But winter in NC most certainly does not spell the end of all the outdoor fun. The climate of North Carolina is quite varied, and the North Carolina winter weather changes largely depend on altitude.
Winter temperatures in Wilmington NC (elev. 36 feet) average nearly 50º F in January, whereas Boone NC (elev. 3360 feet) barely gets above freezing for most of the month.
In general, winter in Asheville and Western NC is mild enough to enjoy outside recreation. But it’s cold enough to provide great sledding hills and plenty of snowball fights: Beech Mountain NC gets several feet of snow every winter!
Winter in the North Carolina Piedmont keeps things a touch warmer, while also providing easy access to the snow-capped ridges. There’s also plenty of holiday cheer on the streets around Christmas.
In the eastern lowlands, freezing winter temperatures aren’t even a guarantee. Some places in eastern North Carolina average temperatures in the 40s for the months of January and February.
In short, there’s a ton of fun to be had in North Carolina in winter, and we’ve made it our goal to help you get the most out of it. Read on for our list of 20 awesome things to do for winter in North Carolina.
Things to Do for Winter in North Carolina Guide
- Visit NC Christmas Tree Farms
- Check Out Small-Town Christmas Light Displays
- Candlelight Christmas at the Biltmore
- Take the Polar Express from Bryson City
- Ride the Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock
- Get to a Christmas Parade
- Celebrate at the NC Chinese Lantern Festival
- Slide Down NC Snow Tubing Chutes
- Snow Skiing at NC Ski Resorts
- Cross Country Skiing/Snowshoeing
- Hit the NC Hiking Trails
- Explore Sunny Vistas While Rock Climbing
- Ice-climb Frozen NC Waterfalls
- Take a Wintertime Ziplining Tour
- Beckon the Barkeeps at Local NC Breweries
- Watch NC Sports at Their Best
- Visit World-Class NC Museums
- Stay in Rustic NC Cabins and Lodges
- Attend an Wintertime NC Music Festival
- Shop at the Asheville Grove Arcade
Christmas Activities in North Carolina
1. Visit One of the Many NC Christmas Tree Farms
This area– part of the NC High Country– is the coldest and snowiest in North Carolina, so the rows of trees are especially beautiful (and often naturally flecked in snowy white).
2. Check Out Small Town Christmas Light Displays
The winter holiday is a big deal in many Western NC small towns. Well-timed North Carolina winter getaways definitely need to include a Christmas light display two on the itinerary.
Wherever you may go when you visit North Carolina, a locally revered light show is sure to be nearby. Charlotte, Asheville, and the Raleigh-Durham triangle all have tons of them!
But some of the tinier North Carolina mountain towns are beloved for big-time lights in small-town settings, including Dillsboro, Forest City, and McAdenville (a.k.a. “Christmas Town USA”).
Most of these magical light shows can be enjoyed as evenings out, with holiday shopping and festive meals as part of the fun. But there are also massive drive-thru Christmas light displays worth visiting.
3. Candlelight Christmas at the Biltmore
For those ready to drop a little coin on a crazy NC Christmas celebration, the Biltmore Estate at night is ridiculously quaint and opulent all at once.
The largest privately-owned home in the United States goes all out every year at Christmas, and their candlelit evening tours are well worth the exorbitant price ($119).
Lights illuminate the pathways to the home, with Christmas trees right next to the picturesque fountain. The 175,000-square-foot interior is decorated to the nines, with thousands of ornaments, flickering candles, and crackling fires.
The candlelight Christmas at Biltmore includes entrance to the home as well as access to Antler Hill Village, which has its own light displays, restaurants, shops, and one of the most popular North Carolina wineries.
4. Take the Polar Express from Bryson City
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is transformed around the holidays into a lively 1¼-hour excursion to the North Pole, which was inspired by the beloved Tom Hanks film.
All train tickets include hot cocoa and cookies, and the ride has sing-along carols and a visit from Santa Claus himself! All children passengers receive a silver bell.
First Class and Premium Crown Class packages include extras like souvenir mugs and special treats, and climate-controlled indoor seating.
