Some would say winter is the best season for hiking in the Southern Appalachians. Free from the heat of summer, one can enjoy the crisp cool air and stunning views revealed by leafless trees. But don’t worry—there’s no need to break out the snow shoes. All that’s required is a sturdy pair of boots and lots of warm layers. See below for a list of our favorite hiking trails:
The Carolina Mountain Trail
Located within the North Carolina Arboretum, this 1.2-mile trail winds a hiker through three different forestry types: pine, mixed hardwood and ericaceous. Hikers can also rest and enjoy an overlook at Bent Creek.
Great Woodland Adventure
Located within Chimney Rock Park, this 0.6 mile interactive trail is great for families with small children. This trail will take you past handcrafted wood and metal sculptures of Grady the Groundhog (the Park’s mascot) and his woodland friends.
Hickory Nut Falls Trail
This .75-mile trail in Chimney Rock Park offers a leisurely walk through hardwood forests of oak, hickory, maple and basswood harboring abundant plant life, including rare and endangered wildflowers and old favorites such as Jack-in-the-pulpit and Solomon's-seal. The reward is 404ft Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. Dainty white blossoms of Lady rue and grassy fronds of Deerhair bulrush thrive in the waterfall’s mist. Deerhair bulrush is a grass-like plant with small knobs at the end of shiny, wiry leaves, found growing out of the cracks along the rock and cliff wall near Hickory Nut Falls.
Graveyard Fields Trail (Shining Rock)
Located at mile post 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this 3.2-mile trail is a popular family hike thanks to its beauty and ease. The trail will lead hikers to Lower Falls (a moderate descent) as well as through open, grassy areas and past nice pools for wading on a hot summer day.
With many different access points, we recommend access from the Folk Art Center at mile post 382.0 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This suggested 7.5-mile hike takes you from mile post 382.0 to mile post 365 and parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. The entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail will eventually extend from one of the highest points in the North Carolina Mountains, Clingman’s Dome, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Nags Head. Once the trail is completed, it will cover over 900 miles.
Dupont State Forest
Located near Hendersonville & Brevard, Dupont State Forest is 7,600 acres of forested land and has over ninety miles of trails for hiking, biking and even horseback riding on designated trails, which range from very easy to very challenging. Their trails combine a wonderful blend of incredible scenery, varied hiking levels and unbelievable waterfalls.
Located at mile post 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this 2-mile loop hike takes you to beautiful Crabtree Falls and through growths for birch and hemlock. This area gets its name from the numerous crab apple trees that can be found. Access is at the Crabtree Meadows camping area, which offers picnicking facilities and a restaurant.
West Ridge-Graybeard Loop
Located in Montreat, NC, this loop provides a very steep initial climb, a dozen great viewing points of the Asheville Watershed/Blue Ridge Parkway/Mount Mitchell area and a slippery descent along the Graybeard Stream. Access is through the Montreat stone entrance on Assembly Drive. Just past Lake Susan, the road bears to the left and becomes Graybeard Trail. Look for Big Piney Road on your left and park in the gravel pullout area. You will see the sign “Private Drive: Hikers Welcome.” Allow four hours for experienced hikers and eight hours for beginners.