Even though Old Man Winter is already tightening his icy grip on the mountains, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Winter is an excellent time to visit the Smokies, especially for those seeking solitude. Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees more visitors year-round than any other park, winter is by far the slowest tourist season.
While it might be rather frosty at Newfound Gap, temperatures in the lower elevations of the park are usually quite balmy during the winter months. Roughly half the days have high temperatures of 50 degrees or more – some even reach into the 70s. On average, you can expect a snowfall of one inch or more just 1 to 5 times a year. This means that on most days you’ll still find plenty of opportunities for some great hiking on trails such as Abrams Falls, Little River, or Porters Creek - just to name a couple.
For the more ambitious who wish to venture into the higher elevations, you should expect snow and ice, especially on trails in the upper reaches of the park. You may even want to consider taking a pair of strap-on crampons (made for hiking boots) along with you. Even packed snow has a tendency to turn to ice overnight, and if you’re on a trail with steep drop-offs, such as Alum Cave, you’ll appreciate the extra traction they’ll give you.
If your preference is for sports that rely on snow you can usually count on plenty of it at the highest elevations. Although Gatlinburg averages only about seven inches of snow throughout the winter, Clingmans Dome, on the other hand, normally receives a whopping 85 inches. Up to two feet can fall during one winter storm!
One of the best places to be in the park when there’s snow on the ground is at Newfound Gap. The seven-mile road to Clingmans Dome, closed to traffic from December through March, provides excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Appalachian Trail - spanning the crest of the Smokies and crossing over Newfound Gap - also provides for some great snowshoeing opportunities when conditions are right.
Sledding is another popular activity on or near Newfound Gap, especially for children and those who are still kids at heart themselves.
Adrenaline junkies looking for the speed and thrills of downhill skiing or snowboarding can get their fix at nearby Ober Gatlinburg or the Cataloochee Ski Area. Cataloochee offers 14 different runs, while Ober Gatlinburg has eight, including one that’s almost a mile in length. Both resorts also offer snow tubing opportunities as well.
Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains is truly magical. After a blanket of fresh snow the landscape turns into a scenic wonderland, especially in the spruce-fir forests of the upper elevations of the park. For those that have only visited during the warmer months, winter is an excellent time to experience the Smokies in a whole new way.
If you're considering a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this winter, please remember a visit during this time period - the "off-season" - will go a long way in helping to support the victims of the recent wildfires. Spend a day or week, either way, your vacation dollars will help the entire community. I know our advertisers from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge would love your support!