Hiking doesn’t have to be saved for warm weather! This winter, we’re all about some outdoor adventure, fresh air and breathtaking vistas. When the temps drop, trail traffic begins to thin and nearby towns become outfitted in holiday merriment. Here are five winter hikes of varying lengths and difficulty levels across the South to add to your calendar.
This 7-mile out-and-back trek is challenging but exceptionally rewarding year-round. The trail meanders through a beautiful hardwood forest, and the summit views at the end are unmatched. The Pinnacle’s sun-drenched rock outcrops offer great opportunities to soak in panoramic views of the nearby Blackrock Mountain and Plott Balsams mountain range, the town of Sylva, the Blue Ridge Parkway and even the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains. The 1,000-acre town park features streams, waterfalls and panoramic views throughout. The 3.4-mile trail to the top weaves through an old logging road, a grassy ridge and then up a short rocky trail to the Pinnacle. Be sure to pack a lunch and layers before embarking on this hiking adventure. Find out more information and plan your trip HERE.
Walls of Jericho
Situated where the longest hardwood forested plateau on Earth — the Cumberland — thrusts into Alabama, the Walls of Jericho is home to many diverse habitats, plants and animals. The main attraction on Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust-protected tract is the Walls of Jericho hiking trail. The 6-mile roundtrip hike is strenuous but worth the effort. From the trailhead, the trek descends more than 1,000 feet into a canyon that showcases dynamic landscapes at every turn. Exposed mossy limestone formations, tranquil creeks and diverse wildlife punctuate the trail. In winter, you can add frozen waterfalls and cascades to the list. When the trail gets to Clark Cemetery, you’re at the gateway to the actual limestone bluff known as the Walls of Jericho.
A less strenuous but equally breathtaking alternative to the Walls of Jericho trail is the 4.7-mile Bear Den Loop, a moderate hike that begins at the same hiking trailhead parking lot. Pack a lot of water, and you’ll be glad you took the plunge into this unique Southern hike. Plan your hike and learn more HERE.
Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC, is a smaller, newer, and lesser-known national park that preserves a striking forest canopy that many rarely encounter. The park is chock-full of towering Cypress trees, the trunks of which emerge from the water — a site that evokes a similar sense of awe as walking through a redwood forest. With more than 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of boardwalk, this expedition is great for all ages and skill levels. The boardwalk loop trail shows off Weston Lake, and other trails wind through the wildlife-laden Congaree floodplain. If you get one of South Carolina’s common warm winter days, you can even rent canoes or kayaks at a shop in Columbia. Ranger- and volunteer-guided programs are led on Saturdays year-round. Make sure to check park conditions HERE before you plan your trip — if the water is too high, the boardwalk trails will be closed!
Fall Creek Falls
Sprawled across 29,800 acres of the rugged Cumberland Plateau, Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s biggest and most popular state parks. The terrain is laced with trickling cascades, craggy gorges, towering waterfalls, and lush patches of forest. At 256 feet tall, Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States (the tallest in Tennessee!) and one of the park’s main events — even in the winter. Take the moderate 2.4-mile loop trail to the base of the falls, or make a day out of it and hike to one of the other waterfalls: Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. With all its trails, cabins, campsites and panoramic natural settings, it is no surprise Southern Living readers voted Fall Creek Falls the best state park in the southeastern United States. Plan your adventure HERE.
Natural Bridge at Red River Gorge
While many people plan trips to Northern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in the spring, summer and fall, there are some great reasons to visit during the winter as well. The Red River Gorge is a uniquely scenic area within the Daniel Boone National Forest and its 600 miles of trails, towering rock structures and arches, and sweeping views. Unlike the warmer months, winter offers solitude, snowy vistas, and absolutely stunning frozen waterfalls. At 78 feet wide and more than 65 feet high, the natural sandstone arch is Natural Bridge State Park’s focal point. Hike the 0.75-mile trail to the top of the arch, or choose from the more than 20 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. When the temperatures drop, the crowds leave and nearby Slade, KY, transforms into a quaint little trail town full of Southern hospitality where you can warm up and fuel up before or after your hike. For a list of all the trails within the park, click HERE.
The peace and serenity experienced while hiking in nature without interruption are worth braving the cold. We hope we’ve been a catalyst for some outdoor adventure this winter. What are your favorite winter hikes? Send ideas to [email protected].
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