Thinking about renting a cabin in the Smokies this winter? Hiking is one of the favorite pastimes in this region, and with good reason–there’s more than 150 trails covering over 800 miles within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are three of the best winter hikes in the Smoky Mountains, regardless of whether you’re new to outdoor activities or are seasoned in the ways of the woods. These trails are not only relatively quiet during the cold months, but also allow you to notice parts of the environment that are usually overshadowed by foliage.
1. Laurel Falls Trail
Since this is one of the most popular trails in the park, winter is a great time to check out these spectacular views with fewer crowds. And despite the elevation change, this is a relatively easy hike even for beginners and those with school-age children. The trail, originally built in the 1960s to provide Cove Mountain access for firefighters, is accessible from Little River Road and culminates with the 80-foot-high Laurel Falls. The total hike comprises 2.6 miles round trip, making it ideal for a partial day excursion.
2. Alum Falls Trail
Those seeking high elevations along with a relatively stable trail should check out Alum Falls, a five-mile round trip with a height of 1,200 feet. Hikers enjoy the range of terrain on this hike, including log bridges across Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek, an old-growth hardwood forest, a tunnel through Arch Rock, and several rocky outcroppings before you arrive at the Alum Cave Bluffs. You can take it a step further by continuing after the bluffs on a path that takes climbers to just under the summit of Mount Le Conte.
3. Chimney Tops Trail
The most experienced hikers won’t want to miss the views afforded at the peak of this 1,400-foot trail. Because the climb is just two miles, this hike is quite steep, with a steep rock scramble at the summit that makes this one of the park’s tougher climbs. Those who make the attempt will be rewarded with the amazing sight of snow-covered Mount Le Conte as well as a panoramic view of the entire area. Wear sturdy shoes and plenty of water. If you’re traveling with a furry friend, keep in mind that pets aren’t allowed on this trail, though there are two dog-friendly hikes within the Smokies (Gatlinburg Trail and Oconaluftee River Trail). Accessible from Newfound Gap Road, this trail was recently renovated by the Trails Forever program and volunteers.
Due to recent fires in the area, please check the National Park Service website for up to date information about road and trail closures in the area.