During the winter months of often muddy and snowy hiking trails, a great alternative is hiking (or biking) on a closed section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. While the higher elevations (like the photo above at Soco Gap) are frequently blanketed in snow and popular for cross country skiing, the lower sections approaching Asheville are often clear.
While the busy section of the Parkway around the city of Asheville is open most of the winter for locals, you'll often find the Parkway gated near the NC Arboretum on the south side or near the Folk Art Center on the north side. Since the Parkway is never treated or plowed, it doesn't fully reopen until all snow and ice melt. That is a slow process in the highest elevations. See a real-time map of closed sections on the Parkway website.
Our favorite section to explore when the Parkway is closed is just six miles from downtown Asheville, starting at the intersection of Town Mountain Road (NC 694) and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 377.4. There's a small parking area near the gate blocking automobile access to the Parkway. Also at the parking area is access to the Mountains-To-Sea Trail (great for winter hiking if Parkway is open). This six-mile roundtrip hike offers sweeping mountain views, a rare opportunity to walk through a tunnel and a peaceful roadside cascade.
This section closes often from December through February when there is any ice or snow on the Parkway. If this section is open, drive north 1.2 miles to Ox Creek Road. The Parkway is closed much more frequently here since it's the last exit before the snowy Craggy Gardens area. Sometimes, sections of the Parkway are completely closed for repairs (see current closures).
Here's a scene from an fall snow at Tanbark Tunnel (part of the hike we mention above). See our Photo Journal of a Snowy Drive on the Parkway.
While most of the Parkway is closed for snow, sometimes you'll find a short section that is open. But do not attempt without four wheel drive!
See a real-time map of which sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are open/closed. During snow, it's a popular area for cross country skiing. Dogs are allowed if they are leashed.
Winter hikes provide many bonuses like better views (since leaves are off the trees), few fellow hikers, no bugs, brilliant skies with clear distant views on many days and cool temperatures. See more winter hikes.
Tips for Winter Hiking
- Check the weather forecast: Remember that it is often 10-20 degrees cooler in the higher elevations than in the valley around Asheville. And it's usually more windy.
- Dress in layers: Wear a layer of clothing with wicking properties next to your skin (not cotton). Wool and synthetics are your best bets. Get advice at an outdoors store. Wear several layers so you can remove layers as you warm up. Even on frigid day, you will warm up quickly if you are hiking up a mountain. Always take water resistent gear since weather can change quickly.
- Eat and drink more: You burn more calories hiking in the winter, especially if you are hiking through snow. So take snacks and protein bars. Also, humidity levels are often very low, so you can dehydrate quicker. So take plenty of water. If it is below freezing, tuck the water inside your clothing to keep it from freezing.
- Take your cell phone: Although cell phone signals are spotty in the mountains, it won't hurt!
- Light: Take a flashlight in case you get caught in the dark on the shorter winter days.