Winter Hikes to Enjoy in the Smokies

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. Before you set out, be sure to check out these winter hiking tips to stay prepared for the elements.

Trillium Gap Trail

An experienced and prepared hiker will enjoy the entirety of this 8.9 mile winter hike to LeConte Lodge, but there is a specific reason this trail makes the list. For most of the winter season Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed. This road provides access to what is known as the Grotto Falls parking lot - a shortcut trailhead that makes the hike to the waterfall only 1.4 miles.

Trillium Gap

What most people don't know is that this parking lot is actually just over 2 miles into Trillium Gap Trail. You can access the true trailhead from Cherokee Orchard Road and reach the waterfall in just 3.4 miles. The great thing about doing this in the winter time with the aforementioned parking lot inaccessible is that there's a chance you could get Grotto Falls all to yourself! Just make sure Cherokee Orchard road is open ahead of time.

Clingmans Dome via AT

This 7.7 mile section of the Appalachian Trail covers some of the highest ground from Maine to Georgia. The forest is breathtaking in the winter time after a good snow, and with Clingmans Dome Rd. being closed for most of the winter, your destination won't be nearly as crowded as usual. Just be prepared based on recent weather conditions; you might need snow shoes.

AT to Clingmans Dome

Laurel Falls Trail

A popular hike in the Smokies, Laurel Falls Trail is much less crowded in the winter. The 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.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls trail is 4 miles total and paved, but can be steep in parts. The falls are only 1.3 miles from the trailhead off Fighting Creek Gap Road. Wet weather and ice can make the trail slippery, so caution is advised during winter weather hikes.

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.

Alum Cave Trail

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. If you're feeling ready for a challenge, take the trail all the way up to Mount LeConte.

Rainbow Falls + Bullhead Trail

Alum Cave Trail is not the only way to reach Mount LeConte. The steady 6 mile incline of Rainbow Falls Trail is not easy, but you can reach the waterfall in the first 2.8 miles if you just want to take in the beauty of the ice falls. However, the loop hike up to Mt. LeConte and back down Bull Head Trail (5.9 miles) is an incredible hike for those well-suited to make the trek.

Rainbow Falls Bull Head
The snow, the icicles, the hoar-frost, and the cabins at the lodge all covered in snow are beautiful. It’s like a different view of the Smokies that young can look forward to after those fall leaves drop. Not only that but it’s very quiet and not a lot of people hiking during these times. I might add though that any hike during the winter months— make sure you purchase your microspikes. They’ll be your best friend.Matt Crossfield

Middle Prong Lollipop

There's lots to see along the beginning of the hike on Middle Prong Trail from the trailhead at Tremont, including the beautiful Indian Flats Falls. After 2.3 miles you can take a left or right to turn this into a lollipop hike. The shorter route (Lynn Camp Prong, Miry Ridge, Panther Creek) is a sturdy 14.9 miles long and can be done in a day.

Middle Prong Trail

Backpackers and more serious hikers up for something a little more challenging can skip Lynn Camp Prong and continue down the 4.2 mile Greenbrier Ridge Trail toward the A.T. for an overnight stop at Derrick Knob Shelter. Continue east on the A.T. to Miry Ridge and Panther Creek Trail before reaching the original 2.3 miles of Middle Prong to close out a hardcore 20.3 mile backpacking excursion!

Porters Creek Trail

Porters Creek Trail 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.

Porters Creek Trail

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.

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