There’s a lot more to winter than cold days and long nights—clearer skies, better views, quieter trails. It’s a season for reflection, but also adventure. We’ve sourced 38 of the best winter adventures across nine different states to keep your #gooutsideandplay mojo intact till spring (so two months from now, we better not hear that “cabin fever” crap).
Tour the Laurel Highlands by ski or snowshoe.
The Laurel Ridge Cross-Country Ski Center in Rockwood, Penn., grooms 20 miles of trails in the winter when the highlands can receive as much as 41 inches of snow a season. To satisfy your thirst for backcountry pow, check out the North Woods area. It’s a knee-dropper’s dream.
Ditch the slopes at Seven Springs Mountain Resort and tour the mountain à la snowshoe.
It’s a little more of a workout, but you’ll have the trails to yourself and snow-laden hardwood forests to yourself.
Search for vertical at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort.
There are plenty of technical (and unmaintained) glade lines here for skiers and snowboarders looking to avoid the crowds and find a little taste of untouched Mid-Atlantic powder. This part of central Pennsylvania gets an average of 120 inches of snow, with February typically proving to be the most shreddable month.
Lap the Top Yough.
The shuttle is short, the scenery is breathtaking, and the class IV-V rapids are rowdy enough to keep even the best paddlers on their toes. For a longer run, paddle the four miles of flatwater to the put-in of the Upper Yough, another classic example of Mid-Atlantic whitewater.
Learn to skate at Savage River Lodge.
With lake-effect snow, 13 miles of groomed trails, and in-house rentals and lessons, the lodge is an ideal place to school the kids (or yourself) in the art of skiing uphill.
“This is typically accomplished in late winter when there is still snow at the ski area (Wisp), local trails are free of snow, and the rivers are running. I call this the Garrett County Triple Crown. I’ll tele ski groomers in the morning at Wisp, shred trail on my mountain bike at Fork Run, and then paddle the Top Yough in the afternoon. All activities take place within a 10-mile radius of where I live.” —Jeff Simcoe, Recreation Land Manager, Big Bear Lake Trail Center & Ski Patrol, Wisp Resort
Wander the wilderness that is Dolly Sods.
This place packs a lot of unique flora and fauna in its 17,371 acres. When there’s plenty of the white stuff, strap on a pair of snowshoes or simply take a hike on the rugged 47-mile network of trails.
Summit Bald Knob by cross-country ski or snowshoe.
White Grass Touring Center has rentals for both, not to mention well-groomed trails, free weekend nature treks, and a cheery café that has hella-good food and chaga tea to boot.
Break trails at Coopers Rock State Forest outside of Morgantown, W.Va.
When the snow is good, it’s really good here and you’ll likely have the trails to yourself. Cross-country ski rentals are available at West Virginia University’s Outdoor Recreation Center.
“My favorite winter adventure is one that involves no driving, small crowds, and a multitude of activities. Pedal the Blackwater Falls access road just across the Blackwater River in Davis, W.Va. Your destination is the Blackwater Falls State Park cross-country ski and sledding lodge. Once in the park, head out Yellow Birch Trail to the Red Spruce trailhead. When sufficient snow is on Red Spruce, the trail is professionally groomed all the way to the sledding hill, an absolute blast to ride! Now it’s onto some cross-country skis. For a nominal price, rent cross-country gear from Roger at Blackwater. You can make some turns down the sled hill and, if weather permits, you can take a ski out to Lindy Point to take in the views. It’s back on the bike by road or trail for Davis and the warmth of the fire at Stumptown Ales.” —Brian Sarfino, Marketing Manager, Tucker County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau
“My favorite winter adventure is paddling in the icy rivers and creeks of northern West Virginia, such as Blackwater Canyon or Big Sandy Creek. The margin for error is thin, with the frigid water, undercut ice shelves, and sometimes huge floating chunks of ice bobbing down the rapids with you. But the reward is the unmatched scenery and solitude of the river, with ice caps on the rocks and frozen side-stream waterfalls. A drysuit, pogies, a solid survival kit, and an unfailing roll are all highly recommended for this type of paddling.” —Jack Ditty, three-time Green River Games Silverback Champion
“Ideal snow day would be morning ski right from town, on Craig’s Branch Road, a mix of cross-country with some turns and downhill runs tossed in. Go home. Switch from skis to fat bikes and ride from town hitting all of the Arrowhead trails and finishing up with a pedal out of Fayette Station. If the moon is full and there is snow, then you really can’t beat a light-free, all night bike ride. The New River Gorge seems to do a great job capturing light!” —Andy Forron, Owner, New River Bikes
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Experience the Blue Ridge Parkway like you’ve never seen it before—closed.
During the winter months, the parkway is off limits to motor vehicles, which is good news for human-powered thru-traffic. Strap on some cross-country skis and glide along the backbone of the Blue Ridge.
Get lost in the labyrinth of sandstone crevices at Channels Natural Area Preserve.
