Wintertime is one of the most underrated seasons of the year to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. For this reason, while staying at your cabin rental in Gatlinburg, 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 Smoky Mountains 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. If you’re looking for wintertime attractions in Gatlinburg, a winter hike in The Great Smoky Mountains is a must-do!
1. Laurel Falls Trail
These falls are one of the most popular trails to do in the park. The winter is an excellent time to experience a little more serenity as you hike up and view these magnificent falls. 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.
Key info: Easy, 2.3 Miles, 214 ft. total elevation
2. 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.
Key info: Moderate, 4.2 Miles, 1,240 ft. total elevation
3. School House Gap
For hikers seeking a more relaxing jaunt, this 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 oncoming horses until they pass).
In the spring, 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.
Key info: Easy, 3.8 Miles, 513 ft. total elevation
4. Rainbow Falls Trail
During the winter months, the surrounding forests and mountains of Rainbow Falls Trail are often covered in snow, creating a stunning winter wonderland. The hike itself can be challenging, as the trail can be slippery and icy in places, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
As you approach Rainbow Falls, the sound of rushing water becomes louder, and you can feel the mist from the falls on your face. The falls themselves are truly breathtaking, with water cascading over an 80-foot drop into a pool below.
Key info: Moderate, 5.1 Miles, 1,617 ft. total elevation
5. Alum Cave Trail
If you are looking for a challenging Smokey Mountain hike, head over to Alum Cave Trail. The trail is approximately 11 miles long, round trip. During the winter months, hikers can enjoy a variety of scenic vistas along the way, including panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from the summit of Mount LeConte and cool views of icicle formations.
In the wintertime, the trail is icy and muddy so be sure to take appropriate shoes and trek poles.
Key info: Hard, 5.1 Miles, 3,061 ft. total elevation
6. Metcalf Bottoms Trail
For an easy family-friendly winter hike in the Smokies, be sure to check out the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. This trail is about 1.5 miles round trip and can be done in under an hour. This trail can be accessed all year round but is especially beautiful during the winter months as it offers stunning views of the snow-capped mountains.
Visitors will get a chance to see the historic Little Greenbrier Community which includes a schoolhouse, graveyard and cabin.
Key Info: Easy, 1.5 Miles, 187 ft. total elevation
Pro Tips for Smokey Mountains Winter Hikes
- Layer up: Wearing the right clothing is crucial when hiking in the winter. Make sure to wear layers to keep yourself warm, but also to allow for ventilation if you start to overheat. A good rule of thumb is to wear moisture-wicking fabrics, a warm insulating layer, and a waterproof outer layer. Don’t forget to wear waterproof boots and gloves.
- Bring the right gear: Be sure to bring items such as crampons, trekking poles, and an ice axe if necessary. Also, make sure to bring plenty of water, food, and a first-aid kit in case of emergency.
- Check the weather conditions: Check the weather forecast before heading out on your hike. Winter weather can be unpredictable, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Avoid hiking in extreme weather conditions such as heavy snow, blizzards, or icy conditions.
- Plan for shorter days: keep in mind that the days are shorter during the winter months. In the Smokies, the sun sets as early as 5 p.m., which means you’ll want to plan your hike accordingly to avoid being caught in the dark. Be sure to start your hike early enough to ensure you have ample daylight for your excursion.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a beautiful destination that offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, even during the winter months. With fewer crowds and stunning views of the snow-capped mountains, winter hikes in the Smokies can be a rewarding experience for hikers of all skill levels. And when you’re ready to warm up and relax, there are plenty of Gatlinburg cabins with indoor pools, saunas, or hot tubs to help you unwind.