By Alli Hill
Tennessee is well renowned as the country’s premier hiking destination, but some may say the best time to hike is during the winter. Parts of Tennessee, like the Great Smoky Mountains, teem with tourists all year long, but the trails tend to be noticeably less crowded when it’s cold outside—if you know where to go. Start with these eight best winter hikes in Tennessee.
One of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokies, you’ll likely have no trouble finding parking if you visit during the winter. Just about 2.5 miles’ round trip, this trail leads to one of the prettiest waterfalls around. The trail is also just 13 miles from famed Cades Cove, giving you plenty of fun sights and activities to fill your day.
Tucked away inside Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, the Enclosure Trail travels around the ancient enclosure for a total of 1.3 miles. From the trail, you’ll be able to see both Blue Falls and Big Falls, along with other scenery and the old Enclosure that makes this hike unique. For more information on theories regarding the enclosure, you can stop by the visitor’s center theater and museum.
Take your pick of the three hiking trails that all begin at the Narrows of the Harpeth trailhead. You can ascend the bluff for a panoramic view of Harpeth Valley, head along the back of a limestone bluff to the defunct site of an old iron forge, or discover the oldest man-made tunnel in modern existence.
Located inside Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park, the highlight of the tour here is, of course, the 15 Indian mounds. The Greater Outer Loop Trail takes you directly to a few of them. While you’re here, make sure you stop at the mound-shaped museum to learn more about the area’s historical and cultural significance.
Beautiful sunsets aren’t just for summer nights. Head to Chattanooga’s Point Park and begin your ascent to the top of Lookout Mountain. The loop between Rifle Pits Trail, Bluff Trail, Cravens House Trail, and Gum Springs Trail take you directly by Sunset Rock, where you can experience some of the most gorgeous views in the city, along with some of the area’s historical sites.
Though fairly easy in terrain, this nearly-five-mile hike means you’ll need good shoes and plenty of endurance. The trail leads to the old fire tower, which has been standing sentry for over 75 years. It’s one of just four remaining towers of its kind in the Cherokee National Forest. This trail is fun for the whole family, and is free to enjoy.
Gatlinburg is brimming with amazing trails, but this is one of the only ones that allows dogs and bicycles. The trail hugs the river’s edge in several spots, and offers views of old chimneys and foundations that are the only remainders of former homes. Trekking this trail in the winter offers unobstructed views of these structures.
The reward on this hike is getting to see one of the largest cave openings in Tennessee up close and personal. The hike itself is fairly easy, spanning just over 1.5 miles each way. You can access the trailhead from Sherwood Road in the Carter State Natural Area. South Cumberland State Park features a variety of other amazing hiking trails and natural sites, like the Sewanee Natural Bridge that overlooks Lost Cove. Plan to spend your whole day here to see all the best scenes.