The Polar Express begins its routes in mid-November, and continues through New Year’s Eve.
5. Ride the Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock
The Polar Express is not the only holiday railway running in North Carolina. In Blowing Rock, the Tweetsie Railroad is running on weekends from late November to the end of December.
Tickets for children and adults are around $40, and reservations should be made through their official website.
The train ride (which runs every 30 minutes) is open-air and can get a little frosty, but it includes twinkling light displays.
The railroad experience is only part of the fun: Tweetsie Railroad is a full stop for winter vacations in North Carolina.
There’s also Santa’s Gingerbread House, a live Christmas show, and holiday-themed amusement rides.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC
6. Get to a NC Christmas Parade
In addition to holiday light displays, Christmas shopping, and hot cocoa, many North Carolina towns have Christmas parades to kick off the holiday season.
Most of these parades are held earlier in the winter, around the beginning of December, and they’re often part of a tree lighting ceremony or similarly festive Christmas events.
Larger cities like Greensboro and Raleigh also have holiday parades, but the small towns love to invite guests into their communities for a warm embrace.
7. Celebrate at the NC Chinese Lantern Festival
One of several annual festivals held at the Koka Booth Ampitheatre in Cary NC, the celebration lasts from mid-November to early January every year.
Huge paper lanterns are lit by thousands of LED lights to show off incredible renderings of plants, animals, and more, all of which were created by Chinese artisans.
There are several tours available, including the Twilight Ticket Experience for photography enthusiasts and the VIP (Very Important Panda) Tour Experience for educational info.
Outdoor Activities for North Carolina Winter Vacations
8. Slide down NC Snow Tubing Hills
Winter resorts in North Carolina have come a long way over the past few decades, and tubing has emerged as an increasingly popular thing to do in North Carolina in winter.
Hawksnest Snowtubing in Seven Devils is a former ski resort that has transformed into a snow tubing hotspot. It offers the widest range of routes for those looking to dive deep into the pastime.
Most of the popular ski resorts— including Appalachian Ski Mountain, the Cataloochee Ski Area, etc.—have put in snow-tubing lanes, with specialized lifts to make getting back uphill for the next run easier.
9. Snow Skiing at NC Ski Resorts
Winter getaways in NC often involve winter resorts, and snow skiing has traditionally been the key selling point.
Near Asheville, skiers will find the Cataloochee Ski Area, Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, and Sapphire Valley Ski Resort.
The North Carolina ski season usually begins around the first week of December and extends into March. Most of these resorts have snow machines to keep the slopes in business, even in warmer winter weather.
10. Cross-Country Skiing/Snowshoeing
Though it’s not a huge draw for most visitors, there are some interesting North Carolina cross-country skiing and snowshoeing spots, all of which are free to access.
Elk Knob State Park, which is located a few miles north of Boone, has also been geared for winter recreation, including trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Enthusiasts can also visit the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina at Roan Mountain and some sections of the BRP itself, which often get closed to vehicles when the weather turns snowy.
11. Hit the NC Hiking Trails
While tackling hiking trails are typically thought of as spring, summer, and fall activities, many winter hikes in NC can be truly spectacular.
Once the brilliant fall colors of North Carolina are done, sensational views that are blocked by trees for most of the year open up into tremendous vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Dupont State Recreational Forest in Brevard, Hanging Rock State Park in Mount Airy, and Max Patch near Asheville are all great North Carolina winter hiking routes.
The highest-altitude stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway often shut down in the wintertime. But when they’re open, Doughton Park, Julian Price Memorial Park, and Craggy Gardens all offer world-class views.
12. Explore Sunny Vistas While Rock Climbing
When rock climbers aspire to scale south-facing rock faces, waiting for cooler months is generally a wise move.
And North Carolina has some truly marquee choices for winter rock-climbing!
These sunny rock faces can get extraordinarily hot during the summertime, which makes them miserable (or even impossible) to climb. But, in the winter, they become popular rock climbing hotspots.
