Hiking in the Smoky Mountains in Winter: What’s Open & What’s Closed?
Are you planning on visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the winter months? You’ll be glad you did because this area is beautiful this time of year. You’re able to see more of the landscape you can’t see when trees are covered in leaves, and you might just get to experience snow! Due to this unpredictable weather and seasonal closures, not every trail is accessible. Keep reading to learn more about hiking in the Smoky Mountains in winter and what’s open and closed.
One of the most popular destinations in the national park is Clingmans Dome, and the access road to get there closes from December until the beginning of April. While the actual trail to the observation tower doesn’t close, your hike to get there would be over 10 miles round trip instead of 1 mile! Some of the other notable hiking trails along Clingmans Dome Road include:
- Forney Ridge Trail
- Spruce Fir Nature Trail
- Fork Ridge Trail
- Road Prong Trail
Gregory Ridge Trail
Although the actual trail isn’t closed for hiking in the Smoky Mountains in winter, the road to get to Gregory Ridge Trail is closed. To access the trailhead, you must take the Cades Cove Loop to get to Forge Creek Road. This road is closed from November to March. Other notable stops that are hard to access since Forge Creek Road is closed include:
- Cades Cove Visitor Center
- Cades Cove Grist Mill
- Henry Whitehead House
Gregory Bald Trail
Forge Creek Road eventually turns into Parson Branch Road, which is also closed in the winter. Parson Branch Road gives visitors access to Gregory Bald Trail and several cemeteries. Another trail that is hard to access because Parson Branch is closed is Hannah Mountain Trail.
Little Greenbrier Access Road
The Little Greenbrier School is a historic building people love to visit. While most people access this site by hiking the Metcalf Bottoms Trail, others will drive along the Little Greenbrier Access Road. This is one of the roads that closes during winter, because it is made of gravel, and conditions are unpredictable during this time of year. If you want to see the schoolhouse and cemetery, drive to the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, and access the trailhead from there. This access road closes from November to April.
Rich Mountain Trail
Another area that is closed for hiking in the Smoky Mountains in winter is Rich Mountain Trail. To access this trailhead, you must drive on Rich Mountain Road, a road that runs from the north part of the Cades Cove Loop into Townsend. While you can still access roads in Townsend and the Cades Cove Loop, this specific road closes. Rich Mountain Trail isn’t the only trail that’s hard to access because of the closure; Indian Grave Gap Trail is another hiking trail that’s almost inaccessible during this time of year. Rich Mountain Road closes from November to May.
Grotto and Rainbow Falls Trails
You may come to the Smokies wanting to see incredible waterfalls, which are especially breathtaking when surrounded by icicles. Unfortunately, the access road to get to two of the most popular trails, Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls, is closed from November to April. That doesn’t mean you can’t hike the beginning of the road to get to the trails, though! You’d just add a little more time to your hike, but the views are worth it. Some of the other trails that are hard to access because the Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed are:
Accessible Trails for Hiking in the Smoky Mountains in Winter
While quite a few trails are hard to access or almost inaccessible during winter, there are still quite a few you will want to explore while you’re in town! The roads to access the trailheads for these trails are open, weather permitting, during winter. Here are the top winter hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains:
Now you’re prepared for hiking in the Smoky Mountains in winter when it comes to knowing what’s open and what’s closed. But are you prepared with what to expect and what you should bring? Check out our guide to winter hiking in the Smoky Mountains for more helpful info!