Wintertime is one of the most underrated seasons of the year to hike in and the Great Smoky Mountains. For this reason, while staying at the resort, you will be able to enjoy the serenity and solitude of these majestic mountains with fewer crowds.
Though you may have to layer up and don some extra accessories (i.e. scarf, gloves, hat, long johns), when you visit the park this time of year your efforts will be rewarded. Without the leaves and greenery of other seasons, you can view the spine of the mountains and take in this rugged and vast terrain. In addition, with the thick foliage of summer pulled away it’s one of the best times of the year for wildlife viewing. So put on that thick coat and warm hat and get ready to take breath taking Great Smoky Mountains winter hike!
Laurel Falls Trail
These falls are one of the most popular trails to do in the park. Thus, the winter is an excellent time to experience a little more serenity as you hike up and view these magnificent falls.
Originally constructed to provide fire crews access to Cove Mountain, this trail quickly became hugely popular with tourists. By the 1960′s the trail had become so heavily trafficked that the park decided to pave it in order to prevent any further erosion from taking place.
The round-trip distance to the waterfall is approximately 2.6 miles and takes most visitors about two hours, so be sure to take plenty of water to drink.
Hikers will be thrilled to view the 80 foot falls when they arrive at the top. The falls are actually divided into an upper and lower section divided by a walkway over the stream. These splendid falls garner their name from the Mountain Laurel that blooms along the trail and near the falls during May. *Because this trail is paved there are sections that can be especially slick or icy. Be sure to watch your step!
Laurel Falls Overview
Roundtrip Distance: 2.3 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 314 Feet
Location: Little River Road
For more information visit: www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/laurel-falls.htm
Huskey Gap Trail
Also a popular spring and summer hike with visitors, this is another great trail to do in the wintertime for hikers that enjoy a little more solitude.
This 4.2 mile trail begins on Newfound Gap Road and winds its way up Sugarland Mountain. As you ascend this trail you will see remnants of a stone fence that was a part of the many historical Appalachian homesteads formerly located in the National Park.
You will reach your destination after 2.1 miles at the intersection of Huskey Gap Trail and Sugarland Mountain Trail. If you walk just beyond the trail junction you will be able to view some of the western peaks in the park before turning around to start your descent.
A moderate hike with nearly 600 feet of elevation gain, this hike will certainly get your blood pumping on a cold winter’s day and give some limited views of the park at 3, 180 feet.
Huskey Gap Trail Overview
Roundtrip Distance: 4.2 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,240 Feet
Location: New Found Gap Road
For more information visit: www.hikinginthesmokys.com/huskygap2.htm
School House Gap
For hikers seeking a more relaxing jaunt, this is easy trail is 3.8 miles round trip and has minimal elevation gain compared to other trails in the park. This trail offers a wide path for families that would like to walk side-by-side. (Be aware this trail is open to horseback riders and remember to step to the side to yield to on coming horses until they pass).
In the springtime this trail is very popular for wildflower viewing, but during the winter this trail may be a great place for wildlife viewing. You may even get to spot a woodpecker or see deer passing through to Cades Cove.
At a little under a mile you will come to Turkey Pen Ridge Trail which branches off to the left, you will continue straight to stay on the School House Gap Trail. You will then encounter another trail leading off to the left just after Turkey Pen Ridge Trail. This is an unmarked trail and leads to the White Oak Sinks area. Again, continue straight to stay on the School House Gap Trail.
This out-and-back trail ends at the junction of Chestnut Top Trail after 1.9 miles from the trail head. You will turn around here to hike back to the parking area on Laurel Creek Road.
Schoolhouse Gap Trail Overview
Roundtrip Distance: 3.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 513 Feet
Location: Townsend & Cades Cove
For more information visit: www.hikinginthesmokys.com/schoolhousegap.htm
Though sporadic in the lower elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, snow is quite common in the higher elevations of the park that have significantly cooler temperatures. Before setting out on a hike be sure to plan ahead about any possible road closures or weather warnings.
For Road Closures call (865) 436-1200, extension 631
For Weather Updates call (865) 436-1200, extension 630
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) records temperature and precipitation amounts at certain locations in the park. You can visit their website to find the latest recordings for high and low temperatures and the amount of precipitation or snowfall that has accumulated in that specific site in the past twenty-four hours.