Sure the temperatures might get a little cooler in the winter, but don’t let that stop you from getting outside to explore the North Carolina Smoky Mountains! Visitors will find plenty of fun activities all season long both outdoor and indoor. Here are our top choices for wintertime fun in the mountains.
Winter Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
For the outdoor enthusiasts, the good news is that the winters can be relatively mild and the main roads remain passable most all of the time. That means you can access trailheads and get stunning and unobstructed winter views. Here are some of our favorites.
• Max Patch offers an elevated beautiful view from every angle along its 2.4-mile loop. Make sure to pack proper attire and have a four-wheel drive vehicle if there has been a snowfall.
• Lake Junaluska offers fantastic views with a flatter trail. Choose from a 2.3 or 3.8-mile loop along the lake and enjoy the view from the many benches along the trail. This trail is friendly to strollers, wheelchairs, and scooters.
• Whiteside Mountain offers panoramic views along a 2-mile loop in Nantahala Forest National Park near Cashiers.
Frozen Waterfall Adventures
Hiking through a winter forest is a serene experience. There’s little noise except for the occasional wildlife scurrying about. Even the roar of the waterfalls can fall silent if it’s cold enough to freeze over. Quick PSA: Exercise extreme caution when exploring waterfalls, especially in the winter. The rocks are icy so stay at the foot of the falls. Never attempt to climb to the top. Here are some places you might catch a frozen falls.
• On the edge of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, you will find Soco Falls, a double waterfall that offers many views and is especially spectacular in the winter months.
• Mingo Falls offers a challenging step hike (161 to be exact) to view the cascades down 200 ft. along a multitude of boulders.
• Immerse yourself in the full waterfall experience at Deep Creek nestled in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s a great low elevation hike with three different waterfalls. The full loop from Deep Creek to Indian Creek is 5 miles.
Skiing and Tubing
For the snowbirds out there, the Great Smoky Mountains offer skiing and tubing options for the whole family.
• Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center offers 2-3 ski slops along with child friendly slops, ice-skating, tubing, and dry tubing.
• Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley offers 18 slopes for a variety of levels, exceptional views, and fun for the whole family. With elevations of 5,400 and the temperature just right, this haven for ski lovers stays open longer than most regional ski resorts.
Cozy Indoors Retreats
The outdoors can be amazing during the winter months, but for those who want to stay warm and cozy the Great Smoky Mountains offers plenty of indoor options. Due to the pandemic, some experiences may be closed, completely booked, or there may be entrance delays due to capacity restrictions. Be sure to plan in advance before visiting any indoor locations. Go here for up to date information on COVID-19 in the Smoky Mountains.
Test your Luck
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, North Carolina’s very first casino, offers 1,200 slot machines, 30 plus gaming tables, restaurants, entertainment and a spa all in one spot.
You can also take the scenic drive from Cherokee over to Murphy, NC to play at the newer Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, which features 1,200 slot machines, 30-40 gaming tables, and a 300-room hotel.
Arts and Crafts Experiences
Handmade arts are part of the cultural footprint of the Smoky Mountains. Visitors should stop by one of these galleries while exploring the region.
• Goldhagen Studios in Hayesville to watch live glass blowing demonstrations by David Goldhagen, and view his work in the gallery.
• The Native American Craft Shop in Cherokee offers limited edition prints from Native American artists, pottery, and other crafts that would be a great addition to any art collection.
• The Macon County Art Association’s Uptown Gallery in downtown Franklin features exhibits by local artists and works to promote art in the area. The Uptown gallery also offers year round workshops and classes.
Museums and Culture
Learn about regional history, discover a traveling exhibit, or peruse the displays at some of the eclectic museums found in the mountains.
• The Museum of the Cherokee Indian takes you on a journey from the early days of Cherokee hunter-gatherers to the Trail of Tears and beyond. The museum offers a fascinating history lesson of the tribe.
• The Wheels of Time Museum in Maggie Valley offers a collection of rare American vintage motorcycles, classic cars, and memorabilia .
• The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center offers an artesian gallery featuring over 125 artists and craftsmen. Visitors can also enjoy trying cultural foods from local sources, and both art and cooking classes.
• For the cat lovers, the American Museum of the House Cat in Sylva boasts vintage and modern cat art, cat art glass, and an archive of cat memorable.
• Located in Bryson City, the top 10 nationally ranked Smoky Mountain Train Museum has train displays for all ages and model train enthusiast alike.
Rest Your Head
With all the winter fun that the Great Smoky Mountains offer, visitors can rest and relax at a variety of cozy accommodations.
• The Buckwood Log Lodge offers warm and rustic accommodations in the heart of Highlands, NC.
• For peace and luxury, Fontana Mountain Resort, located in the Nantahala Forest has a variety of accommodations from rooms in the lodge to private cabins. The property has trails and a pool and is open year round. Amenities also include the Mountain View Bistro and Wildwood grill and a massage center.
• Cataloochee Ranch Resort offers accommodations for small and larger groups. Amenities include outdoor and indoor entertainment, a 20 foot heated spa, and fireplaces in most lodgings. NOTE: The resort is currently closed for renovations and expects to reopen in 2022.
Here are some other places to consider when looking for Smoky Mountain accommodations.
Featured image courtesy of Adam Duff.