Winter Hiking in the Smoky Mountains: 5 Essential Safety Tips

In the winter time, snowfall covers or even buries a good share of the mountain trails in the United States.  You can sometimes snowshoe or even cross-country ski on them, but they’re harder to hike with just your boots.  Some of them, especially in the Rocky Mountains, are completely impassable in the middle of the season.

Fortunately, you can do just that when you come to the Smoky Mountains.  While icy patches and snow lace the pathways, you will likely be surprised with the number of people who come out and trek on the trails this time of year.  But the crowds definitely won’t be as large as you’d find in summertime.

Should you decide to take on the local trails during the winter, you’ll definitely need to take some common-sense preparations.  Here are five of them to ensure you’ll have a safe and enjoyable hiking journey in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the surrounding areas.


1.) Dress for the unexpected

Even if the weather looks sunny and clear in the Smokies, you’ll need to suit up in layers.  That’s because the winter temperatures can vary anywhere between below freezing near the mountain tops to 70° in the lower elevations.

Also, the weather can change without warning.  You’ll definitely want to pack clothing that can protect you, no matter what Mother Nature might throw your way.  Consider bringing a poncho, gloves, a waterproof winter hat and even an extra pair of socks if it looks like rain or sleet in the forecast.

2.) Let people know your plans

This tip is standard practice anytime you go hiking, but it’s essential when you’re out on the winter Smoky Mountains trails.  There’s that weather issue, of course, but you’ll also have to take heed of more challenging conditions in the outdoors.

Tell someone exactly what trail you’ll be hiking, your time of departure and roughly how long you’ll be away.  Your contact will then keep a lookout for your return and be aware if something is amiss.

3.) Take precautions

Again, everything you’ll read here is expected for trekking out any other time of year.  The non-negotiables for your hike include a map of your chosen trail, a compass and nutritionally dense snacks like energy or protein bars and trail mix.

Other items that you might want to take along: a first aid kit, flares, and surprisingly your cellphone. Reception will be weak or non-existent in most areas of the mountains, but there are spots where the phone could work and come in handy.

4.) Hydrate with cold drinks, keep comfortable with warm

Bringing your sports bottle filled with cold water is a no-brainer.  Take along a minimum of two quarts to avoid drawing water from the streams.  It may look clean and pure, but it will likely have diseases that won’t be pleasant to experience later on.

If the temperatures have considerably dropped, pack a Thermos of your favorite hot drink (skip the hot toddy or any alcohol until you get back to civilization) to ward off the chills.

5.) Be ready for the elements

The biggest difference between summer and winter hiking in the Smokies is obviously the presence of snow and ice.  Trekking poles or hiking staffs will help you negotiate the steeper and more slippery patches along the trails, but take along some instep crampons to secure your footing.  Always stay on the marked trails so you won’t get lost or encounter problems.

Here are some can’t-miss trails for a great winter hike in the National Park: Alum Cave, Charlies Bunion, Porters Creek, and Andrews Bald.  Some trails, like Rainbow Falls, will feature spectacular frozen waterfalls at their end, which makes for amazing photography.

No matter where you go on your winter hike, head back to Christopher Place, your Smoky Mountains resort, for a warm drink and rest by the fireside at the Marston Library Pub.  Then head up to your private hot-tub suite and soak away the last bit of chills.  Get in touch with us today and book your reservation.