Table Rock in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, Rumbling Bald near Chimney Rock State Park, Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest, and Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain State Park all have winter climbing options worthy of serious consideration.
13. Ice-climb Frozen NC Waterfalls
The Blue Ridge Mountains are famed for their impressive collection of waterfalls. We’re particularly fond of the waterfalls near Brevard NC in Transylvania County, which is known as “the land of waterfalls.”
In the depths of winter freezes, many of these Western North Carolina waterfalls will ice over and become an entirely new brand of beautiful.
North Carolina has several popular ice-climbing locales, including the longest route on the East Coast (Celo Knob, in the Black Mountains range).
Because the ice freezes differently here in the Southeast USA, having a guide and/or climbing partner is a good idea. Karsteen Delap at Fox Mountain Guides & Climbing School is a good person to contact for more info.
14. Take a Wintertime Ziplining Tour
In North Carolina, canopy tours don’t stop once the weather gets frosty. The amazing scenery just becomes a bit more expansive, and often snowy!
Hawksnest Zipline in Seven Devils NC has the Snow Bird Tour, which includes four cables and lasts just under an hour.
Indoor Activities for Winters in North Carolina
15. Beckon the Barkeeps at Local NC Breweries
North Carolina is one of the best states for craft-brewed beers. The town of Asheville—with over a dozen craft breweries within its boundaries—has proudly been dubbed “Beer City.”
But Asheville isn’t the only place to find great suds. Southward, Mills River and Brevard are home to Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues, respectively.
Further east, Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewery is fantastic, and the youthful vibe in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle has created some of the state’s best homegrown beers.
READ MORE: Exploring The 17 Best Asheville NC Breweries
16. Watch NC Sports at Their Best
North Carolina is replete with world-renowned sports programs. And with college basketball being the state’s calling card to sports fame, winter is the perfect time for catching a game.
The UNC and Duke basketball teams perennially rank among the Top 25 teams in the nation, while Wake Forest and NC State are often formidable opponents as well.
Charlotte has the Charlotte Hornets for NBA basketball, while Raleigh has the Carolina Hurricanes for NHL hockey.
The Carolina Panthers in Charlotte are the state’s NFL team, while Appalachian State University in Boone NC has a strong sports program as well.
17. Visit World-Class NC Museums
US history runs deep in the state of North Carolina, from the Cherokee people who occupied the Appalachian Mountains before colonialism to the settlers who braved the Blue Ridge Mountains in the early days.
The museums in North Carolina are both plentiful and top-notch, ranging from small local history museums to major regional attractions. And winter in NC is the perfect time for visiting them.
Some of the best museums in the state include the Asheville Museum of Science, the North Carolina Museum of History (in Raleigh), the Museum of the Cherokee Indian (Cherokee), and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (Greensboro).
18. Sip Something Fireside in a NC Cabin
These cozy places are generally equipped with all the necessities you heart may desire, from TVs and WiFi for some to complete off-grid bliss for others.
But the must-have for any North Carolina winter accommodation is a fireplace to sit near with a hot drink (or a nice cocktail) while soaking in the atmosphere of being warm inside while it’s cold outside.
19. Attend an NC Music Festival
Music is a huge part of North Carolina’s cultural heritage, and there are tons of great NC music festivals throughout the year, including in the winter.
Bluegrass First Class is a highbrow event held every February at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville. It’s been running for nearly 30 years now, and typically features the top names in bluegrass.
20. Shop Old School at the Asheville Grove Arcade
Built in 1929, the Arcade was the town’s first shopping mall. It was constructed by local developer Edwin Riley Grove, who is also known for the Grove Park Inn.
It was a center of commerce until WWII, but after that the building was converted into the home of the National Weather Records Center.
Nevertheless, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976, and the building was completely remodeled after the NWRC vacated it in the late 1990s.
Today, it is once again the ornate jewel it was meant to be, with a wide-ranging array of shops, restaurants, and offices/apartment spaces.
There’s even an outdoor Makers Market at the Battery Park end of the building. –by Jonathon Engels; lead image of Biltmore Christmas by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett