Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in America. Millions of travelers visit every year, and the summer months are bustling with road trippers, weekend warriors, and RVers. So, if you brave the winter cold and roads, you can pretty much have the park to yourself, and it makes for a particularly pretty winter wonderland blanketed in fresh powder. Before you hit the road, be sure to stop by a local Discount Tire for a free tire inspection to ensure that your tires are safe for winter travel through the Smokies. Once you're ready, set off on a trip that will take you from Gatlinburg, via Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to Asheville, North Carolina, where you can finish up your winter scenic drive at America's most opulent East Coast castle.
Winter in the Smoky Mountains is pretty mild, so don't be afraid to take advantage of the cheaper prices and smaller crowds to visit. Don't be surprised if temperatures get up to the 60s or even the 70s at lower elevation points in the park, and note that snow is a rare occurrence here that you'll mostly only see in January and February. Enjoy the nature and historic sites: Cades Cove minus the crowds, the ghost town of Elkmont, and the sweeping view from Clingmans Dome.
Ober Gatlinburg is an amusement park with loads to see and do. The classic activities here include the aerial tramway, various rides, some games, an ice-skating rink, an epic alpine slide, a chairlift, and more. The attraction also offers some special fun during the winter months. You can ski, snowboard, and tube the mountain! Lessons are available for those new to skiing and snowboarding, and you can pick up the necessary gear at Ski Mountain Sports, a winter outfitter. After your snowy fun on the mountain, warm up with a hot meal at one of Ober’s many restaurants!
This part of the country is famous for its orchards and farms, so get a real taste for the culture at Carver's Applehouse Restaurant & Orchard. Whether you sample the sweet apple cider, golden apple fritters, or mouthwatering apple butter, you're bound to fall in love. They specialize in home cooking to round out their menu: Staples like pulled pork, country ham, biscuits, catfish, grits, and chicken and dumplings make choosing what to order quite a challenge.
The mountains are so peaceful in the winter. For a quick hike with a stunning view, hit up Max Patch Mountain. The trail from the parking area to the top of the mountain is pretty short, and the sweeping views of the mountains laid out before you is absolutely heart-stopping. The Appalachian Trail crosses the grassy hilltop, so rest assured that the journey up, though short, is rooted in history and hiking lore. Of course, there's nothing wrong with driving the Appalachian Trail, especially in winter. It's just as pretty and just as fun... but make sure your car's got its winter tires on!
Of course, no trip through North Carolina would be complete without a Southern feast, and that's exactly what you'll get at the Blue Rooster. Skillet fried chicken, massive hunks of coconut cake, stone-ground grits served with green tomatoes or shrimp, slow-cooked barbecue pork, po' boys loaded with seafood, and tons more are served up in a classic diner setting. Seriously, one bite and you'll understand why this place is a local favorite.
For a truly one-of-a-kind souvenir, head to the Old Pressley Sapphire Mine for the chance to discover a precious gemstone. This is the mine where the world's largest blue star sapphires have been found; they're thousands of carats apiece. You can sort through a bucket and pick out the gemstones from the mine for yourself... and take home whatever you happen to find! It's fun, and kids especially will love the thrill of finding something valuable, and with so many sapphires to discover, you'll almost certainly leave with a gem or two.
As you roll into Asheville, you should take a day to explore the Biltmore Estate. The 250-room French chateaux is the country's largest private home, and offers lots of way to explore the Gilded Age opulence within. The Biltmore goes all out for the holidays, so a visit during the winter means you get to see the home and grounds all done up in their Christmas best. Fifty fully-decorated Christmas trees, 130 mistletoe balls, thousands of ornaments, hundreds of candles, and miles of fresh, fragrant evergreen garland bedeck the main home, and a massive tree, which is often only a few feet smaller than the famous tree at Rockefeller Center in New York, decorates the lawn. The other buildings get the holiday treatment as well, and the garden is strung up with tons of lights. The estate's Antler Hill village plays host to carolers, Santa, nighttime bonfires with s'mores and live music, wreath-making and table-setting seminars, and more. Pro tip: block out plenty of time to visit it all. A ticket in isn't cheap, but you can easily spend a whole day here.
End your trip with a visit to one of Asheville's most popular local hangouts, Jack of The Wood. The Irish pub serves up hearty bar fare (along with some nice vegetarian and vegan options, since Asheville is known for its hippie scene). It's known for awesome nightly live music, but Jack of The Wood is most famous amongst beer-lovers as the original home of Green Man Brewing. You'll find tons of Green Man English and Belgian ales on tap here, along with lots of whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches. What better way to warm up after a winter road trip than with yummy food, great music, and outstanding drinks, right?
As you weave your way through the Appalachian Mountains this winter, you'll start to realize that, beautiful as spring, summer, and autumn may be, road-tripping in the winter is vastly underrated. The quiet atmosphere of winter lends itself perfectly to exploring the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
Discount Tire—With over 900 neighborhood stores across the nation, no matter where your adventure leads you, Discount Tire is there to help you along the way. Whether you’re passing through Taos or finding yourself in Northern Door, you can count on Discount Tire for friendly, safe service.