Sure, the chilly Smoky Mountains Winter weather drives some folks indoors. But for visitors interested in snow skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, hiking, and/or exploring waterfalls, Winter is a perfect time to visit!
Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains in Winter?
If you need recommendations for things to do during Winter in the Smoky Mountains, check out our tips for some of the top hotels, guided tours, and more!
Top Places to Stay in the Smoky Mountains
- Pigeon Forge TN: Twin Mountain Inn & Suites (free breakfast & fire pit overlooking the river)
- Pigeon Forge TN: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa (indoor pool, on-site dining & spa)
- Gatlinburg TN: Margaritaville Resort (excellent location with on-site restaurant & spa)
- Cherokee NC: Stonebrook Lodge (across from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino)
- Bryson City NC: Sleep Inn (budget-friendly hotel with continental breakfast)
Popular Tours & Activities in the Smoky Mountains:
- Pigeon Forge: Rocky Top Mountain Coaster Ride (go 30 mph on a thrilling 9-minute ride)
- Pigeon Forge: Titanic Museum Advance Purchase Ticket (ride on a replica of the Titanic)
- Gatlinburg: Impossibilities Magic and Mind-Reading Show (80 minutes of family fun!)
- Gatlinburg: Ghosts of the Smokies Haunted Walking Tour (1-hour guided walking tour)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Self-Guided Driving Tour (download app)
Need a car rental for your Smoky Mountains winter trip? Find the best rental car options here!
Great Smoky Mountains in Winter Guide
- Play in the Snow at Ober Mountain Gatlinburg
- Get Great Views at Gatlinburg SkyPark
- Festivities at Pigeon Forge Winterfest
- Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark in Pigeon Forge
- Winter Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Drive Through Cades Cove
- Visit Mingo and Soco Falls in Cherokee
- Tour the Museum of the Cherokee People
- Explore The Road to Nowhere in Bryson City
- Take a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Ride
READ MORE: 15 Fun Things to Do in Winter in Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee
1. Play in the Snow at Ober Mountain Gatlinburg
This beloved mountaintop attraction offers fun Winter activities such as snow tubing, snowboarding, ice skating, and a Family Snow Zone where everyone can make snow angels, snowmen, snow forts, and more.
When Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose and toes, just pop into one of the Ober Mountain restaurants to grab a bite and/or sip some hot cocoa to get warm.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN
2. Get Great Views at Gatlinburg SkyPark
Walk across the bridge for magnificent scenic views and hike the SkyTrail up to the Tulip Tower observation deck. There you can enjoy panoramic vistas of the city of Gatlinburg TN and the Smoky Mountains.
If you’re there in the evening, take a ride on the SkyLift to see stunning nighttime views of the city below lit up like the stars. This is especially heartwarming if you’re visiting Tennessee for Christmas.
This popular Gatlinburg attraction will stay open if it snows, but will close for safety reasons if there is too much ice build-up. We recommend calling before you visit in order to avoid disappointment.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Romantic Getaways in Tennessee
3. Festivities at Pigeon Forge Winterfest
One of our favorite attractions during Winter in Pigeon Forge TN is SkyLand’s Festival of Lights, which runs from early November through mid-February.
Guests can marvel at hundreds of thousands of Tennessee Christmas lights and enjoy decadent sweet treats at the SkyLand Café & Bakery (which is decorated as the North Pole for the holidays).
If you want to be part of a magical New Year tradition, ring in the New Year at The Island in Pigeon Forge on December 31, when they host a magnificent fireworks display as the clock strikes midnight.
4. Rowdy Bear’s Smoky Mountain Snowpark
Guests can experience the longest hill (500 feet) and fastest snow tubing in TN, with a 70-foot drop along the way. You can also take an exhilarating ride on the Avalanche Snow Coaster, where you control the speed.
They also have an outdoor playground for kids, while grownups can try their hand at axe throwing with help from Rowdy Bear’s trained staff.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Winter
5. Winter Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With the leaves from the deciduous trees gone, many of the national park’s 100+ hiking trails offer magical vistas that are usually hidden in summer.
The Allum Cave Bluff Trail and Metcalf Bottoms Trail (to the quaint ghost town of Little Greenbrier) are especially pretty in the snow.
Although the popular Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed to cars in Winter, you can still hike some amazing trails, including the picturesque Grotto Falls Trail.
Note that Smoky Mountain waterfalls can get very slippery in Winter. So be cautious, and be sure to check the official NPS official site for info on trail closures and weather warnings.
6. Drive Through Cades Cove
If you prefer to stay in the car on cold Winter days, we recommend taking a ride through Cades Cove. It’s a wonderful drive at any time of year, but the 11-mile road is especially magical in the snow.
This area was settled by Europeans between 1818 and 1821, and holds the widest variety of historic buildings in the park. Visitors can see churches, a grist mill, barns, log cabins, and more.
Guests are encouraged to pick up a tour booklet at the entrance to the loop road and take their own self-guided tour.
Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina
7. Visit Mingo Falls & Soco Falls in Cherokee NC
The hike is just 1/4-mile, but it’s straight up 161 steps. At the top you can see water cascading down a 120-foot drop into the pool below, with a spectacular view from a wooden observation bridge.
Soco Falls is another one of our favorite waterfalls in Cherokee NC, offering two falls for the price of one. The great thing about visiting in Winter is that you can see both falls without having to scramble down to the bottom.
There’s a small roadside parking area, with a very short walk to reach the viewing platform. Sure-footed visitors can climb down to the base of the falls, but we recommend using the guide ropes, because the rocks are really slippery!
Note that these and other North Carolina waterfalls can be slick at the best of times. Be especially cautious when there is snow and ice on the ground.
8. Tour the Museum of the Cherokee People
This is one of the longest-operating tribal museums in the USA, and it’s packed with fascinating info about Cherokee culture and history.
They also have a large gift shop stocked with art, books, clothing, jewelry, and home decor, many of which have been made by local Cherokee artists and craftsmen.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabins in Cherokee NC for Rent
9. Explore The Road to Nowhere in Bryson City
If it’s too chilly outside, a scenic drive offers a great opportunity to learn about Bryson City‘s “Road to Nowhere.” This unusual landmark came about after the Fontana Dam flooded other access roads, and a replacement road was started.
Due to environmental concerns, construction was stopped at the end of a one-mile tunnel. But the road is now considered a beautiful hiking destination.
Once you reach the tunnel, you must get out of your car and go through the tunnel on foot.
On the other side, you’ll find trailheads for the Noland Creek Trail, Goldmine Loop, and Lakeshore Trails, all of which offer a wonderful way to spend a day during Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC
10. Take a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train Ride
The 4.5-hour Nantahala Gorge trip departs from Bryson City, traveling 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back.Along the way, you’ll enjoy breathtaking sights of the Great Smoky Mountains and Fontana Lake.
Once you reach the Nantahala Outdoor Center outpost, there’s a one-hour layover where you can grab a bite to eat or chill by the river while awaiting your train ride back to the train depot.
There are various tour packages available, ranging from traveling in First Class (which includes dining) to open-air gondolas where guests are invited to bring a pre-packed box lunch.
Don’t forget to bring blankets to snuggle up in if you’re taking the open-air cars. But the First, Crown, and Coach Class cars all have heating. -by Emma Gallagher; featured photo of Great Smoky Mountains in Winter via Canva