Tips for Winter Hiking in the Smokies

January 10th 2017

Winter hiking comes with its own sense of beauty and wonder. For some hikers, there’s simply nothing else like it! Diehard hikers go out year round to enjoy the scenery and experience of hiking, and for many of these hikers, the Great Smoky Mountains will be their destination. Whether you’re approaching through Maggie Valley, Wears Valley, Bryson City, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or one of the many other areas in the Smokies, it’s important to keep some basic winter safety tips in mind. While you may be a seasoned hiker, hiking anywhere from a few hours to a few days, remember that winter hiking comes with risks that other seasons do not. To make sure that you have a safe, enjoyable winter hike, take a couple minutes and check out the following safety tips for winter hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

-Tell others your hiking plans. Let people know where you are and when you plan to get back.

Letting people know that you are going out on a hike, where you will be going, and when you will be back is essential, especially if you are hiking during the winter! If you do not return by your designated time, you will have outside support that can organize a search if necessary. Make sure that you provide the area that you’re hiking as well as the telephone number of the park. Instruct them to call the park if you are not back by a certain time and/or have not contacted them.

 – Hike with more than one person.

If you can’t find another person to hike with, delay your plans. With hiking in general, there is safety in numbers. Hiking alone is dangerous in any season– anything can happen! Always go winter hiking with one or more friends! Groups of three and four are better than groups of two. If no one is available to go hiking with you, cancel your plans.

– Keep a park trail map on you and hike on official, designated trails.

This is good advice for hikers in any season. Going off trail is unsafe and not recommended, especially when it comes to winter hiking. Buy an updated park trail map to look at and stick to the marked trails or risk getting lost and stranded.

– Bring lighting and multiple contact options with you.

Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have a radio. A head lamp or a flashlight should be included in your pack at all times on a hike, day or night. Bring a fully charged phone with you wrapped in a plastic bag and have at least one person with an emergency radio in case of no service.

– Check the weather before leaving.

This is a very easy thing to do and may save your life! If you know a big storm or hazardous weather is coming, don’t be afraid to cancel your plans. The goal is to enjoy the hike, not set yourself up for a life or death scenario.

– Make a checklist of gear to have on or bring and cross off items on your list.

Having a list allows you to ensure you have something instead of merely thinking you have it. This way you can definitely confirm that you have all of your required gear and are ready to hit the trails! – Have each hiker bring extra food and water, just in case. It’s always better to bring things and not need them than to not have the option at all. Bring a water purifier or enough water and food for two to three times your intended hike (at least). You never know– you may need it.

– Keep dry, wear layers, and bring proper gear.

Keeping dry lowers your risk of getting hypothermia and dressing in layers allows you to add or reduce as needed. Make sure you have proper gear and clothing and that your boots fit correctly to avoid getting blisters. This may involve you bringing some backup pairs of socks! Have a first-aid kit, gloves, hat, wind resistant jacket, heat packets, thermal blankets, and overnight and cooking gear if staying at a site or shelter you’ve reserved a spot at.

– Hike at your appropriate skill level.

Winter is not the time to go outside your comfort zone. If you’re a beginner hiker, planning a multi-day hike may be taking on a bit too much. Know what your experience level is and plan your hike accordingly!

– Don’t attempt dangerous crossings, slopes, et cetera.

This can be very dangerous. If you come to a crossing, a cliff, ledge, loose rock, or other hazardous areas, don’t gamble. Find another way around or consider turning back.

– Get a backcountry permit when spending the night.

That way, you’ll be able to stay the night and hike the Smokies without any problems. After all, you don’t want to have to turn back from a site or shelter because you forgot your permit!

The Smokies are beautiful in every season, but they are truly breathtaking in winter! When hiking during the colder months, make sure you always have everything you need. As long as you follow these tips, hike with friends and use common sense, you will set the stage for a great hiking experience!

When planning an awesome winter hiking experience, it is important to set up a home base that is both convenient and comfortable. Creekside Lodge at Maggie Valley is a wonderful choice to provide comfort and convenience wrapped in warm, down home hospitality! Creekside Lodge books up quickly all year-round so it is important to reserve your spot in advance! Call our office today at 1-800-621-1260 and let our friendly staff assist you in making your plans! Good luck and happy hiking!


  • We went with a large group to the Maggie Valley Creekside Lodge and they were incredibly helpful and hospitable. The accommodations were great. The large foyer area was wonderful for the group and the staff was incredible. They made us welcome in so many ways. The rates were incredibly reasonable and the room had all the necessary amenities.

    Chip T.

  • We loved our visit here! We just got home last night and we all wish we were still there! The staff is extremely helpful and the rooms are nice and clean. We spent a lot of time by the stunning creek cooking dinner on the grill and roasting s'mores over the fire pit. It is centrally located to many attractions. We went on many day trips and didn't spend all day in the car getting there. It's also within walking distance of restaurants and shops, but you may find yourself eating by the rushing creek instead!

    Amie M.

  • Really enjoyable place to stay. Room had a balcony overlooking the creek. Spacious room with comfortable bed. Staff was very nice and friendly. Took only 35-40 minutes to reach the Valley at Cataloochee where the elk were in rut. Awesome stay and can't wait to go back.


  • Clean, friendly, quiet, relaxing. Heartfelt thanks to Carol and her entire staff for making our group feel at home again this year. They went out of their way to make sure we had what we needed to make our event a success. We will be back again!

    Ricky Y.

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