Winter time is here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a matter of fact, it's snowing as I write this. The leaves are gone, but so are the crowds.
The months of January - March are a great time to visit the Blue Ridge mountains due to the better views, reduced costs, and there being far less people here. Winter here in the Blue Ridge is a great time for a quick weekend getaway or an even longer vacation getaway.
One of the great things about visiting the Blue Ridge in the winter is the snow. I know, I know, some of you are saying: We don't want snow! But the great thing about seeing the Blue Ridge with snow is that you see a unique view, that generally only locals and skiers get to see. The best part is that in the majority of the areas, snow is fairly rare, and even when it does snow, it doesn't stay long.
Here are 10+ things to do in the Blue Ridge during the winter:
1 - Skiing, Snow Boarding and Snow Tubing
Of course the most popular thing to do in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the winter is skiing and snowboarding. There are a number of ski resorts in the area that are popular with skiers from all over the world:
- Appalachian Ski Mountain, Blowing Rock, NC
- Beech Mountain Resort, Beech Mountain, NC
- Bryce Resort, Basye, VA
- Cataloochee Ski Resort, near our home here in Maggie Valley, NC
- The Homestead, Hot Springs, VA
- Massanutten, Harrisonburg, VA
- Sugar Mountain Resort, Banner Elk, NC
- Wintergreen Resort, Near Charlottesville, VA
- Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, Mars Hill, NC
2 - Celebrate Christmas and the Holidays
Holiday celebrations and events begin well before the first official day of Winter in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The holidays and the Blue Ridge Mountains combine to make pure holiday magic, with various cities, towns, attractions and parks providing tons of options to see and do.
Here are just a few great ways to celebrate Christmas and the holidays in the Blue Ridge Mountains:
3 - Visit a Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
A family tradition for many, is a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains to choose and bring home a Christmas tree (called Choose and Cut). The Blue Ridge Mountains are full of beautiful tree farms, that provide a scenic and fun way to get your Christmas tree each year.
Visit one of the many farms, and explore the tree fields to find your perfect tree. Let the farm cut, bundle, and securely put it on your vehicle to bring home for the holidays. While at the farms, many offer hot chocolate, hot cider, visits with farm animals, hayrides, photos with Santa, gifts, and more!
Here are just a few of the great Tree Farms you can visit:
5 - Visit Christmas at Biltmore Estate
Winter is a great time to visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville NC. During the summer, the house is often very crowded and very hot, but during the winter Biltmore is nice and warm, and very few people are visiting. The only exception to this is in December, when Biltmore is decorated for Christmas. While absolutely stunning, the crowds are heavy. But once January roles around, the crowds subside significantly.
Biltmore has a number of green houses as well, so don't think you won't be able to see all of the wonderful plant life either. Touring the green houses is one of our personal favorite things to do. An added advantage is that the main green house, The Conservatory is probably one of the warmest places in the Blue Ridge during the winter, with it's indoor tropical temperatures.
Who knows, you might even get a little bit of snow, and Biltmore surrounded by a light coat of fresh snow is stunning to behold and makes for some very unique and beautiful photos.
6 - Take a Holiday Train Ride through the mountains
There is just something special about the holiday season, the mountains, and trains. The three together make for the perfect family outing for the holidays. There are a number of options, but our favorite is Tweetsie Christmas at Tweetsie Railroad.
If you want to journey on the Polar Express, visit the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City NC. Be sure to wear your pajamas!
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway also offers a holiday themed train ride, complete with Santa.
See our Christmas Train Ride Guide
Get all the details on the top 4 Christmas Train Rides in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
7 - Spas in the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge mountains are full of wonderful and scenic and luxurious spas. Here are just a few of them.
- Shoji Spa - Asheville, NC - Our personal favorite and one we visit a few times a year
- The Spa at the Grovepark Inn - Also a personal favorite, but too expensive for us to do often. Read about our visit.
- Hot Springs, NC - famous for it's natural hot mineral springs.
