfit lineup for your winter hike in the Smoky Mountains.
Southern winters in the mountains can range from inches of snow to rainy mixes. Either way, your everyday tennis shoes are not going to be the best idea for taking on the moist and sometimes frozen grounds along the trails. Invest in durable hiking shoes that will last you for a long time, rather than buying cheaper shoes that will likely be beaten up by the terrain.
- Keep Your Head, Hands & Feet Warm!
You will not be able to focus on the beauty and serenity of the white forests and snow-capped mountains if you are focused on your ears and fingers freezing off! Wear hats, headbands with built-in ear muffs, gloves, and insulated socks to keep all the smaller parts of your body cozy and warm!
- Walking Aids
Along with the right traction on your hiking boots, if you are scaling higher or steeper elevations, trekking poles would be another great investment. Trekking poles not only help you keep your balance, but they also relieve some of the stress and pressure on your back and knees!
Favorite Area Shops for Gear
- Nantahala Outdoor Center | 1138 Parkway | Gatlinburg
- Hikey Mikey | 157 Old Mill Ave | Pigeon Forge
- Columbia Sportswear Outlet | 1645 Parkway #1460 | Sevierville
- GSM Outfitters LLC | 3275 Wears Valley Rd | Sevierville</li>
- Day Hiker | 634 Parkway #1 | Gatlinburg
Don’t let the cold weather keep you in front of your cabin’s fireplace the whole time you are visiting the Smoky Mountains. Get out and explore all nature has to offer, even in quiet, peaceful beauty!