Four Season Hiking--
Winter Hiking

Four Season Hiking?  Absolutely.  Western North Carolina definitely has four seasons but, with a little planning, you can hike year ‘round like I do.  Many of the trail reviews on the site were created in the winter.

Why hike in winter?

  • The trails are less crowded.  If you seek or appreciate solitude when you hike, winter hiking is a must.  Winter hiking is a great time to hike heavily populated areas that are exceptionally busy during the non-winter months.  Not only are these trails generally short and accessible, you can hike without the crowds.  The Lake Powhatan Trails and the trails around the Davidson River Campground in Pisgah Ranger District are good examples for this.  For many years, I have been hiking the busy trails in winter and leaving my summer hiking for the less-travelled trails.
  • The views are better You can see the mountainsides without the foliage in the way.  The structure of the mountains is more visible—shape, contour, rocks, etc. are easier to make out with the leaves off the trees.  Further, the air is clearer, allowing for breathtaking long range views.
  • Individual trees are more easily appreciated.  You’ll appreciate the evergreens for adding some colour to the forest.  You’ll be able to see the forms of individual deciduous trees in a way not possible during other seasons---this is a fantastic way to see the beautiful forms of individual trees as well as groups of trees.  This is my favourite part of winter hiking.
  • Each season has its own “feel” and grandeur…winter included.  God created all the seasons as a necessary component to our mountain climate.  You’ll not want to miss any of these.
  • The forest has many faces.  Even in winter.  We don’t have much snow but, if we do, the woodland takes on an entirely different appearance even compared to non-snow wintertime. 
  • The forests are typically quieter, allowing for a serene hiking experience.
  • The sun is more intense during winter, washing the trails in surreal light.

Winter view from Rock Quarry Road Trail in DuPont State Forest

photo by A. Scott Lavender

Use Common Sense

Winter hiking is just as feasible as hiking in other seasons with a few precautions.  As with all seasons, be prepared for hiking.  Some additional things to consider during winter:

  • Dress in layers.  The weather can change drastically and quickly.  Always have a heavy coat available.
  • Take shorter hikes.  Once the sun starts going down (and it goes down earlier), it cools down rapidly.   Shorter hikes allow you to get in and out while minimizing the chances of getting caught in the cold.
  • Hike later and earlier.  What I mean here is to get out on the trail later in the day and finish up earlier in the evening.  During summer, I frequently hit the trails at daylight.  During the winter, I am rarely on a trail prior to 10 or 11 a.m. in order to allow it to warm up and to allow the sun to get high enough to rise over the mountains and onto the trails.  I am usually off the trails by 2 or 3 p.m.
  • Hike trails that are sun-kissed.  Winter is a great time to hike in the sun.  The bare trees help with this, too.
  • Don’t get wet.

Let me encourage you to hike all year long.  There are too many great trails and too many great winter effects for you to miss out on.  See you the trail...I'll be the guy in the grey toboggan with the measuring wheel.  

Note to our visitors from foreign parts--a "toboggan" is a knit cap sometimes called a "beanie" in other areas.

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› Four Season Hiking

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