Everyone has their favorite time of year. Some like the fresh newness of spring. Some prefer the warmth and greenness of summer. Others are invigorated by the crisp mornings and bright colors of autumn. As a National Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway my favorite season was winter. Although I enjoyed the bounty of every season, I have to admit winter was when I recharged my emotional batteries and felt I could enjoy the park the most.
Winter weather fronts and storms serve as nature’s ventilation system and flush the brown hues of air pollution from the valleys and piedmont regions. This cleansing provides for the most spectacular and frequent views from the mountains left to our generation.
Once the leaves fall, the upper and mid canopies open up not only views of vistas but glances of rock formations and the true ruggedness of the land long hidden by lush vegetation.
Human visitation to the mountain parks of the east drops during the winter resulting in a sense of a societal slowing of the normal hectic life style we all lead. It becomes much easier to find that spot of undisturbed solitude and quiet during the winter months. If there is a white coating of snow on the ground, this helps to muffle the distant sounds of civilization.
Most wildlife in the Southern Appalachians does not hibernate. With fewer people and cars around animals are more likely to feel secure and come out of hiding along the roadways and trails. Winter provides an excellent time to observe bear, whitetail deer, turkey, bobcats, and some say mountain lions (although I am not a firm believer in that one).
If you travel to the Blue Ridge Parkway during the winter and find the snow gates locked across the road, rather than be disappointed you may find this to be one of the best opportunities you have ever had to truly experience the park. Be sure to have adequate clothing and footwear, and then explore the area behind those gates by foot, cross country ski, or snow shoe. You may be surprised at the treasure of memories you will find.