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Fontana Dam (How to See NC’s Tallest Dam in Person!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 29, 2024.

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Fontana Dam is one name for a town in Graham County, though many know it as Fontana Village. But, of course, the name “Fontana Dam” is largely attributed to the tallest dam east of the Rockies.

The Appalachian Trail runs through the dam, and because it’s also a short drive from Bryson City, we think it’s fair to say that Fontana Dam is a popular place to visit in North Carolina.

Whether you’re hiking through, want to ride a boat on Fontana Lake, or if you are interested in the dam’s fascinating history, our guide will share it all and why Fontana Dam belongs on your NC Bucket List.

In case you’re looking for something specific, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Fontana Dam History and Facts
  • How to See Fontana Dam, North Carolina
  • Fontana Dam Things to Do
  • Things to Do Nearby (Fontana Village and More!)

You can skip around to find exactly what you want or keep reading, starting with the history of Fontana Dam!

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Fontana Dam History and Facts

Fontana Dam

Fontana Dam is one of 5,600 dams in North Carolina and was the brainchild of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA built the dam to provide electricity to aid in nuclear power research during World War II.

Fontana Dam North Carolina also provided power to a largely rural area of the US that lacked electricity.

Construction began in 1942 and was completed in 1944, taking only 36 months to build what is now the tallest dam east of the Rockies.

It cost $70 million to build, is 480 feet tall, and a half-mile long at its widest point. As a result, Fontana Lake and Fontana Village with the dam now encompass what is collectively known as Fontana. 

Read More: Western North Carolina (and 100+ Wonderful Places to Visit)

Families Displaced

Top view of Fontana Dam

Building the dam required clearing lands occupied by 1,300 families. The TVA paid many of them to leave and took 70,000 acres to make room for the dam.

Because of the creation of Fontana Lake, homes, communities, and cemeteries became inaccessible or flooded. Displaced residents were promised a way to visit the cemeteries, and the federal government told them they would construct a road to do so.

The Road to Nowhere

Things to Do in North Carolina The Road to Nowhere Bryson City inside the tunnel
The Road to Nowhere

Unfortunately, the road has never been completed due to environmental concerns. Only six miles out of the 42 total finished, along with a 1,200-foot tunnel.

This unfinished road is known as “The Road to Nowhere” and has been a source of contention among the locals. Some want access to their loved ones and others wanting to protect the wilderness in that area. 

The Road to Nowhere sits 10 to 15 minutes outside downtown Bryson City, about an hour’s drive from Fontana Dam NC.

How to See Fontana Dam

People on Fontana Dam

There are two ways to park and see the dam: either by parking at the foot of it (Fontana Dam Basin) or driving to the Fontana Dam Visitor Center near the top. You can walk on the lakeside or the dam-side of the two-lane road that runs over the top of Fontana Dam.

Fontana Dam Road

Before visiting Fontana Dam, make sure you know your route or have it in your GPS. We simply input “Fontana Dam” and lost cell signal about 30 minutes from there.

Luckily, there’s WiFi at Fontana Village and at the Pitstop Gas Station on NC 28.

The Fontana Dam and Visitors Center is typically open from April to October. There, you can find information about how Fontana Dam was constructed, how it operates, and more history.

The Visitors Center also provides great views of the dam and the area below it. An upper deck awaits for anyone seeking an even higher view.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

Fontana Dam Things to Do

The “Fontana Hilton”

Fontana Dam is a popular stop for Appalachian Trail hikers. The trail is over 2,000 miles spanning from Georgia to Maine, with 95.7 miles going through the North Carolina mountains.

Hot showers are available at the dam’s accessible overnight trail shelter. This has led hikers to dub the Fontana Dam shelter the “Fontana Hilton.” 

This Fontana Dam resort” is a welcome change from the cold ground, so hikers look forward to reaching the sign for Fontana Dam Appalachian Trail.

Fontana Reservoir

Inside Fontana Dam

The Fontana Reservoir comprises 238 miles of shoreline and 10,230 acres of water surface, providing vast space for visitors to enjoy recreational activities. Fishing, swimming, and boating are all popular things to do at the reservoir.

Fishers enjoy watching and taking part in Fall and Spring Bass Classic Tournaments. In addition, anglers who enjoy fly fishing can check out the reservoir’s north shore, and plentiful spots such as Eagle Creek and Hazel Creek. 

Fontana Marina

Fontana Marina, the closest marina to the dam out of several around, offers watercraft and equipment rentals. These include kayaks, pontoon boats, canoes, and paddleboards.

Ready to Visit Fontana Dam?

The towering Fontana Dam somewhat overshadows an interesting history and even the beautiful lake it created. Whether you’re boating on Fontana Lake, hiking through via the Appalachian Trail, or drove to the Visitor Center,

Have you ever visited Fontana Dam? We’d love to know if you were as impressed as we were to see it in person!

If you haven’t yet spent time here, please feel free to share your first impression with us in the comments section here or our Facebook Group!

Things to Do Nearby

You may feel a bit isolated when venturing out to Fontana Dam but don’t worry because you’re not too far from these fun places to go and things to do.

