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The 4 Best Winter Hikes in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina

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Say goodbye to the vibrant autumn leaves, at least until next year. But don’t fret, adventure-seekers! The North Carolina Smoky Mountains still offer plenty of opportunities to get out into nature, even during the colder months.

While some people may prefer to cozy up by a crackling fire with a cup of hot cocoa, we know the real fun lies in hitting the trails for some epic winter hiking. Picture this: frozen waterfalls glistening in the sunlight, ice formations that look like works of art, and breathtaking mountain views that will leave you in awe. Who needs warm temperatures when you can experience the rare solitude of a winter wonderland?

Haywood County, nestled within the borders of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, is a winter hiker’s paradise. With trails scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway and within the Pisgah National Forest, there is no shortage of options to explore. Just keep in mind that timing is everything when it comes to winter hikes. Check the closure notices on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s website before embarking on your adventure, as some roads may close in inclement weather. But fear not, even if vehicle traffic is prohibited, you can still take in some of the best vistas by walking along the parkway itself.

Now, let’s talk tips for winter hiking in the Smokies. First and foremost, dress in layers! The cold weather may have you shivering, but once you start moving, you’ll warm up quickly. Don’t forget a hat and gloves to keep those extremities nice and toasty. Second, make sure to wear sturdy boots with good traction. You never know when you might encounter a snow-covered or icy trail. Safety first, folks!

So, don’t let the cold weather stop you from experiencing the magic of winter hiking. Embrace the beauty of snow-covered trails, frozen waterfalls, and the tranquility that only a winter landscape can provide. The North Carolina Smoky Mountains are calling, and they have some unforgettable adventures in store for you. Let’s go!

Trails around the uber-popular Max Patch are often crawling with eager hikers during peak months, but during the slower winter months, there can be days where you won’t even encounter another person. And on a day where snow blankets the ground, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful scene.

Also not to be forgotten, many hikes in the Smokies have views obstructed by leafy trees that open up when branches are bare, a feature that also allows for better glimpses of wildlife and deeper views into the woods. Another huge advantage is that while many shy away from the cold, it’s nice to hike and not feel drenched in sweat.

On the contrary, layering up for a hike can be nice, and if you get too warm, you can always shed your jacket and tie it around your waist.

Here are some of our favorite winter hikes:

Graveyard Fields:
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Length: 2.3 Mile Loop

Believe it or not, the name Graveyard Fields comes from the appearance of the landscape after logging and fire destroyed much of the forest and soil: the tree stumps left behind looked like gravestones. Don’t let the name scare you off—this popular hike offers access to not just one, but two beautiful waterfalls. The Lower Falls is just a third of a mile from the parking area but does have a few uphill sections on your walk back. From the multi-tiered second falls, you can continue on a farther trek to the tall cascades of the upper falls.

Rough Fork Trail to the Woody House:
Difficulty Level: Easy
Length: 2 mile roundtrip
The drive down to the Cataloochee Valley is a treat in itself, especially during the winter time when traffic dwindles to the point that on some mornings, you might find yourself on your own. At the end of the road that snakes through the valley is the Rough Fork Trailhead that, if followed, will take you 1 mile on a flat trail — which offers deep glimpses into the woods during winter — to the Woody House, which is over a century old and also has multiple outbuildings on the property.

Waterrock Knob
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Length: 1.2 Miles
The last trail along the Parkway as you travel toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is scenic Waterrock Knob. If any members of your group don’t feel like hiking, savoring the view from a picnic table near the parking area will still provide a panoramic look at the Smoky Mountain landscape—an adventure in itself. If you do choose to hike, the 1.2 mile out-and-back trail will take you up a moderate incline and with rewarding scenery along the entire route.

Max Patch:
Difficulty Level: Easy
Length: 1.4 Miles
If you’re looking for the perfect spot to watch a snowy sunrise or sunset, take your crew to Max Patch. This relatively short hike is a family-friendly, fan-favorite destination that sits on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. You can also access several other trails on the Parkway from this spot. Take a short hike up a slight incline to enjoy incredible views and find out why this grassy bald is beloved by hikers, dogs, and families.

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