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Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains

Stars shine brightest during the most cold and dark parts of night.  It is often when you are surrounded by fire that you learn that the fire inside of you burns brighter than any other flame.  

On Monday, November 28th, 2016, the people of Gatlinburg, TN were faced with their darkest of nights – they found themselves in the midst of smoke and flames.  They feared for their safety, the safety of those that they love, their homes and the businesses they had built. By dawn’s first light, many of their worst fears had come true. However, out of the darkness came a light brighter than the sun, a fire stronger than that from the forest. A light and a fire from within – strength like no other. Strength like those that had walked the Smoky Mountain hills before any of us. 

By morning, the people of Gatlinburg had showed the world what it truly means to be an Appalachian American.

Winter sunrise at Newfound Gap. (Parsons)

Over the next year, the people and our Great Smoky Mountains National Park will continue to rise from the ashes. They will grow stronger and more beautiful each day. You may have experienced the Smokies before, but you’ve never seen magic like what is about to unfold.

This winter, visit the Smokies. Come say hello, shop in the shops and stay awhile. Hike the trails, explore the mountains. Bring your friends and family. Play in the snow, find a frozen waterfall or sip on hot chocolate as you watch the sunset. Come and play…

Fall in love all over again with our Smoky Mountains.

Step By Step Guide to Experiencing Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains:

** Please note that all trails listed are areas that were not affected by the wildfires. If planning a hiking trip in the Roaring Fork area of the park or in the areas around the Chimney Tops Trail – please check beforehand to assure that the trails have been reopened.

Winter isn’t an excuse to stay inside… It’s the perfect excuse to gear up and go exploring! 

Where to explore this winter in the Smoky Mountains?

Gatlinburg Area:

Small falls off trail in the Greenbriar area. (Parsons)

Greenbrier: The Greenbrier section of the GSMNP is located just 15 minutes outside of Gatlinburg. Due to being directly off highway 321, this area of the park is easily accessible at all times and especially in the winter. Some of the trails that you’ll find here that are wonderful for winter hiking are Porter’s Creek, Old Settler’s Trail and Grapeyard Ridge. This area is also home to Ramsey Cascades – a must see after a long cold spell! However, the trail will be closed for repairs in the winter of 2016.  The road that runs through Greenbrier and to the trailheads listed is also a very popular spot for running as well as snow play on the days when park roads are closed due to snow. Looking for a fantastic place to fill up and warm up after a day of play? Check out the Hungry Bear BBQ just outside of the entrance to the park!

Little River in winter. (Parsons)

Elkmont: Tucked away in the park, less than 30 minutes from Gatlinburg is the historical Elkmont. Elkmont is known for it’s history and for it’s summer time fireflies.. However, it is also the perfect place for families and more to play in the winter. Take the Little River Trail, that’s wide and open, along the Little River for an enchanting snowy day hike.. No snow? Still go! Take time to check out all of the ice formations on the rocks and cascades along the river. 2 miles into Little River Trail, you’ll find Huskey Branch Falls to your right.  

Townsend Area:

Tremont: The Tremont area is the located just .3 miles from the WYE located in Townsend, Tn. Just a couple of the trails to explore in Tremont during the winter are the West Prong trail and the hike up to Spruce Flats Falls, located behind the Tremont Institute. Tremont is a fantastic spot to explore on a snowy day when the roads are closed due to weather. You can park outside of the park entrance and walk in, take your time and enjoy the winter wonderland that unfolds on a snowy day in the Smokies.

Foothills Parkway during closure. (Parsons)

Foothills Parkway: The Foothills Parkway the perfect spot to catch a Smoky Mountain sunrise year around, however – it’s also an excellent way to enjoy the Smokies on a day when the park roads are closed. Just off of 321 in Walland, TN you’ll find an area outside of the gate that is perfect for parking on a snowy day. Take a walk up the Parkway to at least the first overlook for a view of a snowy Smokies!

