Winter in the Great Smokies

by | Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Crisp cold mornings in the Great Smokies remind us that winter is arriving. The rafts, kayaks, canoes, boats, and paddles are put away for the season and exchanged for coats, boots, mittens, and scarfs. You either hate winter or love it–love might be too strong of a word for some. When that frigid January wind whistles around your house’s eaves and finds a path inside, it blows as cold as the iceberg that sank the Titanic. But there’s magic in winter if you look for it.

Love Winter in the Smokies?

skiing-snow-winter-smokie mountains

A few hardy souls will venture out with snowboards and skis, bundle up in snowsuits, and find bliss on the slopes at Cataloochee Ski Area or Appalachian Ski Mountain. Children look forward to the first fluffy flakes of snow so they can ditch school, pump up their inner-tubes, drag out snow sleds, and spend a day sliding down a driveway or a steep mountain incline covered in a blanket of white. Red noses and frozen fingers and toes can’t wipe the smile from their shivering lips or the sparkle from their eyes.

brown bear in river mountains

Others have the soul of a grumpy bear when it comes to winter. They mutter curse words under their breath, as they slip and slide to their vehicle, and scrape the ice from their windshields. They gaze back at the warmth of their hearth and long to crawl back into bed, throw a blanket over their heads, and not emerge until the first 70 degree day hits spring. These people shake their fists at the sky as soon as the first snowflake drifts down from the heavens. They find no joy in the beauty of it.

Mild Winters or Not!


Winters in the Great Smoky Mountains can be mild, with spring-like temperatures that show up as soon as February–sometimes in January. Once in a while, a winter storm dumps several inches of snow across the mountains and foothills, though this is becoming a rare phenomenon for Western North Carolina. The last truly big snow was the Blizzard of ‘93. On March 12th, thunder and lightning filled the sky as snow fell and fell and fell through the night and on into the day. The Great Smoky Mountains and along the North Carolina/Tennessee border saw a record of 60 inches of snow. After Bryson City dug out from under 19 inches or more of snow, no one wanted to see another flake fall from the sky. Hold tight, I hear El Niño might bring us more snow in 2023-2024! 

Hoarfrost and Hot Coffee

hoarfrost field in winter

Though the mountains of the Nantahala National Forest, Cherokee National Forest, and the Great Smoky Mountains look bleak between December and March, there is beauty to be found. Some mornings hoarfrost covers branches of trees in the higher elevations reflected by the brilliant color of a Carolina blue sky. Hoarfrost accumulates on fence posts and rails along a horse pasture and on grass gone to hay. It sparkles in the rising sun as you stand on your porch and gaze out with your hands wrapped around a hot cup of coffee–its steam rising into the air as you sip. Hoarfrost occurs when there’s too much moisture in the cold air with no place to hold it.

Indian Creek Falls in snow Bryson City NC

Photo Source Swain County Chamber of Commerce Indian Creek Falls at Deep Creek, North Carolina

Summer sports may shut down during the winter, but have you ever hiked a leaf-strewn trail to a frozen waterfall? Or hiked after a freshly fallen snow and listened to the quietness all around you? Or stood on a mountain top and let solitude bring you the peace you crave? Have you ever come face-to-face with wildlife–a deer or fox, maybe a bear–because you can see further through trees without leaves? I hear the Aurora Borealis looks magical against a black winter sky. No matter where you are during winter, find reasons to love it until the earth reawakens in the spring heralding the coming of summer once again.

Embrace the Winter Scenery

aurora borealis winter

White water rafting on the Nantahala River & the Ocoee River has ended another spectacular season of fun and sun with Carolina Outfitters & Carolina Ocoee. It has been a pleasure serving each and every guest who booked a white water rafting adventure with us! We look forward to seeing you in the spring! Until then, find joy in the winter months every chance you get!

nantahala river in snow in winter

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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