11 Great Winter Hiking Trails in the Smoky Mountains

Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rainbow Falls at wintertime (photo courtesy of Michael Hicks, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode. No changes were made to this photo)

Last month, we mentioned helpful suggestions for making your winter hike in the Smoky Mountains a safe, adventurous and enjoyable outing.  Now we’ll reveal some favorite trails that truly stand out in the holiday months.

A good share of these treks offer frozen waterfalls, ponds and streams, which form dramatic ice formations when the temperatures fall below freezing for an extended length of time.  You will also view massive sparkling icicles suspended above on cliffs – just be sure to watch out for dangerous falling ones on these trails.  At times, you may also encounter some wildlife.  Again, exercise caution and common sense when you do.

Other than staying safe and prepared, all you need to do is enjoy the unique scenery that a winter hike in the Smoky Mountains presents.  Here are eleven of our snowy weather favorites:

11 Winter Hiking Trails in the Smoky Mountains

1.) Laurel Falls

This short 1.3-mile paved trail rewards visitors with a majestic and multi-tiered 80-foot cascade at its end, best viewed on the wooden footbridge spanning its length.  It likely won’t be completely frozen, or at all, but you’ll still be impressed with this woodland gem.

2.) Rainbow Falls

If you are eager for something more challenging, consider taking this trek along LeConte Creek that greets you with an elevation gain of 1,700 feet, plus a 5-mile-plus round-trip, switchbacks and rocky sections.  The falls here sometimes freeze into an hourglass shape in wintertime.

3.) Alum Cave

Do you want to view some impressive icicle formations on your hike?  Then head up this popular trail for a roughly 4 ½-mile round-trip to the Alum Cave, which is in fact a towering concave bluff rising 80-feet above the trail.  This outing is popular, even in winter, so get here early to beat the crowds.

4.) Andrews Bald

Take the Forney Ridge Trail from Clingman’s Dome parking lot for 1.8 miles, where you’ll gradually descend to a ridge that levels off.  During winter, snow is common here, so be sure to wear proper footwear to keep you warm.  Thrill to the spectacular views you’ll see on this plateau.

5.) Porters Creek

This trail offers one of the best winter hikes in the National Park because of its easy car access, fewer crowds, lower elevation and gentle climbs.  The 4-mile round-trip will bring to the frozen spectacle of Fern Branch Falls.

6.) Daniel Ridge Falls/Tom’s Spring Falls

If you’re on the North Carolina side close to Asheville, head to the Pisgah National Forest and these cascades, which have different names.  Even though the hike is quite short – just a half mile one way – you’ll find these waterfalls freeze into a dramatic show during the colder months.

7.) Deep Creek Waterfalls

Also in North Carolina but in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this series of loop treks showcases three waterfalls that range from half-mile to 4 ½-mile.  Some may be frozen, but each of the trails are mostly easy to cover.

8.) Max Patch

Like Andrews Bald, this mountaintop in the Pisgah National Forest will likely have a blanket of snow covering its surface.  The route leads hikers up two loop trails that are an easy climb and 4-miles total.  A little further along, you can also hit the Appalachian Trail.

9.) Huskey Gap

A moderately difficult 4.2-mile climb that starts at Newfound Gap Road, this trail is known for its remote quietness, so you might almost feel you have the trail to yourself.  Along the way, you’ll notice remains of a stone fence.  Near the end of the trail, you’ll see some beautiful mountain views.

10.) Hen Wallow

Chances are if the temperatures have dipped below freezing you’ll find the 90-foot falls at the end of this 4.4-mile hike frozen into a long fluted column.  Even if they aren’t, you’ll enjoy this hike which takes you along the Gabes Mountain Trail for some serious ascending.

11.) Schoolhouse Gap

On this relatively short and easy hike near Cades Cove, you just might spot some wildlife as they make their way to the open space.  This uncrowded route is great for an outing that won’t require a lot of climbing and expending energy.

Whatever winter hike you choose, be sure to return to Christopher Place, your Smoky Mountains resort, and warm up with your favorite drink beside a roaring fire in the Marston Library Pub and in your private hot-tub suite.  Call or email us today and reserve your well-deserved winter retreat.