Walking (or Hiking) in a Winter Wonderland

As the seasons change and the temperature lowers, so do the mountain views which open  up after the leaves fall. Hikes can become winter wonderlands, with frosty mountaintops and icy cascades from area waterfalls. As the temperatures fall, so do the prices of lodges, hotels, cabins and cottages – a bonus during this “Secret Season.”

While hiking, always remember the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace®:

1 – Plan ahead and prepare.

2 – Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

3 – Dispose of waste properly.

4 – Leave what you find.

5 – Minimize campfire impacts.

6 – Respect wildlife.

7 – Be considerate of other visitors.

The experience of hiking to a frozen fall is not without some risk, so take precautions as you explore. Be aware of slippery rocks and trails. Remember: Take no chances, only photos for memories (from a safe distance, of course).

Here are our Top 5 Waterfalls for Winter Wonder!

Whitewater Falls – Sapphire, N.C.

Our list starts off big and tall – 411 feet, to be exact. Iconic Whitewater Falls nestles in the Nantahala National Forest near Cashiers and Sapphire. One of the highest cascades east of the Mississippi River, it embraces its larger portion of winter weather each by creating glorious, large ice sculptures. An easy, quarter-mile hike takes you to the viewing platform. Have your camera ready!

Pro Tips: Bring cash for the nominal parking fee and plan to arrive early to enjoy the amazing views without a crowd. For an optimal experience, visit during the week.  

Silver Run Falls – Cashiers, N.C.

Much of the enjoyment of Silver Run comes from its easy access. Located off N.C. 107 a few miles from Cashiers, Silver Run is about a five-minute stroll from the parking area. With a relatively shallow pool (a great summertime swimming hole), the chances of Silver Run freezing below its 25-foot cascade are higher than other waterfalls.

Pro Tip: Silver Run is not an especially tall or rushing fall, so the experience always feels intimate. Plan to stay a while and reflect on its glistening magic!


Schoolhouse Falls – Panthertown Valley, Sapphire N.C.

Named after a school that once stood in the area, Schoolhouse Falls teaches us a lesson: the hike is always worth it. A beautiful waterfall, Schoolhouse snuggles within Panthertown Valley, known as the “Yosemite of the East,” and is accessible by a two-mile, round-trip hike beginning at the Cold Mountain Road trailhead. Schoolhouse sits at 3,660 feet elevation, increasing its chances of freezing. Enjoy its wide, shallow pool, 20-foot drop and the peaceful sounds of nature in winter.

Pro Tip: Because its trail system is extensive, taking a map is highly recommended when exploring the backcountry of Panthertown. Learn more about navigating Panthertown here.


Soco Falls – Cherokee, N.C.

You get a “two-for-one” experience at Soco Falls; one hike results in two spectacular, 120-foot cascades! The falls join as they flow downstream. A true gem, Soco is located along U.S. 19 near Cherokee (easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway during the warmer months). A Snowy Soco is a must-see!

Pro Tips: The climb down to Soco Falls is short but steep, making it treacherous with ice or snow. During winter, we highly recommend viewing Soco from the wooden platform at the top. If you insist on viewing from the bottom, you’ll need shoes and gloves with good grip and to use the ropes along the trail. Parking can be limited, so arrive early for a better chance of securing a spot. 

Mingo Falls – Cherokee, N.C.

Look up, up, up to absorb mystical Mingo! This 150-foot cascade will take your breath away as you stand at is base. Located near the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Soco requires a climb up 164 stairs to its viewing platform, waiting for your perfect photo opportunity. When Soco freezes, it does so in varying places along its steep descent.

Pro Tip: Because of its location and unique beauty, Mingo Falls is highly popular. Plan your trip during the week for easier navigation.

Plan Your Visit! 

Exploring frozen falls is a great way to spend part of “Secret Season” in Jackson County. So, make your reservations for lodging (and restaurant seating, if needed), and start planning your trip today!

Photo of Mingo Falls courtesy of @jeffreylukesutton

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