Here are 12 snowless adventures that will keep your winter wanderlust satisfied till it’s snowing or springtime.
50°F – 60°F
Now that the swarms of fall break tourists have retreated back to their respective climbing gyms, the crags are blissfully quiet. For the truly dedicated climber, winter is one of the best seasons for climbing in the Southeast. Active bodies stay cooler, feet sweat less, and rubber soles grip better. Walls that are normally too exposed and too hot to climb in the summer become the perfect spots to post up for an afternoon of winter cragging.
Where to go: Chattanooga, Tenn., has it all: classic cracks, plentiful boulderfields, climber-friendly hostels like the The Crash Pad, and a youthful downtown scene to boot. Tennessee Wall (trad), Sunset Park (trad), Foster Falls (sport), and Stone Fort (boulder) have the highest concentration of quality routes close to town. For a truly unique bouldering experience, take your chances with the weather and head north to Summersville Lake, a popular sport climbing destination outside of Fayetteville, W.Va. In the wintertime, the lake level drops and exposes huge swaths of shoreline littered with boulders.
Swap out the fat tires this winter and get on board with one of the fastest growing sectors of the bike industry, gravel riding. Over the past five years, gravel grinding has matured from a quiet niche to a respected cycling discipline unto its own. Why? Because churning out long days in the saddle over mixed terrain taps into the very core of what it means to be human—adventure, adversity, accomplishment. It’s hard not to feel satisfied after covering some major ground through sheer will and pedal power.
Where to go: Whip out a map and connect as many Forest Service roads as you can for a DIY adventure. For those just starting out, Ride With GPS has a number of routes that trace some of the area’s best gravel grinding races like the Stokesville Strade (Virginia) and the Bootlegger 100 (North Carolina), both of which take place in the spring.
While paddlers out west have long hung up their dry suits for ski pants, boaters here are just starting to ramp things up. Though most people associate springtime with rain, the winter months of December and January can bring just as much rainfall. In Brevard, N.C., for example, home of the rowdy Horsepasture River (class V), December (6.38 inches) is the third wettest month after March (6.5 inches) and January (6.42 inches).
Where to go: Even though the recreational release season is over, dam-controlled rivers like the Russell Fork in Kentucky can still be expected to flow. Other regional rivers that regularly run in the wintertime include the Watauga River near Boone, N.C., the Top Yough outside of Friendsville, Md., and Wilson Creek near Morganton, N.C. These sections of river are all less than five miles in length, so lap them till the sun goes down for a full day of whitewater.
Catch the giants.
For years, seasoned “catmen” have trolled river channels and lakes during the winter months in search of mammoth catfish. Until recently, these dutiful few had the water all to themselves, but it’s now widely regarded in the angling community that late fall and winter can provide some prime conditions for landing blue, channel, and white cats. Follow schools of shad and look for deep holes in the main river channel during the day or shallow flats at night.
Where to go: Virginia’s James River is home to some really big blue cats ranging anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds in size. But for the really really big cats, journey south to Tennessee’s Lake Barkley, where the state-record blue catfish (caught in 1998) weighed in at 112 pounds, just 4 pounds shy of the current world record. Kentucky Lake, which is just west of Lake Barkley, is also a premier catfishing destination.