Tuesday, November the 8th was the official kickoff of Winterfest 2011 in Pigeon Forge. As I watched the event, I started thinking about the changing weather and how soon snow would be returning to the mountains. Winter hiking in the Smokies offers great views of snow-covered forests, frozen waterfalls and more. Here is a guide to some of the best trails for Winter Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Great Winter Hiking Trails in the Smokies
The Laurel Falls Trail is one of the most visited trails in the Smoky Mountains. This 1.3-mile paved trail is a self-guided nature hike through oak and hemlock trees with views of Meigs and Blanket mountain. Laurel Falls, itself if a cascade waterfall with a 85-foot drop and a 90-foot run. Hardy hikers can continue past the falls for another 2.9 miles and visit the Cove Mountain Fire tower (No longer open to the public)
Rainbow Falls is an impressive sight during the wettest times of the year. During the winter months, icy spray from the waterfall transforms everything into a beautiful sight. Prolonged cold temperatures can cause a column of ice to form on the falls. Rainbow falls is a 5.5 mile moderately difficult round trip hike.
The five mile Alum Cave Bluff Trail ascends Mt LeConte, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. The bluff itself is at 4,950 feet in elevation and during the wintertime massive icicles form around the bluff. Several landmarks such as Arch Rock and Inspiration point offer great views of the surrounding valleys.
Wintertime Hiking Safety Tips
Anytime you go hiking in the Smoky Mountains, you should make sure that someone knows your trip details including your route along with expected departure and return times. In the event that you end up lost, this helps ensure that you will be found in the quickest time possible.
Pay attention to the weather. Conditions in the Smoky Mountains can change rapidly with little to no warning. Do not attempt to cross swollen streams. Flash floods can and do occur in the Smokies.
Sometimes, temptation to leave the trail is strong but is not worth getting lost. Make sure you stay on marked trails for your safety.
Be aware of the time and the amount of sunlight that you have left. It gets dark in the mountains early and hiking in the dark when you are not prepared is no fun.
Remember when I said pay attention to the weather? Well that applies to snow as well. Snow will cause road closures in the higher elevations of the mountains. Check the weather forecast before you set off on your hike and plan accordingly in the event of snow. That great daytime winter hike will be ruined if you have to hike out of the park due to snow covered roads. The National Park Service offers a road closure hot-line at 865-436-1200 or click here for their website.
What to bring on your winter hike.
The Boy Scout’s Motto is always be prepared. Rafting in the Smokies wants you to be prepared for your wintertime hikes in the park. Here are a few tips on what to bring.
A hiking map and compass are essential pieces of equipment to bring along. They come in really handy for getting you back to the trailhead. Know where you’re at on the trail, and stay on the marked trail at all times.
Although most of the park does not have cell phone coverage, you still want to take along your cell phone just in case. Carry your cell phone in an inside pocket where the batteries can stay warm.
Hiking in the winter causes your body to burn additional calories and requires more nourishment. Make sure to bring enough food and high-energy snacks.
Make sure to carry at least two quarts or more of drinking water. The stream your standing beside may look clear and inviting, but there are bacteria present that will affect your health for months to come. Only drink the water you brought with you or boil creek water before use.
Wear layers of clothes to help regulate your temperature and keep you warm and dry. Layers should be matched to the weather, your activity level, and personal preference. Check out this great sports medicine link on how to properly layer your clothes.
We hope that you enjoy your wintertime hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After your trip, make sure to stop by the Rafting in the Smokies Facebook page and tell us all about your great winter hike.