The 6 Best Winter Hikes in North Carolina and South Carolina

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Grab your backpack and boots because these are some of the best winter hikes in NC and SC 2023. And you might just find winter to be the best time for hiking – no mosquitoes and the humidity is much more tolerable…

Over the River and Through the Woods

It happens every year. After a much-anticipated winter break, the gifts have been furiously unwrapped, the leftovers laboriously consumed, and, like clockwork, the hum-drum of cabin fever has fully set in. It’s time to get your family out of the house – fast! Before your bickering children carry out mutually assured destruction! But where, oh where, to release all of that energy? 

Fortunately, one of the best parts about living in the Carolinas is year-round access to beautiful, easily navigable, and dog-friendly trails. From towering cascades in the Blue Ridge Mountains to barren boneyard beaches, the best winter hikes in the Carolinas will be a hit with your fidgety family and friends.

The Best Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Trek an expansive dam and hunt for hidden chainsaw tree art on the best winter hikes along NC trails!

animals and tree branches carved into the trunk of a massive fallen tree at Umstead Park in Raleigh, NC

Follow the Graylyn trail at Umstead Park for about 1/3 of a mile to see this fabulous carving (awesome hike with kids).

William B. Umstead State Park (Raleigh, NC)

Entertain your family with a combination hike/scavenger hunt at this favorite capital city forest. Can you and your crew spot the camouflaged work of chainsaw art located throughout the park? After a storm whipped through the grounds several years ago, North Carolina artists Jerry Reid and Randi Boni revved their chainsaws and carved a series of woodland scenes into the downed logs. The unexpected forest art makes the William B. Umstead State Park one of the best winter hikes in the Raleigh area.

Travel by bike or foot down the flat, gravel-laden Graylyn trail. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a large fallen tree with unusually stationary squirrels, foxes, and birds peeking back at you. You can even challenge your competitive kiddos to count how many different species they can find hidden in the lifelike etchings!


Trail at Lake Chatuge near Hayesville, NC

The Dam Trail at Lake Chatuge, where you can “take all the dam pictures you want.”

Chatuge Dam Trail (Hayesville, NC)

  • 1407 Chatuge Dam Road, Hayesville, NC 28904
  • Learn more about the Lake Chatuge area

Purple mountain majesties await the winter hikers who opt to trek the trails at sunset. This paved, easy 3.1-mile out-and-back path grants vistas of snow-blanketed mountains, Chatuge Lake, and the walkable Chatuge Dam. This easy hike make the Chatuge Dam Trail one of the best winter hikes in North Carolina.

You’ll want to wear a jacket to break the whistling wind as you waltz across the dam. For those looking to tire out particularly energetic trail buddies, you can challenge your group to a competition to see who can perform lunges from one side to the other. If you’re really seeking some outdoor rejuvenation, pack your camping gear and set up your tent at the campgrounds on the far side of the dam. Did we mention there are clean restrooms? 

The Best Winter Hikes in South Carolina

Icy escarpments, abandoned canals, and private beach escapes await avid winter hikers in SC.

Magnificent cascading waterfall on the Yellow Branch Falls Trail

Take a hike to the magnificent cascading waterfall on the Yellow Branch Falls Trail

Yellow Branch Falls Trail (Walhalla, SC)

While considered moderately difficult, this three-mile-long route is worth the effort. After meandering through several streams, you’ll be aghast at the 50-foot waterfall cascading at the trail's end. Cold winter temperatures promise a slew of sharp icicles dangling delicately from the myriad ridges that lead up the escarpment. The rewarding view of the Yellow Branch Falls makes this trail one of the best winter hikes in South Carolina.

Another benefit of chasing Yellow Branch Falls in the winter is access to views of Walhalla. With the leaves departed from the trees, the open canopy space affords a seasonal glimpse of the quaint town known as the “Main Street to the Mountains.” As with any trail featuring waterfalls, Yellow Branch can be slippery and even icy in the winter. Wear appropriate shoes and avoid going off of the designated path.


Stone walls line the Landsford Canal Trail, one of the best winter hikes in NC and SC

Landsford Canal Trail (Catawba, SC)

Originally constructed as a detour to Charleston through the raging rapids of the Catawba River, the long-abandoned Landsford Canal is the focal point of Canal State Park. Three miles out and back, the Landsford Canal Trail is an easy trek running adjacent to the river. 

In addition to the canal ruins, you’ll come across various stone bridges, the original lockkeeper’s vacant house, and an old historic mill. Dogs are welcome on leash, and if your hike is a success, you should consider returning in the spring and summertime. Landsford Canal State Park boasts the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies, which take over the shores from April to June. This is one of the best winter hikes and best dog-friendly hikes in South Carolina.

boardwalk at Congaree National Park

The best time to visit Congaree is in the winter, when you don't need to check the skeeter meter!

Congaree National Park (Hopkins, SC)

Hop over to Hopkins for a traverse through one of the nation’s most underrated national parks (and the only national park in South Carolina). Congaree features various dog-friendly trails that meander through cypress-laden floodplains. The best part? No mosquitos in the winter time! You can leave the bug spray at home.  

Don’t be fooled by the deceptive tranquility of popular, mostly-flat trails like the 2.3-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail and 4.7-mile Weston Lake Loop Trail. The area is a bustling habitat for deer, river otters, and red-bellied woodpeckers flittering among the canopies of the tupelo trees. In fact, you won’t find taller trees anywhere else in the eastern United States! 

The remote location of the park and the fact that mosquitoes make it a painful place to visit in the summer, coupled with its massive trees, and boardwalk make this one of the best winter hikes in the Carolinas.

Bull Island coastline

One of the best winter hikes leads to a desolate coastline on Bull Island.

Bull Island, SC

  • Ferry departs from 498 Bulls Island Road, Awendaw, SC 29429
  • Learn more about Bull Island

We guarantee you’ve never embarked on an excursion like the one that awaits you at Bull Island, and winter is the perfect time to go. Unless you can reach the beach by boat, you’ll need to book reservations with Coastal Expeditions in advance. Your adventure starts with a leisurely ferry ride from Awendaw, led by two knowledgeable and entertaining estuary guides.

Once aground, there are miles and miles of trails to explore. Traipse by oyster middens – mounds of oyster shells left behind by departed indigenous populations – before making your way to Boneyard Beach. Truly the crown jewel of Bull Island, the least crowded beach on the South Carolina coast enchants with skittering crabs, lifeless tree trunks, and loggerhead turtle tracks. It’s the perfect place for a picnic, so make sure to pack a cooler to bring aboard the ferry. The remoteness of the island and its unspoiled beauty make Bull Island one of the best winter hikes in South Carolina.

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