Winter is guised as a time when outdoor activities take a hiatus and we must instead hibernate indoors. As the cold sets in, runs around the neighborhood translate into stints at the gym, and hikes are postponed until the thaw. But as the holiday’s roll by and that particular itch to strap on your hiking boots and stretch your legs in the hills and meadows returns, you may be interested in knowing that you can stomp around the forest no matter what season – as long as you aren’t afraid of getting your toes cold.
I discovered the serenity of wintertime hiking several years ago along the Kungsleden trail in Northern Sweden. November was halfway gone and the winter snows were beginning to creep down the mountainsides, spurned along by gushes of Arctic winds. My host mother, host sister and I rattled north in a clunky Volvo for a weekend in a small mountain town named Ammornäs. It was a quiet day of hiking, and a solitary one. The trudge of our boots and the whistling wind in the branches formed a soft melody, and we did not cross another company on our way to the peak. For those who seek a closer connection with the mountains, winter hiking may be the perfect fit.
Grandfather Mountain, NC
Nestled in the Blue Ridge, Grandfather Mountain offers several trails to winter wanderers varying in degrees of difficulty. One thing guaranteed across all trails is the reward of a breathtaking view at the top. Gorgeous blue peaks roll out into the horizon, seemingly blending in with the sky above. Be careful however, as I have learned firsthand that these trails can become ice luges in the winter. I would suggest strapping added grips to the bottom of your boots before venturing out.
Travel Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Degree of difficulty: 6/10
Dupont State Forest, NC
For the hiker who lives for the sound of falling water, this is the perfect destination. Dupont State Forest is located a little over two hours West of Charlotte, just a stones throw from the Southern border. With attractions like Triple, High and Hooker falls, as well as a more temperate climate, Dupont is sure to be a more manageable and family-friendly getaway.
Travel Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Degree of difficulty: 3/10
Mount Mitchell State Park, NC
Standing 6,684 feet above sea level, Mount Mitchell’s peak looks down on all others East of the Mississippi. Trails to the top are open all year dependent on cooperative weather, so be sure to check the park’s website for a weather advisory. While it is a sizeable mountain, there are trails to accommodate all sorts of hikers. The Balsam Nature Trail is only ¾ of a mile long and features an easy walking surface, while the Mount Mitchell trail is 6 miles long and should only be attempted by those seeking a good challenge.
Travel Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Degree of difficulty: 5-9/10
Roan Mountain, NC/TN
Roan Mountain serves up a taste of the Appalachian Trail for those who wish to see it blanketed in white. On the fringe of the Western border, Roan can be accessed in all seasons thanks to loyal trail keepers. At 6,286 feet above sea level, Roan peeks its head above the surrounding tips of the Blue Ridge, making for a splendid reward for those who make it to the top. The Spruce-Fir forests in this region are serene, especially when they’re caked in snow.
Travel Time: 3 hours
Degree of difficulty: 7/10
Daniel Ridge Falls, NC
Tucked away in the Pisgah National Forest lies the breathtaking rock formation known as Daniel Ridge Falls. The trail leading to the falls is quite moderate, but littered with enough obstacles to get your heart rate up. If you go during a stint of cold weather you may even be able to see the falls masked in a sheet of ice, a unique sight you can’t get any other time of year.
Travel Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Degree of difficulty: 4/10