Winter Wonderland in the Southern US? Is that even possible?
Well, if you are referring to Tennessee, it is. This US state features Hallmark-inspired towns with postcard-like landscapes and twinkling lights on various streets and horse-drawn carriage rides in alleyways. Christmas carols are also around the corner, and visitors typically flock downtown to witness the gigantic Christmas tree. Various state parks also feature winter-friendly activities perfect for families on vacation.
There are several quaint towns in Tennessee worth visiting in the winter besides Memphis, the setting for 2018’s Christmas in Graceland and 2019’s Wedding at Graceland. And it is not just the cozy local shops and festive decorations surrounding these cities. Instead, visitors will love the views of the mountains, rivers, and other nature that serve as stunning backdrops of this Southern US state in winter. From the tiny Cumberland Gap to the rising Gatlinburg, these towns create a memorable atmosphere during the cold season that will undoubtedly captivate the soul of every traveler.
Cumberland Gap is a historic town at the foot of the Northeastern Tennessee Cumberland mountains. Daniel Boone National Forest surrounds this charming town, providing an outdoor adventure and a unique Mayberry atmosphere. Winter is the perfect time to visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to witness serene winter views while hiking the Ridge or the Wilderness Road Trails. Inside the park is Tri-State Peak, a moderate 5-mile trek to reach the summit where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet. The best time to hike is during dusk, as visitors can witness the sun setting against the frozen white mountains. An upcoming holiday event on December 2 is Victorian Christmas at Colwyn Street, bringing local artists together to showcase their paintings and other artworks.
With a population of less than 500, tourists will be surprised to know Granville’s tourism booms in the winter, thanks to beautiful sights and exciting activities. The Granville Museum experiences the most crowds during the colder months, showcasing the town’s history through exhibits and artifacts. Travelers can also check out the historic Sutton Homestead, an early 20th-century farmstead preserved to reflect the rural life of that time. The homestead offers a glimpse into the past, and winter can add a peaceful ambiance to the surroundings. While it might be chilly, the nearby Cordell Hull Lake offers a tranquil setting for winter fishing, as long as visitors have the necessary permit. Steamboat Days in Granville is a month-long holiday event in this town. With an entrance fee of $7, visitors can witness decorations inspired by Hallmark movies, the Festival of Trees, and the Holiday Quilt Show.
Columbia, Tennessee, is a town that seamlessly blends historic charm with a thriving community spirit through its picturesque town boasting a historic downtown adorned with antebellum architecture, boutique shops, and a vibrant culinary scene. Maury County Park provides a scenic setting for outdoor activities, including walking or jogging along the park's trails while admiring the winter landscape. Visitors should also not miss Riverwalk Park, featuring a beautiful riverfront trail along the banks. It is perfect for winter, offering a serene experience for trekkers.
For those interested in off-road adventures, the Viking Mountain Off-Road, located nearby, provides rugged terrain with hills and trails suitable for off-roading enthusiasts. Colombia Town Square displays a 40-foot Christmas tree in front of the historic Maury County Courthouse during the holiday season.
Sewanee is nestled on top of the Cumberland Plateau, transforming into a beautiful winter wonderland during the colder months. South Cumberland State Park surrounds Sewanee, which provides winter hiking trails for visitors to take advantage of the snow-draped natural beauty. An adventure awaits by hiking Morgan’s Steep to reach Sewanee Memorial Cross, holding magical landscapes of frosty trees, sandstone overhangs, and waterfalls.
Furthermore, travelers should also visit the Sewanee Natural Bridge, a sandstone arch over 50 feet tall that boasts a rugged beauty in winter. Near Sewanee is Shakerag Hollow Trail, which has a diverse ecosystem, rock formations, waterfalls, and wooded areas. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting happens at the University of the South’s Convocation Hall on December 1. Meanwhile, Sewanee Angel Park, a famous nature park in the town, also holds an annual Christmas Tree Lighting on the same date.
Jonesborough is Tennessee’s oldest town and holds the most Christmas events during the holiday season. Aside from the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, it is also surrounded by gorgeous landscapes and geological formations, which are best visited in the winter. The Chuckey Depot Museum is one of the best attractions to see in the winter. This old museum pays homage to the town’s railroad history.
