Last Updated on January 25, 2022
Last Updated on January 25, 2022
Winter hikes in North Carolina are just another reason to love this wonderful state.
Of course, you may prefer our hiking trails during warmer months, especially in the fall. But there are benefits you won’t find any other time of year, including clearer skies, fewer wild animals out there, and less-crowded trails.
Speaking of trails, we’re here to share our favorites during winter. Even though much of the Blue Ridge Parkway and other trailheads are closed during winter, our guide shares winter hikes in North Carolina’s mountains.
Thanks to milder temperatures, hikes are best the Central Piedmont, the Sandhills, and the North Carolina coast.
Leave No Trace Reminder
As always, no matter where you hike, please remember to “leave no trace.” Whatever you bring on your hike, remember to take it with you.
Be considerate so that the next person (or animal) can enjoy these winter hikes in North Carolina.
- Inclement weather may prevent access to some of these trails. Before you go, please consult with trailhead maps, official maps, and official offices for closures, safety information, and any specific restrictions.
- Many of these trails are for all levels of hikers and some will be more advanced. Our guide will cover those details. If you have any doubts about your health or physical capabilities, consult a medical professional.
- There are also real dangers, including steep drop-offs. Please respect and follow any signage and stay on officially designated trails. Your life may depend on it in some cases.
- For any applicable trails, we’ll add an extra note of caution.
- However, we want to remind you that safety is your responsibility when enjoying these hikes.
- User-created “social” trails cause lots of problems, including erosion, damage to fragile and endangered plants, and reduced space for wildlife. Please avoid them.
- Also, if you’re bringing a dog along for your hike, North Carolina State Parks, federally managed public lands, and some privately owned lands require them to be kept on a leash.
Winter Hikes in North Carolina (Western)
Bearwallow Mountain Trail
2 Miles Round Trip (Moderate)
Bearwallow Mountain—with its adjoining and majestic Trombatore Trail— sits at 4,232 feet above sea level (near Hendersonville) and offers spectacular views for any hiker who comes in search of winter mountain vistas.
Although summer greens (and heat) and fall foliage often obscure the view, winter hikes offer a perfect and unobstructed view of Mount Mitchell and more peaks.
Chimney Rock State Park (Outcroppings Trail)
500 Steps (Moderate)
There are multiple options if you want to hike to THE Chimney Rock. The Outcroppings Trail is the shortest, beginning from the parking lot near the elevator.
It’s 500 steps to the top and a workout. However, the vantage points along the way are worth it!
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Asheville
DuPont State Forest (Bridal Veil Falls)
2.2 Miles One Way (Moderate to Strenuous)
You’ll find more than a few wonderful winter hikes in North Carolina’s DuPont State Recreational Forest, especially those leading to waterfalls. We had a hard time choosing but think the hike (or bike ride) down to Bridal Veil Falls is the best.
DuPont has an extensive network of trails so you have many options, but we usually start from the High Falls Access Area and ride 2.2 miles from there to Bridal Veil Falls.
Not to be confused with the roadside Bridal Veil Falls along the waterfall byway, DuPont’s version is a 120-foot waterfall that looks spectacular from its base. We don’t recommend walking on its extremely dangerous (and rocky) sides.
Along with other spots inside DuPont State Forest, Bridal Veil Falls featured in Last of the Mohicans and more films.
Read More: Waterfalls near Asheville
Elk Knob State Park (Summit Trail)
1.8 Miles One Way (Moderate to Strenuous)
The 1.8-mile Summit Trail was built by hundreds of local volunteers who wanted to share Elk Knob’s beauty with everyone. It’s the park’s most popular hiking trail, with a change in elevation of 1,000 feet from start to finish.
The trail gradually ascends, with a number of switchbacks and rocky spots along the way. It’s normally well maintained and will take you to two viewpoints at the top.
We recommend going the “north” view first, but either is spectacular. Look south and you can see Mount Mitchell and the area’s three ski resorts, which include Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Sugar Mountain.
