The beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains draws folks to Pigeon Forge all year long – not just when the weather is fair. Winter weather turns the mountains and hills around Pigeon Forge into a veritable wonderland and winter hikes in the Smokies are a perfect way to experience all the beauty the region has to offer this time of year. Ready to plan your cold weather adventure? Here are four winter hikes you can enjoy in the Great Smoky Mountains during your next Pigeon Forge vacation.
1. Laurel Falls Trail
Named for the beautiful Mountain Laurel shrubs that produce beautiful springtime blossoms, Laurel Falls is truly a sight to be seen year-round. Laurel Falls Trail takes hikers right to this glorious landmark, with a wooden walkway crossing the stream and the base of the fall’s upper section. Long stretches of below-freezing weather turns the falls into a natural wonder, as the frozen water cascades create a crystal castle.
The Laurel Falls trail is only 2.6 miles round-trip and paved, but can be steep in parts. Wet weather and ice can make the trail slippery, so caution is advised during winter weather hikes. *TIP: It takes about two hours to hike to the waterfall and back. Plan on spending more time on the trail if you plan to stop for photos: You’ll find many Instagram-worthy photo ops along the trail.>
2. Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald
Want to take in a breathtaking sight? Hike to Andrews Bald along the Forney Ridge Trail. This hike starts at the Clingmans Dome parking lot and gives hikers a chance to take in postcard-worthy winter views of snowcapped Smoky Mountain peaks. A final rise through a forest will bring you to the grassy Andrews Bald area, giving you the perfect place to pause and reflect.
It’s a 1.8 mile hike to Andrews Bald, with 1,200 feet in elevation changes.
*TIP: Want to make your hike memorable? Before you head out, fill a Thermos with hot chocolate and stash it in your backpack. Sharing a few sips with a loved one as you take in the views at Andrews Bald will likely make the experience even sweeter.
3. Alum Cave Trail
Beautiful views of icicle formations are a worthy payoff for a challenging winter hike on Alum Cave Trail. The trail begins by crossing over Walker Camp Prong and Alum Cave Creek on log bridges, leading hikers through an old-growth hardwood forest – which is teeming with life even in winter.
You’ll find the Alum Cave Bluffs about 2.3 miles from the trailhead. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, moisture from the ground freezes to form icicle formations forming frozen stalactites –creating a stunning scene you’ll remember for life. You will experience an elevation change of 1,200 feet as you hike to Alum Cave Bluffs, making a steep trail and challenging terrain. Additionally, the trail follows the edge of a ridge in sections. Make sure you’re wearing rugged shoes and are ready for a climb before you set off!
*TIP: Alum Cave Trail is undergoing restoration and may be temporarily closed some days during the week. Please call the National Parks Service at (865) 436-1200 or click over to NPS.gov for additional information before you plan your weekday hike.
4. Porters Creek Trail
Porters Creek Trails is the perfect family friendly winter hike: It promises great views, offers a moderate challenge, and the 4-mile round-trip trek to Fern Branch Falls is enough to wear the kids out before dinner. Porters Creek Trail is located on some of the park’s lowest terrain, so you can count on it being open year round – even when snow and winter weather have forced upper-elevation areas closed.
The first mile of Porters Creek Trail is actually an old gravel road, so it is wide and easy to travel. After this, the trail turns into a dirt footpath. Fern Branch Falls are about two miles down the path and drop off on the left side of the trail. Porters Creek with also take you through the Elbert Cantrell farmstead, which was settled around the turn of the century – giving you the perfect opportunity for a history lesson as you take in the woodland mountain scenery.
*TIP: Remember to dress for the elements when you’re heading out for a winter hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. Keep in mind that a hat is a hiker’s thermostat and is an essential part of your cold-weather outdoor gear. Dressing in layers will also help you stay warm, and always remember to make your base layer a moisture-wicking garment.
Winter hikes let you see a different side of the Smokies and give you an opportunity to explore and make lasting mountain memories. Make a winter hike in the Great Smoky Mountains part of your next Pigeon Forge vacation.