While most of the country is hitting the mall in a frantic shopping spree, why not choose to hit the trails instead, for a winter adventure in the Mount Rogers High Country? This area of Southwest Virginia is known for the state’s highest peaks, as well as famous trails like the A.T. and the Virginia Creeper Trail.
December is fairly mild in this area of Virginia, but you should still be sure to pack layers, watch the forecast, and plan ahead. You’ll find more extreme weather at higher elevations. For the best winter experience, make your basecamp at a hotel, hostel or cabin in Smyth County, VA.
See our picks for top winter experiences in the Mount Rogers High Country.
- Take advantage of off-season rates with a cozy cabin rental at Hungry Mother State Park
Hungry Mother State Park outside of Marion, VA is one of the original six Virginia State Parks, built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s known for beautiful woodlands and a placid 108-acre lake in the heart of the mountains. Boathouse rentals are suspended during the winter months, but you’ll find plenty of trails, wildlife, and scenic vistas – and far fewer crowds. We recommend staying in one of the original 1930s log cabins still in use. These cabins are often sold out in summer months – enjoy off season rates and more availability by booking in winter. Each cabin comes complete with a fireplace and outdoor fire pit!
- Drive to the 2nd highest peak in Virginia
That’s right – while most summits require you to hike in (something that’s a bit daunting in the wintertime) this peak is the highest place in Virginia accessible by car. Whitetop Mountain clocks at 5,525 feet elevation, only a few hundred feet less than nearby Mount Rogers. Access Whitetop Mountain from the town of Chilhowie, Exit 35 on I-81. From there, it’s an easy 40 minute drive to the peak. You can stay near your car and enjoy epic views, or take a brief in-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail.
- Bucket List Birding Adventures
The Audubon Society has identified the Mount Rogers High Country as one of the nation’s important birding areas. Because of the high elevation, this area supports unique habitat types such as spruce-fir forest and open balds, making for stellar bird watching. Get oriented at the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, or register for the annual Mount Rogers Christmas Bird Count! Nearby Saltville, VA is also a bucket list destination for birders, as the home to Virginia’s only high-altitude saline marshes. The Well Fields Recreation Area hosts many migrating sea birds normally not seen in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
- Start the new year right with a First Day Hike
Start the New Year with a visit to Hungry Mother State Park or nearby Grayson Highlands State Park on January 1. Taking a hike to inspire those New Year resolutions centered on getting or keeping fit is the perfect family-friendly activity. First Day Hikes is an initiative of America’s State Parks, and hikes are offered in state parks across the country. Visitors will receive a commemorative sticker while supplies last and enjoy free parking! Visit the Virginia State Parks website for more information.