Hike the three miles in by way of the Brumley Mountain Trail. The views are spectacular and the rock mazes and secret passageways will bring out the explorer in everyone.
Soak in the clear night skies from the Fort Lewis Lodge stargazing platform.
Elevated high above the treeline, the deck is perfectly situated for an intimate winter viewing of the spectacular Milky Way and all its grandeur. Need a Valentine’s Day idea? Escape with your honey to the warmth of the lodge’s historical cabins for a truly cozy weekend. Log cabins, raging fireplaces, picturesque mountain setting. Does it get any more romantic than that?
“Elk Garden to the summit of Mount Rogers is my go-to route on a snowy day. You can be driving down I-81 with barely a trace of snow on the ground, but once you start up the mountain, it’s not uncommon to find that the trails are blanketed in a foot or more of powdery goodness! It’s 4.5 miles to the top, and on the way up you get a great mix of expansive views of snow-kissed mountains. On a clear day you can see into the mountains of North Carolina, catching glimpses of Grandfather Mountain and the ski slopes of Ski Beech and Sugar Mountain! It’s another half mile to the summit. Tag the highest point in Virginia, then enjoy gliding back down the mountain! Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the ponies of Mount Rogers out playing in the snow as well.” —Beth Minnick, Women’s 50-Miler Champion, Iron Mountain Trail Run
Paddle-and-camp in the Russell Fork Gorge.
Most kayakers make the annual voyage to this classic IV-V stretch of whitewater in October during the regular dam release season, but the gorge also runs naturally, and quite often, during wintertime.
Let the spirit guide you along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Nothing warms the soul in winter quite like a road ride and a glass of bourbon, and then another road ride and another glass of bourbon, and so on and so forth. Be forewarned: in the 80ish miles between Lexington and Louisville, there are at least 20 distilleries associated with the trail.
Rip underground on the trails, jump lines, pump tracks, and BMX courses at the Mega Underground Bike Park in Louisville, Ky.
When it gets too cold above ground, the Mega Cavern stays a comfortable 60 degrees year round. And with 320,000 square feet to explore, including 45 different trails, there’s plenty here to keep you busy for a weekend, no matter your skill level.
“As a stand up paddleboard enthusiast, instructor, and racer, I enjoy getting out on the water during the winter on various waterways around the state. The scenery is enchanting, everything is so quiet and still. As many of my paddling friends are Netflix and chilling, I am out`all geared up in my Matuse wetsuit and other gear, chopping through frozen rivers like the Ohio River. The more traditional activity that I enjoy during the winter is hiking in the Red River Gorge. The Red is the epitome of a winter wonderland—devoid of the usual throngs of people, insects, and flora, everything is in hibernation so you can view the cliffline much better from within the lower trails of the gorge. Marvelous Swarovski crystal-like icicles line the rock shelters. I am buying a pair of snowshoes this year to help better navigate the terrain.” —Gerry James, Director, Explore Kentucky Initiative
Glide high on the Roan Mountain Massif.
Ranging in elevation from 5,700 to 6,200 feet, this is backcountry skiing at its finest. Cruise beneath spruce-fir forests along the Appalachian Trail from Carver’s Gap to Elk Park for a 13-mile tour de Tennessee powder.
Escape the cold in Chattanooga.
This Southeast metropolitan hub is not only culturally diverse but also acts as the gateway to some of the most quality climbing in the region. The Tennessee Wall, or T-Wall, is the crag to climb when it’s cold everywhere else. T-Wall’s mostly traditional, single pitch routes are all south-facing and receive a solid day’s worth of sun (think t-shirts in January).
Let time stand still at Greeter Falls in South Cumberland State Park.
The lower falls plummets 50 feet in a dramatic curtain and often freezes after a good cold snap. Pair this icy display with long-forgotten remnants of the Greeter Homeplace and you have an adventure that is quite literally frozen in time.
“One of my favorite winter climbing spots is Stone Fort, right outside of Chattanooga Tenn. There are hundreds of high quality boulders, easy access, and the opportunity for a really fun climbing day!” —Cody Roney, Executive Director, Southeastern Climbers Coalition
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Climb an ice flow.
Yes, the South does have ice climbing and Whitesides in western North Carolina arguably has some of the most quality and consistent ice climbing in the region. Starshine is a 200-foot, two-pitch, WI4 route that provides climbers with palm sweating exposure and bird’s eye views of nearby Laurel Knob. Even better, you can car-scout this climb (sorta) from the highway.
Trail run by moonlight to the summit of Black Balsam.
At 6,214 feet, the conditions atop this grassy flat are unpredictable, so come prepared for the worst—a lot of changes can happen in the half-mile it takes for you to run up to the bald. Neighboring peaks Sam Knob and Tennett Mountain are also situated in the same area and all of these treeless tops afford postcard-worthy glimpses of the surrounding French Broad River Valley and Shining Rock Wilderness Area.
Hunt for elk in Cataloochee Valley, not with a gun, but with a camera!
