Winter Hiking in the GorgeJanuary 25, 2021
With shorter days and colder weather, you may think hiking in the winter is out of the question, but this time of year the Gorge is a treasure trove of unseen beauty. From frozen waterfalls to ice-coated cliffs, beat the winter blues and take in the awesome views on some of our favorite hiking trails!
During these winter months improve your physical and mental health on frequent hikes. The physical benefits range from improved immunity, strengthened muscles, increased circulation and more immediate benefits such as enhanced mood through the release of endorphin hormones and better sleep. As for the mental health perks, many reports find that being in nature can increase mental clarity and stress reduction for individuals.
“Hiking doesn’t have to be a summit to the top of the mountain,” Melanie Seiler, executive director of Active Southern West Virginia, says. “Hiking on a flat trail may be the best place to start if conditions are icy.”
One of Seiler’s favorite trails for winter hiking is the Hawks Nest Rail Trail. This 2-mile trail is located primarily within Hawks Nest State Park, near Ansted, and runs on the south side of Mill Creek. You’ll be able to find exceptional sights of icy waterfalls on this path. Looking for a winter waterfall tour? Check out our favorite frozen cascades!
Another great area for a beautiful winter view is Babcock State Park. Spend a day exploring the snow-covered forest and dozens of frozen creeks. Hike the Island in the Sky Trail for a fun intermediate jaunt. While this trail is beautiful, be sure to have proper hiking shoes and be prepared for a somewhat tricky terrain at times. End your day at Babcock State Park with a photo of the frosted Glade Creek Grist Mill.
For a short trek that is easily accessible, hike the Park Loop Trail. The loop is just over a mile long and begins at the Town Park in Fayetteville and includes a connection to the Fayetteville Trail. The Park Loop is an easy trail for beginners or families.
You can also experience snowy adventures on many trails in the surrounding New River Gorge area. Seiler mentions a few of her favorite trails in the area, including Meadow River Rail Trail, Glade Creek Trail and Summersville Lake Long Point Trail. Each trail offers a unique look at winter in the Gorge. Seiler suggests avoiding high traffic trails like Long Point and Endless Wall due to crowded vistas and muddy, wet conditions.
For reference, Active Southern West Virginia has a trail inventory and a safe practices guide for hiking. More information on New River Gorge area trails and directions can be found on the National Park Service website.
Before you take to these trails, be prepared for different weather conditions. Winter can transform a trail causing deep drifts and icy slopes. Winter hiking in the New River Gorge is an easy activity to access, but can be dangerous if not properly prepared. Seiler recommends planning ahead for parking and trail length; packing snacks, water and extra clothing; wearing wind and water-resistant outer layers; taking a friend with you and always telling someone where you will be.
“If you feel unbalanced, consider a sturdy walking stick or purchase trekking poles,” Seiler says. “There are also attachments for boots to give your tread more grip on snow and ice.”
Once you’ve completed your research on our area’s trails, purchased your hiking gear and planned your trip, there is only one thing left to do — hike! Show us your winter adventures by tagging us on Instagram and using the hashtag #GoGorge.