Winter hikes can provide many wonderful surprises 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. Here are some of our favorite winter hikes near Asheville!
Deep Creek Waterfalls: See three waterfalls with a 2.7 or 5-mile loop hike in the Great Smoky Mountains (pic at top of page is Juney Whank Falls). This area seldom sees snow. Only three miles from downtown Bryson City.
DuPont State Forest: Find a big network of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. It's lower elevation means mild weather for much of the winter. Hike to a variety of waterfalls, including Hooker Falls, Triple Falls (pic above) and High Falls with a moderate 3-mile hike. A 4.4-mile roundtrip hike takes you to Bridal Veil Falls and a 3-mile woodland walk takes you to often overlooked Wintergreen Falls.
Rainbow Falls: Located in the Nantahala National Forest, adjacent to Gorges State Park, A 3-mile roundtrip moderate hiking trail takes you to views from the front, side and top of the 150-foot waterfall.
Daniel Ridge Falls: Hike a four-mile loop near Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest with a 150-foot waterfall. If we have a lot of very cold weather, you can see a frozen waterfall. Nearby is a beautiful hike to Cove Creek Falls.
Bearwallow Mountain: Just 19 miles from downtown Asheville, hike a two-mile loop trail to the summit of this bald mountain with wonderful views. From the same parking area, hike the 5-mile roundtrip on the Trombatore Trail to Blue Ridge Pastures, another bald.
Looking Glass Rock: For 180+ degree views from a rock face, hike this strenuous trail in the Pisgah National Forest. You'll climb 1,700 feet in elevation in just over three miles (6.5 miles roundtrip). Nearby is John Rock, a five-mile loop trail to a another rock face with panoramic views of Looking Glass Rock and surrounding mountains.
Shortoff Mountain: Located near Lake James, this 4.5-mile roundtrip hike affords spectacular views as you walk along the ridgetop along the rim of Linville Gorge. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail continues to Table Rock if you want to add another 9.5 miles roundtrip.
Chimney Rock Park: Climb the 500 steps to the top of the Chimney for breathtaking views of the gorge and continue up the trail to see the Devil's Head. Often overlooked, the Four Seasons trail begins near the Meadows and takes you through a beautiful deciduous forest and boulder fields.
Lover's Leap: This short loop trail leaves from downtown Hot Springs via the Appalachian Trail and climbs to a rock outcropping for beautiful views of the river and town. Then take a hot soak in the mineral springs when you get back to town.
The Roan Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail is frequently blanketed by snow and rime ice in the winter. Unfortunately, it's a 1.5-hour drive from Asheville. But the road to Roan is usually clear of snow. From the Highway 261 at Carver's Gap on the North Carolina / Tennessee state line, hike across the bald summits. Read more about winter hikes at Roan.
Mt. Cammerer: If you are looking for a long day hike (12 miles roundtrip), hike to the summit of Mount Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail begins in the Big Creek area, just off Interstate 40 near the North Carolina & Tenneessee line (about 50 miles from Asheville). At an elevation of almost 5,000 feet, the summit is often covered in snow. But you can warm up inside the fire tower.
Max Patch on Appalachian Trail: Hike a section of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (or A.T.). A 2.4-mile loop circles the bald mountain for outstanding views from all the sides. If there is snow on the ground, four-wheel drive is definitely required since you will be driving on an unpaved forest service road.
Mt. Mitchell: The highest peak in the eastern USA is open every day, weather permitting. They will close when snow or ice are on the roads. When there is snow and ice, the rangers work to clear the park road and the Blue Ridge Parkway to NC Highway 80 (reach the Parkway on NC 80 from the Marion or Burnsville area.) The weather on the summit can be brutal, so be prepared. The view from the observation deck or a snowy hike on the Balsam Nature Trail is worth the trip. Read more about our snowy hike on Mt. Mitchell.
Linville Falls: While the Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed in the winter and you cannot access the Visitor Center parking area for Linville Falls, you can always hike in from the Pisgah National Forest side! Hike to four vistas of the waterfall and gorge in less than two miles. Read more about winter hikes to Linville Falls.
Asheville City Hikes
- North Carolina Arboretum: Located just 10 miles south of downtown, the Arboretum has several easy to moderate walking trails.
- Botanical Gardens of Asheville: Stroll an easy trail through an oasis of tranquility just a few minutes from downtown.
- Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary: Stroll on the boardwalk through the sanctuary, or hike around the lake in the adjacent park.
- Urban Trail: Take a 1.7-mile walking tour of Asheville's history downtown.
Blue Ridge Parkway
When sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed in the winter, the roadway is a great place to hike and bike (and cross country ski when there's snow)! The closed sections change daily in the winter. If road repairs are underway, it will close to walkers and bikers too. Since the Mountains to Sea Trail follows the Parkway in the Asheville area (including the 60-mile stretch from Mt Pisgah to Craggy Gardens), you can access it at many crossroads with the Parkway or at the Folk Art Center. A local's favorite winter hike is the Rattlesnake Lodge Trail section, accessed from Ox Creek Road near the Parkway. To see our favorite section to explore, go to Blue Ridge Parkway Winter Hike & Bike.
Needle ice is a frequent scene along hiking trails in the winter as the ground freezes and forces moisture upward.
Tips for Winter Hiking
- Check the weather forecast: Remember that it is often 15-20 degrees cooler in the higher elevations than in the valley around Asheville. And it's usually more windy. So on very cold days, plan a hike at a lower elevation. The best website to check local weather in the North Carolina mountains is RaysWeather.com. Don't hike if wind chills are near or below zero. Frostbite can occur quickly.
- Bring a map or GPS: Snow covered trails are difficult to follow. Know what color blazes to follow and make sure they are visible (usually attached to trees).
- Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed during the winter due to snow and ice on the road. So you cannot access many of the hikes there. If the Parkway is closed, you can park at one of the entrances on hike up the Parkway itself.
- 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 very 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!
- Keep spare batteries warm: Cold weather can drain batteries quickly. So keep your cell phone inside your clothing to keep the battery charged. And keep extra camera batteries in your pocket to stay warm.
- Photograph: Take a camera to capture amazing views and wintry scenery.
- Plan ahead: Tell someone which trail you are hiking and give them a call when you are finished. In case you get lost, your friend can call for help!
- Take first aid supplies: Be ready to treat scrapes and scratches.
- Light: Take a flashlight in case you get caught in the dark on the shorter winter days.
See our Hiking Guide for all of our recommended hikes near Asheville.