Hike Tennessee to Stay Active This Winter
It’s already feeling like January. Our thermometer read 22 degrees this morning and the leaves on our rhododendrons are curled up tighter than a good cigar. Rather than stay cooped up until spring, I prefer to suit up and head outdoors.
My wife, Cathy, and I share a love of the outdoors but she made it very clear to me several years ago that she didn’t enjoy fishing with temps so low that we had to put the tips of our fishing rods in our mouths to melt the ice before casting for sauger on the Cumberland River.
The first time we went hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains during January, it was absolutely beautiful. But the body heat I generated by hiking was trumped by my cold, aching feet.
And then there was the day we were in our canoe when a slight breeze became a 10 to 15 mph wind, temps dropped and drizzling rain began. Our lightweight fleece jackets didn’t cut it.
Granted, there were rare times when a great winter day in the Tennessee outdoors wasn’t as much fun because we failed to anticipate the weather conditions we encountered. But with the right preparation, spending time outdoors can get your juices flowing and help keep the winter blahs at bay.
So here are a few suggestions for you based on my experiences for where to spend time outdoors and how to plan for conditions you may encounter this winter.
Dress the Part
Dressing correctly is your first line of defense against hypothermia, a dangerous condition that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it and your core temperature drops below 95 degrees F. Constant shivering is the first sign as your body attempts to generate heat. Other symptoms include confusion, clumsiness and progressive loss of consciousness.
It’s important to keep in mind that although children are more susceptible to heat loss through their heads due to their larger head-to-body ratio, everyone needs head coverings in cold weather. Wear several layers of clothing, sock liners and woolen hiking socks that don’t slip around in your shoes, waterproof hiking boots, lined gloves, warm cap, and outerwear that repel precipitation and blocks wind. Hiking sticks, lip balm, snacks, plenty of water and hand warming packets are good idea.
Gaitors can be helpful when you’re in snow. Whether I am hiking or fishing, during winter I avoid the coldest parts of the day by starting around 10 a.m. and finishing up and hour or so before the sun sets.
East Tennessee’s High Country
Winter is a great time to visit East Tennessee. The views are amazing and the crowds are gone.
Roan Mountain State Park’s Raven Rock Overlook Trail is a popular choice for hikers but if the road is open to Carver’s Gap you won’t want to miss where the Appalachian Trail crosses one of the tallest peaks in the eastern US or Roan’s famous balds. When there’s enough snow, there are good cross country ski trails and closed roads to stride and glide or snowshoe.
Old Settlers Trail in the area that was once the Greenbrier community east of Gatlinburg is one of my favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park but the paved trail to Laurel Falls and Cucumber Gap trail at Elkmont can be nice winter hikes as well.
Middle Tennessee Hikes
Long Hunter State Park’s Bryant Grove Trail follows the shore of J. Percy Priest Lake through oak-hickory forests and cedar thickets.
The western section of the Montgomery Bell Trail at Montgomery Bell State Park is an interesting walk through forests and creek crossings to historic sites including remnants of the iron industry from the first half of the 1800s and the birthplace of the Cumberland Presbyterian church.
Stay active. Dress warm. And enjoy the holiday season!