Did you know Knoxville makes the perfect hub to a wide variety of hikes in the surrounding area? The city itself has more than its fair share of great places to lace up those boots, but if you want to explore a bit further you still won’t need to go far. Winter hikes are a great way to take in small doses of sunlight to help improve mood and absorb the much-needed vitamin D that boosts immunity. Add these hikes to your winter hiking bucket list!
1.) Explore the UT Arboretum trails near Oak Ridge! The series of trails under 1 mile enables you to choose a hike of your own length. You will find a Juniper garden and the Elmore Holly Collection, a collection of over 200 holly cultivars that add bursts of bright red to the winter landscape.
2.) Winter offers new excitement to hiking up House Mountain. The absence of leaves offers wider long-range views of the farmland below that you can't get during the warmer months when foliage fills the trees. Be careful of ice while you enjoy beautiful views on each side along the crest trail, and maybe pack a thermos of tea or hot cocoa.
3.) The Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes a hotspot for icicles during the winter. After hiking just over a mile, you will pass through Arch Rock, a tunnel formed by natural erosion, which offers a great lesson on the effects of freezing and thawing! After 2 miles you will reach Alum Cave. The 80-foot overhang is known for harboring large icicles - some up to 3 feet! Just be ready to dodge the falling spikes as you look up to marvel at them!
4.) The view of Downtown Knoxville from Fort Dickerson in SoKno really opens up during the winter months. Hike the new trails from the West Blount Avenue parking lot to get an uphill hike with rewarding views. Take the Pit Viper loop for beautiful views of the quarry you can't get during the summer.
5.) Tharp's Trace is another quarry loop trail at Ijams which offers an uphill climb and an interesting summit. The 1-mile hike will give you a different view of picturesque Mead's Quarry and a glance of Mt. Leconte in the distance. You will also find the historic Stanton Cemetery, which sits at the top of the trail with graves that date from 1870 to 1939. This trail is short but difficult, offering a great chance to burn some extra holiday calories. The nearby Primal Playground at Mead's Quarry will give you another shot to stay in shape between feasts.
6.) The 3.5-mile Paved Loop Trail at Cove Lake State Park offers the chance to see hundreds of waterfowl during the winter months. Birds are attracted by the lake to the park's 717 acres. The trail crosses through several different types of habitat and includes a three-tiered observation deck to sit and watch to find out who has chosen Cove Lake as their winter home!
7.) Frozen Head State Park in the beautiful Cumberland Mountains is just an hour away from Knoxville, and the observation tower at the summit of Frozen Head Mountain is worth every step of the journey. Often shrouded in ice or snow during the winter, the observation deck peeks just over the tree line to offer you 360-degree views of the beautiful mountain landscape. Hike up the North Old Mac Trail to the observation tower, and back down the South Old Mac Trail for a roughly 7-mile round trip.
8.) For an easier hike with a 360-degree view, try Look Rock along the Foothills Parkway in Maryville. A calm half-mile hike leads you to the highest point along the parkway and offers a less-visited spot to enjoy the panoramic views.
9.) At Norris Dam State Park, hike the Christmas Fern Trail to spot some seasonal foliage, including Christmas Fern and American Holly. The half-mile trail offers an easy hike and a learning opportunity for kids. To add some length to the hike, try the Lakeside Loop trail for winter birding and an extra 2.4 moderate miles.
10.) Trotter Bluff Small Wild Area is a one-mile loop trail with dramatic views of the smokies right from the parking lot. Enjoy views of the French Broad River and the Douglas Dam Reservation, a hotspot for spotting waterfowl during the winter months.
For more information on more trails to explore, visit OutdoorKnoxville.com.