Winter Bucket List: 38 Must-Do Appalachian Adventures

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Virginia

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?

Native Knowledge

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

Kentucky

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.

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Photo by Jack Ditty

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.

Native Knowledge

“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

Tennessee

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.

Native Knowledge

“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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