Secret Stashes: Sweet Backcountry & Cross-Country Ski Spots in the Southeast

For skiers eager to leave the resort behind, the Southeast has a surprisingly extensive network of places to make tracks in fresh powder. From snow-dusted rail-trails to trail-laced national forests, to the treeless highlands of the southern Appalachians, the region is loaded with options for backcountry and cross-country skiers. And, whether it’s a backcountry ski tour in the Blue Ridge high country, or a family-friendly snow day on a local trail, Osprey’s line of technical ski and snowboard packs(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) can handle any winter adventure.

Before you head out, be sure to grab some gear & local beta from a specialty outdoor retailer like Travel Country Outfitters(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre).

 

Mount Rogers - Virginia

A dog walking down a wintery trail covered in snow and foot prints. The famous gentle grade of the Virginia Creeper Trail. - Malee Baker Oot

In the highlands of Southwest Virginia’s Mount Rogers National Recreation Area(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), winter snow is guaranteed. Capped by the state’s highest peak, 5,728 foot Mount Rogers, the recreation area encompasses 200,000 acres of the Jefferson National Forest(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), and includes an alpine crest zone with elevations above 4,000 feet. After a generous snowfall, the high country’s treeless meadows become a playground for backcountry skiers, and the recreation area’s 500 miles of trails offer endless options for ski tours. For cross-country skiers craving less challenging terrain, an 18 mile stretch of the gently-graded Virginia Creeper Trail traverses the recreation area, along with 67 miles of the Virginia Highland Horse Trail. For a taste of the high country’s offerings, the Elk Garden Trailhead(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) dishes up skiable meadows, and provides access to the Appalachian Trail and Virginia Highland Horse Trail. Grayson Highlands State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) also serves as a gateway to the high country of Mount Rogers, and features more than nine miles of trails open to cross-country skiers.

 

Canaan Valley - West Virginia

A winter trail covered in snow with bare trees on either side. The White Grass Trails of Canaan Valley. - Malee Baker Oot

In 1955, the first commercial ski area in the southern United States opened in West Virginia's Canaan Valley—a snowy spot called Weiss Knob. While the original resort no longer stands, the high-elevation valley remains a Shangri-La for snow sports. For the traditional downhill crowd, there are two resorts: Timberline Mountain(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) and Canaan Valley Resort(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre). For cross-country connoisseurs, the valley offers a smorgasbord of options. First, there’s White Grass(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), one of the East Coast’s premier cross-country ski centers. Spread over the flanks of 4,463 foot Weiss Knob, Canaan Valley’s highest peak, the ski center first opened as the Weiss Knob Ski Area in 1959, and has evolved into a cross-country haven, with more than 30 miles of maintained trails along with over 1,200 feet of vertical drop. Experienced skiers can also make tracks in the adjacent Dolly Sods Wilderness(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), part of West Virginia’s massive Monongahela National Forest. With elevations reaching 4,700 feet, the 17,371 acre wilderness gets a reliable dumping of powder every winter, and features more than 45 miles of trails, including former logging roads, which become spacious superhighways for cross-country skiers with a coating of snow.

 

Greenbrier River Trail - West Virginia

Evo skis along a snowy trail. Cruising along the Greenbrier River Trail. - Malee Baker Oot

Paralleling the Greenbrier River in eastern West Virginia, the eponymous Greenbrier River Trail(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) extends for 78 miles, from the town of Caldwell to the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), showcasing a corner of the state blanked by extensive forests and dotted with a handful of historic railroad towns. The rail-trail follows the riverside route once utilized by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, which was donated to the state after the rail line went out of service in the late 1970s, and reimagined as a rail-trail. While popular with hikers and cyclists, beneath a gauzy blanket of snow, the historic thoroughfare also offers plenty of skiable miles. Rambling through a swath of the Monongahela National Forest, and skirting the Greenbrier(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) and Seneca(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) State Forests, the route serves up sizable slices of wilderness, while trailside towns like Clover Lick and Marlinton provide easy access for winter visitors. Smack dab in the middle of the trail, Watoga State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) offers year-round cabin rentals(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), and makes a convenient basecamp for cross-country skiers.

