Winter Hiking Basecamps Near the Smokies
Straddling the Tennessee and North Carolina border, The Smoky Mountains are beautiful year-round. This subrange of the Appalachian mountains contains gently rounded peaks, waterfalls, and old growth hardwood forests that exhale the mountain’s namesake fog. When November rolls around, the low elevation and mildRead more...
Winter Hiking Basecamps Near the Smokies
Straddling the Tennessee and North Carolina border, The Smoky Mountains are beautiful year-round. This subrange of the Appalachian mountains contains gently rounded peaks, waterfalls, and old growth hardwood forests that exhale the mountain’s namesake fog. When November rolls around, the low elevation and mild climate of the Smoky Mountains make them an exceptional winter hiking range. Unlike the taller ranges out west that spend the winter buried in snow, the Smokies’ peaks hover around 6000 feet. Daytime temperature highs in the low elevations can be around 50 degrees or more. It gets colder above 4000 feet, with highs in the 30s, especially where more snow accumulates.
The Hipcamps on this list are curated with winter hiking in mind. They are mostly situated in the lower elevations, making them ideal basecamps to stage day hikes into the snowier mountain peaks. Because the Smokies are largely protected within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which maintains an 800 mile trail system, you’ll have plenty of hiking terrain to choose from.
How to prepare for winter camping in the Smokies
This list contains both traditional tent campsites and glampsites within cozy cabins, yurts, renovated buses, and tiny houses. These sites are on the private land of Hipcamp Hosts who are committed to conserving and sharing their slice of nature. Each site is personal, unique, and crafted with love.
Wherever you choose to stay, you should plan for the temperatures to drop below freezing at night. Some of these lodging options come with heating elements like wood-burning stoves, while others do not. Make sure to read each listing for the specifics of what amenities are provided, and contact Hosts if you have any questions about the nighttime temperatures of these structures. It’s a good rule of thumb to bring cold-weather clothes and sleeping gear no matter where you stay.
Tent campers, you’ll want to bring everything you need for cold-weather camping. Here’s a good primer if it’s your first winter camping trip.
Even lower elevations around the Smokies get a few dustings of snow each year, so check the weather and ask your Host about local road conditions when choosing or equipping your vehicle for winter road travel.
You’ll also want to check the weather when it comes to planning your hikes and day activities. Note that the freezing level may change across the elevations of your hikes. We recommend contacting park rangers for the best current info on trail conditions. Don’t forget to stay well-hydrated and bring sunscreen — even the winter sun can be strong here on a clear day. Because trail conditions can range from snow-free to icy to covered in fresh snow, it’s a good idea to bring trekking poles, microspikes or even crampons if you have lofty goals in your hiking itinerary. To get you started, Laurel Falls Trail and the Alum Cave Trail are regarded as two of the best winter hiking trails in the Smokies.
All of your stoic winter camping efforts will pay off once you enter the mountains. Popular trails are less crowded, the bugs are gone, and with no deciduous leaves left on the trees, new vistas are opened throughout the Smokies. When the temperature is below freezing, ponds and even waterfalls will freeze over here. Most of Smokies’ black bear are slumbering in hollowed-out trees during the winter, but you still might see white tailed deer, elk or coyotes (keep an eye peeled for their tracks in fresh snow). There cross-country skiing options along high elevation park roads that close in the winter and ski resorts nearby.
Best of all, there’s nothing like coming back to camp to build a fire, fill your thermos with hot chocolate (and maybe some of that Tennessee whisky) and cozying-up after a day of winter mountain hiking.
Placing your basecamp
You’ll find Hipcamps on both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the park on this list. They both make excellent gateways to the Smokies and link you to even more wilderness in nearby National Forests.
Camping near Knoxville gives you access to the headwaters of the Tennessee River and the bakeries, cafes, food co-op, and hickory-smoked BBQ of this Tennessee town. A few of the basecamps here are located in the Nantahala National Forest, which adds a half million acres of forest and the Cullasaja Falls to your adventure range. A bit further south, the Chattahoochee National Forest has another 850 miles of trails.
On the North Carolina side, camping near Ashville has another set of perks. There are more peaks along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Pisgah National Forest to the north. The snow-dusted Appalachians continue beyond that through the Cherokee National Forest. Ashville’s coffee roaster and diners make a great start to a day of winter hiking, while its breweries and Lexington-style BBQ will be there to welcome you back.
If you zoom out a bit, you’ll see that the Smoky Mountains are at the center of a few major cities. It’s just a few hours drive from Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville to the foothills of these mountains. Hipcamp has many camping, glamping and RVing options throughout this southern circuit.