1.7 Mile Loop (Easy to Moderate)
You’ll see why after witnessing sweeping views from this mountain bald. It’s also one of the most popular spots along the Appalachian Trail (AT).
At the top, you can sit down and look out to nearby mountains that stretch into Tennessee! This peak is perfect for a picnic, but please remember to leave no trace.
Read More: National Parks in North Carolina
Otter Falls Trail
1.2 Miles Round trip (Strenuous on the Way Back!)
The trail is just down the road from Hawksnest, one of our favorite snow tubing spots! From the parking lot, you’ll hike 0.6 miles to a platform that offers a face-level view of the falls.
You can carefully venture down to its base, but be careful. Conditions could be slippery and icy, especially on colder days.
Read More: 20+ Wonderful Things to Do in Banner Elk
Roan Mountain via Carvers Gap
Various Distances, 3/4 Mile from the Parking Lot to the First Bald
Roan Mountain is technically a series of five mountaintop summits within the Roan Highlands along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The named summits are Roan High Bluff, Roan High Knob, Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald.
You can make it a short hike from the Carvers Gap parking lot or part of your epic Appalachian Trail adventure.
Hike east from the parking lot and you can reach the first bald summit (Round Bald) after 3/4 mile. The views from there are epic.
You’ll be able to spot Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, and more familiar peaks. From Round Bald, you can continue for 3 miles to Jane Bald or 5 miles to Grassy Bald.
If you hike west from the parking lot, you’ll reach Roan High Bluff (4.5 miles round trip) and Roan High Knob (2.5 miles round trip).
Stone Mountain State Park (Stone Mountain Loop)
4.5 Mile Loop (Strenuous)
The Stone Mountain Loop Trail is the most popular trail at Stone Mountain State Park, but also one of the hardest from start to finish.
Two park landmarks (Stone Mountain Falls and Stone Mountain) sit about 30 minutes apart from each other and you can start at one of two parking lots to more conveniently see either one.
If you start from the Upper Trailhead Parking lot, you’ll begin near the top of the amazing 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls.
From the Lower Trailhead Parking lot, you can either start your ascent up on the Summit Side or head toward the Hutchinson Homestead and View Side of the massive granite dome, also known as Stone Mountain.
If you’re completing the loop, the 300 wooden steps that run alongside Stone Mountain Falls will convince you to start at the Upper Trailhead lot so you can descend them.
Winter Hikes in North Carolina (Central)
Thanks to milder winter temperatures, some of our favorite winter hikes in North Carolina sit in the center of the state.
Duke Forest (Durham Division)
3 Mile Loop
Duke Forest in Durham is a 7,000-acre university-managed living laboratory and outdoor classroom. The public is welcome to explore it throughout most of the year, with a few exceptions including weekdays during the fall.
There are multiple spots to explore, but we especially love the Durham Division. One trailhead starts near a pull-off along NC 751 near Constitution Drive.
From there, you can hike 3 miles round trip through pine-surrounded gravel paths with a scenic bridge near the beginning (or end). Winter is especially wonderful for exploring Duke Forest, thanks to the pines of all shapes and sizes that surround its paths.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during or after a rare snowfall, that’s even better!
We always urge this, but please stay on the trail, as it’s a living laboratory with serious work happening all around.
Read More: Outdoor Things to Do in Durham
Eno River State Park (Cox Mountain Trail)
3.75 Mile Loop
There are a lot of nice Eno River Trails to choose from, but Cox Mountain Trail stands out for a few reasons. You’ll descend to the river from the parking lot, where the picturesque suspension bridge awaits.
After crossing the Eno River, you’ll pass a nearby historic cabin before continuing on the tree-lined trail. The loop part of the trail begins soon-after and in the winter, it’s a more exposed ridge that offers views of the river below.
Following that second loop intersection, the trail intersects with Fanny’s Ford Trail, which you can use to extend your hike along the river.
Read More: Free Things to Do in Durham
Hanging Rock State Park (Hanging Rock Trail)
1.3 Miles One Way
The Hanging Rock Trail might seem like a short hike but the reward at the top is another reason why it’s so popular.
