Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a beautiful destination for winter hiking, with a wide range of trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, there are plenty of options to choose from, ranging from easy, scenic trails to more challenging hikes that will test your endurance and skills. Some trails are closed in the winter, so it’s important to plan your winter hiking in Gatlinburg in advance. Here’s what was open in late December.
Fighting Creek Nature Trail
Fighting Creek Nature Trail is a short, easy hike located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just a short drive from Gatlinburg, Tennessee and right behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The trail is only 1.2 miles round trip and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels. The trail follows Fighting Creek, which is known for its clear, cool water and its diverse plant and animal life. Along the way, hikers can enjoy the sights and sounds of the surrounding forest, including a variety of birds and other wildlife, and it includes the Noah McCarter cabin and the John Ownby cabin. The highlight of the hike is reaching the Fighting Creek Overlook, which offers beautiful views of the creek and the surrounding mountains. From there you can choose to head back to the visitor center or head on to Cataract Falls Trail.
Cataract Falls Trail
The trail can also be accessed behind the Sugarlands Visitors Center, located just as you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail itself is about 2.5 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of about 400 feet. Along the way, hikers can enjoy the sound of the cascading waterfalls, as well as the sights of the surrounding forest and the occasional glimpse of wildlife. The trail can be slippery in places due to the water, so hikers should be sure to wear proper shoes and exercise caution. Despite the challenges, the reward of reaching the falls and taking in the breathtaking views make the Cataract Falls Trail a must-do hike for any nature lover visiting Gatlinburg.
Laurel Falls Trail
This trail is a moderate 2.6 mile round trip hike that leads to the stunning 80-foot Laurel Falls. The trail is relatively easy, with a paved path and a few well-placed benches along the way. Along the way, hikers can enjoy the sights and sounds of the surrounding forest, including a variety of birds and other wildlife. The highlight of the hike is reaching the falls, which are particularly beautiful when frozen in winter.
Alum Cave Trail
Another popular trail for winter hiking is the Alum Cave Trail, which is a moderate to difficult trail that takes hikers up to the top of Mount LeConte. This trail offers a range of scenic views, including the beautiful Alum Cave, as well as the chance to see some of the park’s most spectacular wildlife.
What to Wear for Winter Hiking in Gatlinburg
The weather in Gatlinburg in the winter can range from the 60s at the bottom of the mountain to a snow-covered and cold winter paradise in the upper regions. I recommend good hiking shoes and layers, which can be added or removed depending on the temperature. I chose vests, lightweight sweaters, these versatile and toasty (fleece-lined) Transcentr Leggings, and these lightweight and comfortable Kaskade leggings, both provided to me by Kuhl. Bring sunglasses and a scarf and gloves. You’ll notice as you traverse the trails that the temperature changes, sometimes significantly, as you go up.
Gatlinburg is a great destination for winter hiking, with a wide range of trails that offer something for hikers of all skill levels. Whether you’re looking for an easy, scenic hike or a more challenging adventure, Gatlinburg has plenty of options to choose from.
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