 

Deep Creek Lake - Maryland

A forest covered in snow. The snowiest corner of Maryland. - Malee Baker Oot

Mountainous western Maryland is the snowiest corner of the state—and the region’s patchwork of parks and state forests provides plenty to explore on skinny skis. Anchored by Maryland’s largest freshwater lake—3,900 acre Deep Creek Lake—Garrett County has emerged over the last century as a year-round destination for outdoor lovers. Today, the region is home to the only downhill ski resort in the state, Wisp Resort(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre). More than this though, the area once dubbed the ‘Maryland Alps’ also has plenty of options for cross-country skiers. Nestled between Big Savage Mountain and Meadow Mountain, New Germany State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) offers 10 miles of trails for seasoned skiers, and during winter, the park's lake house becomes a warming hut. To the west of Deep Creek Lake, Herrington Manor State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) is another hub for cross-country enthusiasts. The park features more than 10 miles of track-set trails, and rents cross-country skis, snowshoes, and sleds. For hardy souls, a 5.5 mile trail through the Garrett State Forest(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) links Herrington Manor State Park with waterfall-studded Swallow Falls State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre). And, for an entire weekend of skiing, the state park also offers cabins for rent year-round.

 

C&O Canal - DC, Maryland, & West Virginia

A dog looks out upon a snowy trail surround by trees and a small lake. The snowy artery of the C&O Canal. - Malee Baker Oot

Extending from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland, the easily-accessible Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) offers year-round recreational opportunities—including cross-country skiing. Hugging the Potomac River, the park is bisected by the canal’s 184.5 mile gravel towpath, once a critical economic artery connecting regional markets with the capital. These days, the thoroughfare is also a convenient escape for capital-area skiers, although the western half of the trail offers the best chance of skiable powder. In rural Maryland, the towpath also parallels the Western Maryland Rail Trail(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), making it possible to craft a lengthy loop combining portions of both trails, and in Cumberland, the historic towpath also connects with the Great Allegheny Passage(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), a 150 mile rail-trail ending in Pittsburgh. For an overnight adventure, the non-profit Canal Trust offers six historic lockhouses for rent(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), scattered along the towpath.

 

Roan Highlands - North Carolina & Tennessee

A wintery summit overlooking a mountain landscape.(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) The soaring summits of the Roan massif. - Charlie Cowens

Skiers have been seeking out the snowy highlands of the Roan massif for more than 60 years. The region was even considered for a downhill ski resort in the early 1950s, but the plan never panned out. These days, the rugged massif provides an all-you-can-ski buffet for backcountry skiers. One of the highest cordilleras in Southern Appalachia, the string of peaks spreads along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s crowned by summits soaring 4,000 feet and pocked with iconic Appalachian balds that morph into skiable bowls with more than enough fluffy powder to ski down—especially along the stretch between Roan Mountain and Hump Mountain. Thanks to plowed state roads, the high country remains accessible during winter from the Carver’s Gap parking area, while the unplowed Forest Service summit road becomes a superb run for cross-country skiers. For a taste of the backcountry, a rugged stretch of the Appalachian Trail traverses the highlands—and the region boasts the loftiest shelter on the entire footpath, the Roan High Knob Shelter, a red-roofed barn perched at 6,275 feet. For quick access to the snow-swirled high country, Tennessee’s Roan Mountain State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) is located about 10 miles north of Carver’s Gap, and rents cabins year-round.

 

Moses Cone Memorial Park - North Carolina

A snapshot of skis on a winter trail.(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) What it lacks in downhill, the Moses Cone more than makes up for in endurance training. - Jeremy Bronson

Resting at Milepost 294 on the Blue Ridge Parkway(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), the Moses Cone Memorial Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) preserves the mountain retreat of North Carolina industrialist and textile baron Moses Cone. Completed in 1901, the 3,500 acre property includes the Flat Top Manor, two lakes for fishing, and a sprawling apple orchard. While the estate served as a summer escape for Cone and wife Bertha, these days the memorial park is also a winter wonderland for cross-country skiers—offering 25 miles of trails to explore. The broad and mostly flat carriage roads garlanding the estate are ideal for exploring on cross-country skis, while the orchard grounds offer ample space to practice snaking/sloping turns. For the ultimate high country ski weekend, trail time at the Moses Cone Memorial Park can be tacked on to a trip to Elk Knob State Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre). As the only state park in North Carolina catering to skiers and cross-country skiers, the protected area spreads around 5,520 foot Elk Knob, and offers more than 5 miles of trails to tackle on skis.

As you can see, the Southeast far from skimps on backcountry & cross-country ski spots. While you’re never bound to have the legendary powder dumps of the Mountain West, there’s a certain kind of underrated beauty to skiing in the Southeast. Here’s to getting after it.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.

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