Asheville’s a year-round hiking destination. In fact, we’d venture to say it’s one of the best all-year hiking hotspots in the entire country. That’s partly, of course, because of the sheer beauty, variety, and grandeur of its Blue Ridge surroundings: These ancient highlands, deep forests, and whitewater gorges serve up breathtaking scenery in any season.
It’s also because of the special climate, which makes for generally balmy winters in the lowlands while serving up frosty delights in the high country. This means you often can pursue either snow-free low-elevation hiking or seek out heaps of the white stuff if you’d prefer—or combine both in a single trek!
Keep in mind that winter conditions in and around Asheville vary quite a bit from year to year, and sometimes the Asheville Basin receives a generous snowfall. Depending on the weather when you’re visiting during a hike in the lower to mid-elevations, may involve tromping along a bare ground path, dealing with an icy tread, or crunching through the snowpack.
What follows are some of the very best winter hikes within day-tripping reach of Asheville, from short and easy jaunts to more strenuous backcountry adventures:
The open heights of 4,232-foot Bearwallow Mountain provide superb views over the Hickory Nut Gorge and out to Mount Pisgah, the Black Mountains, the Great Balsams, and other stirring landmarks. Only about 20 miles from downtown Asheville, the Bearwallow Mountain Trail—maintained by the awesome Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy—offers quite an easy two-mile round-trip hike up to this great vantage, topped by a historic fire tower (not open to the public).
You can extend your Bearwallow adventure by linking this path with the longer Trombatore Trail—which begins at the same trailhead—for a seven-mile winter outing.
About 36 miles northwest of Asheville, the charming town of Hot Springs, North Carolina along the French Broad River lies astride the Appalachian Trail. A classic day hike that gives you the pleasure of following that iconic long-distance footpath is the roughly 1.5-mile loop from Hot Springs up to the outcrop of Lover’s Leap, which delivers swoony views of the village and the river valley.
The broad, granite brow of John Rock in the Pisgah National Forest provides another stunning vantage, and one reached by a 5-mile round-trip trail that, in winter especially, serves up plenty of great scenery along the way. That includes the lovely Cedar Rock Falls, at optimum visibility in this leafless season. The summit offers memorable sightlines out to such monolithic promontories as the mighty, slab-sided Looking Glass Rock and high-knobbed Pilot Mountain. While the summit dome provides an ample stage for soaking up the grand viewshed, don’t get too close to its cliffy edges—especially in slippery winter conditions. (If you’ve got kids along on your winter hike, keep an especially close eye on them up here!)
About 40 miles from Asheville, the John Rock Trail kicks off at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.
DuPont State Recreational Forest
A mere hour’s drive south of Asheville, the expansive DuPont State Recreational Forest is most famous for its concentration of big waterfalls, including the stunning 125-foot High Falls, the three-tiered Triple Falls (about 120 feet total), and the roughly 800-foot-wide wash of Bridal Veil. (With these sorts of magnificent sights in ample supply, it’s no surprise why such big-budget films as The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans were partly shot here.) Winter hikers in the DuPont enjoy lighter crowds, longer views through naked woods, and the special seasonal incarnations of those granite-washing cataracts, which depending on the prevailing weather can include impressive ice formations as well as all-out snowy shoulders. The excellent system of trails allows you to take in one or two falls, or combine all of the major ones in a single big walkabout.
Set up at 4,600 feet, the wide-open mountaintop grass bald called Max Patch offers one of the most lauded panoramas on the entire, 2000-mile run of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also a very doable winter trek of 1.5 miles round-trip, though we recommend inquiring ahead as to current road conditions and taking a 4WD vehicle when the access is snow-covered. The views from up here are arguably at their best in the cold, still air of wintertime, with unforgettable looks at the highest country in the eastern U.S.: from the Great Smoky and Black Mountains to the Great Craggies and the Great Balsams.
Winter Revelry on Asheville-area Hiking Trails
From the gargantuan waterfalls of the DuPont to the 360-degree views of Bearwallow Mountain and Max Patch, the winter wonders of the Southern Appalachians beckon right at the doorstep of Asheville. Just remember to pack plenty of warm layers and extra food, wear sturdy boots, and tote a pair of crampons or other traction devices if trails are icy or hard-crusted.