The 3 Best Winter Hiking Trails in the Smokies

Spring, summer, fall, and even winter are all great times for enjoying hiking trail in the Smoky Mountain. However, unlike the spring, summer, and fall, winter holds many secrets that you would not normally get to experience during the warmer months. From hidden history and scenery, to frozen icicles and frozen waterfalls, you never know what you will find during a winter hike. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 800 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore, so there is always a new adventure to have during the winter. Here the best winter hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that you definitely need to check out.  

1. Rainbow FallsSomeone hiking in the forest on a beautiful winter day.

A rainbow produced by mist from this 80-foot high waterfall is visible on sunny afternoons. However, in the winter you will get a completely different view. During extended winter cold spells, an impressive ice formation builds around the falls, making a breathtaking view. The Rainbow Falls trail gains about 1,500 feet in elevation and is 5.4 miles round trip to get to the falls and back. The trail is considered of moderate difficulty and hiking boots or sturdy shoes are recommended. For the adventurous type, this trail continues on for an additional 4 miles to the summit of Mount LeConte.

To get to this trail turn at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg and follow the Historic Nature Trail into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue past the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite to the clearly marked Rainbow Falls parking area.

2. Alum Cave Trail

One of the most popular winter hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains is the Alum Cave Trail. The trail begins by crossing Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek on log bridges, leading you through an old-growth hardwood forest. Hiking through the narrow tunnel of Arch Rock is one of the highlights of this hike. After 2 miles you will reach Inspiration Point where you can view beautiful snow-capped mountains. The Alum Cave Bluffs are 2.3 miles from the trailhead and during the winter you can view beautifully crafted icicles overhead, along with the gorgeous views. Again, if you are feeling more adventurous you can hike an additional 2.7 miles to the summit of Mount LeConte for sweeping mountain views. This trail is considered of moderate difficulty.

To get to this trail drive 8.6 miles on Newfound Gap Road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or 20 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. There is a sign and 2 large parking areas marking the trailhead.

A happy woman getting a piggyback ride from her boyfriend in a winter forest.3. Charlies Bunion

Enjoy breathtaking mountain views along the world-famous Appalachian Trail on this hike to a picturesque stone outcrop known as Charlies Bunion. From this stone outcropping you can see miles of gorgeous snow covered mountains, rolling on after the other. This is a sight that you definitely want to experience at some point in your lifetime. To Charlies Bunion it is 4.0 miles one way. It’s considered difficult due to this trail being along an exposed cliff during some sections.

To get to this trail drive on Newfound Gap Road to Newfound Gap parking lot which is 13.2 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center or 16 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The trailhead is to the left of the overlook, at the end of the parking lot near the restrooms.

Hiking in many ways is a way of life in the Smoky Mountains. While you are checking out these trails, learn even more facts about hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

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