The holiday rush is over, and there's a peaceful lull in the Great Smoky Mountains. Now is the perfect time for a long weekend getaway to a quiet winter wonderland all your own. January is a favorite month for locals, and for good reason: All of the parks and attractions are open, and the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains shines during this uncrowded season.
Weather in the Smokies in January can be unpredictable, but is usually moderate. At lower elevations, expect temperatures in the 50s — and it can even reach the 70s. However, freezing and below-freezing temperatures can occur at higher elevations and with extreme weather fronts, so be sure to check the forecast before you pack. Snow regularly falls at higher elevations, and occasionally at lower elevations.
One of the best ways to experience the tranquility of the mountains in January is to get out in nature. The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program holds naturalist classes that are open to the public. This month you can take the Winter Woody Plant ID course and refine your tree and leaf identification skills. Birders also enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains in January. The park is a winter home to dozens of beautiful, uncommon ducks such as American Black Duck, Gadwall, Blue Winged Teal, Redhead Duck, Ring-necked Duck, White-winged Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Merganser, and more. With a little luck, you'll also spot Golden Eagle and Northern Harrier.
Wildlife viewing is especially wonderful in January because the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Visit wildlife hot spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park such as Cataloochee, Cades Cove, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to spot white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, and other animals. Rangers say the best way to spot wildlife is to pick a secluded place, sit still, and wait for hiding animals to come out. Also don't forget to look up — many animals spend their days in the trees and only climb down at night.
What else to plan for your peaceful long weekend? Check into your cozy Volunteer Cabin Rentals cabin and enjoy the view. Most cabins come with luxurious amenities such as Jacuzzi tubs, game rooms, fire pits and more. A day spent wrapped in a blanket, reading and taking in the scenery is a day well spent. When you're ready to move around a little, take time to explore the quaint shops of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or Sevierville. If taking a break from the kitchen is your idea of a good vacation, you'll find plenty of tasty options no matter where you are.
January in the Great Smoky Mountains is one of the best times of the year to explore everything the mountains have to offer. There's no better way to start off a peaceful new year than by recharging with nature. Pack warm clothes, a good book, and binoculars and you'll have everything you need for the perfect long weekend getaway in the Smokies.
Jon Hoffman is Reservations Manager of Volunteer Cabin Rentals specializing in Smoky Mountain cabins near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN. Visit them today at http://www.volunteercabinrentals.com to book cabins for weddings, vacations, reunions and other special events.