Winter Bucket List: 38 Must-Do Appalachian Adventures

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North Carolina

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.

Native Knowledge

“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

South Carolina

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.

Float Lake Jocassee.

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.

Native Knowledge

“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

Georgia

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.

Trek the rim of Cloudland Canyon.

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.

Native Knowledge

“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

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