Downtown Jonesborough also features a 3-mile Lost State Scenic Walkway through Persimmon Ridge Park. Visitors can head to the park, hike through the Appalachian forests, and visit the 18-hole disc golf course. While water activities may be limited in winter, the Nolichucky River's banks provide a picturesque setting for a winter walk.
Union City transforms into a serene winter landscape while exuding warmth even in the colder months. The historic downtown area, with festive lights and decorations, creates a cozy atmosphere for holiday strolls. Surrounding parks like the Reelfoot Lake State Park take on a serene beauty with crisp winter air and snow. Reelfoot Lake, known for its cypress trees and wintering bald eagles, is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. Kiwanis Park in Union City provides green spaces, walking paths, and recreational areas. While Discovery Park of America is known for its indoor exhibits, the surrounding grounds feature outdoor spaces. You can enjoy a winter stroll through the park's gardens and sculptures.
Pigeon Forge, nestled in Tennessee's heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, features festive lights at the town's bustling Parkway, with a dazzling spectacle of holiday cheer, winter parades, and seasonal events. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy winter hikes in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the snow-covered landscapes. The Island’s Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is another excellent attraction in winter, with its 200-foot Ferris Wheel with all-glass gondolas. Tourists can catch winter views in the entire city with this attraction.
Scenic drives are also standard in Pigeon Forge during winter, with the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail being one of the best. Patriot Park comes alive from November to February when the Winterfest transforms the park with lighting displays.
Sevierville, also situated at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, transforms into a picturesque winter escape. The town's downtown area, adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations, radiates holiday cheer. Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo is a must-visit during winter, where visitors can encounter over 130 species like amphibians, exotic birds, reptiles, mammals, bugs, and monkeys. Outdoor lovers can also check out Foxfire Adventure Park, a 150-acre adventure attraction with a zipline, rope courses, suspension bridges, and amphibious rides.
The Sevierville City Park features walking trails and open spaces that add to the thrill during winter. It provides a serene environment for a stroll, and the park's natural elements take on a unique beauty during the colder months. Moreover, the Greenway System in Sevierville offers scenic walking paths along the Little Pigeon River. It is inviting for nature walks, birdwatching, and enjoying the winter landscape.
Smithville embraces a quaint charm with festive decorations adorning the streets as the winter season rolls in the hills of Middle Tennessee. It is a town in Tennessee with a historic district characterized by well-preserved structures and local boutiques. Center Hill Lake is a scenic destination for lakeside walks. The peaceful surroundings and snow-covered landscapes make for a tranquil winter escape.
An observation tower over Edgar Evins State Park, about 30 minutes away, offers a unique view of Center Hill Lake. Visitors can ascend the spiral staircase and witness 360-degree state park views. The state park also features a restaurant, a marina, a campground, and hiking trails.
The best town in Tennessee to visit during winter is Gatlinburg, with fewer crowds yet majestic destinations. Alum Cave is one of the best hiking trails, where visitors will pass through bridges, an arch, and a cave formation. Travelers can also explore the iconic Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, adorned with dazzling lights, or stroll along the scenic Parkway, experiencing the warmth of local hospitality against the backdrop of a winter paradise. The magnificent Ober Mountain is another must-visit, and do not forget to take the gondola to reach the mountain peak. It sure feels like a scene out of Frozen!
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another one-way loop road that provides access to cascading waterfalls, historic buildings, and old-growth forests. Here, winter brings a quieter ambiance, allowing visitors to appreciate the natural beauty along the trail. Tourists can also take a scenic drive along Little River Road, which offers picturesque winter views, and pull-offs allow for short walks to appreciate the snow-covered scenery.
Embracing Winter's Magic in Tennessee
The winter season transforms the charming towns in Tennessee into enchanting destinations, each offering its unique blend of festive cheer and natural beauty. From the snowy landscapes of Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains to the serene winter wonderland of Sewanee atop the Cumberland Plateau, these towns come alive with holiday lights, outdoor adventures, and the welcoming spirit of Southern hospitality. Whether you are strolling through the historic districts of Columbia or exploring the winter trails around Smithville, Tennessee's winter towns invite residents and visitors alike to embrace the season.