The Appalachian Trail crossed the top of the dam, which remains the tallest in the Eastern United States
Fontana Dam, N.C.
The town of Fontana Dam is named after its hydroelectric dam that was built in the early 1940s to meet the rapidly growing electricity demands at the height of World War II. The Appalachian Trail crossed the top of the dam, which remains the tallest in the Eastern United States. It offers breathtaking views of the deep gorge of the Little Tennessee River, almost 500 feet below, Fontana Lake, and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains and mountains of the Nantahala National Forest. This tiny, remote town is located 10 miles from the Tennessee state line and two hours west of Asheville. The main attractions are the dam, the lake, and the and charming enclave of Fontana Village Resort which offers restaurants, a lodge and cabins, and fantastic base for hiking and mountain biking. You can rent pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards at the Fontana Village Marina, or bring your own water craft.
Anglers will be thrilled with the fishing offered by Fontana Lake, one of the deepest manmade lakes in the country, measuring 30 miles in length with 240 miles of shoreline. It is famous for its large and small mouth bass fishing, and its cold waters are home to walleye, white bass, and steelhead, as well as crappie, bluegill, and yellow perch. Those who prefer fishing in mountain streams can find 600 miles of streams with fishing opportunities within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at low or high elevations. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and the native brook trout all can be found in the park.
Catch a glimpse of Appalachian Trail culture by visiting the “Fontana Hilton,” one of the most accessible A.T. overnight shelters along the A.T., with a view of Fontana Lake. It is legendary among long-distance hikers for its 24-person capacity, unique design, scenic setting and the relative luxury of nearby flush toilets and showers.
Whether you’re a serious hiker or not, be sure to walk across the dam and snap a selfie at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance sign with a white blaze on the post, and you’ll document yourself visiting two national park units at the same time!
At Fontana Village Resort you will be able to:
- Enjoy a delectable meal at the Wildwood Grill or Mountview Bistro.
- Get the family out to play a round of disc or mini golf.
- Cool off at the pool or Lazy River.
- (Call ahead for hours, availability and prices 1-800-849-2258)
Explore mountain culture from artisan crafts and fine art to live music at the The Stecoah Valley Center.
Hit it big at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino on the Cherokee Reservation offers gaming and live concerts by national recording artists.
Catch a ride on the The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad for an excursion through the forested valleys of Western North Carolina along its 53 miles of tracks.
Tee off at the Sequoyah National Golf Club designed by Robert Trent Jones and a must for any golf enthusiast.
Live it up via Wildwater Rafting and Ziplining and enjoy stunning views of the Nantahala Gorge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Featured Local Hike
Fontana Dam To Fire Tower:
Name: Fontana Dam To Fire Tower
Length: 9 Miles
Elevation Change: ~2,400 feet
This moderately trafficked, out-and-back section of the A.T. is located near Fontana Dam features beautiful wild flowers or fall colors, lake and wildlife views. This part of the A.T. is best used from April until September.
- The Trail can be done in one day. Be sure to carry plenty of water to stay hydrated and a lunch to enjoy at the fire tower. Be careful of the poison ivy that grows on the sides of the trail. Enjoy spectacular views at the peak and even fewer trees to block the panorama at the top of the fire tower. After an uphill climb to Shuckstack Fire Tower (approximately 2,400 vertical foot ascent from the dam), it is all downhill on the return to Fontana Dam. You’ll also get to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.
- NOTE: This is an intense hike. Bring plenty of water and sturdy shoes. Hiking poles can be very helpful on the descent.
- This A.T. section includes the concrete of the Fontana Dam Visitor Center and the top of the dam, is bordered by heavy vegetation, open sections under leaf canopies, rocky switchbacks and a final vertical push off the A.T. on the side trail to the Shuckstack Fire Tower.
- Starting at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, read and listen to the story of why and how the dam was built (and how rapidly it was completed). The A.T. crosses the dam so you may see thru-hikers who are attempting to hike all 2,192 miles of the Trail. You can have great conversations with these hikers on their experiences and motivations for hiking the A.T.
- As you cross the dam, you are now on the A.T. If you look up to NNW, you’ll see the Shuckstack Fire Tower rising over the treetops. Make sure you have plenty of water before starting the ascent.
