5 Best Winter Hikes

When the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, most people hunker down inside and avoid the cold. But taking a winter hike offers many benefits! Winter workouts are a great way to take in small doses of sunlight to help improve mood and absorb the much-needed vitamin D that boosts our immunity during cold and flu season. Another great perk is that your body burns a significant amount of calories by shivering to stay warm. In fact, studies have shown that people expend five times more energy when shivering, compared to when they are resting.

Don’t let the chilly weather keep you off the trails - get out and enjoy our top 5 winter hikes!

Seven Islands State Birding Park

1. Seven Islands State Birding Park

Right in Knoxville’s backyard, Seven Islands State Birding Park is the epitome of natural beauty. The 416-acre peninsula is bordered by the French Broad River and features 8 miles of trails, gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains and diverse habitats like nowhere else you will encounter in Tennessee. Even in the winter, the natural grasses and wildlife paint the landscape. Spectacular views await at the top of the Hickory Ridge Trail, a strenuous hike gaining roughly 300 feet in elevation in about .6 miles – the highest point in elevation at the park. The park also features an ADA trail that leads visitors to a fully accessible pedestrian bridge crossing the French Broad River to Newman's Island.

House Mountain2. House Mountain

Only 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville, the House Mountain trails lead you up a fairly steep ascent to Knox County’s highest point featuring overlooks from the 2,100-foot crest. The 5.8 miles of trail are moderate in difficulty as you climb through heavily wooded terrain dotted with impressive rock outcrops. When you reach the top, you’ll be awed by the majestic views of the parallel mountain ranges of the Unakas and Cumberlands, some 30 miles away.  On the summit, the Crest Trail stretches the length of the mountain from the West End Overlook to the East Overlook offering exceptional views. The West End Overlook presents views of the Cumberland Mountains to the north, the Smoky Mountains to the south, and a glimpse of downtown Knoxville on the horizon. The views from the East End Overlook feature the Clinch Mountain range which runs northeast all the way into Southwest Virginia.

Frozen Head state park

3. Frozen Head

Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area encompasses more than 24,000 acres of wilderness area and is named for a 3,324-foot peak in the Cumberland Mountains. The densely forested, unspoiled mountain splendor showcases the Cumberland Mountains’ unique characteristics - giant sandstone rock formations to wind around, bluffs to scramble up, creeks to rock-hop, and plenty of waterfalls. A seven-mile trip on the appropriately named Lookout Tower Trail will take you to the park’s highest point where the observation deck yields a 360-degree panorama of the Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee Ridge & Valley and the Great Smoky Mountains. Winter hikes may afford you the view that gives Frozen Head its name as the mountain peaks are often capped with snow or ice even when the lower valleys remain unadorned.

Look Rock Observation Tower

4. Look Rock Observation Tower

Technically this may not be considered a hike but the views from the top of the observation tower are spectacular. Located on the scenic Foothills Parkway in Maryville, an easy ½ mile walk leads to the observation tower which provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the mountains. The 18-mile parkway traverses the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and provides some of the best unobstructed views of the Smokies to the south and the Tennessee Valley to the north.

Norris Dam State Park

5. Norris Dam State Park

Located just 30 minutes north of Knoxville, Norris Dam State Park is a 4,000-acre recreational heaven, surrounded by beautiful hardwood forests and miles of Norris Lake shoreline. There are 15 trails that range in length from .5-mile to 5-miles and vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The Norris Watershed Trails are a favorite of hikers, runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The trails begin just past the 18th century Rice Grist Mill and climb over the hills and wind along the eastern shore of Norris Lake, offering spectacular views of the lake and its surrounding hills and valleys.