Insider Steven Reinhold’s Tips for Finding Winter Wonders in Haywood County

Howdy, folks – I’m Steven Reinhold, and I was made and raised in Maggie Valley. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a somewhat free-range capacity, where the mountains and rivers were often my babysitters. Feeling the freedom of the hills at such a young age was formative, to say the least.  

The mountains of Haywood County will always hold a place in my heart, and these are just a few of the peaks and places where winter excursions are incredible and memories are waiting. 

My favorite winter adventures and happenings 

Winter is an often-overlooked adventure season here in the mountains. Some of my personal highlights include: 

Man at top of frozen waterfall waving down to camera during daytime
Steven at Sam's Knob
  • Cataloochee Ski Resort: This might be a staple, but even after 35 years, it never disappoints. 
  • Winter hiking and camping: Only 40 mountains in the Southeast rise above 6,000 feet in elevation, and Haywood County is home to nearly half of them. I’ve climbed and camped them all, and I enjoy guiding others on frozen adventures through my guiding outfit, The Appalachian Adventure Company. Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are typically our playground, and the Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail are our jump-off points.  
  • Ice climbing: This has become a passion of mine recently. Haywood County is home to some of the Southeast’s best frozen lines, like Victory Falls and the West Face of Sam’s Knob, and a growing community of ice climbing enthusiasts. 
  • NC Smokies Ice Fest: I’m super stoked to hang out and chill with my wife, Beth, throughout the winter, especially at the NC Smokies Ice Fest from Jan. 26-28! The festival will include jaw-dropping ice sculptures, ice games and ice skating, plus dining and shopping specials to cap off the weekend. 

My hidden gems and go-to stops 

Haywood is a wild county – more than half of the county’s 555 square miles of land are protected and preserved through Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here is my ultimate must-stop in the area, plus where I'm spending time both before and after.

Couple wearing jackets and hats smiling at camera in front of scenic mountains during daytime
Steven and Beth at Plott Balsams
  • Plott Balsams: My favorite under-the-radar spot. This majestic range was originally included in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary proposal but has since been an island of unprotected land between the park and national forest. Recently, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and its associates have purchased and protected more than 8,000 acres of land on top of this ridge line. The Plotts are home to four peaks over 6,000 feet in elevation. It’s a steep and rugged range, but there is a growing network of trails and overnight opportunities for those looking to adventure in a lesser-visited area. My all-time favorite trail in the area runs along the ridge line of the Plotts, and although it doesn’t have an official name – yet – the old-timers have always called it the “Ivy Trail.” Pro tip: The best access to this wonderland lies off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Waterrock Knob.
  • Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters: I’m a morning person, and there’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee to fuel adventures. This is a locally owned coffee shop that offers all different types of hot beverages, but my favorite part is that the owners name their coffee blends after creeks in our area – my favorite is their Cataloochee Creek blend! 
  • Haywood 209 Cafe: This is where I warm up after my winter adventures. The Daily Meal ranked this place as the No. 8 Best Gas Station Food Finds in America! I love sitting around and chewing the fat with locals and seeing folks who randomly stop in being blown away by the food and friendly atmosphere. My go-to order is the Irishman Breakfast, which features corned beef hash and eggs cooked to your liking.

I can't wait for: Cataloochee Ranch

When I think about spring, I dream about one thing: Cataloochee Ranch. The nearly 90-year-old ranch was recently acquired and renovated by the same folks who run the nearby Swag resort. Like its kin property, Cataloochee Ranch will provide an elevated outdoor experience and be a part of the world-famous Relais & Chateaux collection once it opens in March. All these wild amenities, plus the ranch’s 18 rooms, sit at an elevation of 5,000 feet and are nestled in a pastoral setting bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are a few of the updates I'm looking forward to checking out:

Man in winter gear sitting at snowy table with snow and mountains in background during daytime
Steven at Cataloochee Ranch
  • Experiences: Guided horseback rides through 12 miles of private trails, an adventure course, axe-throwing, archery and an array of ranch arts to participate in.  
  • Events: The Hayloft is an event center in a renovated barn, and they hold events such as barbecues, dinner series and an Oktoberfest. It sits adjacent to a spectacular outdoor amphitheater known as the Horseshoe. 
  • Food: The ranch is also bringing high cuisine at its Switchback restaurant, which will be open to the public and run by executive chef Jeb Aldrich. 

Relish the winter season, but don’t forget to start planning your spring travel with Insiders Veda Gilbert and Dana Grimstead.

Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.

Updated January 8, 2024
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