Cataloochee Ski Area
Few things bring out the child within like a blanket of white and some good old-fashioned fun in the snow. No need to wait for a snowstorm in your backyard; these spots in the Smokies offer high-caliber adventure all winter long.
Cataloochee Ski Area One of the first ski areas in the Southeast to open each year, Cataloochee Ski Area features 18 slopes, three aerial lifts, and two moving carpet lifts to satisfy skiers, snowboarders, and snow tubers. Get the kiddos started on the slopes with the HEAD Kids Adventure Center or take a lesson yourself—and if you find yourself in the market for some healthy competition, try your luck with the ski races held multiple times a week after the new year. Located in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, Cataloochee is 35 miles from Asheville, three hours from Atlanta, and just under two hours from Knoxville, Gatlinburg, or Greenville-Spartanburg. cataloochee.com.
Hawknest Snow Tubing Park Just down the road from Grandfather Mountain State Park, Hawknest Snow Tubing Park claims to be the largest snow tubing park on the East Coast, with 30 lanes ranging from 400 to 1,000 feet long. The lanes are divided into four different areas, providing an array of terrain to satisfy tubers of all ability levels. And because all lanes have snowmaking and lighting capabilities, wintry thrills are available even when snowfall is light and days are short. But be warned—Hawksnest tubing sessions sell out fast, so booking tickets online is the best bet. Hawksnest is located off of N.C. 105 in Watauga County, North Carolina. hawksnesttubing.com.
Beech Mountain With 30 miles of maintained trail, snowshoes for rent, and plenty of snow, Beech Mountain, North Carolina, is the place to go for a sport that’s hard to experience in the Southeast. Beech Mountain Parks & Recreation offers dozens of pairs of snowshoes for rent at hourly, half-day, and full-day rates with ample possibilities for everything from extensive excursions to simple walks around the one-third-mile walking track surrounding the Buckeye Recreation Center. Would-be adventurers also have the option of booking a guided adventure with the recreation department staff. With an elevation of 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain straddles the Avery-Watauga county line in North Carolina, north of Banner Elk near the Tennessee border. beechrecreation.org.
Ober Gatlinburg If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for winter adventure, try Ober Gatlinburg. A 140-by-75-foot indoor ice rink stays open year-round, and the Wildlife Encounter exhibit introduces visitors to river otters, bobcats, birds of prey, fly squirrels, turtles, and more. There’s even a black bear family, though they’ll be in hibernation for much of the winter. Snow-wise, Ober Gatlinburg offers slopes for snowboarding, skiing, and tubing—including a freestyle terrain park. And when the weather gets cold, indoor shops and restaurants offer plenty of opportunity for a warm-up. Ober Gatlinburg is just up the mountain from downtown Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. obergatlinburg.com.
Knoxville is the place to be if you want to ice skate, with two rinks available to find a public skate session, get started with an ice sport like hockey or curling, or even catch a Christmastime performance. Both the Ice Chalet and Cool Sports Ice Complex offer daily public skating sessions, with group rates available as well as individual and group lessons. From December 6 to 10, the Ice Chalet hosts The Nutcracker on Ice, a wintry rendition of the Tchaikovsky classic (tickets range from $15 to $25). chaleticerinks.com, coolsportstn.com.