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Fontana Lake North Carolina – Exploring Western NC’s Hidden Gem

Fontana Lake an absolutely beautiful lake, nestled in between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.  This gorgeous and remote lake forms the southern border of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is also the largest lake located in Western North Carolina, providing more than 10,000 acres of recreational water surface.

Fontana Lake is a real hidden gem in the NC Mountains and is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The lake provides fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, kayaking, and more!  

This Fontana Lake Guide will explore this beautiful lake that is blanketed by the smoky mountains, and highlight all that there is to see and at the Lake Fontana and surrounding areas.

Lake Fontana

Fontana Lake

Lake Fontana is located in a very remote area of Western, NC and is reached by traveling NC Highway 28, also called the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway.

The lake was formed between 1942 and 1945 when the Little Tennessee River was impounded by the formation and construction of Fontana Dam, the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains at 480 feet tall and 2,365 feet across.

Fontana Dam was created and the lake formed primarily to generate power during World War II.  Today, Lake Fontana is a popular spot for boating, swimming and fishing.  Lake Fontana is also very popular with hikers and campers who visit the area for the unique combination of the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains.

The Lake is primarily surrounded, and thus protected, by both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest.  Areas surrounding the lake provide boat and swimming access in numbers locations, with many of them accessible from Highway 28.

Lake Fontana Video

We love kayaking in the many different blue ridge mountain lakes, and of course we've been kayaking at Lake Fontana many times over the years.  Here is our video from our most recent kayaking adventure at Fontana Lake.   This lake is absolutely stunning!

Directions to Fontana Lake

From I-40, take the Waynesville, NC exit for Highway 74 (call the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway).  Travel Highway 74 until you pass Bryson City, then watch for signs indicating Highway 28 South.  Follow Highway 28 which provides multiple lake access spots, and pull overs for taking photos.   At 25 miles, the road will end in a T.  Go right to Fontana Dam, and left to Fontana Village Resort.

One note, if you need food, water or gas, get it in Bryson City.  There really isn't much after you pass Bryson City - Remember, the lake is in the remote Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.

Fontana Dam

Fontana Dam is a large hydroelectric dam on the Little Tennessee River near Bryson City NC. 

At 480 feet high, Fontana is the tallest dam in the Eastern United States; at the time of its construction, it was the fourth-tallest dam in the world. The dam contains the waters of Fontana Lake, a reservoir that is 10,230 acres and a popular destination for recreation, including boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking.

The dam is a very popular tourist destination, and the Fontana Dam Visitor Center offers exhibits on the history of the dam and the surrounding area. The visitor center is located off North Carolina Highway 28 near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.

Fontana Village Resort

Fontana Lake Village Resort

During construction of Fontana Dam, a small tent town quickly grew to be the largest city in Western North Carolina, at least for a few years while the Dam was being built.  This town later become Fontana Village Resort (or more commonly Fontana Village), a year round remote mountain lake resort, located in the Nantahala National Forest.

Fontana Lake Resort provides lodging, cabins, camping,  a general store, gas station, restaurants, marina, outdoor swimming pools, lazy river, fitness center, and much more.  

The resort is very active, especially during the summer, providing lots of amenities and things to do.  Fontana Lake resort is also located close to many area attractions, including Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Fontana Lake Houseboats

Fontana Lake Houseboat

A unique feature of Fontana Lake, that most notice pretty quickly are the number of house boats in the water.  A recent count showed there are an estimated 400 houseboats on the lake.   You can see one of the houseboats in the photo below.

Boats play a pretty crucial role in the use of the lake, as houseboats and boats in general provide access to some very remote and difficult to reach areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, like Hyatt Creek, a popular trout fishing destination.  Without a boat, the area requires a very long hike to access.

Things to do at Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake is a beautiful mountain lake and a popular destination for mountain recreation, offering a variety of activities for visitors of all ages.  Here are just a few of the fun and exciting things things you can do at Fontana Lake:

Fishing

Lake Fontana Fishing

Fontana Lake is a popular destination for fishing, and it is home to a variety of fish species, including trout, bass, and walleye. The best fishing spots on the lake are located in the following areas:

  • The Tuckasegee River
  • The Little Tennessee River
  • The Fontana Dam tailrace
  • The coves and points

When fishing at Fontana Lake, it is important to use the right bait and tackle. The best bait for trout is live bait, such as worms or minnows. The best bait for bass is artificial bait, such as crankbaits or spinnerbaits. The best bait for walleye is live bait, such as shad or minnows.

It is also important to follow the fishing regulations when fishing at Fontana Lake. The regulations vary depending on the species of fish you are targeting. You can find the latest fishing regulations on the website of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Fishing at Lake Fontana is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and catch some fish. With so many different species of fish to target, there is something for everyone at Fontana Lake.

Here are some additional tips for fishing at Lake Fontana:

  • Fish early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Use a variety of baits and techniques.
  • Be patient.
  • Use a local guide service

With a little patience and effort, you can catch some really big fish at Lake Fontana.

