Just because the temperature cools and the days grow shorter doesn’t mean you need to put away your camping and hiking gear. In fact, some of the best times you can have outside is when the calendar turns to the end of the year and you shift your clothing to coats and long sleeves. There’s just something about the cold air that feels good and refreshing in the lungs. So if you have a waterproof tent or you are simply itching to get out of the house and back out onto a trail, here are some of the best winter hikes near Asheville NC as well as some of the very best car camping in North Carolina.
Top Picks for the Best Winter Hikes Near Asheville NC
Panthertown Valley Nantahala National Forest
When looking for some of the best outdoor hot spots it’s hard to beat a national forest. Now, this is a great spot when you want to break free of the city lights and really see the stars. Just know that the campsites are a bit more primitive than what you might find in the more developed sites. In total, this national forest has nearly 6,300 acres of remote land. There are also 30 miles of trails, plus old logging roads around the mountains that make for interesting locations to check out. This is also a great destination to see the tree leaves change. There is even a waterfall inside of Panthertown Valley. While the camping sites are on the basic side there are plenty of them. Additionally, the camping sites are typically located on flat, higher elevated areas, so you won’t need to deal with water rushing down on you. But speaking of water, there will be no locations for you to purchase water once in the forest, so make sure to bring everything you possibly need for a camping trip before you arrive.
South Mountains State Park
This spot is about 55 miles from Asheville, so you should be able to drive to the park in about an hour (depending on if there is thick snow on the ground or not). This is a wonderful spot for winter camping as there is car access to the park throughout the year. Once you are there you’ll find there are a number of hiking and biking trails throughout the park as well. There are even camping sites available for those with disabilities. This is one of the “busier” winter parks, but with that said camping and hiking in the winter is far less crowded than what you would ever find during the summer months. So don’t be surprised if you do end up being the only camper at the state park. The hiking trails give you plenty to explore, with nearly 50 miles of hiking trails. There is also a specific 17-mile trail for mountain biking. This way, hiking and mountain biking won’t cross paths, but the bike trail is on the more difficult side (there’s a good amount of up-hill pedaling). Of course, if you want smaller hiking trails you’ll find everything from 0.3-mile trails to 3.7-mile and more so. These trails are scenic and are exceptionally beautiful when you get out on your own, take in the sounds, and the change of the seasons.
North Mills River, Pisgah National Forest
If you are a mountain biker this is the destination for you. Located in Pensacola, North Carolina, the national forest is close to some of the very best winter mountain biking in the country. It is also one of the larger areas you can go camping, as the national forest is over 162,000 acres. Plus, as the crowds thin out during the winter time, there might be times where you will be the only one taking up the mountain bike trail. You can camp at this national forest. There is a North Mills River Campground, which is located at just about the very center of the forest. You can drive out or bike out from the campground, which makes it nice if you just want to hit the trails early and don’t feel like dealing with your car. At the campsite you’ll find there are 13 sites open during the winter months (there are more during the summer). Each of these sites does have individual fire rings and picnic tables, so you will be able to have a fire (you might want to bring your own wood as much of the wood you find around the campsite will be damp). Near the campsites you will also find pit toilets so you won’t need to travel far to use the restroom. Additionally, the campsite is right on the banks of the North Mills River. This makes for great views and sounds. It also makes it perfect for trout fishing. Just make sure to invest in the proper permits prior to fishing (and the winter camping rates for the national forest are $11 a night, which can be purchased ahead of time through the North Mills River Pisgah National Forest website.
Elk Knob State Park
This location is about 95 miles from Asheville. It is the perfect spot if you enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. It is important to understand this location does have one of the highest elevations of all the state parks, so make sure to take things slow as your body adjusts to the altitude (the park entrance is 4,500 feet and if you were to climb Elk Knob you’d hit 5,520 feet). This is another one of the locations that doesn’t have any truly developed campgrounds. There are a handful of campsites spread throughout the area. However, do keep in mind that campfires are not allowed in the state park, so if you have plans on camping you will need to have warm clothing (and with the elevation, it does get on the colder side during the winter months).
Gear Up For The Winter Hiking And Camping Seasons
These are just some of our personal favorites for the best winter hikes near Asheville NC and the best car camping in North Carolina. But feel free to get out of the house and explore your own local trails. You never know what you might find. Just make sure to pack accordingly. If you do plan on camping invest in quality tarps, which will help keep your gear, your tent, and yourself dry from the elements. There’s a wide range of beautiful and durable tarps for sale at Tarpestry. So make sure to check out the latest selection of tapestry-like designs. Whatever look or size you’re interested in, you’ll find it at Tarpestry.