Historic Tapoco Lodge

Tapoco Lodge drone view

Historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville is an excellent base for your Fontana Dam adventures. Not far from the Tennessee Border and the famed Tail of the Dragon, you’ll get all the relaxation you need as well as food from Tapoco Tavern.

We can’t think of any better place to stay near Fontana Dam than Tapoco Lodge!

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Fontana Village

Fontana Village Bryson City NC

Fontana Village has been around for nearly 100 years, and it first started as a town for families and construction workers who came from all over the country to build the dam.

Now, it offers an assortment of accommodations for those visiting, including a lodge, cabins, and Fontana Dam campgrounds.

Visitors can enjoy a marina that offers pontoon cruises and fishing areas or rentals to Fontana Lake. In addition, enjoy recreational amenities such as pools, a lazy river, mini-golf, basketball and tennis courts, mountain biking, and more.

Different events and activities, including traditional music, car club, and motorcycle gatherings, outdoor activities, and holiday events, happen throughout the year. Fontana Village is also a great place to grab some lunch after visiting Fontana Dam.

Cherohala Skyway

Cherohala Skyway North Carolina

The Cherohala Skyway is 43 miles of scenic byway that stretches from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina.

Driving this road takes you through beautiful forested mountainsides and past overlooks, where you can stop for a closer look.

It winds over 5,400-foot mountains and through 18 miles of NC before descending through 23 miles of the Tennessee backcountry. The skyway received its name because it crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. 

Read More: 20 Excellent Things to Do in Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary (and Nearby!)

Bryson City

Swain County Heritage Museum Bryson City NC

You may have traveled to Fontana Dam from Bryson City, but in case you didn’t, here are some of our favorite things to do there.

This wonderful mountain town sits next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visit the aforementioned Road to Nowhere, see the elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, or go tubing at Deep Creek for some outdoor adventures.

Deep Creek Trail is also home to some beautiful Bryson City waterfalls.

Of course, you’ll want to hop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for a ride from downtown through the Nantahala Gorge.

One of the many highlights of that train ride is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), but you can drive to and see it on your own time, too. It’s possibly the best outdoor store in North Carolina, an amazing place to have a riverside meal, and an adventure park all in one space.

Make sure to visit the Swain County Heritage Museum while downtown. It shares a beautiful former courthouse with the Bryson City Visitor Center. The museum tells the story of Swain County and those who’ve inhabited it for hundreds of years, including the Cherokee people.

The town also hosts many events throughout the years, several types of accommodations, tons of unique stores to peruse, and great restaurants and bars to satisfy any appetite. 

Read More: How to Enjoy Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort (+ 15 Tips)

Lakeview at Fontana

lakeview at fontana bryson city

Between downtown Bryson City and the road that leads to the NOC (or eventually Fontana Dam) is Lakeview at Fontana. This is the perfect place to relax and unwind while in the presence of nature.

Lakeview is an adult-only retreat where guests can enjoy the serenely decorated rooms and indulge in spa and massage treatments and treetop soaking cabanas.

The cabanas offer a private room overlooking Fontana Lake and the Smoky Mountains. Soak all your troubles away in their oversized stand-alone tubs.

Bath salts and the option to add on additional items means no matter what you choose; you’re sure to experience the calm and healing properties of the salt bath. 

More Things to Do in Fontana Dam’s Surroundings

Mingo Falls is one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians, worth the many steps you take to reach it!

The Graveyard Fields hike is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and an incredibly popular trek that’s within an hour of Asheville.

Skinny Dip Falls in Transylvania County might once have been a secret but it’s very popular now.

Soco Falls is a beautiful double waterfall near Cherokee and a few minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s so easy to miss, but not with this guide.

Black Balsam Knob is a popular section of the Art Loeb Trail in Western NC. It’s easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 420.

Deep Creek Trail inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best spots for hiking in North Carolina, taking you by three amazing waterfalls.

The Road to Nowhere is now a popular tourist destination near Bryson City. Of course, the history of this part of Western NC should not be forgotten.

Surrounded by the breathtaking Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is a quaint town with many attractions. These are the best things to do in Bryson City!

4 thoughts on “Fontana Dam (How to See NC’s Tallest Dam in Person!)”

  1. Don’t forget to travel on the famous Tail of the Dragon, starting at Deals Gap, NC (a short trip from Fontana Dam) and enjoy the famous mountain road as it heads N into TN with 318 turns over 11 miles!

  2. Used to visit Fontana Village in the ’80s to square dance. Loved going up there. Took a friend by the dam on the way home from a wedding when we rounded the corner at the dam the first thing that came out of his mouth was Wow. It’s a pretty impressive sight to see

  3. Been there many times! My wife and I truly enjoy the tranquility of the place and great fishing also! Good place to get away from fast pace world and enjoy natu8

  4. I haven’t been there in more than 15 years. I read about the history of Fantana Dam and the Village in the Charlotte news paper. That is what prompted me to go there. I loved reading about the history of the area and its village. The story told of the building of the dam and about the village created for the workers and their families It also told of how, I think, every 10 years, there is a reunion of the descendants of the dam workers. They call themselves, “The Dam Kids”. I wonder if they still do that. I so hope, the “Resort” hasn’t destroyed or minimized the wonderful history of this area.


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