The mild climate is a major perk of living in the Carolinas, but that doesn’t mean winter adventures have to fall off your radar. When winter storms roll over the Blue Ridge Mountains, western North Carolina becomes a winter wonderland. Next time the mercury drops, have your gear ready and head outdoors with our guide to the top winter bucket list adventures in the Carolinas.
Tubing and Ziplining at Hawksnest
Check snow tubing off your bucket list at the largest tube park on the East Coast. Runs ranging from 400 feet to 1,000 feet long at Hawksnest offer something for everyone, and the facility can make enough snow to completely cover 30 tubing lanes and ensure reliable conditions. Plus, the lanes are outfitted with lights for tubing at night.
Even if you’ve ziplined in warm weather, you’ll be amazed at the adrenaline rush you’ll get flying above the trees in winter. Because the trees have shed their leaves, you get unobstructed 360-degree views, while bracing winds and a glazing of ice and snow give the landscape a frosty makeover. You can hit speeds exceeding 50 mph on the Snowbird Zipline Tour, a series of four ziplines up to 2,000 feet long and all suspended over the treetops 200 feet above the ground.
Hiking to Whitewater Falls
Head to North Carolina’s Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County for the 0.6-mile hike to Whitewater Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies. A paved trail climbs to views of the Upper Falls tumbling 411 feet over a towering cliff. Another 400-foot cascade, Lower Whitewater Falls, comes into view from an observation deck farther down the trail. Multiple chutes of water freeze and thaw to change the vista every time you visit. If you’re up for more, continue hiking up the trail and into South Carolina on the 77-mile Foothills Trail.
Ice Climbing in Hickory Nut Gorge
Ice climbing conditions are fleeting in the Carolinas, so be ready for the next freeze by scouting out some of the most reliable routes in the Southeast at Little Bearwallow Falls in Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. A well-marked, one-mile approach on the Wildcat Rock Trail leads to a small crag and WI1 to WI4 routes. If you’re a beginner, contact Fox Mountain Guides or ClimbMax Guides to schedule a guided climb.
Trail Running at the North Carolina Arboretum
When fresh snow falls, lace up your waterproof trail runners for a workout on the deeply wooded trails along Bent Creek at the North Carolina Arboretum. The interconnecting trails are sheltered from strong winds, and they offer more than eight miles of challenging climbs and descents inside Pisgah National Forest. For more distance, extend your run along Bent Creek Road to Lake Powhatan.
Cross-Country Skiing on the Blue Ridge Parkway
When snow accumulates on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the road across Linville Viaduct between Blowing Rock and Linville closes to vehicles, making it a prime thoroughfare for Nordic skiers. Skirt the base of Grandfather Mountain to enjoy the views over the Catawba River Basin to Lake James and the South Mountains. If the snow’s deep enough, warm up on the carriage roads of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park before getting on the Parkway.
Snowshoeing on the Appalachian Trail
Check one of the most scenic stretches of the AT off your bucket list with a snowshoe hike out of Carver’s Gap across the Roan Highlands. The average annual snowfall tops 100 inches here, and it’s best to check the forecast and conditions before you leave home due to potential high winds on the exposed balds. A little less than a mile in, you’ll cross 5,825-foot Round Bald for 360-degree views of Tennessee to your left and North Carolina to your right. The views keep coming as you continue over Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge to your turnaround point at the Stan Murray Shelter on Yellow Mountain. Round trip mileage to the shelter is seven miles, or you can continue to Little Hump for a total of 14 miles.
Bypassing the Crowds at Max Patch
Claim the 360-degree views on top of 4,629-foot Max Patch for yourself on a snowy section of the Appalachian Trail outside the town of Hot Springs. Summer traffic jams and crowds are a distant memory on a crisp, clear winter morning. Take advantage of the quiet to hike the 2.6-mile loop trail that circles the treeless bald for views across Pisgah National Forest to Mount Mitchell and the Smoky Mountains. Then, warm up after your hike with a soak in the mineral springs back in town.
Skiing the Longest Run in the South
At Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk, you can challenge yourself on the longest ski run in the Southeast. The Summit Express lift will carry you to an elevation of 5,300 feet where you’ll begin a 1.5-mile, intermediate to expert run that holds up to any downhill terrain in the East. A 1,200-foot vertical drop adds to the challenge, with tight turns required on the top third of the run.
Backpacking the Black Mountain Crest Trail
Test your survival skills on the Black Mountain Crest Trail, one of the most strenuous trails in the state. Considered the highest-elevation trail east of the Mississippi, it follows the ridgeline of the Black Mountains from 6,683-foot-high Mount Mitchell to your turnaround point at Deep Gap. Pitch your tent overnight in the shelter of the gap before returning to the trailhead the next day for a 12-mile round-trip hike.
Written by Matt Guenther for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.