Boating

Fontana Lake is a popular destination for boating, and it offers a variety of activities for boaters of all experience levels. The lake is home to a number of coves, inlets, and islands that are perfect for exploring by boat. There are also several boat ramps located around the lake, making it easy to launch and retrieve your boat.

Some of the most popular activities for boaters on Lake Fontana include:

  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Water skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Pontooning

If you are looking for a place to enjoy the outdoors and have some fun on the water, Lake Fontana is the perfect destination. With a variety of activities to choose from, there is something for everyone at Lake Fontana.

Here are some additional tips for boating at Lake Fontana:

  • Be aware of the weather.
  • Check the boat ramp conditions.
  • Be aware of the speed limit.
  • Be respectful of other boaters.

With a little planning and common sense, you can have a safe and enjoyable time boating at Lake Fontana.

Kayaking & Paddleboarding

Kayaking at Lake Fontana

Kayaking and Paddleboarding is a great way to explore Lake Fontana and enjoy the beauty of the lake at the same time. There are several places to rent kayaks, and the lake is relatively calm, making it a great place for beginners.

There are a few different places to rent kayaks on Lake Fontana. Some of the most popular places include:

  • Fontana Village Resort Marina
  • Almond Boat & RV Park
  • Alarka Marina

The cost of renting a kayak varies depending on the length of time you rent it for and the type of kayak you rent. Single kayaks typically rent for around $20 per hour, while tandem kayaks typically rent for around $30 per hour.

Once you have rented a kayak, you can launch it from any of the boat ramps located around the lake. There are also several designated paddling areas on the lake where you can paddle without worrying about motorboats.

When kayaking on Lake Fontana, it is important to be aware of the weather conditions. The lake can get quite choppy in windy conditions, so it is important to check the forecast before you go kayaking.

With a little planning and common sense, you can have a safe and enjoyable time kayaking on Lake Fontana.

Swimming

Lake Fontana

Swimming is a popular activity in Fontana Lake, and there are numerous public places you can stop along Highway 28 and swim.  Just watch for the signs.  These places generally have restroom facilities, boat access, and picnic tables as well.

You can also park and swim near Fontana Dam, as there is amble parking and picnic areas around the Dam itself.

On any given day, you're bound to see lots of kids and adults jumping into and swimming in the cool emerald green waters of Fontana Lake.  We saw plenty during our most recent visit.

Popular swimming areas at Fontana Lake include: 

  • Fingerlake Day Use Area: This area is located off of Highway 28, near Bryson City. It has a beach, restrooms, and a boat launch.
  • Fontana Dam: There is a swimming area located near the dam, off of State Route 143. This area has a beach, restrooms, and a boat launch.
  • Tapoco Lodge: This lodge has a swimming pool, as well as a private beach on Fontana Lake.

Please note that swimming is not allowed in all areas of Fontana Lake. A few areas that are designated as "no swimming" zones, due to hazards such as sharp rocks, strong currents, or boat traffic. Always check the signs around the lake before swimming.

Hiking

The Lake area itself is not known primarily for it's hiking trails, but there are some Lake Fontana Hiking Trails available.  Additionally there are a number of hiking trails at Fontana Village Resort as well.

The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail runs right through the Lake area, and more specifically right across Fontana Dam itself.  Those hiking on the Appalachian trail, walk over the dam, and the trail continues on the other side.

Lakeshore Trail

Lakeshore Trail starts across from Fontana Dam, and goes for 35 miles before reaching The Road to Nowhere.  There are a few backcountry campsites along the trail for longer hikes, and the trail provides some amazing views of the lake as well.

Tsali Recreation Area

There are a variety of hiking trails in nearby Tsali Recreation Area, ranging from easy to difficult. Here are a few of the most popular trails:

  • Tsali Right Loop - This is a 13.9-mile loop trail that is rated as moderately difficult. It offers stunning views of Fontana Lake and the surrounding mountains.
  • Tsali Left Loop - This is a 11.9-mile loop trail that is also rated as moderately difficult. It offers similar views to the Tsali Right Loop Trail.
  • Mouse Branch Trail - This is an 8.7-mile out-and-back trail that is rated as moderately difficult. It offers a variety of scenery, including forests, streams, and waterfalls.
  • Thompson Loop Trail - This is a 7.3-mile out-and-back trail that is rated as moderately difficult. It offers a challenging hike through the mountains.

All of these trails are located in the Nantahala National Forest, so be sure to get a permit before you go hiking. You can get a permit at the Tsali Recreation Area Visitor Center.

Fontana Lake Restaurants

While Fontana Lake is remote, there are a few restaurants near Fontana Lake, offering a decent variety of options. Whether you're looking for a just good food or stunning views of the lake, you're sure to find something to your liking nearby.  You can also drive to nearby Bryson City NC and Robbinsville for even more options.

Here is a list of a few popular restaurants near Fontana Lake:

Is Fontana Lake Haunted?

Haunted Lake Fontana

There are many stories about Fontana Lake being haunted, but there has been credible concrete evidence to support these claims and local legends.

