ONEIDA, Tenn. — When the leaves fall off and the temperatures dip, it’s a great time to get outdoors and explore.
There are many reasons why winter is the best season for a hike in the wilderness. Among them:
1.) No snakes — Snakes don’t truly hibernate, but they do go dormant during winter months. While you might rarely see a snake venture out during extended warm snaps in the middle of winter, that is not a regular occurrence. Snakes are cold-blooded, which makes them susceptible to cold. So, when cold weather sets in, the snakes are nowhere to be found.
2.) No bugs — Like snakes, cold weather sends pesky insects like mosquitoes, wasps and ticks into hiding. Hiking without the scent of Off! clinging to your nostrils is even better than hiking without snake boots!
3.) No bears — Well, not many, anyway. Like snakes, bears don’t truly hibernate — contrary to the popular misconception. But they do go dormant during the winter months, becoming very sluggish and spending most of their time in a cozy hiding place. Seeing a bear in the winter months is more common than seeing a snake — you wouldn’t be the first person to come across fresh black bear tracks in the snow — but if you worry about bears, winter is the time to be outside.
4.) No foliage — The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area and the Cumberland Trail offer many scenic views, which are good enough in the summer-time but even better in the winter, after the autumn season has robbed the trees of their foliage. The Big South Fork’s spectacular rock formations are more easily viewed without leaves to block the view, and there’s rarely haze hanging around to cloud long distances.
5.) No people — The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is seldom utilized during the winter months. It isn’t uncommon to hike for days without running into another two-legged soul. While winter hiking has become more popular in recent years, it’s a far cry from the spring, summer and fall months. In truth, there’s no bad time to hike in the BSF, as far as crowds are concerned. Even during its peak season, the BSF isn’t nearly as crowded as some of its neighboring national parks — most notably, the Great Smoky Mountains. But during the winter, there are even fewer people out and about on the trails. Enjoy peace and solitude!
See also: Great winter hikes in the Big South Fork
(Photo: A hiker stops to examine ice formation along the John Muir Trail near Laurel Creek in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.)