The 2.6-mile round trip trail starts from the Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center Parking Lot. It begins slow and steady but ends with some huffing and puffing to the top.
After the short, steep climb, you’ll have amazing views of the valleys below and neighboring mountains. Scale out to the end of the rugged rock for an even closer look, but please be careful.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area (Seaforth Pond Trail)
1.4 Mile Loop (Easy)
Winter hikes in North Carolina’s Jordan Lake State Recreation Area offer beautiful views and possible glimpses of bald eagles. Our favorite trail in this park is the Seaforth Pond Trail, also known as the Jordan Lake Track Trail.
You’ll start this one on the opposite side of the parking lot from the swimming beach. Seaforth Pond Trail offers gorgeous views of the lake and a few ponds.
On nice days, boats should be out trying to catch some fish or stretch out their sails!
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Durham
Lake Norman State Park (Lakeshore Trail)
6.2 Mile Loop Maximum (Various Options)
The Lakeshore Trail in Lake Norman State Park can be short hike of a few miles or a longer 6.2 mile loop, depending on the route you take.
Forest-covered paths intertwine with viewpoints of the lake to keep things interesting. We’ve enjoyed the long way from the trailhead to an out-and-back on the Group Camp Spur.
We’ve also made a short 2.6 mile shorter route by traveling north from the trailhead and connecting with Short Turn Trail. Regardless, Lakeshore Trail is a wonderful path around North Carolina’s largest manmade lake.
Morrow Mountain State Park (Morrow Mountain Loop Trail)
0.8 Mile Loop (Easy)
Drive to the top of Morrow Mountain (near Charlotte) and you can hike around this peak that’s the highest point in Stanly County. The Mountain Loop Trail circles the top of the mountain and leads to beautiful views of Lake Tillery and more!
This mountain is one of the most interesting in North Carolina, as you’ll notice rock debris while hiking here. Those rocks are evidence of prehistoric quarrying for thousands of years. Native Americans used the rock (rhyolite) to craft spearheads, knives, axes, and more.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Charlotte
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area (Mountain Loop Trail and Overlook Trail)
2.4 Miles Maximum
Hillsborough is home to Occoneechee Mountain, one of few overlook peaks in Central North Carolina. You can quickly reach the Overlook Trail (0.1 miles) by taking a shortcut via the Chestnut Oak Trail (0.9 miles), or by hiking the Mountain Loop Trail (2.2 miles) and connecting to the Overlook Trail from there.
Either way you choose, the overlook offers a nice view of the Eno River below. Winter is actually a better time for a look, thanks to bare trees all around.
You can even get a better glimpse at downtown Hillsborough from here during winter.
Umstead State Park (Multi-Use Trails)
~ 13 Miles Maximum
Sycamore Trail is the longest hike inside Umstead State Park, unless you count the bike-friendly and horse-friendly Multi-Use Trails. These trails connect the two main accesses at Umstead and also take you to the park’s most popular place—the Chainsaw Art.
The 25-foot fallen oak tree was transformed into a beautiful carved art piece that features wolves, owls, and more. Tennessee-based Smoky Mountain Art is responsible for the chainsaw art and it’s something you really have to see.
You can hike or bike about 13 miles through the whole trail network and see the chainsaw art or follow these directions for about a half-mile walk in the woods:
- Drive Past the Visitor Center
- Turn Left on Maintenance Rd
- Take a Right on Group Camp Rd
- Turn Left on Sycamore Rd and park in the Multi-Use Trail parking lot
- Get out of your car and start walking on the Multi-Use Trail
- Turn right onto Graylyn Multi-Use Trail and continue on.
- You’ll find the tree carving roughly a quarter of a mile down the trail.
Read More: Hiking near Raleigh
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve (Round Timber Trail)
1 Mile Loop (Easy)
Weymouth Woods has a few accesses and the Boyd Tract is where you’ll find the oldest living longleaf pine tree. Follow the Round Timber Trail (1 mile) to see it.