Some people believe that the lake is haunted by the ghosts of the people who were displaced when the lake was created, or by the ghosts of the people who died in accidents on the lake. Others believe that the lake is haunted by the ghosts of the Cherokee Indians who once lived in the area.

There have been numerous reports of strange lights and noises at the lake, as well as sightings of ghostly figures. Some people have even claimed to have been touched or followed by ghosts. Others, including us, have just experienced strange feels and sudden intense quiet while out on the lake.

It is possible that the stories of hauntings at Fontana Lake are simply folklore. Or, it is possible that there is something more to the stories. Only time will tell.

Here are some of the most popular stories of hauntings at Fontana Lake:

  • The ghost of a woman who was drowned in the lake is said to haunt the area around the dam.
  • The ghost of a man who was killed in a car accident on the lake road is said to haunt the area near the lake.
  • The ghost of a Cherokee Indian Chief is said to haunt the area around the lake.

If you are planning to visit Fontana Lake, be sure to be respectful of the local legends and folklore. And, if you do experience anything strange, be sure to share your story with others (and tell us about it!)

Fontana Lake History

Fontana Dam Construction

Fontana Lake was created by the construction of Fontana Dam, which was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) between 1942 and 1944. The dam was built to provide hydroelectric power and to control flooding.

The construction of Fontana Dam required the relocation of over 1,300 people and the inundation of several towns, including Fontana, Bushnell, Forney, and Judson. The dam also created a new scenic destination for recreation, including boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking.

Today, Fontana Lake is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. The lake is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, bear, and trout. The lake is also a popular spot for fishing, boating, and swimming.

Here are some of the key events in the history of Fontana Lake:

  • 1942: Construction of Fontana Dam begins.
  • 1944: Fontana Dam is completed and Fontana Lake is created.
  • 1945: Fontana Village Resort is opened.
  • 1964: The Fontana Dam Visitor Center is opened.
  • 1984: The Fontana Lake National Recreation Area is established.

Fontana Lake is a beautiful and popular destination in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lake offers a variety of recreational opportunities and is a great place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Fontana Lake FAQ

Here are some common questions and answers about Fontana Lake NC:

Can you swim at Fontana Lake?

Yes, you can swim at Fontana Lake. There are several designated swimming areas along the lake, including:

  • Fingerlake Day Use Area: This area is located off of Highway 28, near Bryson City. It has a beach, restrooms, and a boat launch.
  • Fontana Dam: There is a swimming area located near the dam, off of State Route 143. This area has a beach, restrooms, and a boat launch.
  • Tapoco Lodge: This lodge has a swimming pool, as well as a private beach on Fontana Lake.

Please note that swimming is not allowed in all areas of Fontana Lake. There are several areas that are designated as "no swimming" zones, due to hazards such as sharp rocks, strong currents, or boat traffic. Be sure to check the signs before swimming in any area of the lake.

How big is Fontana Lake?

Fontana Lake is a reservoir on the Little Tennessee River in Swain and Graham counties, North Carolina. It is 29 miles long and has a surface area of 10,230 acres. The lake has a maximum depth of 440 feetand a shoreline of 238 miles. 

How long is Fontana Lake?

Fontana lake is 29 miles long.

Why is Fontana Lake so green?

There are a few reasons why Fontana Lake is so green.

  • Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants and algae. It is responsible for photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into food. When algae blooms in the lake, it can cause the water to turn green.
  • Minerals: The water in Fontana Lake is rich in minerals, such as copper and zinc. These minerals can give the water a green tint.  There were many copper mines in the area, that are now under water.
  • Sediment: The lake is surrounded by mountains, which erode and release sediment into the water. This sediment can also give the water a green tint.

The green color of Fontana Lake is not harmful to people or animals. However, it can make it difficult to see underwater, so swimmers should be careful.

Here are some additional information about the green color of Fontana Lake:

  • The green color is most pronounced in the spring and summer, when the water is warmer and there is more algae growth.
  • The green color can be reduced by reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. These nutrients can come from runoff from farms and forests, as well as from sewage treatment plants.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is working to reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in Fontana Lake. They are doing this by working with farmers and other landowners to reduce runoff, and by upgrading sewage treatment plants.
  • The TVA is also working to educate the public about the importance of protecting Fontana Lake. They are doing this through public events, educational materials, and outreach programs.

Are there alligators in Fontana Lake?

No, there are no alligators in Fontana Lake. The northernmost limit of alligator habitat is in North Carolina's coastal plain. The nearest known alligator population is in the Tar-Pamlico River system, which is located about 100 miles south of Fontana Lake.

The only native reptiles in Fontana Lake are turtles, snakes, and lizards. The most common turtles in the lake are snapping turtles, painted turtles, and sliders. The most common snakes in the lake are water snakes, garter snakes, and ribbon snakes. The most common lizards in the lake are skinks and geckos.

While there are no alligators in Fontana Lake, there are other potential hazards for swimmers, such as sharp rocks, strong currents, and boat traffic. It is important to be aware of these hazards and to take precautions when swimming in the lake.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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