Frost covered Cades Cove. (Parsons)

Cades Cove: The only way that you’ll see Cades Cove covered in snow, is if you’re in the Cove when the snow begins. Due to the layout of the Cove and the closure of the roads during snow days – the snow in the fields often melts before you can access Cades Cove. This doesn’t mean that the Cove isn’t filled with it’s own winter magic. Arrive early in the Cove for a chance to witness hoar frost covering everything. As well as lingering snow on the cabins and shaded areas when the road reopens. Winter hikes in the area to consider are Abrams Falls and Rich Mountain Loop.

Hoar frost at sunrise. (Parsons)

Lead Cove/Bote Mountain/Finley Cane: Looking for a nice winter loop hike? You’ll find this set of trails before Tremont and Cades Cove. 7 miles of solitude and a chance to experience the true peacefulness of the Smokies.

North Carolina: Looking for a family friendly winter hike on the North Carolina side of the Smokies? Maybe you just want to escape for a winter run or photograph serene areas of water that are often filled with swimmers in the summer months.. If so, Big Creek is the spot for you. Take a cold, winter’s day hike up to Mouse Creek Falls and back – just 4.2 miles roundtrip.

Mouse Creek Falls in January. (Parsons)

441 and Higher Elevation Hikes:

441 and the higher elevations in the Smokies are always amazing areas to hike and explore. However, during the winter months especially – keep in mind that the weather can be very unpredictable, much colder than lower elevations and will have snow and ice much sooner than other areas in the park. This isn’t a reason to avoid the trails in the area, it just means that you need to be prepared for any scenario, dressed correctly and equipped with the right gear. Once you’re geared up – get outside and find your winter adventure!

Clingmans Dome road is closed  from December 1st until March 31st each year. The closure is only for vehicles, leaving the road free to access by hiking or even cross country skiing.

Section of cable trail near Mt. LeConte. (Parsons)

Alum Cave and Charlie’s Bunion: Two fantastic hikes off of Newfound Gap Road are Alum Cave and Charlie’s Bunion. Both hikes, in the winter, do require you to be properly prepared at all times. But, with the right gear and preparation both trails can be unforgettable adventures with views that words can’t describe.  

Sunset at Cliff Tops on Mt. LeConte. (Parsons)

Planning a winter hiking trip to the Smokies? Heading into Gatlinburg and to explore the mountains?  Check road conditions with at Smokies Road Info @SmokiesRoadNPS

Read THIS before hiking this winter!

4 thoughts on “Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains

  1. Thank you for this great article. I have loved the Smokies since I was introduced back in 2000. Until then, I had no idea of the beauty and awesomeness the mountains held. The fires this fall are a terrible loss, but have faith in the dedicated and devoted tourists. We will return, we will pour money back into the community and in that way, help rebuild. The majestic beauty that was lost, will return in time.

  2. My husband & I were planning to visit the Seiverville/Gatlinburg region of the Smoky Mountain National Park in May. Friends of mine live in the Gatlinburg area. Fortunately, their home was spared in the fire, but some of their friends were not so fortunate. I am a great admirer of Dolly Parton, so Dollyville will be part of our schedule! I want to do some wildlife photography while on our visit. As terrible as the fire was, nature tends to renew itself quickly out of the charred woodland. I am hoping to capture fresh images of wildlife’s renewal in the spring. My heart and total support for the Appalachian folks making their homes in the Smokies! Live long and prosper Miss Dolly!

  3. We live in Chattanooga and have a cabin in Nantahala area. Our favorite time to visit the Smokies is January – April because it isn’t crowded and the nature is plentiful. Deep Creek is so fresh and pure, plus you practically have it to yourself. Ocunuluftee is nice and easy to find a parking place. This is an easy walk for little kids & elderly, and they love it because it is flat, has a little village, then you walk to the river and it is nature in its glory. Also, there are often elk in the field. If the elk are off doing something else, you will find ground hogs and turkey. The Smoky Mountains are the best treasure around.

  4. How about handicap accessible trails?

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