Want to see icy waterfalls, snowy mountaintops, and gorgeous mountain views during your winter trip to the Smoky Mountains?
Then check out the 14 best winter hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! These trails feature beautiful frozen waterfalls and awesome scenery during the snowy winter season.
1. Laurel Falls
This beautiful 2.3-mile round trip trail takes visitors to the stunning multi-tiered Laurel Falls. This cascading waterfall is an excellent place to see lovely ice formations during the winter season. Better yet, this trail is less crowded during the low season and it offers beautiful mountain views.
2. Rainbow Falls
Just outside of Gatlinburg in the Orchard Creek area, the Rainbow Falls trail is one of the most popular routes to Mt. LeConte. By hiking 2.7 miles on this trail, you can reach Rainbow Falls, an 80-ft tall waterfall that's known for forming large icicles.
3. Alum Cave
This 10-mile round trip hiking trail is the most popular route to Mt. LeConte, the 3rd tallest peak in the Smokies. Better yet, it features multiple mountain overlooks and unique geologic formations like Arch Rock and the 80-ft tall Alum Cave Bluffs. This trail climbs up to some high elevation areas in the Smokies so it’s the perfect way to enjoy some snow during your trip!
4. Porter's Creek Trail
Porter's Creek Trail begins in the historic Greenbrier area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along the way, you'll see historic structures like the John Messer Cabin and a historic cantilevered barn that was constructed around 1875. The trail concludes at Fern Branch Falls, a 60-ft waterfall that's especially beautiful during the colder season. This low-elevation hike is a 4-mile round trip that's moderately difficult.
5. Middle Prong Trail
This less-used trail is arguably one of the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies. This 8-mile round-trip hike takes you past 3 waterfalls and numerous cascades in the Tremont area of the national park. During the winter months, these waterfalls are especially when they are frozen.
6. Grotto Falls Trail
Grotto Falls Trail is a popular hike located just off of the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Though this driving route is closed to vehicles during the wintertime, you can hike along the road to reach the trailhead for Grotto Falls. This easy 2.3 round-trip hike goes through evergreen Hemlock forests and concludes at Grotto Falls – a 25-ft tall waterfall that has formed a cave or grotto at the base of the falls. During winter, ice can form around the waterfall and nearby rocks so exercise caution when exploring Grotto Falls during colder weather.
7. Abrams Falls
Though Abrams Falls isn't the tallest waterfall in the park it is the highest volume waterfall in the Smokies, so it's a remarkable sight any time of year. You can reach this impressive waterfall from the Cades Cove Loop Road and this moderately difficult hike is a 5.2-mile round trip. Since this trail is low in elevation, you shouldn't have to worry about running into much snow or ice on the Abrams Falls trail.
8. Metcalf Bottoms Trail
This easy hiking trail is one of the best winter hikes in the Smokies because of its low elevation and gentle grades. This lovely trail takes hikers through the historic Little Greenbrier Community. All that remains of this small mountain town are an old schoolhouse, a graveyard, and the Walker Sister's Cabin.
9. Meigs Creek Trail
This lesser-used hiking trail starts at the popular Sinks waterfall and passes through some lovely parts of the Smokies. The trail follows a stream with multiple waterfalls and cascades, including the 18-ft. Meigs Falls that are especially beautiful in winter.
10. Spruce Flats Falls
The Spruce Flats Falls Trail is a very short, 1.8-mile hike that's ideal during the winter season. The trailhead for Spruce Flats Falls can be found at the Tremont Institute. Along the way, you'll see lovely mountain views until you reach the base of the multi-tiered waterfall. After cold weather, this waterfall creates lovely ice formations.
11. The Chimney Tops Trail
Having reopened after damage from the 2016 wildfires, this trail has been improved to provide a beautiful view of the Chimney Tops outcropping, Mt. LeConte, and other surrounding mountains. At only 3.3 miles in length, this is one of the best short trails with wintertime mountain views in the Smokies.
12. Charlie's Bunion
This impressive overlook and rocky outcropping on the Appalachian trail is a real crowd-pleaser with panoramic mountain views, but at 8.1 miles in length, this hike is rated as strenuous. To reach "the bunion," hikers must take the Appalachian Trail northbound from Newfound Gap. Please note that this high elevation trail may have snow and ice during the winter season.
13. Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower
Located in one of the less-traveled parts of the Smokies, you'll find The Low Gap Trail in the Cosby area of the national park. This 11.1-mile round-trip hike leads to the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower and overlook, a beautiful spot with panoramic mountain views and a restored western-style fire tower.
14. Ramsey Cascades Trail
Standing 100 feet tall, Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the Smokies and it's known for having some of the most stunning icicle formations during winter in the Smokies. This 8-mile round trip hike is strenuous, but the beautiful Ramsey Cascades Waterfall makes this trail well worth the effort.
Things To Know About Winter Hiking in the Smokies
- Certain Roads in the National Park are Closed – Roaring Fork Motor Trail and The Clingmans Dome Road are closed during the winter months. This means that popular trails like the Andrews Bald Trail and the Clingmans Dome Trail can only be reached by hiking along the Appalachian Trail or the Clingmans Dome Road.
- Consider Snow & Ice on High Elevation Trails – Occasionally, snow and ice may be present on some high elevation hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains like the Alum Cave Trail, The Low Gap Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. If there has been a recent snowfall or long period of below-freezing temperatures, these trails may difficult or dangerous for hiking.
- Cooler Temperatures and Shorter Days – When planning your trip, be sure to account for cold temperatures by packing extra layers of clothing. Additionally, plan an appropriate turn-around time for your hike so that you won't be caught out after dark. A good rule of thumb is that most hikers will cover 1 mile of trail in 30 minutes. So if you are hiking a 5-mile round-trip hike, give yourself at least 2.5 hours to complete it.
- Better Views – In winter, the lack of leaf cover and foliage creates better viewpoints for enjoying the mountains.
For help planning your winter trip to the Smoky Mountains, feel free to contact our helpful reservations staff at (865) 429-4121. To make your vacation to the Smokies even better, you can always book your own private cabin in the mountains. With steamy outdoor hot tubs and warm wood-burning fireplaces, our cabin's are the perfect place for enjoying winter in the Smoky Mountains.
Best of all, you can save 15% on your nightly rate with our special 15% cabin discount. Book your cabin today & save with Cabins USA!
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Written by Mark Frazier