Hiking Linville Falls in winter: frozen waterfalls and gorgeous Linville Gorge views

Linville Falls in winter: hiking the Linville Falls & Plunge Basin Trails

Hike from the winter-access trailhead at Linville Gorge, catching views of the tumbling Linville Falls waterfall from multiple overlooks, and plunging to the base of the gorge on the Plunge Basin Trail.

 

trail info

The tumbling cascades at Linville Falls are simply stunning, and score a solid spot in our favorite waterfall hikes near Asheville. At the entrance to the epic, 2,000-foot-deep Linville Gorge, the gorge’s namesake river tumbles in a series of three gorgeous, photo-worthy waterfalls.

In warm-weather months, the Linville Falls Trail and Plunge Basin Trail are, without question, some of our favorite hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. But in winter, the Parkway is often closed, due to ice and snow. In the mood for a great winter waterfall hike? There’s an alternate access to these waterfall trails from a gravel lot that’s maintained by the USFS.

Hike Linville Falls in winter to catch frosty views of icicle-capped waterfalls and rushing whitewaterAbove: lower Linville Falls tumbles deep into the rocky, steep-walled Linville Gorge on a crisp, chilly Winter afternoon

This waterfall-filled hike explores three towering overlooks, catches an up-close view of the double upper waterfalls, and plunges to the gorge floor on the Plunge Basin Trail to explore the waterfall’s whitewater-filled basin. The hike demands some extra caution in winter, especially if there’s ice or snow on the ground. But the falls are especially beautiful in cold weather, framed in frost, bright blue skies, fragrant balsam fir trees and dangling icicles. It’s one of our favorite winter hikes near Asheville – and a it’s a great alternate route to the waterfalls, even when the Blue Ridge Parkway is open.

Linville Falls in winter: the hike

The hike departs a trailhead off the USFS gravel parking area off NC 183 (view maps and driving directions), hiking eastbound from the parking area. The trail begins a steady (and often muddy) descent to Linville Gorge, dropping elevation alongside a small creek. Though it’s chilly, the forest is vibrant and colorful: green moss covers rocks and downed trees, evergreen trees dot the deciduous forest, and leathery-leafed rhododendron thickets offer a wintertime dose of green.

Hike Linville Gorge near Asheville in wintertime, to frosty waterfalls, snowy moss and dripping icicles

The winter access trail reaches the main Linville Falls Trail at .3 miles, hanging a left to hike southbound. The hike quickly takes a left to explore the upper falls overlook, descending along a blocky cliff. The trail ends on several wide, relatively level rock outcrops, offering exceptional views of the double cascading upper falls and deep-cut channels above the lower falls.

Hike this winter access to Linville Falls, catching wintertime views of some of western North Carolina's most beautiful waterfalls

Departing the upper falls overlook, the hike doubles back to the main trail, hanging a left. The trail courses through a wide arc, climbing elevation through a grove of fragrant, broad-trunked hemlock. The hike hangs a left near the crest of the hill, descending on a side trail to the Chimney View overlook. Chimney View’s high elevation offers excellent views of lower Linville Falls. Hikers on the upper falls overlook offer a sense of the immense waterfall’s scale.

Catch gorgeous views of lower Linville Falls tumbling into Linville Gorge in winter

Departing Chimney View, the hike doubles back to the main Linville Falls Trail, hanging a left to hike to the third waterfall overlook. The hike resumes a steady climb, gaining elevation. The trail reaches a side trail to the Erwin’s View Overlook, following the trail to grab long-distance views of the lower falls and cross-gorge views of evergreen forest and snow-capped mountains.

View snow-capped mountains, winter views and evergreen forest from the overlooks at Linville Falls

The hike departs the Erwin’s View overlook, doubling back on the Linville Falls Trail and passing the spur trails to Chimney View and the upper falls overlook. The trail reaches the USFS winter access trail at 1.6 miles; from here, optionally hang a left to hike westbound to the trailhead parking area, completing the hike at just under 2 miles. There’s a whole lot more winter waterfall beauty to explore, though, so this hike continues following the trail northbound, rolling elevation alongside the Linville River and crossing the river via bridge at 2 miles.

The hike passes through the visitor center breezeway, and then takes a right in front of the visitor center, beginning the hike on the Plunge Basin Trail. The trail veers to the southeast, rolling elevation through a forest filled with rhododendron. The trail levels briefly, just before reaching a side trail to the Plunge Basin overlook at 2.3 miles. The hike descends to the overlook, catching up-close views of the tumbling lower falls.

The hike retraces to the Plunge Basin Trail, continuing its journey to the gorge floor. The trail descends a set of steep wood stairs before switching back to the south, trailing under a towering, steep-walled rock outcrop. The hike reaches the Linville Gorge floor at 3 miles, catching a frosty winter view of the whitewater-filled Plunge Basin below the lower waterfall.

Hike the Linville Falls in winter to view the frosty whitewater cascades on the Linville Gorge floor

Departing the Plunge Basin, the hike flips in reverse, retracing its outbound steps on the Plunge Basin Trail and making a nearly unrelenting climb to the gorge rim. The steady climb is a great workout, and it’s pleasant in colder Winter months, especially compared to the heat of the summer. The hike reaches the visitor center at 3.75 miles, doubling back through the breezeway and over the bridge. Hiking downriver, the trail reaches the winter spur at 4.2 miles. The hike turns right, climbing the winter spur trail to return to the USFS trailhead, and completing the hike.

Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.

More Linville Gorge hiking adventures

Explore the gorge’s exceptional beauty throughout the year. Our Linville Gorge Adventure Guide covers our favorite hiking trails and camping spots in this ruggedly beautiful outdoor wonderland.

 
 
 

Linville Falls: Winter Access Trail: Directions & Details

Parking

Free parking is available at the USFS trailhead, accessed from a gravel road off HWY 183 in Linville Falls, NC.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

35.950159, -81.933494     //     N35 57.009 W81 56.009

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Hiking Linville Falls in Winter: Elevation Profile

Linville Falls: Winter Access Trail Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.