- Continue along the road, bearing right after crossing the dam and enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the parking lot at the end of the road, you’ll encounter your first trail junction. There is a bulletin board with some information posted. The A.T. bears off to the left directly in front of this bulletin board. (Do not follow the paved road toward the right of the billboard or you will be on Lakeshore Trail which will not take you to the Shuckstack Fire Tower. The A.T. is not explicitly marked at this point.)
- After the “bulletin board left,” the climb begins. The trail is a narrow path that climbs into the woods which open up under the canopy of the forest. Enjoy views of Fontana Lake through the trees.
- The A.T. will continue to climb and changes from dirt to very rocky to at times a narrow slit between vegetation. There are roots, loose rock, and steep switchbacks in many sections–use caution.
- The Trail follows ridges, some with gradual elevation changes, descending in some places (one to cross an intermitment stream about halfway to the Fire Tower) with varying gradual and steep ascents.
- As you climb, the Shuckstack Fire Tower will appear and disappear from view. As you near the tower, the Trail becomes steep and rocky with multiple switchbacks. Keep looking for the fire tower itself, which may be difficult to spot with the forest canopy in place (spring, summer, early fall). The A.T. will bear left and descend while the side trail to the fire tower follows the steep ridge you have been climbing and will continue to ascend. The fire tower is a final, rocky, steep trail with multiple switchbacks to the top of Shuckstack Mountain. If you are looking at a map, the A.T. bears west of Shuckstack Mountain. (If you come to Twentymile or Lost Cove Trail, you passed the Shuckstack Fire Tower Trail)
- Enjoy lunch in the ruins of the fire watcher cabin and soak up the views.
- Use extreme caution if climbing the unmaintained fire tower—the steps may be rotting and the railing may have sharp edges. Bonus: Locate Fontana Dam where you started!
- You should use caution on the descent to Fontana Dam due to roots, loose rocks and soil on the Trail, particularly the steeper sections.
Name: Llewellyn Cove Loop Trail
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Length: 2.5 Miles
Elevation Change: 538 Feet
Description of Treadway: The terrain varies from rocky to grassy to rhododendron canopies, all while maintaining an incline/decline that is barely noticeable.
Hike Start Location: GPS Coordinates – 35.435047, -83.816508
Route Type: Loop Trail
Overview: Llewellyn Cove Loop Trail is a moderately trafficked loop trail located at Fontana Village Resort. The trail offers many activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are welcome to hike along with you but must be kept on a leash. The loop features sites of the historic Fontana Dam as well as several water features and U.S. Forest Service bridges.
Minimal elevation change and a variety of scenery make for an exciting and fun hike that can be completed in two to three hours
0.0 miles: Begin Llewellyn Cove Loop Trail at the trail head located at the GPS coordinates 35.435047, -83.816508. Take the upper side of the loop to begin the trail. 0.3 miles: Cross over Panel Branch Creek. 1.0 miles: Cross over another unnamed creek. 1.1 miles: Continue following the brown blaze toward the left and down the mountain. 1.5 miles: Optional: Take the light blue blaze onto Llewellyn Cove Nature Trail. The nature trail is a .75-mile loop trail that features many educational signs about local flora. 1.6 miles: Cross over the U.S. Forest Service bridge. 2.2 miles: Cross back over Panel Branch Creek. 2.5 miles: Return to the Llewellyn Cover Loop trailhead.
The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, founded in 1924, is one of the oldest and largest hiking clubs in the southeastern United States. The SMHC has a long tradition of hiking, fellowship, volunteerism, and conservation, following in the footsteps of our famed and influential early leaders Harvey Broome, Carlos Campbell, Jim Thompson, Dutch Roth, and many others. Learn more and become a member today by clicking here.
ATC Volunteer Program
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is always looking for dedicated volunteers to help maintain the A.T. and assist in our visitor center and headquarters. Opportunities range from greeting visitors and providing information about local hikes to joining a Trail crew for week-long maintenance trips, gaining first-hand experience in what it takes to keep the A.T. open and enjoyable for millions each year. Learn more at appalachiantrail.org/volunteer.