Fontana Lake an absolutely beautiful lake, nestled in between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. The 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.
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.
The 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. The Lake 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.
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, a year round remote mountain resort, located in the Nantahala National Forest.
The 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, providing lots of amenities and things to do. The resort is also located close to many area attractions, including Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 mountains.