Looking for ways to get out and take advantage of our state’s beautiful – but chilly! – mountain weather? North Carolina’s awesome natural resources transform, come winter, into a wonderland of snowy trails, icy waterfalls, incredible lake views, and sunny, perfectly crisp sunrises in the Appalachian, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. It’s the ideal time to explore an area that, for most of us, has always been the perfect warm-weather destination.
Vacation rentals throughout the area run the gamut from remote, rustic one-room cabins to condos to luxury homes with designer kitchens, hot tubs, expansive mountain views and deluxe furnishings. Per diem rates tend to be a bit more reasonable and the number of minimum nights are often relaxed somewhat during this “off” season, although weekend availability is still, at times, harder to come by in certain areas.
Resorts and Spas
- Asheville’s Biltmore offers special rates on winter stays through the end of March and is currently hosting the must-see “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” display at Antler Hill Village through April 7. The Biltmore’s elegant spa experience includes massage, skin care, aromatherapy services and more, and year-round the resort features carriage rides, trail rides, kayak and bicycle rentals (weather permitting), wine, cheese and chocolate tastings, and hiking opportunities along more than 20 miles of trails.
- The Omni Grove Park Inn, also in Asheville, hosts its Big Band Dance Weekend in mid-January, a Comedy Classic Package on February 8, and a variety of bed-and-breakfast or getaway packages no matter when you wish to visit. An indoor pool, indoor tennis courts and year-round kids’ programs will entertain all family members when it’s particularly cold outside, while the world-renowned spa offers an extensive menu of treatments and services and unique “Simply Spa Package” for couples seeking an overnight with focus on wellness and relaxation.
- The Highlands’ Old Edwards Inn and Spa features Winter Getaway and Winter All-Inclusive packages that include hiking opportunities, dining on delicious, farm-to-table cuisine, and relaxation in the resort’s Jacuzzis or around any of the property’s several outdoor fireplaces. The area is known for its spectacular waterfalls, trails, gem mining and scenic drives.
- Guests enjoy Bonfire Nights each Friday and Saturday at Blowing Rock’s Chetola Resort, as well as special wintertime rates, Sunday through Thursday. A range of special events – the WinterFeast restaurant crawl, WinterFashion Show, Chetola Lake Polar Bear Plunge, ice carving competitions and more – are offered as part of Blowing Rock’s late January WinterFest celebration. The resort also features archery and rifle ranges, clay pigeon shooting, an indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi, games room, and children’s indoor play room.
Get Out and Play
No matter how outdoorsy you may or may not be, there are countless ways to warm up on your North Carolina High Country visit. With an annual snowfall of 60 inches and fairly mild average winter temperatures, the mountains are ideal for outdoor winter family activities. Six ski areas throughout the state, for instance, offer downhill skiing (including night skiing), snowboarding and tubing.
- Beech Mountain’s Ski Resort not only provides outstanding trails and slopes, but an outdoor skating rink, tubing, miles of snowshoeing trails and lessons for all age groups and skill levels.
- Sugar Mountain, the state’s largest ski area, also offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing and outdoor skating as well as hour-long snowshoeing tours ranging from casual to intense levels of activity.
- Visitors enjoy skiing, snowboarding, tubing and more at the Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, just north of Asheville. The resort’s Snow Sports School offers both group and individual instruction.
- Appalachian Ski Mountain features day and nighttime skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, lessons and “Ski & Stay” packages with several hotels and resorts in the area.
- Sapphire Valley is the mountains’ southernmost ski area, offering skiing, tubing, snowboarding and a thrilling winter zipline tour.
- The Cataloochee Ski Area offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing, recreational ski racing opportunities and lessons including “Women on Wednesdays,” ladies-only classes.
The Hawksnest Snow Tubing Park, between Boone and Banner Elk, is the East Coast’s largest tubing area with three lifts and over 30 lanes. Snow-making equipment ensures that conditions are perfect for tubing all season long. A two-hour Snowboard Tour features panoramic Blue Ridge Mountain views on four of the area’s multiple zipline cables.
Hendersonville’s Moonshine Mountain Snow Tubing Park, the steepest in North Carolina, as well as Scaly Mountains Outdoor Center, Tube World in Maggie Valley and Newland’s Jonas Ridge Snow Park all offer both day and nighttime tubing.
Certain trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway – especially between Linville and Blowing Rock – are a paradise for Nordic skiers. Picture-perfect paths within the Moses Cone Memorial Park and at Price Lake Trail, Roan Mountain Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain and numerous other trails in and around the area are all ideal for cross-country excursions. The dramatic landscapes of Elk Knob State Park are made even more magical in the snow. Mount Michell State Park’s Commissary Ridge Trail, another outstanding area, is only accessible from the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway – a region that, unfortunately, is often also closed when weather deteriorates.
Wintertime hiking in the higher elevations of the state offers some of the most incredible viewing of mountains, lakes and waterfalls around.
- Dry Falls. An especially scenic trail in the area northwest of Highlands, NC leads to a walkway below a waterfall which may or not be entirely frozen over, depending on weather conditions.
- A Linville Falls hike is spectacular at any time of year, but in the winter the falls are particularly lovely, though trails are steep and can be treacherous under icy conditions.
- The 4,600-foot Appalachian Max Patch Trail leads to a unique “bald” – a wide open area without one single tree – where over 300 acres of meadow turn into a picturesque, snowy pasture that impresses all who take on the challenge of reaching an area only accessible by snowmobile or other off-road vehicle.
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