These stunning creatures were reintroduced to North Carolina in 2001 and are a surreal sight to behold. Their high-pitched bugle is otherworldly but don’t let it draw you closer—bring a zoom lens, respect their distance, and, it should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway, don’t put an elk in your car.
“The winters are fairly kind to us around here. What’s great about this temperate climate is the multitude of things you can cram into one day. Let’s lay out my ‘perfect winter day.’
There’s a river in the Smokies that I’m always looking forward to, and it’s flowing with just the right amount of juice. A powder day for paddlers, if you will. We move quickly through the slots, channels, and waterfalls…but we do not dwell here long, as there is much more to pack into these hours. The Black Mountain Trail begins with a short climb to one of the most scenic vistas overlooking Brevard and the Looking Glass Creek. Bike chains clatter and brake pads squeal as we negotiate the tricky boulder sections. Darkness falls, and so too does the temperature. Layering up for a night of carving turns under floodlights, we click our snow gear on and hop on the lift at Cataloochee Ski Area. Home now…I soon collapse into a deep slumber, dreaming of that perfect winter day here in Western North Carolina”
—Pat Keller, Factory Team, Liquidlogic
“Backyard winter adventures ideally involve no driving. Winter is such a special time because it transforms any landscape into something new. There’s no better way to see your backyard from a different perspective than when it is covered in snow. My ideal backyard adventure involves waiting for conditions to line up for a skin up Rocky Knob and dropping the leeside snowdrifts and rock drops. Super fun when it’s in, but it’s almost never worth doing.” —Kristian Jackson, Senior Lecturer, Recreation Management at Appalachian State University
“While Max Patch is an incredibly popular destination for fair-weather visitors who enjoy the relaxing breeze and expansive vistas, its wide open slopes draw a slew of eager thrill seekers when the snow flies. When snowfall totals exceed three inches, whitewater kayakers convert their crafts into makeshift toboggans and let loose, careening down the hillside at Mach speed. Kayaks make excellent sleds due to their aerodynamic shape and smooth exterior, but they are often unstable and easy to flip—it’s good to have a plan to minimize the carnage during an inevitable wipeout, including scouting your route to make sure you have plenty of space to coast before reaching the trees.” —Eric Adsti, Freelance Photographer, Producer, and Market Rep for Outdoor Project
Go to Folly Beach in the off-season.
You might not be wearing a bikini, but the sun still shines here at least 212 days out of the year with temperatures hovering around 58 degrees. For no-fuss crowds and balmy conditions, this is where you need to be. Folly is a small beach oasis that sits just outside of Charleston, S.C., where you can get your city fix after a day biking around the beach. The winter swells here are also killer for surfing if you have a wetsuit.
You can paddle for miles across this 7,500-acre reservoir without ever seeing another soul. Stay close to the banks for lakefront seating to Jocassee’s numerous waterfalls. And of course, bring a camera—the birding is phenomenal and you’ll likely catch a glimpse of Jocassee’s resident loon population during your float.
“Beautiful ice features and big views of upper Hickory Nut Gorge can be found off a little-known trailhead south of Gerten, N.C. Park at the CMLC Florence Nature Preserve and cross US 74-A where the trailhead begins on privately owned land. You will gain 650 feet as the trail quickly ascends Little Bearwallow Mountain, reaching Little Bearwallow Falls in just over a mile. What is normally a small drainage in summer becomes a 100-foot ice wall in winter with sculptural ice features and potential for great climbing.” —Matt Moreau, Owner, The Landmark Project
Paddle the North Georgia circuit of class II-V rivers.
The Chattooga, Tallulah, Cartecay, and Chattahoochee are all classic Southeastern rivers that regularly flow during the winter months. Given the mild winter climate, north Georgia is ideal for winter paddling.
Scale Rabun Bald’s ice in northeastern Georgia.
This is not necessarily a beginner friendly ice climbing area, but for experienced climbers, it’s a classic example of Southern ice. Bimini Blue is a stellar two-pitch route with tons of exposure. The hair is standing up on our arms just thinking about it.
Hike through the Little Grand Canyon, more formally known as Providence Canyon State Park.
The earthen red sandstone gorge here looks like something you’d find out west, except you don’t have to drive halfway across the country to get to it.
In just six miles you’ll catch glimpses of impressive canyon walls, frozen waterfalls, and frosty stream crossings. Don’t worry—there’s a 600-stair climb to the rim that’ll warm you right up.
“One of my favorite winter bike rides in Georgia is the Snake Creek Gap Time Trial, a true classic of southern mountain bike racing. It’s on the IMBA Epic Pinhoti trail just west of Dalton. Weather and trail conditions are tough on the body and bike and the ridges are rock-strewn and technical with some serious elevation folded up in them. You can be riding in cold rain, snow, an ice storm or it could be a perfect 50-degree day with blue skies. You never know what could happen! Definitely a bucket list winter ride and challenge!” —Brett Davidson, President, IMBA SORBA Atlanta