- West Glow Resort & Spa, Blowing Rock NC
- Old Edwards Inn, Highlands NC
- Chetola Resort, Blowing Rock NC
- Serenity in the Mountains, Blue Ridge GA
- Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa, Young Harris GA
- Lake Rabun Hotel & Spa, Lakemont GA
- The Homestead, Hot Springs, NC
- Wintergarden Spa at Wintergreen Resort, Wintergreen VA
- Blackberry Farm, Walland TN
- Oak Haven Resort and Spa, Sevierville TN
- RiverStone Resort and Spa, Pigeon Forge TN
If you know of a particular spa in the Blue Ridge Mountains that you like or have heard good things about, let us know and we'll get it added to the list.
8 - Winter Waterfalls & Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Waterfalls?? Yes, Waterfalls and even hiking in the winter.
With freezing and cold temperatures, waterfalls often partially or fully freeze up, making for an absolutely gorgeous and unique setting and unique photographs. I mean everyone has pictures of Looking Glass Falls, but how many have a photo of it in the winter, like he one to the right? Read our full-guide to our top NC waterfalls for places you can visit to get those frozen waterfall photos. All of these waterfalls are easy to access and stunning to see during the winter.
Winter time, while a bit chilly, is also a great time to take a hike. Why? Because the leaves are off the trees, and views that can't normally be scene are fully visible in the winter. The best part of hiking in the winter for me? NO BUGS! Just be sure to check local park websites to be sure the trails are open. If trails are dangerous due to snow and ice, the park services will close the trails for your safety.
9 - Take a scenic drive
The Blue Ridge Parkway, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Shenandoah National Park and many other national parks are generally "open" in the winter. We put open in quotes for a couple of reasons:
- They are open, but most visitors centers and facilities are closed.
- Roads may not always be open, so make sure you check the park service websites. Roads can and will be closed due to snow or ice conditions.
- Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway are always closed during the winter
Baring any closures, the roads through our national and state parks can offer views not normally scene during the summer, due to foliage being off the trees. Also, the ice formations on the rock walls around the roads are beautiful to look at and photograph.
You can also just explore a few back roads. As photographers, we love to visit The Parkway and National Parks, but we love even more exploring new back roads. We've seen some very unique places, views, and buildings by asking ourselves "I wonder where that road leads?" and saying "Let's find out".
10 - Stargaze and Astrophotography
During the winter months, the skies above the Blue Ridge Mountains can be crystal clear. This makes for the perfect time to head-out and look up! Grab your favorite hot drink or hot food, head out to one of the many locations, find that perfect spot with low light, and enjoy the millions of stars above you.
While finding areas with the least amount of artificial light noise is optimal, you don't have to travel far. In fact you can even enjoy the beautiful crystal clear skies from your hotel or cabin.
If you want to capture what you see, or even see more detail, use your digital camera. The trick is to use a tripod, and set-up a long exposure. You'll be amazing at how many more stars and sky details your camera can capture using a long exposure.
Some top places to view the stars and take so astro photos are:
- The Blue Ridge Parkway - The parkway is full of great options, that are easy to access, including Waterrock Knob. Just be aware, the portions of the parkway are often closed during the winter to vehicle traffic, but you can hike up from the gates.
- Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Peaks of Otter, Virginia
- Russell Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia - Brasstown Bald provides optimal viewing, when open.
- Max Patch - This is one of our favorite locations, but it can be difficult and dangerous to access during the winter due to snow and ice.
Winter Tips for Visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains
Some final tips for visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains during the winter, and in particular when doing outdoor activities.
- Wear appropriate clothing and dress in layers. This includes: A good pair of waterproof boots, long johns, ski pants, jacket, and a good pair of extreme weather gloves.
- Avoid wearing cotton. Instead, wear "moisture wicking" clothing designed for outdoor use.
- Weather can change very quickly here, especially at higher elevations - so wear layers, so you can remove and add clothing as needed.
- Make sure you know where you are going, or bring a GPS - Snow can often hide the trail and make determining your direction more difficult.
- Make sure one or more people know where you are going and when you should be back home.
- Use hiking poles and wear micro spikes on your hiking boots for traction on ice.