Top 5 Winter Adventures in Western North Carolina
Updated: Apr 25
Adventure does not stop for winter in Appalachia and for the bold few who are willing to brave the cold temperatures to trudge through snow, hit the slopes, swing an ice axe, or take a polar plunge, winter is the most exhilarating of our four seasons. While spring brings a rebirth of life, winter is where our psyche is reborn. Long, dark-nights filled with our own thoughts and short days which are sculpted by rugged adventures can push our comfort zones and give us a newfound perspective on life. Embracing the frozen rigors of winter, even just for a single day, can crystalize the realization of just how lucky you are in your daily life. And although most folks will advise you to stay home and bask in your creature comforts, we’re here at #TheAAC exist to share the stoke of adventure and want to encourage you to get out more, so here are our top 5 winter adventures in North Carolina!
#1 Overnight Stay in an AT Shelter
If you visit an AT Shelter in the spring it is likely to be packed to the brim with thru-hikers and all their idiosyncrasies like insane sleep schedules and odors only slightly less harsh than bear spray. But, if you visit during the Great Smoky’s secret season you’re likely to have it all to yourself! There are a few distinct advantages to taking on this type of adventure. Firstly, AT Shelters are bombproof and allow you to skip the excess weight of a four-season tent. Secondly, shelters are always located near a water source and most include privy amenities. And lastly, most shelters incorporate a fireplace and seating area which adds a nice touch and gives you a chance to warm up and dry wet clothing. We suggest getting together with a group of friends and reserving a shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our favorite is the Ice Water Spring Shelter which is accessible via a 3.5 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap. The view there opens up in the winter and is within striking distance to several of the Smoky’s greatest hits like Charlies Bunion and the Jumpoff. Make your shelter reservations here (Available up to 30 days in advance of your trip at a cost of $4 per person) and hit us up for more info.
#2 Day Hikes in the Snow
The day after a winter storm hits is the perfect time to take a hike. Fewer crowds, snow globe like scenery, and chill temperatures combine for a refreshing adventure. Our favorite places to visit after a fresh snow are the 6,000-foot peaks of Haywood County which are mostly covered in evergreen forests. In these fragrant forests, snow and ice cling to the needles of Spruce, Fir and Hemlock trees which makes for magical scenery that would rival any Christmas tree farm. Our top picks for big snowy day hikes are Flat Laurel Creek to the Black Balsam area in the Pisgah National Forest, Mt. Le Conte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Roan Highlands on the Appalachian Trail. All three of these adventures will provide you and your crew with a memorable experience and are generally accessible one to two days after a winter storm. Please drive carefully and prepare yourself, and your vehicles, for emergencies as outlined in our Guide's Guide to Winter Adventures!
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#3 Skiing and Snowboarding in the Great Smoky Mountains
Don’t sleep on the ski slopes of Western North Carolina! We have an array of Appalachian venues to ski and ride including Sugar, Beech and Appalachian Ski Mtn, but by far and away our favorite place to ski and ride is Cataloochee Ski Resort! We’ve been hitting their slopes since the 80’s and thus, for us, it holds a certain nostalgia which no other resort can match. Cataloochee is home to 18 different slopes and 800-vertical feet of elevation and has an incredibly dedicated snowmaking operation which allows them to annually open first. The resort is also situated right above Maggie Valley which has a plethora of dining options and places to stay. Our favorite retreat to stay and play at in the area is the Cataloochee Ranch which sits atop Fie Top mountain, directly adjacent to Cataloochee Ski Resort. The Ranch was responsible for starting up the ski resort in the early 60’s and with the aid of early snow making equipment became the first snow sports resort in the Southeast! If you or your crew are in need of rental equipment you can satisfy those needs at the resort itself, at Ski and Tees in Maggie Valley.
#4 Cold Water Immersion
By now, you have likely heard of “The Ice Man,” Wim Hoff or watched a famous celeb, a friend, or someone else you follow, submerge themselves into icy water with a precariously zen-like look on their face. Needless to say, ice water is hot right now and the science behind the physical and mental health benefits of cold water immersion grows by the plunge. Enthusiasts claim the practice’s benefits include: boosts to mood and increased resiliency, improvements to the immune system, a reduction in pain and inflammation, and decreased healing times for serious injuries. Lucky for us, in North Carolina we have access to cold water immersion all year long! Our creeks run cold and unlike other winter adventures you don’t have to wait until the snow falls or the ice forms. The cold water immersion part of the equation is self explanatory, but let us suggest turning up the heat, so to speak, on your adventure. Get a group of friends together and make a day out of it. Go to your an easily accessible swimming hole and come prepared with a small fire pit like a solo stove and a camp kitchen setup ready to brew hot beverages and/or soups for those who take the plunge! The shared experience and hot food/beverages will combine to make this a more than memorable experience for you and your friends. Our favorite place to take the plunge is near the Sunburst campground off highway 215 in the Pisgah National Forest where we have a 5 year running tradition of taking the plunge on the winter solstice!
#5 Ice Climbing
Without doubt, the most fleeting of all our suggestions is Ice climbing. Routes in this area take names like “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” and NC Ice Climbers routinely use phrases like “if it’s thin, it’s in!” This activity is incredibly weather dependent and virtually impossible to take on for the first time without the aid of a guide or a friend willing to act as your guide. Ice Climbers need large amounts of specialized equipment and hard-earned knowledge to be able to read the ice and safely climb upon it. Fear not, though, because our area is home to several top-notch guiding services that can provide that equipment and highly trained guides to ensure that your first ice climbing experience is a safe and memorable one. Taking this route allows you to give the sport a try without investing in all the equipment and lets you hang out with mountain guides who are some of the coolest climbing partners on the planet. Our local favorites are the folks who work at Fox Mountain Guides and Pisgah Climbing School! Contact them when it gets cold to set up your ice climbing adventure and tell them we said what's up!
Thanks for reading, folks! We truly hope you enjoyed these suggestions for our top 5 winter adventures in WNC. Hit us up with any questions or concerns and click here to schedule your next adventure with The Appalachian Adventure Company!