The outdoors is yours for the taking in Haywood County, even in winter.
But it’s wise to be extra vigilant when hiking in colder conditions. Read on for seven winter hiking tips that will keep you safe during your outdoor winter adventure.
Once you feel prepared to hit the woods, don’t miss The Seven Wonders of Winter Hiking for the inside track on the best winter hikes in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains of Haywood County.
- Tell someone exactly where you plan to go, and make sure they’ll call for help if you don’t come back by a designated time. Even on warm winter days, nights in the mountains usually dip below freezing — sometimes far below freezing — and you don’t want to get stuck outside overnight.
- Watch for icy spots on trails, especially around foot bridges. Like black ice on roads, a dark spot on a rock may look like it’s just wet , but it could actually be a thin film of ice. Stay away from rocks along creeks and waterfalls, the most dangerous hiking hazard anytime of year. Even if there’s no snow on the ground, the spray coming off the water can freeze and lead to slick spots.
- If fresh snow is in the cards, be aware that it can obscure the trail. When the woods are covered in white, everything looks the same, and it’s possible to get off course and lose the trail without realizing it.
- Allow plenty of time to get back to your car by dark. The sun sets early in the winter — maybe even earlier than you think. If the sun drops behind a mountain, dusk can come suddenly. And depending on where you’re visiting from, sunset in Haywood County could be earlier than you’re used to back home.
- As a safety precaution, pick up an emergency thermal blanket for your backpack. They’re super small, light-weight and inexpensive, but can be a lifesaver — literally — if you hit a snag and need to stay warm and dry while waiting for help. Also pack a lighter, but unless you’re adept at building a fire from sticks and branches, a pack of fire starters will help it catch. Stop in to Mast General Store in downtown Waynesville and Carolina Readiness Supply to pick up these supplies.
- A map is a good idea, but it won’t help if you don’t know how to read it. The same goes for a compass. It’s only helpful if you know how to use it. If you’re new to hiking and haven’t used a trail map before, pick one of our easier trails to try your first time out.
- Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, since cold zaps the battery. It’s critical to switch your phone to airplane mode or turn it off when not in use. As you pass through zones with spotty service, your phone will constantly be searching for a signal, quickly draining the battery. If you have to make an emergency call but can’t get a signal, go up. You’re more likely to get service on higher ground. Stay on the trail if you can though — it makes it easier for search crews to find you.