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Winter hiking in SouthEast USA
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Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Winter hiking in SouthEast USA on 02/19/2012 06:28:56 MST Print View

For next winter I am planning a winter trip in Southern Appalachia. I want to start on the Pinhoti Trail and then combine the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail into one big 8 shaped loop. The whole distance would be around 900 miles and the Northern most point of this trip Davenport Gap.

As this is a rather long winter trip I do not want to suffer through too much cold. I have extensively studied climate charts for Alabama up to Tennessee and they all showed that I will have to expect temperatures around or a bit below freezing at night but temperatures well above freezing during the day. This is exactly what I am looking for - a winter trip with moderate temperatures.

But whenever I read a trailjournal or comment on winter hiking in this area it seems to be much colder. And after reading on a recent thread on this forum that it gets so cold in the Smokies that even Aquamira bottles explode I start having serious doubts about my plans. Are these reports just talking about freak weather incidents or do I really have to expect such cold conditions from December to February?

I am also open to any other suggestions for hiking in South East USA in winter. I have already thruhiked the Florida Trail, so this is not an option. I am looking for a trail of at least 500 miles or preferably longer.

Thanks for any input,

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Winter hiking in SouthEast USA on 02/19/2012 10:02:42 MST Print View

How about the Arizona Trail?

And you might look at threads by Tipi Walter on Whiteblaze, seems like he's always out in the winter there.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Winter hiking in SouthEast USA on 02/19/2012 10:13:39 MST Print View

Sorry, but I have already thruhiked the AZT (and in fact the whole Triple Crown...).
But I must admit that Tipi Walter's reports which always include a lot of snow sort of deterred me from my original plan.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Winter hiking in SouthernUSA in general on 02/19/2012 12:17:12 MST Print View

The Smokies are a mountain range and will be colder than the lower elevations of the South. Same as Southwest as the higher mountains tend to snow-covered while the deserts are actually hikable. The southern US still gets cold rain and even a freak snowstorm as the northern cold fronts rumble through however. I spent a number of winters very near the Gulf of Mexico, from Houston to Baton Rouge to Tallahassee -nice days but quite a few gray rainy ones too. Finally gave it up for drier winter trips in Tucson and Los Angeles. Still even the coasts of Northern Baja (Mexico) will get gales, but beats a North Dakota blizzard, I guess.

Add: Backpacker magazine (1997) -like their trips but not gear- recommended winter trips to get some sun to the Bankston (Alabama), Big Bend (Texas), wand Ventana/Big Sur area (California).


Edited by hknewman on 02/19/2012 12:22:29 MST.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Winter hiking in SouthEast USA on 02/19/2012 19:20:24 MST Print View

Grand Enchantment Trail?

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Winter hiking in SouthEast USA on 02/20/2012 09:43:21 MST Print View

I have already hiked a lot in Southwestern USA: PCT, CDT and AZT. And I would really like to do some winter trip as long as the snow is still manageable without snow shoes and the temps are mostly above freezing at least during the day. For those reasons I thought Southern Appalachia would be ideal - at least according to climate charts.

It would be nice if some one living in the area could give me some idea of what to expect along the Pinhoti and the Benton MacKaye Trail in winter.

Anthony McGuire
Varied conditions on 02/20/2012 18:30:08 MST Print View

Winters in the southern Appalachians can go in either direction. The higher elevations of the Smokies would have the greatest possibility of winter conditions and temperatures do occasionally drop below zero at night. Snowshoes usually aren't necessary (could be, depending on the winter) but some sort of traction device could come in handy. My least favorite weather condition that we sometimes have is very cold or freezing rain with temperatures in the mid to upper 30's.

On the other end of the spectrum, we sometimes have beautiful spring-like weather that will make you forget that you are in the middle of winter. I thoroughly enjoy hiking here in the winter and think that your trip would be very do-able, just expect a wide range of weather. The conditions that I descriped in the Smokies would likely be your most challenging conditions.

This link is a daily post for current Smokies conditions that you might watch to get an idea of this winter's weather:

(This is my first post here, hope I did OK...)

Travis Davis
(rockytop) - F
RE: SE Winters on 02/20/2012 20:13:31 MST Print View

I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, about an hour or so west of the Smokies. Like some other's have said, you will get a LOT of variance in weather around here especially in the winters. For example, last weekend I did a short trip on the AT in the Smokies (I'm actually the one that had the aqua mira explode) and it got down to 7 degrees at night at around 5500 feet. However, the lows for the next 4 nights from now in that same shelter are 38, 43, 34, 26 (source: It dumped 6 inches of fresh snow last Saturday up high, but on Friday the day before there was no snow at all. I'd say there's probably no snow at all in the Smokies right now either. BUT, this has been one of the most mild winters in the last 20 years or so (from what I've heard). 2 winters ago (a bad winter) I went to Max Patch, NC in mid march (about 15 miles north of Davenport Gap on the AT) and there was knee high snow still left on Bluff Mtn. Last year I stayed in Mollies Ridge Shelter in the Smokies the first week of February and slept in a 45 degree bag. Last weekend, Mt. Leconte in the Smokies had wind chills of -20. The point is, if next year has a bad winter you could see single digit temps and 2 feet of snow, or if its a mild winter you could see nightly lows in the mid 30s and no snow. I will say, I think that snow only hangs around out here for extended periods above 4500 feet or so (someone correct me on that if I'm wrong) which would mostly only be when you're on the AT in the Smokies for the trip you're planning (I don't know much about the other 2 trails youre including in the loop). Either way, don't let it scare you off, winter weather and snow accumulations here are NOTHING compared to what you'd see out west in the winters. Also, it depends on what you're calling "winter." For two years in a row now, i've gone to the Smokies on Thanksgiving day and it's been in the 70s. Jan/Feb get cold. March warms up but we usually get atleast one good snow up high mixed in with the warm weather in march. Hope some of that helps!

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
SE Winter on 02/21/2012 02:09:45 MST Print View

@Tony and James:

Thanks a lot! Your replies have helped me a lot - especially James posting about the temperatures at the "Aquamira" shelter. In fact it has been James' Aquamira post that made me re-consider my plans, but your last post has put this into perspective.
I have not expected such a wild fluctuation of climate conditions and this variety has of course not shown up in the "average" climate charts. I will now go through the data provided in Tony's link to get a more detailed picture.
I had another look at the map of the GSMNP map and luckily there is an extensive trail network in the Park. In case the weather gets really bad I can usually detour to lower elevations.
I guess I will just have to take a risk and see how I like it. I have always wanted to do some sort of moderate winter trip and Southern Appalachia seems ideal for that:

- relatively mild winter conditions
- still plenty of daylight (even in deep winter 2 more hours of daylight than in Germany at the same time of the year)
- good infrastructure of the AT and GSMNP (shelters, trail towns and hiker services)

Thanks for your help,