Thanks to all the pine trees here, winter hikes in North Carolina’s Sandhills don’t look much different from the rest of the year. We appreciate the green background that always waits here.
Winter Hikes in North Carolina (Eastern)
No snakes and no alligators are just a couple of reasons why we think winter is an excellent time to explore the outdoors in Eastern North Carolina.
Carolina Beach State Park (Sugarloaf Trail)
3 Mile Loop (Moderate)
The Sugarloaf Trail (3-mile loop) in Carolina Beach State Park takes you through a diverse terrain. You’ll pass quite a few offshoot trails, which are great for extending the hike.
The Sugarloaf Dune is a major highlight on this trail, with a nice view down at the water from above.
Carvers Creek State Park (Longleaf Pine Trail)
4 Miles One Way (Moderate)
The Sandhills access of Carvers Creek State Park is dominated by pine trees and the Longleaf Pine Trail. This trail starts from the parking lot and connects to nearly all of the other trails in the Sandhills Access.
You can connect with them to extend your hike (or bike ride).
Goose Creek State Park (Goose Creek Trail)
2.5 Miles One Way (Moderate)
Goose Creek State Park (near Washington and Bath) is one of our most underrated state parks. Follow the Goose Creek Trail from the main parking lot or the Campground.
You’ll cross a few of the park’s other trails, including the Live Oak Trail, which offers a nice view of the Pamlico River.
The end of this trail is a beautiful scene where you can see Goose Creek from a sandy beach.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park (Tracks in the Sand)
1.2 Mile Loop
Tracks in the Sand is one of three designated trails here and starts at the Visitor Center Parking Lot. The trail takes you over the sand dunes, to the Sound side of the park, and then back to the start.
You’ll see folks flying kites and hang-gliding in the distance on nicer days. Of course, our favorite time to be at Jockey’s Ridge is for sunset.
It’s one of the best things to see in all of North Carolina and we hope you get to enjoy it, too!
Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Jones Lake State Park (Bay Trail and Salters Lake Trail)
6 Miles Round Trip (Moderate)
The Bay Lake Trail loops around Jones Lake for four miles and it connects to the Salters Lake Trail (1 mile). You can combine the two into one larger loop and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.
Lake Waccamaw State Park (Lakeshore Trail)
4 Miles One Way
Lake Waccamaw is North Carolina’s largest freshwater lake and the largest of NC’s Carolina bays. Lake Waccamaw State Park manages a small portion of the lake’s shores and the Lakeshore Trail is a great way to explore them.
The scenic trail will take you past a beautiful overlook, the swimming pier, and eventually, to the Lake Waccamaw Dam.
Beware of mud and water on the trail, especially after significant rainfall. You won’t have to beware of alligators, though, because they should be hibernating throughout the winter.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (North Pond Wildlife Trail)
1 Mile Round Trip (Easy)
The North Pond Wildlife Trail at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of our favorite winter hikes in North Carolina. It is only half a mile long and leads to a nice observation tower.
A variety of interpretive panels lie along this path and at the tower, too.
Milder temperatures and no mosquitos are a big reason why this is one of our favorite winter-time Outer Banks hiking trails. Those amazing views of the pond and the sound are another reason.
Read More: Off-Season in the Outer Banks
Raven Rock State Park (Raven Rock Loop Trail)
2.6 Mile Loop
The Raven Rock Loop Trail (2.6 miles) is the most popular trail at Raven Rock State Park. It leads to an overlook standing 350 feet above the Cape Fear River.
Personally, the view from here is much better when the leaves have fallen for winter. We also love to descend the lengthy stairs down to the Raven Rock and the riverbed.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Raleigh
Ready for These Winter Hikes in North Carolina?
We’re grateful for these winter hikes in North Carolina getting us through those colder months! If you’re seeking some outside time during winter, we hope this guide helps you plan as many adventures as possible.
Also, if you have any favorite winter hiking trails to share, we’d love to hear about them. Please let us know here in the comments or by email.
Don’t forget to share your favorite winter hikes in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group, too!