In January I would like to do a three night backpacking trip out of Deep Creek ranger station near Bryson City, preferably a loop of some sort. I would like to make it up to Clingmans Dome if possible. Any suggestions are appreciated. Jim
You can do a loop to Clingmans starting at the Deep Creek TH, but I'll also give a good suggestion from the end of Road to Nowhere which is a few miles from downtown Bryson City.
Deep Creek TH --> Deep Creek Trail --> Fork Ridge Trail --> AT --> Clingmans --> little bit of road (which will be closed to traffic) --> Noland Divide Trail --> Deep Creek TH
I don't have a trail map in front of me, but that loop is probably about 32 miles.
Start at the tunnel at the end of Road to Nowhere (aka Lakeview Dr / Fontana Rd) --> Lakeview Trail --> Whiteoak Branch --> Springhouse Branch --> Forney Ridge --> Clingmans --> Forney Creek --> Lakeview --> Tunnel --> Trailhead
This loop is probably just under 30 miles. I would choose this over Option #1 as you will see fewer people and you will get to hike through Andrews Bald.
Whichever option you choose, I would recommend calling the ranger station to inquire about conditions beforehand. We've had a ton of flooding rains this fall and some of the footbridges have been washed away. You don't want to be fording thigh deep whitewater in January!
Winter is the best time to visit Clingmans. Since the 7 mile paved road leading to it is closed, gaining access requires a minimum 14 mile RT hike. You'll probably it to yourself.
You should see some (and possibly a lot) of snow above 4000 feet. Be prepared for any conditions. January weather in the higher elevations of the Smokies can be anything from 50s and sunny to below zero, several feet of snow, and 60+ mph winds. Have fun. It's a great time to enjoy the park.